Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Back to School: A Fear of Writing

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Throughout 7th and 8th grade, I had a crazy person for English.  Sister Elise Jose was the grammar nazi of all time.  The entire class period consisted of reciting the rules of grammar, vocabulary definitions and diagramming sentences on the board, naming the parts of speech and their purpose.  We weren’t actually taught anything in class, we brought the books home, memorized and then stood up alphabetically, in turn, to regurgitate the information.  It was Catholic school in the 60’s, so Sr. Elise thought nothing of rapping us with a ruler for missing our turn or, if we were exceptionally stupid, slapping our faces.  We learned grammar.

As many of you are heading back to school, I thought it might be a good time to share some educational advice.  Learn to write.  I’m not suggesting you look up Sr. Elise Jose, god forbid, but there are many teachers who have the same attitude toward grammar and style, and while they probably won’t come after you with a ruler, they will mark up your papers with red ink and make you re-write until you get it right. They will also drop your grade.

Jo and I spoke recently about how much we enjoy writing the blogs and how, when we get out of practice, it is really hard to write.  It brought to mind a tiny gem of a book that a college professor assigned to all his horribly incapable students,  The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition.
I dug a copy out of our bookshelves.  I had given it to both my kids when they handed me badly written papers and asked me to correct them.  Just mastering the last chapter, the 21 elements, will raise your grade and make writing those endless papers easier.  Another useful resource is “Grammar Girl”, for the quick question.

My daughter recently referred to me as a “grammar geek”.  It is not a desire to write well that drives me, darling, but an age old fear of a tiny nun with a big stick.

Summer Reading; Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

I usually fill my summers with mysteries, light weight, easy reads and a some feel good books that I know I’ll like. This summer started slow, there were a couple of chilly, damp weeks that denied the date.  I found myself reading In ‘The Garden of the Beasts’ followed by ‘Unbroken’.  Neither book could be called light.

When I finally got myself to my favorite and arguably the country’s best bookstore, The Northshire,  to stock up on summer reads, I surprised myself.  I chose a book that never would have caught my interest on any other day.  Maybe it was the cover or the title that caught my eye.  Maybe it was because Northshire employees recommend their personal favorites and someone I’ve come to depend on recommended ‘Doc’.  Whatever the reason, I found myself reading, of all things, a Western.  I’ve never touched anything from this genre before, I was sure I couldn’t possibly be interested by a book about the old west, and yet, I was enthralled.

Doc is a historical novel, really well researched, about the notorious Doc Holliday.  Reading it was like Saturday morning in the 50’s.  It’s a story of American folk heros and lawmen, Wyatt Earp and  Bat Masterson, of old time saloons and good hearted whoring women, of card games and gamblers.

I enjoyed every minute of it.  The soft spoken southern gentleman Doc Holliday and hard as nails Kate, his well educated European lady turned prostitute are centerpieces in the lawless hellhole that was Dodge. Their stories and the stories of their friends, the Earps in the time before the shootout at The OK Corral, bring a new understanding to the Wild, Wild West in the 1800’s. American Mythology takes on new dimensions.  I liked these characters, I admired their strengths, I could appreciate their weaknesses and I didn’t expect that.

Rollicking, there’s a word I don’t use ever, but ‘Doc’ was a rollicking good read and has opened my mind. It’s good to try something new, even if you suspect you’ll hate it. You may surprise yourself too.  I’m gonna try ‘Lonesome Dove’ next.

All books are available at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Vermont.  Pay them a visit, you’ll be glad you did.

Book Review; Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Monday, June 4th, 2012

If I say this is a book you can’t put down, I lie.  You can and will put it down to catch your breath, to come to grips with what you’re reading and to wonder at the human capacity for strength and dignity, courage, forgiveness and a will to endure.  You will put it down to escape the suffering and grief, the evil of war.  Then, you will pick it right back up again because you are caught in the grip of a brilliant storyteller with an amazing, inspiring, story to tell, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Laura Hillenbrand is also the author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, a book I haven’t read.  Now, I can’t wait.  Her work is often described as ‘cinematic’ and in fact, the film, Seabiscuit, nominated for 7 Academy Awards, was based on Hillenbrand’s book. Universal Pictures, responsible for Seabiscuit, has already landed the film rights to Unbroken.

This morning, when my daughter asked my plans, I told her I had to “see” Louie get out of the Japanese internment camp before I did anything else.That’s how powerfully and vividly Hillenbrand brings to life the true story of Louis Zamperini.

Born in 1917, Louie was a “bad boy” by anyone’s standards.  He was a fighter, a thief and a runaway with a patient and loving family.  As he grew, he redirected his energies into running, powering himself to the Berlin Olympics and setting long standing track records.  WWII shattered his dreams of winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

In 1943, Air Force Lieutenant Louis Zamperini’s plane crashed into the Pacific, three survivors climbed into a life raft and drifted.  Forty seven days later , having survived sharks, enemy fire, hunger and thirst two men, Zamperini and Russell Allen Phillips were taken prisoner.  What was to follow was worse then anything endured at sea.

Their stories, the stories of so many of their fellow prisoner’s have been forgotten, but Hillenbrand brings them to life.  History must not be forgotten and Laura Hillenbrand’s genius for historical narrative makes remembering one hell of a trip.

Quick? What to Read Next?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012


Send Me Suggestions!  I’m now re-reading oldies but goodies and re-cycling blogs!  It’s important that I get my hands on something I can’t put down.  Please help,  What books have you really loved?

Among the books I’ve read and enjoyed recently, Anthill: A Novel, by E.O. Wilson.  Wilson, pulitzer prize winning author of The Ants and The Naturalist, makes his debut as a novelist in the story of Raff Cody, Alabama boy, nature lover, Harvard Law Student who finds  the wilderness he grew up in and loves threatened by development and his own life at stake. While the writing itself was not the best, the Anthill Chronicals, the part dedicated fully to following the life cycles of ant colonies, reads like poetry.  Don’t read this book if you are looking for a great novel, read it for the social commentary, insight to environmental activism and scientific detail.

Earlier this year, I was captivated by Margaret Walker’s Jubilee. Walker tells the true story of Vyry, she learned from her Grandma, the real Vyry’s daughter.  Child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress, Vyry tells the story of the south, as a slave on a pre-war plantation, the over-all destruction and devastation of the Civil War and the precarious hope of Reconstruction.  A true saga of the south, a heroine as compelling as Scarlett O’Hara, a history you won’t soon forget, I highly recommend Jubilee  as one of those books you never want to end.

Lisa See’s, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is set in 19th Century China, a time of foot binding, arranged marriages, women’s lives spent in seclusion.  Women of a certain region created their own secret language, nu shu, to communicate secretly and avoid the influence of husbands, fathers, brothers and sons whom must be obeyed.  Lily and her close friend Snow Flower share their life stories on a fan, their hopes and dreams, agonies and sorrows, until a misunderstanding written on the fan brings an end to their friendship.  A beautiful story, a perfect rainy , sunday afternoon read.

I have a friend, Shannon with whom I share books.  She has introduced me to Goodreads a place where you and your friends can review the books you’ve read and make recommendations.  I’ve found several of my reading buddies, past and present using Goodreads, give it a try.

The Hunger Games, What Would Mom Say?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The Movie is out and breaking box office records everywhere.  There is so much hype about the casting and the ratings, Is she too fat? Really?  Can children see this? Mmm, probably not.Who will play Finnick O’dair in the next movie?  It’s impossible not to at least wonder what The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is all about.

Kylie ordered up the trilogy and for the past two weeks we have been listening on audible.com to the story of Katniss Everdeen,  Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Peeta, Katniss, the brave.  I love it, first off, it’s reminiscent of the days when I read to Kylie every night.  There is something just right about cuddling up a hearing a story together.

Then there is the story itself, written for a generation that grew up with Harry Potter and the second wave of Lord of the Rings, followed by The Twilight Saga. Hunger Games encompasses the elements that hook you and make you want more.  You want to know what happens to these characters, what happens to their world.

The book brings to mind earlier stories of a changed and controlled world ,The Giver, by Lois Lowry and A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. Both books also were made into movies that never enjoyed the success of The Hunger Games.

Big Brother, reality TV, violence, suffering and death as entertainment and a love triangle to keep it interesting, sometimes, I thought it struck uncomfortably close to home, to our own viewing preferences. It’s social commentary, political commentary and an ethics discussion all neatly packaged in a boxed set. Read the books or listen to them with someone you love, then see the first movie, I hear it’s great.

Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity

Sheryl Crow, Chuck White “If It Makes You Healthy”

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

I spent part of last weekend with my sister and her life partner, Maureen.  My sister, Mary Pat, is years younger than I, She is a busy professional woman who’s idea of a healthy dinner, until Maureen entered her life, was frozen fettucine alfredo, usually on the run.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived Sunday afternoon to find my sister, if not happily, at least hungrily, cooking what appeared to be real food.  “Look at the cookbook,” she told me.  I found it on the kitchen table, surrounded by measuring utensils,  serving dishes and an empty bottle of Jack Daniels.  Looked good to me.

The cookbook was Sheryl Crow and Chuck White’s contribution to the celebrity world of healthy eating, “If It Makes You Healthy”. We all know Sheryl as a grammy winning singer/songwriter.  She is also the single mother of two boys and a breast cancer survivor.  She realized that her busy lifestyle demanded that she start eating well if she was to stay healthy.  She hired Chuck White as her personal chef.

Granted, we can’t all do this, and looking through the book I realized that many of the recipes called for time and effort, not the cookbook for everyday eating in a normal household, but, the recipes were set up in a way that pleased me.  Everything is made from scratch using fresh, organic and local ingredients.  

It is arranged seasonally, so a weekend that included a trip to the Farmer’s Market and an afternoon in the kitchen could end with a real feast.  The book covers everything from appetizers and soups to vegan desserts and fruity cocktails.

My sister turned out Jack Daniel’s Glazed Pork Tenderloin and Sweet Potato Skewers, and they were delicious.  If Mary Pat can do it after years of depending on the microwave, so can you.  If you’re a fan of Sheryl Crow, or just a fan of healthy food and good cooking, you’ll like this book.  Check out some the recipes posted on Oprah.com and see.

Looking for another good book? The Forest Lover, by Diane Vreeland

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I didn’t even know of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist born 1871, who became a great part of the history of  British Columbia. She was a rare woman and artist who lived a passionate life pursuing the development of her abilities as an artist, painter, and custodian of the native Canadian peoples at a time when they were being forced out of their ancestral home lands, being persecuted and their culture destroyed.

As much as her life as an artist was difficult, it was even more a challenge to be taken seriously when you were a woman. Somehow she had convinced her family to allow her to travel to England and then later to France to pursue her development as a painter. She, herself was surprised when before she returned to Canada, her work, after a year of study in France, appeared in the gallery of a major exhibition.

An unmarried woman, she traveled into the forest of the Canadian wilderness to find the indigenous peoples  still hanging onto the cultural life of the tribe. Being torn apart by the government, the native peoples of Canada, the Tribes, such as the Nootka were being disseminated, moved out of their homes for the purpose of controlling them, weakening their spirit it seemed. As atrocious as much of our own history with our native Americans.

Emily Carr’s life was an incredible one moving in places that the everyday man would seldom see, let alone a woman. Going deep into the forest, to the villages, witnessing the rituals in the life of the tribes. Drawing and painting with an urgency to gather the information about the Art of these native Canadian peoples, the rituals that were outlawed by government officials, the totems that were being cut down and destroyed, then later cut down and dragged into cities to put on display.

The often sad, heart breaking lives of the people she loved, the search for and determination to save if not in physical form then in her art, the culture, the spirit, the life of the coastal inhabitants. The magnificent sculpture that were the totems. Susan Vreeland weaves a credible historical tale… Rich, heart breaking and heart warming, possibly life changing in reading, the story of a unique woman living an exceptional life in adversity and in glory.

The Forest Lover, you will also fall in love with the dark, moist forest of the western Canadian wilderness and Emily Carr.

The Winter Garden… Much to Do

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

When you live in a temperate climate, there is always something needing to get done in the garden. It gets chilly but the plants are still growing. Some dormant but the roots are getting strong and growing deep as the upper plant is resting. If you can still find bulbs at your nursery, pick them up and plant them in the ground or even in a pot. The daffodils and tulips were gone, but I just picked up some freesias and crocus. You can still order on line for spring planting too: freesia, ranunculus, anemone and lilies.

Time for the bare root trees and shrubs at the nursery. First check the sale plants. There could be just the peach you were looking for, potted in the sale area at a discounted price.

Special items such as tree peonies are bare root at the nursery now.

Something quite incredible… They take for ever to grow but the surprise of the stunning flower… Careful! Be watchful and aware or you might miss the bloom. I have some tree peonies that have only had one flower for 5 years… Can’t wait until it has several more. But patience….

In the milder climates it is time to plant roses and fruit trees. Right now without the rain from the gods, as we are having another very dry month in California and throughout much of the country, you will have to be sure to water. When you plant trees in the fall and winter, they get a strong start in the earth as the roots grow underground while the plant above is resting. Different for the winter blooming plants of course. I once planted a whole huge forest of Camelias when it was February into March and they were laden with blooms.

This isn’t really the right timing. The flowers fell and the plants were a bit stressed. The energy put into bloom takes much of the plants energy and planting them in bud challenges the plant and you should be careful to be sure it is deeply watered and even give it some fertilizer, like fish emulsion or manure tea. My Camelias are doing well now three years later, so it was fine in the end, but I am sure they were a bit miffed at being planted while they were so busy putting there energy into blossom… Excuse me…

Fish emulsion is a nice way to water in some nutrients. You can add it to a watering can if you have a small garden or potted patio or deck garden.

Manure tea? You can take your bag of chicken or steer manure and put a couple of handfuls into the watering can and steep for a half hour or so and just water it into the pot.

Cutting back roses, vines, pruning the orchard.

Adding manure and compost to the garden so the rain will wash it in during the winter months.

A bit of a workout in the Garden? Raking is a meditation and, if done briskly, a nice bit of a work out. Shoveling, digging, and planting a nice sized bare root tree is also good for the muscles and a bit of cardio and weight training, but be careful when lifting as the posture or lack of it that you exhibit can cause some muscle tension later. Use your core, don’t slouch and lift things from below. Bend and turn from the hips not the lower back. Remember that a slightly bent knee rather than straight knee is good support and protects the knees and the lower back.

I love to rake leaves. It is something you can do with a rhythm of motion and try to, instead of thinking of the things you need to do at work, at home, or even let go of that cloud of the confusing relationship your in, and listen…. The leaves blowing, the birds are all around always you just sometimes don’t hear their scuffling under the brush and low shrubs… soft little steps waiting to come in when you leave and pick at the bugs you have uncovered with the rake.

I just heard one of my Hawks out early this morning. So happy that they have settled in on my property again. Not good if you have the very small dogs or little chicks running around on the lawn, but I am hoping they take away some of my rabbits this winter. Sorry bunny’s, but the kids are gone and there is no more Easter egg hunting around here… At least at the moment. Leave the vegetables alone and go where the children are living down the road.

The rabbits ate all my greens that I planted this fall, chard, kale, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower. I hope to replant soon as these are the good winter crops. The weather is so warm right now that I was daring enough to buy some seeds. Peas, sweet peas, get ready to plant these in March, but with this fair weather in February I might set some in the soil now.

Hugo; from Caldecott winner to Oscar nomination

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

This weekend, Ron and I took Jay to see Hugo, the story of a young boy, an orphan, living in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930’s.  The story wasn’t new to us.  Four years ago, I was lucky enough to have shared the book with Jay and when it came to the big screen, I couldn’t wait to share the film.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Martin Scorcese has created a dazzling piece of art that really should be seen and shared in a theater.  It’s the kind of film that the audience applauds. Jay loved it, I loved it, even Ron loved it. We live in Vermont, so 3D wasn’t an option, I imagine that is fabulous.  Even so, the sets are magical and magnificent.

The cast features Asa Butterfield as Hugo and Chloe Grace Moretz as Isabelle.  Their sweet, open friendship and childhood wonder is delightful.  Sasha Baron Cohen, that’s right, Borat, as The Stationmaster, obsessed with catching orphans is perfectly horrid and bizarre and ultimately human.  Ben Kingsley, as Georges Melies is, well, he’s Ben Kingsley, wonderful in any role.  Keep your eyes open for the Johnny Depp cameos, this is his kind of movie, and for Jude Law as Hugo’s father.

Scorcese won a Golden Globe for his direction. He had a lot to which to aspire.   In 2008, the book, ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’,  by Brian Selznick was the first novel to win The Caldecott Medal awarded annually to the artist of an American Picture book.  Over 500 pages long, it is a historical novel inspired by the true story of Georges Melies, a pioneer of film.  Nearly 300 of the pages are black and white drawings. It’s beautiful, truly a work of art.

See the movie, you’ll love it and leave the theater with a sense of wonder.  Buy the book, for a child you love or for yourself to treasure.  It is a masterpiece.

Fungus Festival… in Santa Cruz of Course!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Last weekend was the Fungus Festival in Santa Cruz. I haven’t been to one in years. Last time I went it was at our lovely, humble, small Santa Cruz Natural History Museum located in a beach neighborhood with a whale sculpture in front for natural history interest and for the kids to climb on and learn from and enjoy.

Now they hold the Fest at the Louden Nelsen Center, a rather nondescript building that functions as a community center just blocks away from the central downtown Pacific Avenue hub.

My buddy in mushroom foraging didn’t think the specimens would be very good as the last 6 weeks have been dry and the fungi found for display would not be beautiful any longer but drying up without the vibrance you would want to see in them. He was right. He didn’t join me.

I wasn’t disappointed, however as I had wanted to catch a talk on medicinal mushrooms and I did. The speaker was a local renown acupuncturist, herbalist, and writer, Christopher Hobbs. He spoke briefly on mushroom nutrition before getting into the medicinal history and use of mushrooms. The mushroom has been valued in chinese medicine for thousands of years. When I have more time I will share some more of this information.

There were mushrooms trinkets for sale, mushroom books, mushroom art, and mushrooms to grow at home. I bought some “plugs” that I can introduce into some of my rotting logs up here in Bonny Doon, California. I am so excited! I think I will drill a hole into some partially rotting logs and hope for some success. A mushroom garden for my culinary pleasure and health and well being. Maitake, shitake, blue oyster, hericium or lions mane, and the powerful reishi.

Hopefully I will find time to share some more information later… so many kinds of magic in a mushroom, healing, nurturing and the interesting ways that they grow and spring out of anywhere and everywhere.