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My Favorite Books of 2017

Posted: 01-01-2018

I love to read and am constantly sifting through best book lists for suggested titles.  I avoid books that feature rapes, cruelty, unhappy endings, slavery, the holocaust, children dying, slavery, mistreatment of Indians, environmental degradation, tales of  discordant family life and post-apocalypse tales that offer no hope and where people are eating each other.

Needless to say, it is sometimes hard for me to find a good book.  Here are a few favorites from 2017.

Fiction:   A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles,   Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is placed under permeant house arrest at the luxurious Hotel Metropole in Moscow in 1922.  The leaders of the Russian Revolution placed a death sentence on members of the nobility but the Count is spared because of his pre-revolutionary achievements.  The Count is not at all unhappy with his confinement to the Metropole.  He has lived there in luxury for years, ensconced in a very spacious apartment.  Then he finds out his place of exile is a 100 square foot space in the attic of the hotel.

The book follows the Count’s adventures inside the hotel from 1922 to the 1950’s.  The count is a wonderful character, so kind, so optimistic, and so calmly observant of the changing political times.  The count’s outlook is a welcome respite from the political nastiness and bitter commentary we are now experiencing.  His adventures in the hotel are fabulous; who knew being stuck in the Metropole could be so interesting?   I cared very much about what happened to the Count and the ending is absolutely perfect.


Non-Fiction:  I am not a big fan of this genre because non-fiction usually makes me think too hard.  I read to escape.  However, I did very much enjoy Showdown:  Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America by Wil Haygood.  The story of how Marshall and President Lyndon Johnson overcame resistance by southern senators to the nomination of a black man to the Supreme Court is inspiring.  Sadly, Senator Robert Byrd, from my adopted state of West Virginia, voted against Marshall.

Mysteries:  After reading nonfiction, I escape to mysteries.  I read many well reviewed mysteries in 2017 and found them all rather disappointing (especially The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware).  My favorite mystery of 2017 is by local author Ginny Fite:    No Good Deed Left Undone.  Detective Sam Lagarde is engaging (I do enjoy likable main characters), the story line is compelling and Ginny definitely knows how to build suspense.  Best of all, the mystery takes place in Jefferson County, WV, where I have lived for 37 years.  A piece of evidence is taken for identification to Feagans Jewelry store, the same place I get my watch repaired.  One suspect’s alibi is a receipt from Grandma’s Diner in downtown Charles Town.  The murder victim has sex with a lot of people, including liaisons in the Jefferson County Courthouse.  When I was a county commissioner, lots of residents complained we were screwing them but to imagine someone actually doing the dirty deed in the courthouse spawned very unwelcome images!

Cromwell’s Folly, another mystery by Ginny Fite featuring Detective Sam Lagarde , joins Rules of Civility by Amor Towles as my must reads for 2018.

I Clean the Oven Racks Every 10 Years Whether They Need It or Not

Posted: 11-13-2017

After a major spill in my oven (I filled the stew dish too full and  it boiled over….and over….and over),  I decided the oven must be cleaned.  It was pretty close to my 10 year maintenance program so I begrudgingly undertook the task.  I scrubbed down the oven, scraping away the burned on residue before zapping it with the self-clean oven option.  Even temperatures equivalent to the fires of hell could not make 10 years of crud disappear.   Crust patches remained here and there on the oven walls.  Fortunately, my cleaning standards are rather low so the oven looked GREAT to me.

This left the problem of the oven racks.  As shown in the picture they stopped gleaming many, many years ago.  My immediate solution was to simply buy new ones.  Using lots of chemical stain removers and scrubbing the racks is not for me.  I am convinced  if you flattened out the  rack surfaces in my oven and put them end to end, they would encircle the globe.

I did a casual search for ways to clean racks and found an interesting approach.  Empty  one cup of ammonia into a plastic garbage bag, add the filthy racks, tightly close the bag and wait 24 hours.

Could this be? I wondered.  It all sounded too easy!  So I tried it.  And guess what?  It WORKS!  Once again, I feel it important to emphasize my standards for clean are low.  So even after a wipe down and a scrub here and there, the racks still have burnt on patches.  No matter to me; the amount of left-on crud is well within my tolerance range.

This approach is so easy, I may even revise my oven cleaning schedule….to once every 5 years.







My Mother’s Cruet Set Poses a Cosmic Dilemma

Posted: 07-19-2017

Here is a picture of my mother’s cruet set, missing three glass bottles from my careless handling.  Not that I have ever used the cruet set in the five decades since my dear mom died.  The glass has dropped and shattered as I have sloppily transferred the set from one area of storage to another.

I look at that darn cruet set and face a cosmic dilemma.  What do I do with a reminder of my mother that I will never use and that my children will never want?  When I showed the set to my adult son  and explained the emotional attachment I felt, he nodded thoughtfully and asked “What the heck is a cruet?”  (A cruet, also called a caster, is a bottle that hold olive oil or vinegar or mustard.)

Advisors to emotional hoarders like me say “let go.”   Take a picture, they advise, if you want to preserve the memory.  Look to  the future, they counsel, instead of wallowing in the past.  And always remember, they say, that your children will never, ever want a cruet set.

I have finally decided to unload the cruet set.  The emotional attachment is still strong but it has been overcome by an even more powerful insight about me and the future:

Polishing cruet sets is not on my bucket list.

My farm wife advetures featured in Growing America

Posted: 06-29-2017

I had the pleasure of talking to Lynne Haynes, a reporter/writer for Growing America, who wanted to do a feature of my experiences as a farm wife.  Here is the finished article.  Lynne is obviously a GREAT writer because I come off sounding pretty good!



My Olympic Gold is in My Molar

Posted: 08-24-2016

Olympians proudly wear their gold medals around their neck.

My winning gold is less obvious.  It takes the form of a dental crown and sits amid my back molars.  Decay has found its way into the 28-year old crown and it needs to be replaced.  Continuing the Olympic theme, my crown is roughly a decade older than Simone Biles and every other each member of the US Olympic gymnast team.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Simone Biles of the United States poses for photographs with her gold medal after the medal ceremony for the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 631390975 ORIG FILE ID: 587771206

I don’t mind having a crown replaced because the dental office is the one place I say YES TO DRUGS.  Staring with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and continuing with every numbing agent available in modern dentistry, I will feel nothing.  The only pain is when the bill comes and I discover my dental insurance does not agree I need all that pain relief.  Apparently, my insurance only covers laughing gas for children and not for adults.  I am NOT laughing at that policy.

Back to the gold.  My dentist informs me she will remove the old crown, sterilize it and (get ready) give it to me so I can sell it to a gold-monger!!!!  I have literally struck gold!


The value of an Olympic gold medal is about $300.00.   A gold crown is not quite in that league but still may be worth from $40 to $100.

Of course, the whole crown replacement has to be pre-approved by the insurance company and we might be viewing the winter Olympics by the time that gets through the system.

That gives me plenty of time to decide whether to cash in my gold crown or convert it into a smaller version of an Olympic necklace.


Earthquakes and Family Togetherness

Posted: 06-15-2014

The possibility of earthquakes was the least of my concerns when planning a family vacation in Chile. Travelling with two adult children carried a much higher risk of disaster. I figured after sharing close quarters with me for two weeks, my children would eagerly offer me as a sacrifice to the fiery gods at Villarrica, an active volcano near Pucon.

nick and me in pucon

Our son Nick teaches English in Chile. My husband Ron, daughter Molly, and I accepted his invitation to spend Christmas in Santiago and to welcome the New Year in the lake region near Pucon. Nick took me on an excursion to one of the lakes outside Pucon while Ron and Molly climbed Volcano Villarrica. Molly has always referred to Ron as the “good parent,” so he was in no danger of becoming a human sacrifice. My goal for the day was to allow my son to be in control and not revert to the role of mother in charge. I was determined to forge an adult relationship with my 25-year-old son and respect his guidance. That is why I found myself crawling like a Chilean tree lizard under three rows of barbed wire.

In Chile, private landowners control access to most of the natural features. In the case of the waterfall we were visiting, different property owners provided public access to different overlooks. We ended up at the least attractive overlook but the only way to get to a better one on a neighboring property without a half-mile detour was to scramble over rocks and crawl under barbed wire fence. “You can do it, Mom,” urged Nick, holding up a strand of barbed wire. I flattened myself to the ground and inched my way forward. I did not mention that a closer review of the guide book might have avoided this episode.

After enjoying some peanut butter sandwiches, we hiked a mile back to the main road. Just as we got there, a bus appeared. “Run, Mom!” yelled Nick. Showing the great racing form that earned me third place in the 5K Freedom’s Run category of “old and slow,” I hightailed it to the bus. At our next stop, Lake Cayubuga, we were greeted by great rumblings of thunder. I conveyed my concern to Nick that it seemed we were going to a major water body with a thunder storm moving in. Nick assured me the thunder and lightning and rain would be confined to the upper reaches of the mountain, and it would be sunny at the beach.

As we stood on the beach in the rain, Nick strolled ankle deep into the water to take pictures of the massive rain clouds and the occasional lightening strike. This was too much; the mother-knows-best impulse broke free. “Nick, I advised, “GET OUT OF THE WATER NOW.” I had visions of hosting a posthumous display of Nick’s photographs with the explanation he was struck by lightning while ignoring his mother.

Nick decided it would be best to hitchhike back to Pucon rather than waiting for the bus. “Look old and tired,” he told me, “so people will stop.” No problem, I replied. A very nice Chilean professor (who told us a former student is studying at WVU) drove us back.

That night, Ron and Molly shared tales of their arduous five-hour climb to the top of Volcano Villarrica. I countered with a description of my sprint for the bus. Our trip to Chile was an unforgettable experience. We viewed glaciers, endured an earthquake that registered 6.5, rode horses through the Andes, and were guests at a traditional Chilean barbeque. But what is even more amazing is that after spending two weeks together, my adult children are still speaking to me.

Going to the Dogs

Posted: 06-11-2014

Here is a sure sign I am getting older.

I am watching too many video clips of dogs on YouTube.

My favorite features a soldier returning from duty in Afghanistan and his dog literally hugs him and cries for joy. I also like the talk show clip of a young officer reunited with her Labrador retriever. The pooch goes crazy when he realizes his master is on stage.

I confided in my daughter that I am watching a lot of dog-greeting-returning-soldier videos and she sympathized as only a daughter can. She sent me a video of a cat ignoring his owner after a long separation.

Last week I watched a video of beagles freed from a medical research center. I tearfully watched as the beagles took their tentative, first steps on grass. Or how about that poor flea ridden mange infested pooch rescued from a garbage dump, I mean landfill? Dogs should not be found abandoned in landfills but neither should drilling waste from hydraulic fracturing. The WV legislature has approved unlimited disposal of fracking byproducts in seven landfills. Thanks to the leadership of State Senator Herb Snyder, none of the landfill sites are in the Eastern Panhandle because areas with karst geology are excluded from the bill.

When I first contemplated retirement, I did not envision spending hours watching video clips. I planned on passing my golden years puttering in the garden. This idea came to me from reading a lot of British mysteries as a young adult.  Some character, usually wearing a floppy hat and smock, was always happily cutting and clipping in her garden when approached by a constable seeking information about the murdered vicar.   Puttering in the garden seemed to me a nice past time.

I do enjoy selecting seeds and buying plants. My interest wanes when it comes to actually planting the seeds and plants, much less weeding in the hot summer sun. One morning I dutifully donned a staw hat and carried a wicker basket to reap the bounty of the garden. I mistook some young zinnia plants for basil leaves. Luckily, I realized my mistake before making batches of pesto.

Now I go to local farmer markets for fresh vegetables. For the first time in 50 years, the number of farms is increasing in Jefferson County. Small farms are being managed by new operators, many of whom are women, and local markets are essential to sales. Unfortunately, the Jefferson County Development Authority is not very supportive of small farmers. They have eliminated the position of agricultural development officer. I wish the Development Authority would place the same priority on growing local businesses as they do in chasing out-of-state corporations.

I still enjoy puttering in the garden. I take my iPad and a tall glass of iced tea, recline in a lawn chair and peruse the web for dog video clips. Every once in a while I look up and observe the gardener I have hired as he weeds and mulches the flower beds.

I always give him a tip of my floppy hat.