Showing posts from February, 2019

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: A review

I have resisted reading this book. It wasn't really hard. I don't usually read memoirs or biographies, so I wasn't particularly tempted. Plus, I wrote my own (metaphorical) hillbilly elegy long ago and wasn't really interested in reading somebody else's. Yes, I grew up as a hillbilly, too. But my "hills" were several hundred miles south of the ones in Kentucky/Ohio that J.D. Vance called home. My heritage, though, is much the same Scots-Irish ancestry and culture as his. Moreover, the rural community where I grew up was poor as Vance says his was. However, based on his descriptions of his family's holdings and income, they would likely have been considered middle-class where I lived. But perhaps poverty, at least to some extent, is in the eye of the beholder or in the perception of the one who experiences it. At any rate, Vance's memoir of himself and his family and the poverty they experienced and how they pulled themselves up by their own

The Lost Man by Jane Harper: A review

The Outback region of Australia is a hard land. People who choose to live there must also be hard in order to survive. That is the impression that one gets early on in Jane Harper's book, The Lost Man. I had not read Harper, an award-winning Australian author, before, so I had no preconceptions and didn't really know what to expect from this book, but I had heard positive comments and decided to read it. Turns out that was a good choice. The book at its heart is the portrait of a family and of the secrets the family keeps in order to appear "normal" to others. The family is the Brights, mother Liz and her three adult sons, Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. The husband and father of the family has been dead for ten years, killed in an automobile accident that also injured Liz. Liz, Cameron and his wife Ilse and their two daughters, along with Bub live on the family property in that unforgiving Outback. The old family retainer, Harry, and two seasonal workers also live

Poetry Sunday: Bury Me in a Free Land by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Last week I made the acquaintance of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. She was quite a remarkable woman. Frances Harper was born in 1825 in Baltimore to a free African-American couple. She was their only child. Unfortunately, she lost her mother when she was quite young and she was raised by an aunt. She attended a school for African-American children run by her uncle, Reverend William Watkins. She was a bright and talented child who began writing poetry in her youth. She published her first collection of poems, entitled Autumn Leaves , in 1845. She wrote other forms of literature, including short stories, in addition to poetry. In 1859, she became the first African-American female to publish a short story. The following year she married Fenton Harper who had several children by a previous marriage and she chose to retire from public life to live in Ohio with her new family. In 1862, she gave birth to a daughter. In 1864, after her husband had died, she returned to public life and the

This week in birds - #342

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This Red-tailed Hawk doesn't look too happy about the drenching he just got from a sudden rain shower. He's been getting a lot of those showers lately as our rainy winter/early spring continues. *~*~*~* Extreme weather events continue to be a common occurrence around the country and around the world. This week, for example, the city of Flagstaff in northern  received three feet of snow in twenty-four hours. It was the highest single-day snow total in the 126 years that records have been kept. *~*~*~* Say goodbye to the Bramble Cay melomys , a tiny island rodent that the government of Australia has confirmed as the first mammal known to have become extinct because of climate change. The rodents were wiped out by sea-level rise on their island.  *~*~*~* A colony of these cute little Burrowing Owls is thriving alongside Los Angeles International Airport . If there is a niche somewhere, Nature wi

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

We first met Maisie Dobbs in the years before World War I when she was a young girl who had lost her mother and was being raised by her father. Her father found a position for her as a maid to an aristocratic family. That benevolent family took an interest in the young girl and helped to educate her. Her relationship with the family was the making of her. It was through them that she became the person that she was as an adult, and eventually, she married the son of the family and emigrated to Canada. But tragedy followed her. Her husband was killed and she returned to England. In this latest installment, we have progressed all the way to the beginnings of World War II. It is 1940 and England is on edge. It has not been attacked directly yet, but an attack is expected imminently. Meanwhile, their forces in Europe are being pushed back to the sea. The Dunkirk rescue looms. Maisie is still pursuing her profession as an investigator and psychologist, ably assisted by her longtime rig

Throwback Thursday: What rock did these guys crawl from under?

Looking back at some of my old blog posts from years ago, I came across this one which is just more evidence that there is nothing new under the sun. Intolerance and hate have been with us forever and were alive and well nine years ago - as they are today. ~~~ Monday, February 22, 2010 What rock did these guys crawl from under? I don't even know how to begin to say anything sensible about this  state legislator from Virginia : State Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas says disabled children are God's punishment to women who have aborted their first pregnancy. He made that statement Thursday at a press conference to oppose state funding for Planned Parenthood. "The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," said Marshall, a Republican. "In the Old Testament, the first born of every

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday: A review

Let me just get this out of the way right up front: I loved this book! I thought it was brilliantly written, the characters were engaging, and the pace of the plot kept me turning the pages and made it hard to put the book down and sorry to see it end. Hard to believe that this was actually Lisa Halliday's debut novel, although she has been an award-winning writer of other fiction. The book, like Gaul, is divided into three parts. The first part follows 20-something Alice, an assistant editor at a publishing house in New York, and her developing relationship with Ezra, a much older and much-honored writer. The second part deals with Amar, an Iraqi-American economist, detained on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan and stuck in a holding room in Heathrow Airport in London. And the final part features Ezra doing a radio interview with a public radio type. We follow Alice as she sits on a park bench one day and is joined by a man who is perhaps in his sixties - old enough

Poetry Sunday: I Opened a Book by Julia Donaldson

I happened upon this little poem early last week and it has stayed in my mind ever since. Those who love books and who lose themselves in books will understand. That's reason enough to feature it as the poem of the week. I Opened a Book by Julia Donaldson I opened a book and in I strode Now nobody can find me. I’ve left my chair, my house, my road, My town and my world behind me. I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring, I’ve swallowed the magic potion. I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king And dived in a bottomless ocean. I opened a book and made some friends. I shared their tears and laughter And followed their road with its bumps and bends To the happily ever after. I’ve finished my book and out I came. The cloak can no longer hide me. My chair and my house are just the same, But I have a book inside me.

This week in birds - #341

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Is there a more attractive bird native to North America than the female Northern Cardinal? This beauty is part of my count for the Great Backyard Bird Count that is taking place this weekend. Remember: You can be a part of it, too. Just visit the website and register, then follow the directions. *~*~*~* Our Senate did something wonderful this week. By a vote of 92-8, they passed the most sweeping conservation bill in a decade . The legislation will protect millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country. It will establish four new national monuments, expand five existing national parks, and permanently withdraw mining claims around Yellowstone National Park and North Cascades National Park. In addition, the bill reauthorizes and funds the Neotropical Bird Conservation Act through 2022! Good on you, Senate. See what you can do when you work together? *~*~*~* And in another exam

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2019

 Does one daffodil make a spring? Maybe if you add a few narcissi.  And some sweet little leucojum, aka snowflakes - the only kind of snowflakes we'll see here this winter.   The pansies have been blooming since fall and are well past their prime. As are the violas. The Turk's cap also has been blooming all winter, but, in the absence of a freeze, it blooms 12 months of the year in my garden.  A few gerberas are still going.  They just bloom on and on and on...  The Carolina jessamine is not in full flower yet but it's getting there. The feverfew, too, has been in bloom for quite a while and shows no sign of waning. Salvia greggii  (autumn sage) is another native plant that blooms almost year-round here.  The white yarrow continues to bloom by the goldfish pond. 'Peggy Martin' rose has already been flowering for more than a month.  Purple oxalis is at its best in winter here.  The loropetalum is

Fatal Remedies by Donna Leon: A review

Paola Brunetti is a woman who feels injustice keenly. Particularly when that injustice is dealt to innocent children. She has recently become aware that travel agencies in her own city of Venice are selling sex tours to Southeast Asia. These sex tours offer children as their objects. Children are being raped for the pleasure of sick, rich men. Paola feels a compulsion to act. The travel agencies are not technically breaking any Venetian or Italian law; their transgression is against morality. Paola decides to protest in a way that will get the attention of the agencies and, she hopes, the public. And so, in the early morning hours one day, she goes to the local travel agency with a very large rock which she hurls through the front window, setting off the burglar alarm. Then she sits down on a bench and waits to be arrested. The two local gendarmes show up and question her about what happened, asking her if she can describe the vandal. She offers them a description and, at length,

Will you count?

Presidents Day weekend is quickly approaching and that means, yes, it's time to count the birds again! This year will mark the 22nd annual count that is held in February and I have participated in most of them. It is a fun, free, and interesting way to learn about the birds that populate your part of the world in mid-winter (for some - late winter here) and to provide scientists with valuable data which helps them to evaluate the status of bird populations and changes in birds' winter movements.  Anyone can do it. Counting and reporting take no particular expertise. One takes at little as 15 minutes to observe and tabulate the birds in a particular area and then goes to the website, , registers the site, and reports. The website is user-friendly and walks you through the steps. The count takes place over four days, Friday through Monday. You can choose to report on any of those days or on every day and, as I said, you can count for as little as 15 minute

Tombland by C. J. Sansom: A review

The year is 1549 and things are about to get very interesting in Tudor England.  Henry VIII has been dead for two years. His son by his third wife, Jane Seymour, Edward VI, is now king. Edward is eleven years old and his uncle, Edward Seymour, rules as regent and Protector. The Protector has pursued a prolonged and essentially senseless war against Scotland which has led to economic collapse with hyperinflation which makes life even more difficult than usual for the poor. Moreover, after three good harvest years, 1549 threatens to be a very lean year in the countryside. The peasants are restless and rebellion is brewing. In London, lawyer Matthew Shardlake continues to pursue his profession, now with his assistant Nicholas. Shardlake had been employed by various members of the Tudor regime over the years, lastly by Henry's sixth wife, Catherine Parr. Now his services are utilized by the Lady Elizabeth, Henry's younger daughter by Ann Boleyn, who is fifteen years old. El

Poetry Sunday: Winter Syntax by Billy Collins

I love the imagery which Billy Collins employs in this poem to express the difficulty of writing literature, of expressing a complete and comprehensible thought. He likens it to a "lone traveler heading into a blizzard at midnight." As he struggles against the elements, he thinks of all the things that it would be easier for him to do. And yet he persists until at dawn a smile will appear in his "beard of icicles" and the lone traveler will, at last, be able to express a complete thought. Winter Syntax by Billy Collins A sentence starts out like a lone traveler heading into a blizzard at midnight, tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face, the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him. There are easier ways of making sense, the connoisseurship of gesture, for example. You hold a girl's face in your hands like a vase. You lift a gun from the glove compartment and toss it out the window into the desert heat. These cool moments are blazing with si

This week in birds - #340

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Early in the week, my birdfeeders looked something like this. They were covered in finches - here American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins , but also Purple Finches.  By the end of the week, most of these visitors had moved on. We had temperatures in the 70s and 80s F for much of the week so maybe that convinced the birds that it was time to migrate north toward their breeding grounds. *~*~*~* The bulldozers have moved in at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, and construction of a wall there is expected to begin soon. The Center is still fighting to stop the destruction of the butterfly habitat and has requested an emergency restraining order . Construction of the wall threatens the region's growing ecotourism industry and most local people oppose it . *~*~*~* NASA scientists announced this week that it is now official that 2018 was the planet's fourth hottest in nearly 140 years of reco