Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Books, Books, Books

Every year I tell myself that I'm not going to get frustrated by the cold dark days of January and February but instead I will take that time to hunker down and read from the piles books I've accumulated, and this year I successfully did that.  Here are some of the fruits of those two months.

Before I go to sleep - S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.  Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems.

That's the publisher's teaser to what turns into a page turner.  I'll say no more.

Alternate Side - Anna Quindlen

I’ve found my enjoyment of Quindlen’s books to be spotty but I was captivated by this one from the start. The neighborhood setting was like a Petrie dish for a class study. I found the huge cast of characters hard to sort out and remember who did what so I finally jotted them down - very helpful.

Nora and Charlie live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a brownstone on a dead end street where they had raised their college aged twins. Over the years, the isolation of the street creates a club of sorts between the neighbors. Everyone is a college-educated professional and they are united by their wealth but through Nora’s eyes we see their paths change as they lose their youthful ideals. “The price so many of them had paid for prosperity was amnesia. They’d forgotten where they’d come from, how they’d started out. They’d forgotten what the city really was, and how small a part of it they truly were.”

The lack of honest communication between Nora and Charlie creates huge fissures in their relationship as the empty nest and circumstances in the neighborhood leave them reassessing their roles and directions. One of Nora’s friends quips that “monogamy had worked better when people didn’t live past fifty.” As they finally do get honest with each other, they realize they have been living parallel lives. Nora observes that Charlie is a man from the generation that expected the basic maintenance of his life to be handled by women - his assistant, his housekeeper, and “to a lesser and less solicitous and therefore less satisfactory extend his wife. But arranging things for someone is not he same as loving him. It’s work, not devotion.”

Nora’s fabulous museum job ends at about the same time and she ends up in a new field that has her writing a grant for a computer lab in a school that had relied on old desktops. When the principal began to cry, Nora did too. After all the years of asking rich people for money she realized how much more pleasurable it was to give it away where it truly was needed. Oh, for more Noras. The pace of the book is classic Anne Tyler. At least we see Nora’s character change and grow.

The Great Alone - Kristen Hannah

This wasn’t the book I thought I was reading from the publishers blurb, which would have been about naive back-to-the-land survivalism without adequate preparations in the harshness of Alaskan winters. That would have been wholesome compared to the darkness that unfolded page by page and chapter by chapter to the point I wondered if I wanted to know how it all would end.

But it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit and of friendships that matter, and it is indictment of our justice system that turns a blind eye to spousal abuse. And it’s an indictment of our military/industrial complex that inhales our “youngest and brightest” because after all, war is good for the economy, and then it spits them out at the other end. It’s a rough read and it’s worth it.  Weeks later you'll still be thinking about it.

Paris by the book, Mark Helprin

Ian gave me this book for Christmas and while it wasn’t classified as suspense but it was a page turner nevertheless, unique in every way, an absolutely new and fresh novel with an 75-year-old protagonist set in Paris with it’s feet in WWII.

Publisher's blurb:  Seventy-four-year-old Jules Lacour—a maĆ®tre at Paris-Sorbonne, cellist, widower, veteran of the war in Algeria, and child of the Holocaust—must find a balance between his strong obligations to the past and the attractions and beauties of life and love in the present.

In the midst of what should be an effulgent time of life—days bright with music, family, rowing on the Seine—Jules is confronted headlong and all at once by a series of challenges to his principles, livelihood, and home, forcing him to grapple with his complex past and find a way forward. He risks fraud to save his terminally ill infant grandson, matches wits with a renegade insurance investigator, is drawn into an act of savage violence, and falls deeply, excitingly in love with a young cellist a third his age. Against the backdrop of an exquisite and knowing vision of Paris and the way it can uniquely shape a life, he forges a denouement that is staggering in its humanity, elegance, and truth.

Need to know - Karen Cleveland

I am not drawn to thriller espionage fiction but I did love Chris Pavone’s book The Expats and requested a prelease copy from Random House based solely on his recommendation. I think it’s remarkable that the author packed so much into 300 pages, so many twists and turns and then more twists. And then some more.

Vivian is a CIA analyst assigned to Russia. It’s a desk job and in that capacity she comes across some disturbing information that snowballs, threatens her family, threatens her children. Sound like typical thriller genre action? Not really and the further you read the faster you read. The ending. On man, I had to go back and read it three times and then shake my head. There had better be a sequel is all I can say.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

March is in like a lion

I took February off and hibernated, something I’ve always said I would do and then never did.  It was a quiet reflective month and very restorative.  I’m back in the game and happy for the time of refreshment.  Last Sunday we attended the Asian New Year event, held in the Bend High School auditorium.  There are so few Chinese in Bend that they can’t fill a program so include Hawaiian dancers and Taiko drummers, hence Asian New Year even though it really is the Chinese New Year.  The program was wonderful and of course the Tai Chi school performances were spectacular.   The meal in the high school cafeteria afterwords prepared was by the culinary arts students was also good, but sitting on those hard lollipop benches wrenched Ian’s damaged back and he’s had a rough week.

I just spent three days at the High Desert Museum getting CIG (certified interpreter guide) training. I couldn’t see why we would need three full days but we needed that and more.  Monday morning our trainer Carolyn sent us into the museum to see who our audience was at that moment.  Attendance was sparse, mostly grandparents and small children.  What I noticed is that the animals come out when the noisy children aren’t present.  Note the dead quail at this feet - lunch.  Jess, the associate curator of wildlife, was cleaning skat from his cage so he was waiting for her to leave so he could eat.

A couple of offices had this sign in the door window.  I can only imagine what’s on the other side.

Even though Jess is staff, she hasn’t yet taken the mandatory CIG training which is only offered once a year. We were learning how to develop ten-minute talks that are both engaging and informative.  I was the only one in the class from Living History.  The rest were from natural sciences.  It’s was a challenge to apply the principles to my application since we would never talk for ten minutes. Our information is delivered though Q&A.  I’m still trying to digest what I learned - a lot!

I got to pet a skunk!  Her name is Daisy and she was raised as a pet but surrendered to the HDM by her owners when they realized just how much work is required to take care of her.  We still have skunks here at our house but I’ve never been this close to one.  Cinda told me this morning that she recently saw a skunk in our front yard.  They will on occasion snack under the bird feeders in the middle of the night.  We don’t want to stop feeding the birds so just don’t let the dog out in the backyard in the middle of the night.

Most of the presentations were done in the classroom but Suzanne is a docent-in-training and so we went to the archaeopteryx exhibit downstairs for her presentation.  That’s a rough one as she has a soft voice, the ceilings are high and it’s a public space, i.e., quite loud.  I round it interesting that 12 people could be passionately drawn to 12 different subjects.

Ian and I have wanted to get down to see this exhibit but haven’t, and now I find that it’s leave in a couple of weeks.

Now I really want to see it!  Ian’s son is flying in today so maybe that’s something we can all do together.

I’ve taken on another new activity.  Our church has several community-based activities, including the wood lot.  These are the volunteers who run it on Saturday mornings, providing firewood to families who heat with wood but can’t afford to buy it.  They serve about 50 families a weekend and will deliver to those who have no way to pick it up.  I’ve joined the Community Garden group and we were just waiting waiting for the volunteers to finish their break before starting our meeting - so we could hear ourselves.  We are just in the beginning stages, evaluating what was successful last year and planning planting for this year.  We’re still a couple of weeks away from any manual labor, dictated by weather.  My walking partner Cinda told me this morning that she’d like to participate so we will have another pair of hands.  I’m looking forward to gardening with leadership from experienced gardeners.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Happy March!

Today was the second day of a two-day workshop on Chine Colle, a collage-like technique that glues thin Asian paper to a print.  It was taught by Anna McKee, a visiting instructor from Seattle. Yesterday I was totally lost and came home discouraged and confused.  I spent two hours watching YouTube videos while we waited for our furniture to be delivered.  I also found some material to read on the technique so today I was ready and mentally in the game.  We were instructed to bring completed intaglio or relief prints so I decided to work with the photopolymer plates I made last year.  This plate is inked and ready to print.  It’s from a photo I took of boats in the harbor at Ilwaco, a place we visited on my birthday last October.

This print is simply some torn blue gampi paper with a little supplemental blue ink.  Chine colle is French for China and glue, so this is basically a technique that glues two papers together, an over simplistic explanation but I hope that makes sense.

I reprinted it again but this time covering the entire image with beige gampi paper.

I used kitakata paper for these two prints, a beige paper that produces this sepia effect.  Each piece is cut to the same size as the plate and then printed/glued on a rag cotton paper for support.  You would not believe how many Asian papers there are.  I can afford machine-made papers.  I cannot even begin to afford those made by hand.  It boggles my mind.

We were really overwhelmed by the bright blue pillows and have brought out our handwoven tapestry pillows for the loveseat.  Maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to their brightness so this is the arrangement one day later.  I love cobalt blue but after years of brown furniture I think I need to wean myself.