Showing posts from June, 2013

Poetry Sunday: I started Early - Took my Dog

A few days ago, I posted my review here of Kate Atkinson's book Started Early, Took My Dog . That enigmatic title was taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson about a walk on the beach. Of course, when I realized that, I had to look the poem up and read it. Like all of Dickinson's poems, it is very evocative and succinctly expresses, in her own inimitable way, her view and understanding of the world around her. I liked the poem a lot, so I decided to feature it today. And here it is - complete with Dickinson's own original spellings, capitalizations, and punctuations. I started Early - Took my Dog by Emily Dickinson I started Early – Took my Dog – And visited the Sea – The Mermaids in the  Basement Came out to look at me – And  Frigates  – in the Upper Floor Extended  Hempen Hands  – Presuming Me to be a Mouse – Aground –  opon  the Sands – But no Man moved Me – till the Tide Went past my simple Shoe – And past my Apron – and my Belt And past my 

Caturday: Meow Men

Are you a Mad Men fan? I admit I am obsessed with the show. I didn't watch it when it first started six years ago because it conflicted with something else I was watching, and I only got into it recently. Courtesy of Netflix, we've been doing some binge watching on our Sunday video afternoons. We are now up to season four. Of course, season six just ended and I know a lot of fans out there are still suffering withdrawal, so here's a little something to keep them entertained until season seven rolls around - a cat pastiche of the intro with iconic theme music of the series. Tabby as Don Draper. Really, is there anything cats can't do?

That was the week that was

What a week! So much news made and, for once, not all of it was bad. *~*~*~* I can't let the week pass without adding my voice in praise of Sen. Wendy Davis of Texas , as well as Texas Democrats and all the Texas women (and men) who showed up in Austin this week to support efforts to kill the Republicans' attempt to further strip women's rights. It was a magnificent effort and is not at all diminished by the fact that Rick Perry immediately called a second special session of the state legislature to consider nothing but the draconian abortion bills. The legislature will have thirty days to pass the bills and it is likely the Democrats will not be able to stop them this time, although they will try. Republicans are determined to do the tea party's bidding on this, in spite of the fact that these restrictions on abortion are blatantly unconstitutional by any reading of Roe v. Wade and all the challenges to it and subsequent court decisions over the years. And who know

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson: A review

One of the great pleasures - one of many - for me in reading Kate Atkinson is all the cultural and literary references in her books. It's sort of an "inside baseball" thing, I guess. The  cognoscente  feel especially smart and privileged to understand the references. Many of her references relate to television series that any fan of PBS/BBC mysteries will recognize. For example, I think every one of her books that I have read so far has had someone in them watching  Midsomer Murders ! As a prodigious fan of that series and owner of an (almost) complete collection of DVDs of it, I know just who she's talking about when she refers to  those  people. Another television investigative team she mentions in this book is that of Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis, another of my all-time favorites. There are also literary references to everyone from Shakespeare to Faulkner to, in this case, Emily Dickinson. It's from one of Dickinson's poems that the rather weird

The Supreme Court's split personality

So, yesterday the Supreme Court overturned on a vote of 5-4 the heart of the Voting Rights Act, in spite of the fact that the Act had been reauthorized by an overwhelming vote of Congress - the Senate passed it unanimously and the House passed it 390 to 33 - in 2006, and subsequently signed by President Bush who professed to be extremely happy to do so.  This near-unanimous support in the Legislative and Executive branches of government was completely overlooked and held to be worthless by the Supreme Court in its decision. The majority - the usual suspects: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and, in this case, Kennedy - essentially found that racism no longer is a barrier to voting in the United States.  And I look around the state of Texas and most of the states of the old Confederacy, as well as Arizona, and I have to wonder: Exactly what country are these guys looking at?   So, today, the Supreme Court strikes down on a 5-4 vote - this time Kennedy joined the other side - the De

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, Second Edition by David More and John White: A review

First and foremost, this is a beautiful book. It features over 5,000 meticulous illustrations, by master botanical artist David More, of the nearly 2,000 species of trees found in the forests, landscapes, and gardens of North America and Europe.  In addition to the precise paintings which illustrate the important details of trees - things like leaves, needles, bark, blossoms, fruits, nuts, and cones - More's paintings are accompanied by informative text from John White, a former research dendrologist at the UK's Forestry Commission. This is the book's second edition, the first published in 2002 and this one just out in June of this year.  It is a big book, weighing in at over five pounds, but then it has to be big in order to give full justice to all those different trees. The trees are divided, quite logically, as you would expect from an encyclopedia, into families. Forty-seven distinct families of trees are represented here, from the largest ones like Cypress, Pi

Sick of Snowden

 “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”                                                                                 - Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963 I grew up in an era when people who broke unjust laws because of their principles and whistleblowers who risked their lives and freedom to bring the public's attention to wrongs that the government was committing were unquestioned heroes. I admired them unreservedly and wanted to do everything I could to support them. There is one big difference between those people - people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Daniel Ellsberg - and the current crop of so-called whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Those principled people of the 1960s and 1970s acknowledged that they were breaking laws, claimed th

Poetry Sunday: The Wind and the Moon

"Radiant and lovely, the queen of the night." Tonight is the night when the full Moon make its closest approach to Earth all year and it will appear at its biggest and brightest to us Earthlings. Some call it the "Supermoon," although, in fact, it is unlikely that we will be able to tell any difference with our naked eyes from a normal full Moon. But, like every full Moon, this one will be gorgeous, well worth going outside to look at. In honor of this "Supermoon," here's a poem about the Moon that I read and loved as a child. I'm sure many other children did, too. It it one of the reasons that I've had a life-long love affair with the Moon.  The Wind and the Moon by George MacDonald Said the Wind to the Moon, "I will blow you out; You stare In the air Like a ghost in a chair, Always looking what I am about — I hate to be watched; I'll blow you out." The Wind blew hard, and out went the Moon. So, deep On a heap Of c


What do you suppose Simon's Cat and his friend The Kitten are up to? Just about as I expected. When cats are involved, there is always a nap in the picture.

Tony Soprano lives

The news that James Gandolfini had died in Rome of a heart attack earlier this week hit me, as I'm sure it did many Sopranos fans, like a punch to the gut. I felt as though a member of my own family had died. For six years, beginning in 1999, Tony Soprano was a weekly visitor to our home each Sunday night during the seasons of The Sopranos . He was a brutal mob boss, but he was also a human being with human frailties and concerns and James Gandolfini made us care about him almost in spite of ourselves. That was his genius. For those six years, The Sopranos was the best thing on television. Indeed, it made us see the possibilities of television, that it could be more than mindless sitcoms and cookie cutter cop and doctor shows. It showed us a complicated family, one in which we could see our own families reflected, even if we had no connection to New Jersey mafiosi. We laughed, we cried, sometimes we yelled at the screen. It was a show that made us care . In the end, lik

The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis: A review

I am a big fan of Lindsey Davis' Marcus Didius Falco series. I've read all twenty books in that series and was waiting for the next entry, but, as it happens, Marcus has retired from the investigations game since the death of his father. As chief heir to the family fortune, he's taken over the family auction business and is prospering in that role. But the miscreants of Rome should not rest easy. The Didius Falcos' adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, is now on the case, having been trained by the master himself. Those readers who have followed the series will remember Flavia Albia as the British-born orphan waif rescued from a life on the streets by Marcus and Helena. She was adopted and raised as their daughter. Now she is all grown up at 28 and is herself a widow, her much-loved young husband, Lentullus, having died a few years before. She is determined to make her own way in the world and to maintain her independence. Following in her adoptive father's footsteps i

Mississippi Craft Center

We just returned from our annual trip to Mississippi where we visit with my family and friends there and go to put flowers on the grave sites of my parents, grandparents, and other relatives. The area was lush and green this year. They've had plenty of rain this spring and the wildflowers and gardens certainly testify to that. Every year, we try to vary our route so that we get to see a different part of the country. This year, we went through central Louisiana and entered Mississippi at Natchez. Natchez is a very old river town, established in the 1700s, and, of course, it is famous for its ante bellum homes and the "pilgrimage" to those homes every spring when they are at their height of beauty. But we didn't visit any of them on this trip. Been there, done that before. Instead, we headed out of town on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444 mile scenic route that goes all the way from Natchez to Nashville. We made our first stop just outside of Natchez.  

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø: A review

I was 19 percent of the way through reading this novel on my Kindle when I realized that I had no idea what was going on. It was a story that switched back and forth between the war years of the 1940s and the rise of neo-fascism in Norway in 1999. Was it all connected somehow? It seemed clear that Jo Nesbø intended that, but it was just hard for me to see.  I know people who would have given up reading the book at that point, but I am made of sterner stuff! I was determined to see what all the shouting and praise for Nesbø was all about. I'm glad I persevered. Shortly after scratching my head in confusion at the 19 percent mark, the story actually started to make sense to me and I was able to begin to see the connections between the various characters and their story lines. We meet Daniel, a young Norwegian soldier in 1944, fighting alongside the Germans against the Russians. He is a legendary sharpshooter. But then he is supposedly killed. Later, a wounded Norwegian sold


It has been almost forty years since I last lived in Mississippi, but, in a sense, it will always be "home" because I grew up there. My parents are dead now, but I still have other family there, as well as friends that I grew up with, and so I retain an interest in what happens there. When I see a story in the news with the name of that state in the headline, I tend to pay attention and read it. So it was that when I recently came across this story in The Daily Beast , of course I had to read it. The thing is, when I see these stories about Mississippi, they are almost always bad news. This one was no exception. The first paragraph pointed out some of the appalling statistics about the state: It has the nation's highest poverty rate. It has the second-highest teen pregnancy rate and the highest teen birth rate. Its schools rank 48th out of the 50 states. It ranks second among states (to Louisiana) in the percentage of its citizens that it locks up. Its infancy mo

The return of the cougar

There was an interesting article today in the science section of The New York Times about the return of the cougar to the eastern half of the continent . The species had been virtually exterminated east of the Rockies by 1900. The last one known to exist in Maine was killed in 1938. The ones that remained in the western states, mainly in the Rocky Mountains, were treated as vermin and they could be shot on sight as late as the 1960s. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 put an end to that. Scientists say that as early as 40 years ago the species started expanding its range. The life cycle of cougars demands that as young males reach adulthood, after about two years with their mothers, they must leave the area and find new places to settle and to find mates. Following that urge, the young males, as well as the young females, began to move east. Their numbers have steadily increased and there are now estimated to be as many as 30,000 in North America. They have recolonized much of

Poetry Sunday: Invictus

Nelson Mandela is in hospital again, as he has often been this year, because of a problem with his lungs. Thinking of Mandela reminded me of the acclaimed movie about his life starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood that came out a few years ago, Invictus .  And thinking of the movie naturally led me to thinking of the famous poem which allegedly meant so much to Mr. Mandela during his long imprisonment during the apartheid years in South Africa. The man is a world treasure and so, in honor of him, let's feature that poem today and send him our positive thoughts. Invictus  by William Ernest Henley Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of th

Cats in hats?

The latest internet kitty sensation seems to be hats for cats. That's right - a chapeau for your favorite furry purry. Meredith Yarborough, a South Carolina woman, started knitting kitty hats and taking pictures of cats modeling them in order to sell them on Etsy . Once she was discovered by the internet, the whole thing went viral. Here are a few examples of her creations. You could make your cat feel like King of the Beasts with a lion's mane hat. What could be more fun than a cupcake hat? Every little kitty wants to grow up to be a fireman, right? He can celebrate his birthday with his very own birthday hat. And he'll be all set for Halloween Trick or Treat with a witch's hat. Yarborough's cat Bullwinkle is her model. He must be an exceptionally docile and sweet-tempered cat. She claims that she makes these hats because she loves cats and wants to share that love with the world. I don't know. Look at the expression on that cat&

The Round House by Louise Erdrich: A review

This is a story that, unfortunately, resonates with current events happening all too often on Indian reservations in this country. It involves violence against Native American women by white men. It is a problem which raises knotty jurisdictional issues for law enforcement. This may sound familiar to those who follow the news out of Washington. During the debate over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act last year, certain Republicans in Congress balked at some of the provisions because they did not want Native American courts and law enforcement to have authority to arrest and prosecute white perpetrators of such crimes. This is the issue that is at the heart of Louise Erdrich's latest book about Ojibwe culture, the National Book Award winner,  The Round House. The events in the book take place in 1988. In the spring of that year, Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is the victim of a horrific rape. It leaves her physically batter