Saturday, December 20, 2014

We Wish You a Merry Christmas


Volume XLI                                                                                                            December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

Forty-one years and some things don’t change; we are still searching for a bit more peace and goodwill on this war and terror torn planet.  History can give us cruel reminders, but it cannot extinguish hope, so “once more, dear friends, into the breach” with tidings of the season.  First you get a gift request.  Since time is at a premium send us a copy of the shortest book of the year--Things I Cannot Afford by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  It won the title in a close heat with the Amish Telephone Directory.  Do not send us anything made out of or covered with “camo.”  We refuse to disappear into the jungle. And did you know that you cannot breathe through your nose when your tongue is out?   Ho! Ho! Can’t believe we just made you stick your tongue out while reading a Christmas letter.  You may now wish we would disappear and we will after this brief rundown of the year.

The old folks, assuming that a moving target is harder to hit, continue to travel as much as possible.  We bit at least part of the Snowbird bullet last winter by extending our Arizona stay to a full two months in a Tucson condo.  “Oh, what a relief it was,” as the reports on the weather in the Midwest kept pouring in.  We shall be returning to the Southwest again shortly after Christmas.  Summer trips saw us in Beloit, WI, for our 55th College Reunion and a golf outing near Green Bay  that gave us the chance to visit Door County, do some genealogical research in Oconto, and re-visit Kelly Lake where we spent many happy vacation days with Jan’s parents.

Later in the summer we took Amy, TJ, and Mikel to London for a week.  After they went home we flew on to Finland to spend time with David, Lotta, and grandaughter Frida. 

The big event there was their formal church wedding, which  in Finland often occurs some time after the civil union.  

We had plenty of time with Frida, but confess to feeling that the distance is going to make our connection more difficult as she grows up.  Jan continues to work with AAUW and serve on the Warren County Library Board.  Both of us volunteer at the Warren County Historical Museum. Jim had the biggest change when the elected president of the Historical Society resigned last spring and the 1st vice president could not take over. As 2nd VP of the Board he ended up in the driver’s seat for the rest of the year.  

Daughter Amy continues to teach in the Cedar Rapids public schools and Todd puts in the long hours that factory work requires to make a living these days. Their lives have been complicated this fall by Todd’s father’s serious illness.  This has been on top of the major family re-alignment that occurs when a son graduates from high school and goes off to college.  Here's the entire family on the happy day.

TJ, the graduate,  is now pursuing his Fire Safety degree at Des Moines Area Community College or DMACC.  He continues to work at the Hiawatha Fire Dept one weekend a month. Mikel is having a  successful go at seventh grade and is enjoying his new status as senior son at home. He pitched and caught for his baseball team this past summer.  Last month he fell into an upholstery machine, but luckily is now fully recovered.  This is a joke and a large groan is permitted.
 Son David, wife Lotta, and granddaughter Frida live in Helsinki, Finland. The best news from there this year is that David found an IT job that he loves with the Kone Elevator Company.  It’s an ideal position as it is a  Finnish company with an international reach that conducts most of its business in English.  His office overlooks the beautiful Helsinki harbor.  Lotta remains with the  YLE (Finnish Broadcasting System), but is working hard to finish her certification as a Gestalt Therapist, which will give her a much more flexible schedule.  Meanwhile Frida is already two years old and counting (in both languages).   Is  she a happy soul? Yes! 

 Is she a beauty like her mother? Yes!      

By the way, the police were called to her day-care center last week. Apparently the kids were resisting a rest.   More and louder groans are allowed or maybe it is just time to wish for more peace and good will in 2015 and a Very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. 

Jim and Jan


Sunday, December 14, 2014

More Nordic Noir with Camilla Lackberg

Ms. Lackberg is apparently the hottest selling author in all of Sweden and also very popular in Europe.  She may also now be catching on in the US. 
I picked up The Ice Princess at our public library. It is apparently her first big hit and was started as she was taking a course in crime fiction writing some years ago. Check out her website at for more background.
A beautiful woman is found dead in a bathtub in an unheated house and Erica Falck, a childhood friend of the dead woman, who has returned to the small Swedish seaside town of Fjallbcka after the death of her parents is one of the first to find the body.  Erica is a writer who has up to now been specializing in biographies of famous Swedish women, but the new death, which quickly turns into a murder rather than a suicide, drives her into the hunt for the killer.  One of the investigating detectives turns out to be an eligible divorced old friend as well and we have a nice little romance along with a tandem investigating team.  The peripheral characters, especially the writer's sister and the staff at the police station are beautifully drawn with a combination of reality and humor that makes their stories almost as intriguing as those of the suspects. The dark secrets of the past that drive the nasty goings on in the present are painstakingly dug out and there are ample twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. Lackburg's tendency to shift scenes in the middle of chapters is a bit bothersome, but once you expect it you can deal with it.

The atmosphere is indeed icy. The Swedish demeanor demands a heavy varnish of respectability and in all the novels of this genre it seems that the price of the present is plenty of buried and violent secrets.  Though the crimes are violent Lackberg doesn't offer us the kind of violence between the villains and the searchers that you see in Steig Larsen or Henning Mankell.  In that sense the book seems like a pretty straightforward old fashioned Agatha Christie. The action centers on the digging out of the truth not the confrontations with the villains.  What keeps it in the genre is the continuing attack on that myth of the Scandinavian social paradise.  According to these writers there are plenty of problems in the so called frozen Gardens of Eden up north. 
I give it four stars **** and will look for some more of her work.