Showing posts from January, 2019

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley: A review

This might be my favorite Flavia de Luce novel so far. I'm not sure it is the best; it may just be that I was in the mood for it. You know how it is when a book hits exactly the right spot at the right time. It makes for a very pleasurable reading experience. Flavia is now a teenager and an orphan. Her beloved father had died just six months previously after her mother, the sainted Harriet, had died when she was only a baby.  Harriet had left the family home, which had come down from her side of the family, to Flavia, the youngest of her three daughters. Now that her father is gone, a decision must be made as to what to do with that home. Flavia's bossy aunt thinks it should be sold. But it's the only home Flavia knows. How can she sell it? Besides, what would happen to the loyal family factotum, Dogger, and the family cook? And, of course, her sisters Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne)? Well, Feely is about to marry her fiance, Dieter, so that's her sorted. The

Late January blooms

Late January and the weeds are flourishing in my garden. It seems that they do best in winter when there's hardly any competition from the plants that the gardener actually wants to grow. I've been spending a lot of time lately digging them out, but so far I'm losing the battle. They grow faster than I can dig. Even so, it's not all weeds in the garden as we head into February. The garden is beginning to stir from its short winter nap and some plants are even blooming.  My little Tazetta narcissus plants   (I think this one is called 'Texas star') are just beginning to bloom. They seem to get earlier every year. Not many actually have open blooms yet, but it's a start and enough to lift my spirits. Seeing the flowers of the gerbera daisies always lifts my spirits. And the little violas continue to bloom from pots around the patio. The loropetalum is not in full bloom yet but it will be soon. Its fringy flowers reveal its relations

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover: A review

"...You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.  I call it an education.”  - Tara Westover in Educated: A Memoir. I don't often read memoirs or autobiographies. I prefer fiction. It's more honest, I think, with less egoism, narcissism, and self-righteous self-regard. But this book kept staring me in the face everywhere I looked last year and, at the end of the year, it kept turning up on everyone's "Best of 2018" lists, including Barack Obama's. What could it be about the book that readers and critics found so compelling? I decided I had to find out. Educated is the story of the youngest child born into a Mormon family of seven children that lived in the shadow of a mountain in southeastern Idaho. It's an area where most of the residents, it seems, are Mormons and very strict and conservative Mormons at that. But none are quite as strict or conservative as the Westover family, a family ruled by t

Poetry Sunday: Lines: The cold earth slept below by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This melancholy poem by the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is evocative of winter and loss. He was inspired to write it in response to the death of his beloved wife. I feel the cold and his sadness just from reading it. Lines: The cold earth slept below by Percy Bysshe Shelley The cold earth slept below;           Above the cold sky shone;                  And all around,                  With a chilling sound,  From caves of ice and fields of snow  The breath of night like death did flow                  Beneath the sinking moon.  The wintry hedge was black;           The green grass was not seen;                  The birds did rest                  On the bare thorn’s breast,  Whose roots, beside the pathway track,  Had bound their folds o’er many a crack                  Which the frost had made between.  Thine eyes glow’d in the glare           Of the moon’s dying light;                  As a fen-fire’s beam          

This week in birds - #338

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A first-year Vermilion Flycatcher just beginning to get his adult color. I photographed him in January a few years ago at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. *~*~*~* In the interests of greater biodiversity, many cities make an effort to attract and welcome more wildlife into their concrete jungles. Relatively small changes can aid in this effort. It starts with the base of the natural world: the insects. Planting rooftop gardens or other green spaces to welcome them is the first step. When the insects come, their predators will follow. *~*~*~* The southern Australia island of Tasmania had 56 active wildfires going as of Friday, as the country suffers through another scorching summer . Power plants are struggling to keep up with demand in what will be one of Australia's hottest summers on record. *~*~*~* The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has updated its R

Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn: A review

The full title of this book is quite a mouthful: Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live. That's a tall order that the title promises to fulfill but Rob Dunn manages to do it. The aim of his book is to explore the biosphere that comprises all the critters that live on and in our bodies and that share our houses with us. After years of sampling and cataloging this biosphere, he and his colleagues found what he describes as a "floating, leaping, crawling circus of thousands of species," perhaps as many as 200,000 altogether. Many of their discoveries were previously unknown to science. Dunn and his team sampled and analyzed such areas around the house as shower heads, door frames, refrigerators, hot water heaters, cellars, toilets, pillowcases, and the list goes on and on. Some of the findings are rather disgusting and occasionally alarming but always fascinating. The bottom-line finding of the

Wordless Wednesday: The backyard in winter


The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd: A review

It is soon-to-be Christmas 1920, two years after the end of the Great War. Ian Rutledge has spent the day fulfilling social obligations. It was his beloved sister Frances' wedding day and his duty, since both their parents are dead, was to walk her down the aisle and give her hand to the husband-to-be. He is happy for his sister but cannot help feeling melancholy about how her marriage will change his relationship with her. She has been the rock on which he has anchored his life after coming home from the war shell-shocked, wounded in spirit. After the wedding, he makes it through the reception, socializing with the guests, but once the happy couple leaves on their wedding trip, his PTSD closes in and he must escape. He leaves London, driving aimlessly with no destination in mind. Somewhere on the dark and lonely road between London and Suffolk, he encounters a car stopped in the middle of the road with an open door. Rutledge stops to give assistance and finds a woman standin

Poetry Sunday: When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

We lost Mary Oliver last week. She died at the age of 83. She was a prize-winning poet who wrote of the natural world, and she was one of the most popular of modern poets. Her poetry is very accessible and that is not a bad thing.  This is actually one of her most famous poems and it could serve as a summation of her life. At the end of that life she could well and truly say that she did not "end up simply having visited this world." When Death Comes by Mary Oliver When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox; when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider etern

This week in birds - #337

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Snowy Egret poses atop a post near Galveston Bay. Note his "golden slippers," a definitive field mark of the species. *~*~*~* Certain politicians in our country will tell you that there is no such thing as global warming because it is cold here now. Those politicians are unable to see beyond their own backyard. Much of North America is experiencing very cold temperatures this weekend, but in the southern hemisphere, Earth is burning. In Australia, for example, they've had record temperatures recently of almost 122 degrees F which has had devastating effects on Nature. Millions of birds, bats, and fish have died as a direct result of the heat. Moreover, wildfires are widespread and farmers are experiencing crop failure. *~*~*~* Meanwhile, a scientist who studied the Puerto Rican rainforest returned there after 35 years to find that 98% of ground insects had disappeared and along

A blast from my past: The myth of exceptionalism

I was looking at the record of traffic on my blog this week and I saw that this post from five years ago was getting some notice. Why now? I've no idea. But rereading it, it seems just as accurate and important now as I obviously considered it back then. Also quite ironic considering our current circumstances. What do you think? ~~~ Friday, September 13, 2013 The myth of exceptionalism "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation."   - Vladimir Putin in  New York Times  op-ed Russia's Vladimir Putin made a big splash this week with  his op-ed  piece in the  Times   in which   he lectured the United States and President Obama about the " need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follo

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: A review

I found myself grinning and sometimes chuckling my way through this tale of a serial killer in Lagos. Does that make me a bad person? The description of the book on Goodreads is: " Satire meets slasher in this short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends." That pretty succinctly sums it up. But it is actually much more than that. It is, at its heart, a story about family dynamics and loyalty. It is a cleverly written satire, full of dark humor and social commentary that is elegantly disguised. But, basically, it is the story of the love and devotion of two sisters. We see things from the point of view of Korede. She is a nurse and a neat freak and she seems to lead a fairly normal life. She is well thought of on her job at the hospital in Lagos and is in line to be named head nurse. She has a crush on a young doctor called Tade and she hopes that he will notice her and r