Monthly Archives: November 2018

Finding GOBI

Exerpt from ESPN interview By Ericka N. Goodman-Hughey | Mar 23, 2017

 I was at the base of the Tian Shan mountain range in northwest China [on a] seven-day 155-mile [ultra-marathon] race in June of 2016. I looked down for one last check of my shoes, and there was a scruffy puppy with the most adorable big brown eyes starting right back at me. . . [A]s soon as the gun went off, the dog ran with me, right at my heels.

First things first. What is an ultra-marathon? Technically, it is any foot race that exceeds the standard marathon length of 26.219 miles. After reading Finding Gobi, I learned that there are people in this world who want to run  50 to 100 miles in a day and then do it again the next day and the day after that! I think that running a simple marathon is nuts; but each to his own. What can I say. I have walked 2000+ miles on the Appalachian Trail and people think I am crazy.

The Gobi March, one of the most difficult ultra-marathon courses, is an annual race crossing the Gobi Desert. In 2016, it was held in the Xinjiang Province of China. Self-supported runners, carrying everything they will need for the entire race, run a marathon a day for four days. The 155-mile course is no road race. The Gobi March traverses grassland, mountains, river beds, rocky terrains, river crossings, and, of course, the Gobi Desert. The terrain is complemented with daily temperature extremes ranging from freezing to extreme heat.

Standing at the starting line on that June day in 2016, Dion Leonard’s only thoughts were the race day, his competitors and his backpack filled with his water, food, and anything else he would need in the next seven days to combat the heat and cold.

In those closing seconds before the starting gun sounded, Leonard wasn’t expecting to look down and see a dog standing there looking up at him. When the race began, Leonard was even more astonished that the little dog took off with him and would eventually ran nearly 90 miles right along side him.

In the year, 2016, the news of the world was filled with the Brexit Referendum, the US Presidential Election, the deadly Zika Virus, and the Syrian Refuge Crisis; lighthearted and heart-warming stories were few and far between.  Therefore, it was not surprising that the story of a Chinese scruffy self-sufficient stray dog and a marathon runner crossing the Gobi Desert would brighten heavy hearts around the world. Even these many years later. My girlfriend, a dog lover, had followed the story in real time and when I told her that I had just finished reading a book about an amazing Chinese dog that fell in love with a marathon runner, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Gobi!

Day after day, the mysterious stray would be at the starting line with eyes only for Dion Leonard. The littlest competitor ran circles around the super athletes on the course and livened their down-time flitting from one person to the next with charming attention extracting a free meal. Everyone knew there was something special happening.

When the race was over, Leonard faced an even bigger challenge. He had become so smitten with the little dog, he named Gobi, that he wanted to bring her home to the United Kingdom. The road from China to his UK home would be paved with many legal hurdles, heart-breaking tribulations, and was massively expensive in time, manpower, and of course, money.

Gobi, a native of the mountains, would be required to stay quarantined for a month in the care of total strangers in an area foreign to her, a city. Leonard returned home to prepare the complicatedly slow process of repatriating her. During that time, Gobi escaped, and her caretakers hid the fact, thus complicating the eventual search for her. She could be anywhere. With the help of strangers worldwide, Gobi was eventually found. Every lamppost and store front had a lost dog poster. When found, she was discovered to have suffered some painful injuries along the way. If the story of her recovery doesn’t affect you, you must have a heart of stone. It is at times emotionally painful but like any good “Cinderella” story, there is a happy ending.

I had a hard time rating the book and I struggled with the reason. I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t like the runner but loved the dog. Leonard had, in his words, a difficult childhood, and his perpetual need to bash his mother and blame his life-long acting-out misbehavior on her was a turn-off.

There was also something odd that this man would be, self-admittedly, driven by the need to better any challenger while disliking what ever the challenge was that would achieve this victory. This lifelong trait was abrasive as he told us time and again how much he really disliked running but found his need to simply be better than someone else at what ever he was doing the ultimate reward.

I will be the first to admit that there is hope for Dion Leonard and the key to his future more positive and healthy outlook on life was Gobi. Gobi must have seen how much Leonard needed a paradigm shift in his life. Through Gobi, the author learned to trust people, possibly for the first time. In the end, he found the world willing to help a stranger without strings or conditions.

Good read.

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Thanksgiving At Grandma’s House

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grandma house

GRANDMA’S HOUSE

Grandma and Grandpa Delorm lived in a hamlet in the North Country of New York about fifty miles from Montreal, Canada; a blistering cold spot around Thanksgiving time. The small white farm house was positioned at the intersection of Mason and Main Streets near the bridge over the Saranac River.

happy thanksgiving heartThe front porch and sitting-room’s bay window were situated across the street from the local undertaker and funeral home; perfectly located to observe the goings-on of her neighbors and bereaved families. The little house was very special to my Grandmother. She was born there and returned as an adult with her husband and her only child, my father, to care for her invalid mother. She died in that house, in the room where she was born. She is the little girl near the fence in the picture.

Every Sunday morning of my childhood, my parents would pile the family into the car to drive to the village for church services that always ended at Grandma’s house. My siblings and I would barrel out of the car to see who could get to Grandma’s cookie jar first. My mother wasn’t fond of the visits and her voice followed us up the back steps, “Don’t get too settled, we aren’t staying long.” She had worked hard all week in our “Mom and Pop” grocery store and those Sunday visits cramped her day off. Mom didn’t want to hear about what degenerate returned to town for his mother’s funeral or what “town tramp” was pregnant again.

As a child, Grandma Delorm seemed perfect to me. She gave each of us a hug and a kiss and made us feel so loved. She had soft fluffy white hair that felt like a cloud and seemed to glow with angelic light. Her smile warmed my heart.

thanksgiving poemAfter Grandpa Delorm died, Christmas arrived in our driveway at some unknown pre-dawn hour where Grandma sat quietly in her warm souped-up Chevy with the glasspack mufflers and a giant sound system in the trunk – she told the used car salesman she wanted a car with a little zip. We had the only Granny that laid rubber at every intersection. As far as we knew she never turned on the radio.

We were not to let Grandma know we knew she was out there waiting for Christmas to start until my mother had her first cup of coffee “in the peace and quiet.”  Hard to miss Grandma with that race car rumbling in the driveway. When Mom turned on the kitchen light, we would rush the car, often stumbling through deep snow, to help Grandma carry her huge wicker laundry basket filled with gifts.

Easter was great. Lots of candy in the baskets. But nothing matched Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house for me. It was obvious that not everyone in my family was as enthusiastic as I was about it.

We, Grandma’s grandchildren, rarely used her front door. The back door, as mentioned before, led to the cookie jar. We were usually pretty amped-up on Thanksgiving. I could smell the dressing and roasting turkey before we pulled in the yard; leftover memories from the previous Thanksgiving.

turkeyWe would blast into the kitchen with all the excitement of childhood, ignoring my mother’s plaintive attempts to keep our fingers off the cookie jar. The air was rich with the roasted vegetables, turkey, and dressing. Some of us would head into the sitting-room because we knew we would find bowls of mints and nuts. But first, I had to stop in the formal dining room. Oh! It was a glorious sight! A room set aside just for eating! My childhood home was very small and we ate on bar stools in front of the kitchen counter.

The old oak table, spread wide with every extra leaf, filled the tiny room and was wearing its bright white tablecloth. Grandma’s best dishes encircled the perimeter and shiny silverware sat royally on real cloth napkins. The light from the little chandelier made the crystal water glasses sparkle. In the center of the table sat the empty turkey platter, fresh dinner rolls with their yeasty breath, and every size and shape of empty serving dish. There on the sideboard were the three pies- apple, pumpkin and mincemeat along with wine glasses and Daddy’s new bottle of Mogen David wine.

cranberry sauceSatisfied that everything was in its right place, I would join the crowd of Grandma and Grandpa’s relatives overflowing the sitting room. Grandpa’s side sparse with his lone brother and wife sandwiched in with my Grandmother’s siblings, spouses and my father’s cousins. It wouldn’t be long before my brother, Tommy, and I fought over control of the nutcracker and the large bowl of shelled nuts. My younger sister, Debbie, too little to trust with the nut picks and my youngest sister, Laurie, not yet a twinkle in my father’s eye. The chatter and mayhem would come to a dead stop with the announcement that dinner was on the table.

Returning to the dining room, the table had turned in a colorful magical kingdom. The bright orange sweet potato casserole sat next to Grandma’s proverbial green Jello salad usually with walnuts and fruit cocktail. The empty turkey platter was now overflowing with sliced turkey, the legs reaching out for the giant bowl of gravy. Fragrant dressing had been hiding in the carcass but now sat exposed in two bowls, one at each end of the table. Molded cranberry sauce lay like toppled dominoes on a plate.

Grandma said grace and Daddy offered wine and a lively toast. Soon the serving dishes flew in a clockwise circle around the table.  

As wonderful as the dinner itself was, the real thanks in Thanksgiving existed in the family stories that flowed over the table. It was my chance to learn the history of my French-Canadian ancestry. To my family, I have always been an oddball; more interested in old things and old people. But years later, while researching my genealogy, those precious conversations would provide clues leading me up the Saint Lawrence River all the way to France.

Over the years, the elders have gone on to their reward. Grandma’s house is gone; replaced by a parking lot. My siblings and I have our own families and moved in separate directions. Long gone are the extended family gatherings and conversations. In a world where I can pick up a phone and instantly talk with my son in Europe or scan Facebook for pictures, we rarely gather with each other due to distance and expense.

Now as an old woman myself, I am so thankful for my Grandmother and her gifts of family and love. Those precious Thanksgiving memories have warmed me over and over. The smell of roast turkey and dressing sends me back to a sweet time where life was slower and simpler. Back to a small town where everyone knew your name and what you were doing; whether you wanted them to know it or not. Let me add, that I have a better perspective on my mother’s need for peace and quiet.

I hope you have a special memory in your life that continues to bring joy. 

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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OPERATION COLUMBA

operation columba debaillie family graphic

The Belgian farmer could see there was something odd in his field… It was early on a July morning in 1941, just over a year after Nazi tanks had swept through the country… [It] was a small container with a length of white material attached… a parachute. Inside he could see a pair of eyes..and the unmistakable sound of a pigeon cooing… Attached to the side of the container was a message – a request for help.

World War II and history buffs! Gordon Corera’s newest book takes you into the skies over England and Belgium – attached to the leg of a carrier pigeon! This is a well-researched story of Nazi aggression, Britain’s military and intelligence services, Belgium’s brave hometown resistance fighters and the thousands of trained homing pigeons battling bullets and bad weather.

operation columba graphicHoming pigeons have been popular for hundreds of years, in peacetime, with civilians (nicknamed “pigeon fanciers”) and proved to be an invaluable asset in wartime communication. In 1941, the coastline of Europe is controlled by the Nazi war machine leaving England as a sitting duck for invasion. England was desperate to learn the status of the Nazi preparations to mount an invasion, and later, intelligence was needed for planning their own invasion of Europe allied by the United States.

ARC Edelweiss and LibraryThingAgents positioned behind lines in Nazi-controlled Europe had a dangerous, limited and unreliable method of transmitting intelligence in a timely manner via radio. Delivering intelligence information via hand-offs to countries outside Nazi control took months, risked lives, and was months old and practically useless. Desperate times called for desperate measures; hence the development of Project Columba.

Corera sifted through World War II military and intelligence records, letters and correspondence preserved by families of the brave resistance fighters. The result brings those perilous wartime years to life into the homes and lives of the average citizenry of Belgium, into the thickets and fortifications on the beaches, behind bars in the horrors of the Nazi camps, and into the secret enclaves of the British government agencies – often revealing the humanness and warts of those involved on all sides.

Quoting General William Tecumseh Sherman, “War is hell”.

The book is written in an easy to read style. Using the sparse facts available, creates a compelling story of heroism, self-sacrifice, and patriotism of individuals willing to look beyond self for the sake of country.

Fabulous read. Sure to please history buffs.

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LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP

This is a story about a floating barge converted to a book store named the Literary Apothecary. Well, maybe not so much about the barge and more about Jean Perdu, the barge owner, who has withdrawn emotionally for over 20 years following an unexplained romantic breakup by his lover, Manon.

Jean Perdu has an uncanny ability and a liability. He instinctively knows just the book to help solve problems for perfect strangers but he hasn’t been able to help his own stunted life. For over 20 years he has a room in his apartment that he has never entered. Behind that door lies the life he once shared with his love, Manon.

A new neighbor, Caroline, a victim of an adulterous marriage and divorce, moves into his apartment building. He reluctantly enters his inviolate “Manon space” to retrieve a table for her. Caroline finds an unopened letter in the table and returns it to him. The sight of that unsealed letter triggers deep memories. When he finally reads the 20 year-old letter, Perdu begins the travel to the bottom of his heart and then slowly begins to make his way up to a fulfilled life.

There is deep symbolism as Perdu takes refuge on his floating barge and releases the boat from its mooring. The journey begins as an escape to sea but as more and more eccentric characters take refuge with him on the barge, he begins to feel again. At first without understanding what he is doing and finally with purpose, Perdu seeks to find out what happened to Manon.

Before Perdu leaves Paris, he and Caroline had begun to sense a strong bond. He strives to keep the embers of this new relationship alive through letters as he seeks to put out the flames from his old life.

The storyline floats through the lens of fiction and non-fiction works shelved on the barge. As Jean and others bring these works to life through discussion, the remarkably crafted quotes tickle a reaction in the reader as well as the characters.

It has taken me a few weeks to mull over my overall feelings for the book. I only rated the book in the end as a three star because I just never really felt pulled into the book. I disliked Manon and finally decided that Jean needed a good slap in the head to have wiled away 20 years of precious life over a lost love. There were some great moments but in the end things just took sooooo long to resolve. Remember, this is just my opinion. I suggest that everyone read the book and come to your own conclusions.

Thank you, Netgalley and Blogging for Books, for the opportunity to read this book and give my honest review.

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VIRGIL WANDER: a novel

VIRGIL WANDER

Leif Enger

If I were to pinpoint when the world began reorganizing itself- that is, when my seeing of it began to shift – it would be the day a stranger named Rune ble

fire hydrant kite

w into our bad luck town of Greenstone, Minnesota, like a spark from the boreal gloom.”

The imaginary town of Greenstone, Minnesota lies somewhere along a remote section of shoreline on Lake Superior. A town that lost its luster and raison d’être after reaching the tail-end of a mining and shipping boom. Long-time residents of Greenstone weren’t surprised when the mines closed and the cargo ships sailed away for the last time. Bad luck has always been around the corner; this was just more of the same.

Greenstone folks are remarkable people. They don’t sit around wringing their hands waiting for the other shoe to drop on them. They just hitch up and help out the person currently caught sideways by the town’s curse. Oh, there are the gossipers, the skeptics, the suspicious, the troublemakers, the confused – but overall decent folks that somehow manage to find purpose enough to stay in the dying town but lack the courage to leave.

icy headlightSo when Virgil Wander, their  part-time town clerk and full- time owner of their decaying local movie theater, skidded off that icy cliff into Lake Superior and his airbag temporarily scrambled his brain, the town sighed, and added his woes to their infinite list of bad luck stories.

This is Virgil’s story to tell. It’s a story about rebirth and second chances. A story of love lost and love found. A story of hope, sadness, compassion, humor, and friendship that forever bonds a town together. There’s a bit of mystery, danger, and intrigue. This is a story told in that stereotypical simplicity of the mid-West; little said but much meant.  It’s a complicated but comfortable story filled with many lovable (and some not so lovable) characters.

It begins the day Virgil wakes up in the hospital after his accident.  He discovers his “storehouse of English had been pillaged” and his cranial gyroscope off tilt. He was most distressed to lose his adjectives but happy to find a few nouns and the essential verbs still there.

His first day back home at the Empress leaves Virgil conflicted. He knows it is his home but everything is off. Struggling to understand his new perspective of himself and the town in general, Virgil absentmindedly takes a walk through town ending up at the abandoned waterfront pier.

Standing on the far edge of the pier is “a threadbare stranger [with] eight-day whiskers and fisherman hands, a pipe in his mouth like a mariner in a fable, and a question in his eyes”. A brightly colored kite is tucked under his arm. The sad old man recently learned that years ago, while on a brief visit to the United States from Norway, he had fathered a child; a son. Returning now, he hoped to meet his son only to learn that he disappeared years ago and is presumed dead.

The two men, each lost in their own thoughts, chatted amicably. Out of the blue, Rune says, “Perhaps you knew my son? He lived here.” Shortly after that, the wind rustled the water and the kite left Rune’s arms to rise high into the sky; as time after time, Rune’s kites will lift the spirits of the town folk during his quest to bring his son alive in memory.

Virgil will fare much better than Humpty Dumpty; he will be able to put most of his pieces back together again. The new Virgil has a bright future and grateful for that second chance.

As for town itself, no worries. The folks learned to face their “hard luck” head on and make lemonade out of lemons. As you flip those final pages and wave goodbye, you will do so with a smile.

Recommended reading for those days when you need a lift into imagination and magic.

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