Monday, August 31, 2009

Books Read in August

I'm having the hardest time coming up with the summary for this month's reading.  So you can just read for yourself.

Skeletons at the Feast
Chris Bohjalian
I enjoy Bohjalian's books because every time he manages to come though with a good, solid story that I have trouble putting down. His descriptions are vivid enough that I remember scenes years later and he also is quite prolific.

Take a Prussian aristocratic sugar beet farming family, a Scottish POW, a Jewish man hiding undercover as a German soldier and female concentration camp prisoner. Follow all of them as they flee west to escape the invading Russian army.

This book doesn't shy away from the horrors of war, so at times it can be graphic. Overall, probably one of the better books I've read this year.

Dating Big Bird
Laura Zigman
I have no desire to have children and thus, was at a disadvantage with this book. The main character is obsessed with having a child. The fact that she is in a relationship with a man who wants no children, and shows no signs of changing that view, is one of the conundrums of the plot.

I couldn't relate to the main character. I found the story annoying. I found the writing style in which the author repeatedly uses:
Many very short.
Sentences like this.
Over and over.
to be very distracting. The plot point at the end of the book, which is the catalyst for change in the protagonist's life, I found to be entirely unbelievable. Why not just have her win the lottery? And the last chapter? Total cop-out.

There was nothing redeeming about this book and only an incredibly lazy day got me to finish this book. I was too lazy to start a new one. Not recommended.

The Permaculture Way: practical steps to creating a self-sustaining world
Graham Bell
The author does start with the world view of permaculture, spending the first third of the book discussing people and capital and discovering your own skills. Part two begins with your home and moves outwards. There is also discussion about gardening, orchards, agriculture and aquaculture as well as good lists of plants and their uses in the back.

Three Girls and Their Brother
Theresa Rebeck
When this arrived at the library for me I had a moment of puzzlement as to why I would have requested this particular novel. The cover is a bit off-putting. But two paragraphs in, I was hooked. Goodreads tells me I heard about this book from Deborah. Thank goodness she is my friend on Goodreads. Now I'm curious as to what she had to say about it, but I'm going to write my review before I read hers.

The voices in this story make this book. Particularly, the voice of the brother, Phillip, aged fifteen, who begins our adventure. Listen to this quote, where Phillip is meeting a famous middle-aged movie star for the first time. Polly is his 17 year-old sister.

"...looking like Henry the Eighth with one arm stretched out along the back of the banquette and the other arm around Polly, his hand discreetly stuck down the back of her pants. It was spooky, really; he looked just like he looks in the movies, where he's always waving a giant weapon, and he looked really short. That's something I never considered, when I thought about meeting movie stars. Usually, when you see them? They're like four stories tall, on some giant movie screen somewhere. But when you meet them in person? They're actually just sort of people-sized. Which makes the whole experience kind of surreal, if you haven't thought about things like that ahead of time. Plus, if the guy has his hand down your sister's pants, he looks significantly less like a movie star, and more like your average asshole."

I could read an entire book with just Phillip talking, but we leave him soon after his three sisters become "it" girls--just three more girls famous at first for their red hair and their beauty, then later famous for being famous. After we hear Phillip's view, then each of the sisters tells us a little more of the story, from their point of view. What happens to the four of them is fascinating, funny and shocking. I couldn't help thinking of real-life "it" girls and wondering how many of them had similar experiences.

I would love to live in a society where sensible adults never let young people be pimped out to the the media like this, but in this book, it is the adults who do the dealing of flesh--and reap the rewards each time the girls are sold.

ps. A book with La Aura as a main character? Also something I would read. Please Ms. Rebeck, please?

Abraham Lincoln: a novel life
Tony Wolk
I enjoyed the premise of this book: What if Abraham Lincoln was suddenly transported from February 1865 to Easter Sunday 1955? Written by a Portland State University professor, it wasn't a book I had to finish, but it kept me reading. I especially enjoyed reading the notes on historical figures at the end of the book.

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
Michael Pollan
I love Michael Pollan's writing, but one of the things I love about it was the very thing that made this book so hard to finish. Pollan's writing style is dense and thoughtful. This can be a good thing when one is in the mood to read a dense and thoughtful text, but sometimes his observations can go on. I would have been better off owning this book, so I could pick it up and put it down intermittently over a large amount of time. However, I requested it from the library which meant my time with it was quite short. I had to set reading goals to get through it, which I hated, because as far as I'm concerned prose this well written should be savored. So, a rare call to all to purchase this book, not to get it from the library.

Everyone Worth Knowing
Lauren Weisberger
One wonders, (at least I do) upon reading this book if Lauren Weisberger is the secret consumer of romance novels that her main character is. This book is, despite the striking cover, hip New York setting and rampant name dropping, essentially just that: a romance novel. Someone should explore when books cross over the "romance novel line." This doesn't have the bodice ripper cover, but all the elements were there. Entirely predictable, this was not a bad way to spend a summer afternoon, but not much more than that.

The People of Sparks
Jeanne DuPrau
I enjoyed this book even more than The City of Ember, mostly due to the fact that there isn't a movie version to have seen first, as there was with Ember. Once again, DuPrau tackles tough issues in an entirely readable way. As I read further into the book, I wondered what her views on illegal immigration might be; this story would be a good springboard for discussing that contemporary issue with teenagers. Recommended.

Started but did not finish
Painting Ruby Tuesday
Jane Yardley
This book had promise, set both in the 60s in England and present day New York/London, but the amount of characters and the density of the text was a bit overwhelming for my summer reading, vacation mind.

Must Love Dogs: a Novel
Claire Cook.
I gave up on this. If I had to finish it, I could, but it suffered from the movie being such a true adaptation of the book. Had I not seen the film version, I would read to the end to find out what happened. Since I saw the movie, I have a good idea how this book ends and thus, am not really interested in it.

Edible Estates: attack on the front lawn
Fritz Haeg, Diana Balmori & others
This book had some good ideas in it and the essays I read were interesting. Not interesting enough to read them all, but still. The pictures are good.

The Best Apples to Buy and Grow
Beth Hanson, ed.
I checked this out as part of the "build a Belgian fence" project that is still in the planning stage. But I have decided to narrow my apple choices down a bit before diving into this book.

Apples for the 21st Century
Warren Manhart
This book has several contributors. Once I realized that one of them was Glen Andresen, who taught a "Growing Fruit" class I attended last winter, I just read his entries. This book was also part of the "build a Belgian fence" project that is still in the planning stages.

Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Darn it, the library has over ten copies of this book that is half a century old. And people keep requesting it. So back it goes.

Did not even start

Watering Systems for Lawn and Garden: a do it yourself guide
R. Dodge Woodson

Permaculture Plants: a selection
Nugent & Boniface

Grafting and Budding: a practical guide for fruit and nut plants and ornamental
W. J. Lewis & D. McE. Alexander
I'll look into this book later.

75 remarkable fruits for your garden
Jack Staub

Handbook of Edible Weeds
James A. Duke

Poem for August: not Casey at the Bat.

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer was the original choice for the month. I enjoyed the story, and thought it appropriate for August. I had more than two weeks off from work which would give me ample time to memorize. We were "go" on this plan.

Then I started to actually attempt to memorize it. The problems began. This month, I learned that if I am going to spend a month committing a poem to memory, it better be one I like. The more time I spent with this poem, the less I liked it.

First of all, it has way too many names.

From the first stanza:
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

From the third stanza:
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,

I knew ahead of time that those names would cause me trouble in the far future. "Was it Barrows who died at first? Cooney? Who died first?" I could hear my future self wondering.

Secondly, the more time I spent with this poem the less enchanted I grew with the writing. Last month, memorizing The New Colossus gave me a greater love of the poem. By committing the words to memory, the jerky motion of the poem on paper smoothed right out. Not so for this poem. Four stanzas in, I realized this poem's choices of words were not something I loved. The rhyme scheme really reaches in places too:

The second stanza
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

I was initially confused about who exactly the straggling few were. Because the first stanza discusses the lineup, I thought that the straggling few were players coming to bat. But eventually it became clear to me that it was the fans who were getting up and wandering off.

AND. I found Thayer's use of the word "and" a bit too much:

Fourth stanza:
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

And appears four times in this stanza. It was too much for me. Ernest, could you have rewritten this a bit?

After slogging through those four stanzas we get to one I really like, as I feel it nicely captures a turning point in the game:

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

That is as far as I got with this poem. The other problem was the more than two weeks off. I had not realized it, but I do most of my memorizing on the commute to or from work. On days I take the Max I work on a few lines while walking to the Max stop, on days I ride my bike I've got 25 good minutes of memorizing time. With all the time off from work, there was no built in time to commit poetry to memory.

Mid-month I gave up on Casey. Instead, I substituted an Emily Dickinson poem that I had recently encountered:

This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
And lads and girls;
Was laughter and ability and sighing,
And frocks and curls;

This passive place a summer's nimble mansion,
Where bloom and bees
Fulfilled their oriental circuit,
Then ceased like these.

This poem was committed to memory happily.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A tragic day for my favorite pair of sandals

I bought these sandals when I was preparing to go to Hungary and Romania in 2005. I love them. They have cute swirly designs on them, they look fashionable, I can walk for miles in them, they give me an extra inch or two in height. They are the perfect sandal. Today, they did what they have been threatening to do for months now, split open in the back. I love them too much to discard them outright, so I will take them to the cobbler to see if miracles can be worked. But I'm not very optimistic. It may be time for us to part ways.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

As the Max Turns.

Today is the last time my Max train turns to the left as it comes off of the Steel Bridge into downtown Portland. Beginning Monday, we will be traveling on those other tracks, instead.

Last days on first avenue.

Stopped at the Yahmill stop today my Yellow Line Max driver came on with this announcement, delivered in a bored, but gleeful tone: "Starting THIS SUNDAY the Yellow Line Max train will not stop at the Yamhill station. EVER. AGAIN. Instead, it will be on Fifth and Sixth Avenues."

His delivery cracked me up, and I was not surprised to hear several conversations such as this: "The Max isn't going downtown anymore? What?"

The challenge of the informed public taking advantage of the information available to them in several forms remains. Sigh.

Things I will miss when the Max switches streets:

Being first to get on the train. The stop you see below is the first stop for the North-bound Yellow line Max train. It's also the stop nearest to the library and church. I know exactly where to stand to be the first on the train and the first to my favorite seat. Although I do let old or infirm people on first if they are around. My new stop will be the third on the North-bound line and my favorite seat will not be guaranteed. It's also a further walk, not that that ever hurt me.

Here is my preferred seat. Right behind the driver, is a single seat. Sitting here I don't have to worry about sharing with someone and I am away from the general hubbub of the train, usually. On cold days, the second seat back on either side nearest the windows usually is quite warm due to heater placement. So in the winter, sometimes my favorite seat is variable.

Buckram. You know you love it.

Even if you didn't know what it was called.

Growing up, I read many books covered in buckram. Though they are becoming scarce on the library shelves (Multnomah County Library discards books like crazy) I love to see the colors and the patterns.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunflowers shading the walk

The house where I pick up my milk planted rows of sunflowers along their walkway and I've been watching them grow all summer long. They are very tall now, with huge heads and they have totally overwhelmed the walk.

My sunflowers are about three feet high, with heads one-eighth the size of these. I think mine don't get enough sun or water.

This family will be eating sunflowers all winter long!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The best intentions.

Things I had in my mind to do today.
  • Deal with the greens harvested from the garden
  • Start at least one round of cheese, if not two
  • Make some salad dressing
  • Work on my scrapbook
  • Work on the roman shades

Things actually done today
  • Five loads of laundry, washed, hung to dry, brought in, folded and put away.
  • Finish fiction book
  • Finish non-fiction book
  • Start fiction book.
  • Take two naps
  • Pretty much laze about.

I think I'm feeling a bit paralyzed by my unfinished projects. Blast!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--My Sister's Keeper.

I didn't expect to like this movie as much as I did, but there were strong performances by everyone except "Aunt Kelly" who I found distracting. I wasn't expecting a plot twist, but there it was, near the end, to my surprise. Bring a hankey; there are many, many tear-jerking scenes.

Bechdel score. Two women: yes. Who talk to each other: yes! About something besides a man: YES! Holy Cow!
poster from:

Friday, August 21, 2009

A quote for our times.

In light of the health care "debate" going on now, I enjoyed reading this quote, from my index card pile of quotes.

"What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility...a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."

--Adlai Stevenson

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bike Project Day 27.

In which I attempt to ride all the yellow, green, blue & purple streets on the Bike There Bike Map while increasing strength, stamina, aerobic capacity and exploring Portland’s nooks and crannies.

Day 27

Weather: Sunny and HOT with little breeze

Time: about 1.5 hours

The Ride:
N Lombard & N Denver
Head south on Denver (towards Rosa Parks way)
L on Ainsworth
R on 37th.
L on Alberta Ct.
L on 52nd
R on Killingsworth
L on 55th
L on Ainsworth
L on 42nd
R on 41st
L on Holman
L on 6th
R on Ainworth
R on Williams
L on Rosa Parks
R on Denver to start.

Route comments:
I took two “Growing Fruits in Your Backyard” classes offered by the city of Portland and hosted by Glen Andresen who you can also hear on KBOO radio, or via your computer. During the classes, (which were fantastic) he told us where he lived, which I wrote down. I decided today to go take a look at his yard. I remembered his cross streets as being NE 42nd & NE Alberta Ct, so I plotted my route accordingly. When I neared my destination, I had the “uh oh” moment. Did he really live at those cross streets, or was I just making them up? I should have checked before I left the house. I also had to pick up the milk and that was done successfully.

How did I do?
Aside from my thrice-weekly 4 miles each way bicycle to work and back, I’ve not been doing much cycling. So I took it easy, partially because of that and partially because it was very hot and partially because it was my last day of vacation and I didn’t feel like a strenuous bike ride.

Glorious Bicycling Moments/Neat Things:
The metal leaf on the chimney of this house is visible from Rosa Parks Way and is quite lovely.

A nice example of a front yard garden.

I've had my eye on this plot of land.

Ainsworth is a pretty wide street, and nice to ride ones bike on.

The Rose Gardens at Peninsula Park.

Which are lovely.

This UCC church is open to all. The sign says, "Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural, Open and Affirming to all."

Concordia University is in this neighborhood. I liked their mural.

A man was watering his vegetables growing in his parking strip and we chatted about the amazing ability of winter squash to climb AND hold their squash up.

A closer look.

Here are the cross streets I thought I was given.
Apparently, I was wrong.

Very wrong.

So now I have no idea where he lives, but I decide to check out Alberta Ct.

A fun artsy gate.

And some road paintings. When I was taking this picture a guy walking by said, "Are you casing their house?" I told him I might be.

I first saw this from the side and wondered if large-chain mailbox posts would ever come into fashion again. But then I saw it from the front and WOW! Large chain and an address? Nifty.

Ainsworth between 55th and 42nd has these amazingly large lots. I was a little jealous.

As stated before, I'm a fan of clever graffiti and this tickled my funny bone.
Now I'm home and looking for the Glen Andresen's cross streets and can't find my notes. I'm afraid they were purged in the last great "reorganize the garden notes." Poop. It was a nice bike ride, though.


"Public Employees Get Free Ride" is the supposedly clever headline in the Metro section today, and the rest of the article isn't much better. The gist: taxpayers are paying for some downtown public employees transit passes.

You know what? Taxpayers pay not only for that, but the public employee's dental insurance, medical insurance and I would guess, life insurance and disability policies. Taxpayers are paying for public employees entire salaries! You know why? They are public employees.

I happen to be one taxpayer happy to contribute my probably three cents per year towards Joe Public Employee's All-Zone Trimet pass. As far as I'm concerned, 80% of the people working downtown should have their employers subsidize the full price of their TriMet passes. Our downtown was purposely designed to be gotten to easily by public transportation. Why shouldn't government lead the way by adding the benefit of a bus pass to the benefits available to the average public employee?

What gets me about articles like this, is that you never see its obverse about the business world. How about this sample headline: "WalMart customers subsidize WalMart executives' five billion dollar fleet of corporate jets." Businesses waste all kinds of money on things that I find unnecessary. The redecoration of executive offices being right up there with the inability by said executives to take commercial flights. But when business spends money wantonly, it is okay, because they need to spend the money to run their businesses efficiently, and besides, it is none of "the public's" business because we don't subsidize it.

But we do. We buy their product. You can't tell me that some amount of pennies per item at WalMart doesn't go to support WalMart executives' travel habits. And you can't tell me that business doesn't receive public money. They do. From tax breaks, to zoning changes to build their business, to out-and-out bailouts for failing "essential" companies, we all pay.

The view in the US seems to be the following: taxes are squandered on superfluous items requested by overpaid employees who do nothing for their bloated salaries and taxpayer subsidized medical insurance. There is a huge disconnect, it is as if no one can see that the minuscule amount they pay in taxes actually gives them back amazing things, like infrastructure, social services police and fire departments and yes, transit.

A few years ago, unable to find a job, I took a "public employee" position in Washington County. I made just over $9.00 per hour and took transit an hour each way to get to my job. I paid for my transit pass myself, which was just over 5% of my monthly budget. My office was less than a mile from the Max line, serviced by three buses and I was the only employee in my sixteen person office who took public transportation to work. Every morning and evening I walked across a vast expanse of empty parking lot that was available for free to all employees, but cost visitors to park. Often, I wondered how much of a benefit this free parking cost, and why no one was throwing me any money for not taking up a space. I know why, of course, but it still made me mad.

Including TriMet passes in downtown public employees benefits package is a good deal for the employees and a good deal for the taxpayers. It's not a free ride.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Picnic Project: Pier Park

The Picnic Project.
Established 2006.

Each year, Patricia chooses five parks in Portland—one from each section of Portland: N, NE, NW, SE & SW. She plans food and invites people for a picnic, then records the festivities. By 2028 she will have picnicked in every park in Portland.

Date: 18 August, 2009

Park: Pier Park

Present: Patricia

Food: Big salad

Activities: Reading a fabulous book, exploring the park.

Comments: Pier Park has a skate park and a Frisbee golf course. My brother goes there weekly to play Frisbee golf. I thought I would check it out.

Pier Park is in the very North part of North Portland in the area where residential begins to change over to commercial. Several trucks were parked outside the park while, I assume, their drivers rested.

Like other parks I've been to this summer, the dense planting of trees gave it a very Hansel & Gretel feel. It also brought the temperature down quite a bit. It was a very hot day.

There was a water feature and a play area.

Sadly, the merry-go-round had been removed.

My delicious big salad.

A very nice covered picnic area.

I wandered around the park for awhile and found the Frisbee golf course. There were a few people playing.

The heat didn't deter the teenagers in the skate park.

The baseball fields, however, were deserted.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Funny People

There are very funny parts and good things in this movie, but ultimately the middle is way too long. You also have to like boy humor. This movie left me with this question: when you are friends with a movie/tv star and you hang out with them, do you always have to watch their movies, as depicted in this film?

Bechdel score. Two women: nope.
(this is getting ridiculous)

poster from:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Green Mile.

Picture me sitting on the couch knitting while watching this movie. Then picture me staring at the screen, mouth open, knitting forgotten as I become absorbed by what is going on. This happened four or five times, a surprise, as I didn't think I would enjoy this movie as much as I did.

Bechdel score. Two women: nope.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews--A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

The first ten minutes of this movie I had the following thoughts: 1)I'm glad I didn't grow up in Queens, and 2) these guys are assholes. But then I got sucked into the story and ended up really enjoying the movie, though I have a sneaking suspicion I would find the whole thing juvenile if I watched it in five years. I've never understood the whole Shia LaBeouf thing before, but I get it now.

Bechdel score. Two women: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

poster from:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

A slow meander of a movie, by which I mean I probably would have been bored if I wasn't knitting. Brad Pitt plays a great, slightly unhinged Jesse James, but I was watching it for Casey Affleck, who not only believably plays a 20 year old, but also manages to perfectly convey the changeover from hero worship to ultimate betrayal. This movie is what my mother would call "old-fashioned" which I translate to "good acting, kinda slow."

Bechdel score: Two women: nope.

poster from:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sunday Parkways.

This happened in June, but somehow got missed in the blogging queue.

Sunday parkways which took place on one Sunday last year, expanded to three Sundays in three locations this year. I volunteered at the North Portland one, for which I got to spend a lovely morning moving barriers for cars to go by, waving at people walking and on bikes and taking pictures.

Mid-shift, these two crazy runners came by.

As they got closer, I could see that they were Matt and Jeff, clowning around.

The day started a bit cold and overcast, but then the sun came out.

Kenton Park had food and some fun activities such as this bike obstacle course.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Less Than Zero

I think this is a great movie if you want to view some awesome 80s fashions and hairstyles. It is not so awesome as an actual movie however, being a bit long and with an annoying, distracting performance by Jami Gertz. It did, however, prompt me to put the book on my Goodreads to-read list and Kelly and I spotted a very tiny Brad Pitt walk on before he was "Brad Pitt."

Bechdel rating. Two women: nope.

poster from:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Heading Home: Hermiston

We detoured North, headed for the town of Hermiston. Can you guess what they are famous for?

Normally I see these containers in Portland, but not today.

Delicious Hermiston Watermelons. I bought one.