Sunday, April 28, 2019

Books, Books, Books

It's been almost three weeks since my surgery and after one busy day last week with resultant swollen purple foot, I realize that there's no negotiating with the recommendation to keep my foot elevated.  Which means all I've been able to do is read and knit and it's been a long time since I've posted any book titles.  Here are a few of my recent favorites:

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

I rounded up to make this five stars because it was the escape reading I was in the mood for. Chandra is a smug, self-congratulating Cambridge professor who is in a headlong pursuit of the Nobel prize in Economics which he has spent his life chasing and has chased friends away in the process. He expects it any time now. Even his colleagues assume he’ll receive it. His smugness and drive have wrung out whatever humor and compassion he might have once had. He has alienated just about everybody, including his family.

Once again denied his coveted award, he returns to his classroom, wishing he had at least one Swedish student he could torment mercilessly. After a student reports him to the Master of the College for persistently calling her an imbecile in front of her peers, a sabbatical is suggested/ordered. And this is where the fun begins. It’s not a romp, there are serious moments of introspection and not much bliss. Chandra begins a slow journey, learning how to listen to others and to listen to himself and in the process goes from insufferable to sympathetic. It’s when he has to swallow his pride and work to restore relationships with his four children and stop telling them how to run their lives that he really becomes interesting.

Save Me the Plums:  My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

I have no idea what first attracted me to Ruth Reichl’s books since I’m not much of a cook, live on the West Coast and don’t read food reviews or magazines like Gourmet. Yet I’ve read all her books and was absolutely delighted to discover she had written a new one. Thank you Random House and NetGalley for allowing me to read this literary treat in preview.

It’s not the food that I’m attracted to but her experiences and relationships with people, Michael and Nick included. She’s not a self-avowed feminist, yet she has confidently and carefully negotiated realms traditionally manned by men. In her ten-year tenure as editor-in-chief at Gourmet she became accustomed to a generous budget, clothing allowance and a driver, which was in stark contrast to the Paris-on-a-shoestring trip she took in the last days of the magazine where she rediscovered the kindness of strangers. She recounted an occasion when she was stranded in an airport and was invited by a fellow traveler to her home. She mused, “Those things never happen when you travel on the excess express. The more stars in your itinerary, the less likely you are to find the real life of another country. I’d forgotten how money becomes a barrier insulating you from ordinary life.”

One of my favorite moments in the book was when Reichl met a widower while dining and realized that the very expensive dress she had declined to buy in a speciality shop had belonged to his wife. Years later she met him again, but at a small restaurant and expressed surprise to see him “slumming..” He responded, “When you attain my age you will understand one of life’s great secrets: Luxury is best appreciated in small portions. When it becomes routine it loses its allure.”

She concludes with an acknowledgement: “This whole book is , or course, a thank-you to the late Si Newhouse, but it can’t be said often enough. If only the world had more people cheering for excellence.” Indeed.

Madame Fourcade's Secret War:  The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynn Olson

I read this in two days, though admittedly I was down with a new cold. I can’t imagine any book that could have kept me better company than this. I don’t know how Lynne Olson does it, write nonfiction that is as thrilling as a spy novel. I’m a big BBC fan which introduced me to the ladies of Bletchley Place, but where was this code and intel coming from? I never stopped to ask myself that.

It’s truly remarkable that a group of intelligence gathering volunteer citizens known as the Alliance was successfully led by a woman in a time when a woman’s role was to tend the home fires and raise children. Some recruits initially chafed at a female leader and quickly got over it. Her woman’s intuition saved her and others many times and her role remained uncontested until after the war when her biggest opponent was none other than Charles De Gaulle. Olson expresses frustration that after the war, the male members of the Alliance were acknowledge and rewarded, and the women were overlooked, in spite of their significant contributions. She admits that part of her motive in writing this book is to bring their contributions to light.

I’ve heard of Vichy France. Who hasn’t?! And I’ve read about it in context before, but I’ve never understood how it came to be and what it came to be, and it’s complicated! Patriotism and selfless sacrifice was required of the Alliance network as the agents grew to over a thousand French citizens, who provided M16 with movement of submarine and rail traffic, making them hated and targeted enemies of the Gestapo, and that’s complicated too.

Olson in her epilogue writes: “They served as an example from the past of what ordinary people can do in the present and future when faced with existential threat to basic human rights. As Jeannie Rousseau (volunteer) noted many years after the war, ‘Resistance is a state of mind. We can exercise it at any moment.’”

The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees by Meredith May

Five-year-old Meredith and three-year old Matthew are moved from the east coast and removed from the father whom they love by their unstable and unbalanced mother who takes the three of them to Big Sur on the West Coast and to her parents’ home for a “vacation.” It becomes apparent that the vacation is permanent as it stretches into years. Sally, their mother climbs into bed and stays there, reading movie magazines and watching television, leaving her children to their grandparents.

It’s through the wisdom and love from Grandpa Frank that Meredith learns about family through beekeeping. Grandpa has bee hives in many locations throughout the area and the Honey Bus is a converted military bus turned into a workroom where he processes hundreds of jars of honey for sale. Meredith becomes his shadow and learns about the social structures in a hive, how the bees follow the queen because they can’t live without her. She realizes that “even bees needed their mother.”

She followed her grandpa everywhere, climbing into his pickup in the mornings, going to work with him to the bee yards of Big Sur, where she learned that “a beehive revolved around one principle—the family.” She knew it wasn’t normal for a mother to permanently withdraw but it was through Grandpa and bees that she understood what Grandpa had been trying to explain inside the bus—“that beautiful things don’t come to those who simply wish for them. You have to work hard and take risks to be rewarded.” She also learned that rather than withdrawing from living like her mother had done, “honeybees made themselves essential through their generosity.”

This memoir is Meredith’s journey, through hard work and with the support of the family that her grandparents and her friend Sophia provided, from a little girl to a college student. Grandpa explains to her that while he is her step grandpa, that only means she has two. One of my favorite moments in the book is when he draws Meredith and Matthew into a hug, and explains that since he and Ruth hadn’t married until he was 40, he just assumed he would never have children. “Then, lucky for me, you two showed up.” It was a tissue moment. We learn near the end the why of Sally’s behavior and why Ruth lets her get away with it, but if I told you...well, who needs a spoiler alert?! I absolutely loved this book, and I do remember when the San Francisco Chronicle put bee hives on their roof.

I loved this book and find myself still thinking about it.

On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See

In 1867, Lisa See's great-great-grandfather arrived in America, where he prescribed herbal remedies to immigrant laborers who were treated little better than slaves. His son Fong See later built a mercantile empire and married a Caucasian woman, in spite of laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Lisa herself grew up playing in her family's antiques store in Los Angeles's Chinatown, listening to stories of missionaries and prostitutes, movie stars and Chinese baseball teams.
With these stories and her own years of research, Lisa See chronicles the one-hundred-year-odyssey of her Chinese-American family, a history that encompasses racism, romance, secret marriages, entrepreneurial genius, and much more, as two distinctly different cultures meet in a new world.

This is an astonishing history of the American West told by a popular author whom I have read, actually several times. I ended up skimming the last chapter and epilogue because I simply could not keep track of the family. The family history is fascinating and in this time of questioning America’s immigration, it’s good to remember what immigrants have contributed to our society. I remember well the Chungking brand. A couple of cans was a dinner treat when I was growing up. And who hasn’t picked up “Chinese” for a takeout meal? The fabulous Calinese furniture came straight out of Ray See’s imagination! I read this on the heels of Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book” - Los Angeles has many many tales.  I think will be more interesting to West Coast readers or people who are familiar with Southern California. 

And speaking of The Library Book, here it it:
The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I didn’t want this book to end. Like the author, I grew up going to the library with my mother. We lived rurally so I looked forward to going to town, returning our books and checking out new ones. At that time there was a two-book limit! As a young and broke military wife, our Friday night “date” was the library.

Orlean has written a history of Los Angeles Public Library from the beginning, through the devastating fire in 1986 and it’s phoenix rise from the ashes six years later, remodeled and with a new wing. We meet many of the staff and directors over the span of its 100-year history. From it’s inception in 1872 a preponderance of head librarians were male but that has changed over the years. Another change is the library’s active role in dealing with the homeless. Today 80% of librarians are women and 80% of homeless are men which has required the introduction of security officers and the creation of library social welfare programs.

Orlean defines “the library” very simply as “a storehouse of books,” but going deeper, she reminds us that books are an expression of culture, that books are a sort of cultural DNA, the code for who, as a society, we are, and what we know. President Roosevelt gave the keynote at the American Library Association’s convention in 1942. “Books cannot be killed by fire,” he declared. “People die, but books never die.” No bibliophile needs convincing of this. She concludes with, why she wrote this book, “to tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine, and how that feels like a marvelous and exceptional thing.” Ray Bradbury wrote, “The library was my nesting place, my birthing place, it was my growing place.” This is a library/book-lover’s book.

The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva

This book has been on my shelf for years and because it's quite long, I just never got around to reading it but it was fast-paced and the perfect distraction for my Narco-addled brain.  It came out in 2003 but with the resurgence of spy novels and TV miniseries, this felt like it could have been written yesterday.  This a one-off and not part of his long-running Gabriel Allon espionage series. 

"For Britain's counterintelligence operations, this meant finding the unlikeliest agent imaginable-a history professor named Alfred Vicary, handpicked by Churchill himself to expose a highly dangerous, but unknown, traitor.

The Nazis, however, have also chosen an unlikely agent: Catherine Blake, a beautiful widow of a war hero, a hospital volunteer - and a Nazi spy under direct orders from Hitler to uncover the Allied plans for D-Day... "

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Das Boot

This is the last thing I finished weaving before my surgery.  I wound another warp and have it on the loom for when I'm able to go back upstairs.  My surgery was Thursday April 11th and I'm still a little unsteady on my pins.  I plan to have the warp threaded, sleyed and ready to weave by the time the boot comes off.
Ah yes, the boot.  It's very large and I an only weight-bearing on my left heel - very awkward and slow, but it gets me to the bathroom without crutches.

Periodically I'm to open it up and apply ice which is more awkward than walking!
Ian and Maddie have been very attentive.  The Norco has knocked me out for the first several days and I've been a champion sleeper.  Yesterday I started weaning off it and onto the Tylenol.  At this point I'm only using Tylenol and still sleeping a lot, though I'm finally able to knit a little.
But my days look pretty much like this.  The books I brought home from the library are too challenging for my brain so I've put a book by Liane Moriarty on hold and Ian has gone to pick it up for me.  He probably needs a break from the sick house :-) A friend had warned me about the level of books I selected for this time and even suggested that I stick to YA, but did I listen???
My friend Ana fixed an amazing meal and brought it over Friday for dinner.  What a wonderful gift!!  We just got a text from our friends Sue and Michael who would like to bring dinner tomorrow.  Slowly slowly this is moving forward.  I see the doc in follow-up next Wednesday.
Meanwhile son Matt sends me occasional pictures of Delaney who is beYOUtiful!!

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Meet Delaney Jane

This is the picture Matt sent to all of us at 11:00 Wednesday night.  He had texted us that morning that Julia's water broke at 3:00 a.m. and they were at the birthing center.  He updated us periodically but we didn't get THE text until 11:00 that she had arrived and by then we were all sleepless, on pins and needles.  It was a long day for Julia, in labor since 9:00 that morning, but Delaney is perfect - 8 lb 3 oz, 20 1/2" long - and mom is fine but tired.  Matt had created a text group to update all of us at once and I've never had my phone notifications be so busy.

We got to meet her Thursday morning. The staff have commented on how alert she is, taking everything in with her eyes.  I think she's going to be a calm baby, like her daddy. Their room in the birthing center is huge and couldn't be nicer, nor could the staff.
The doctor kept them over one more day to work the bugs out of nursing.  Matt sent this picture when they finally got home on Friday.  "We're fed and changed."  She is sweetness :-)

I'm still trying to identify and send photos to Richard, the man who is researching my grandfather, and I'm glad he's going to Washington next week to visit some historical societies.  I had looked at the pictures on many occasions with my mother but they're not labeled.  The only ones labeled are the loose ones that I've written on the backs of.  I sent him another 20 pictures yesterday.  It goes faster now that I've stopped scanning them and just take a shot with my iPhone.  He can identify later if he needs any of them scanned.  This is my grandmother in front Green River Gorge, a lodge that she and my grandfather ran together.  She's funnin' with the photographer. I think I have maybe another dozen to send that he might be interested in.

Since we've started on this he's send me (and my daughter who originally contacted him on Ancestry) a book he wrote and also an issue of American Indian Art that contains an article he wrote. My grandmother had written a book called Squak Valley (Issaquah) which King County Historical Society published in the 1960s and it's still in print.  I have a typewritten version of the book but have never read it.  Now I'm reading every chance I get, trying to get caught up with Richard's research.  I just wish my brother were still alive.  This is a dream come true for him.

Bend Art Center is having a huge sale of their permanent collect which has been in storage.  This to help finance the reorganization, from the 501c3, which is desolving, to the new structure.  We have friends who are art collectors so asked them if they'd like to meet us there yesterday morning and browse the sale before going to lunch.  I didn't expect to buy anything, didn't think we could afford to, but the prices were super low so things would move, and after looking around at everything, we both met up at this Jeb Barton piece - so we bought it.  They didn't buy anything so we went to lunch, talked about the sale and books and our jobs and finally left.  They went back to the sale and later texted us with pictures of the three prints they bought.
That afternoon Ian asked me what I thought about going back to buy the companion piece to the print we bought, so we did.  He had found a gallery in Ashland representing Jeb Barton and our print was listed by them for $1,200.  Since we had paid a tenth of that, it seemed like a smart move, but it was sold.  Instead we bought this Justyn Livingston print.
We love both of the pieces together.
I think they're just what the living room needed.  I know we said we weren't going to acquire any more "things" but I can't quite think of art as things.  I think of our pieces as friends and I love their presence.  I know a lot of people who move their pictures around but I've just not been able to do that. If we never buy another piece, I think our walls are safe.

Monday, April 01, 2019

April Fools

Ian and I drove up to the fairgrounds in Redmond last Friday afternoon so I could set up my booth in advance.  On the way up we stopped at Olive Gardens for their bottomless soup and salad so it made for a little more festive event than just schlepping.  I'm very fond of Fiber Market Day because it's clearly a agricultural event, lots of breeders and lots of fleeces. We were in the Bunny Barn with doors open so it was actually warmer outside, but the open doors gave us an immediate connect with the animals outside.  They even had a guy shear three sheep.
My presentation is very simple: two tables, a coat rack and a laundry drying rack.  The coat rack is very effective in displaying my scarves and catching people's attention.  I'm lucky if I sell a scarf at an event and I sold three!
The larger table runner went quickly.  I've done well with all my table runners and will be weaving several before the next show.  I was on my feet from 9:00-4:00 and my feet are tired; I am tired.  When they asked if I was interested in a two-day show I said NO!  I really enjoy it in spite of the physical demands.  I wonder how many more years I can do this but for now I'm good.

Today is Delaney Jane's due date and I think she just pulled her first April Fools joke because she's not here yet.  I think DIL Julia only has six weeks of leave so we're expecting to watch her on Thursdays and Fridays after that, whenever that is.  I'm still ten days away from my surgery so will probably still be in a walking cast, but that shouldn't be a problem.

No word on the Bend Art Center and I'm scheduled for my usual shift tomorrow, from 10:00-2:00.  It's the volunteers who man the place and keep the doors open, but without operating money there will be no volunteers.  I sat in on several meetings and one thing is clear.  The old 501c3 is dissolved and there's not time or money to create a new one.  A core group of people willing  to finance an LLC has formed and are in daily discussions.  It's the studio with intaglio looms that is at stake for me.  Without that I can still work from home.  Meanwhile, I'll just focus on weaving and keeping up my sketchbook.
We've enjoyed so many new experiences since moving to Bend.  One that came as a total surprise was the quality of plays put on by the Cascades Theater Company.  At the recommendation of our friend Joanie, we started buying season tickets and now attend Sunday matinee performances with Joanie and her husband and another couple. The play we saw yesterday was Stupid F***ng Bird, a modern take on Anton Chekhov's play, The Seagull.  I really enjoyed it once I got past the profanity.  But then I've discovered that good plays are thought provoking and full of message.  Then afterwards we go out to eat.  A delicious afternoon, pun intended.
I managed to finish my scarf in time for the show Saturday.  I was disappointed that it didn't get much attention.  In spite of the lovely iridescence, I think the values are too close. The scarf that got attention was one I wove a couple of years ago.  A group of ladies visited it a couple of times.  On the third time they came with cash which they collected from each other to buy a birthday present for a special friend.  I thought that was touching.

I'm trying that scarf again but this time with greater value range, so the pattern can be the star.

On a completely different note, I mailed in our last car payment and boy does that feel good.