Monday, February 28, 2011


Windy and wet! Bad enough that the horses are being kept inside at both my current and past boarding stables. So nasty that Indy stopped dead on the front porch with legs crossed he had to go so badly. So icky my cold, wet fingers could barely unlock the front door when we returned home after Indy's "business trip."

Welcome back, Oregon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Club Selection

Last night the neighborhood book club discussed our most recent selection: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. Our previous read was The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. The garden theme was purely accidental, as were the similar story lines. Both books revolve around the search for a character's identity.

Adult sisters Meredith and Nina were raised on an apple orchard in Washington by Anya, their emotionally distant mother, and their loving father Evan. Their mother grew up in Russia, but she refuses to discuss her past and her daughters long ago gave up on trying to break through their mother's cold exterior. Meredith married her high school sweetheart and she became involved in running the orchards. When Evan became ill, Meredith took over sole management. Younger sister Nina is a professional photographer who travels the world and has her pictures published in National Geographic and other notable magazines. Meredith has assumed the martyr role, while Nina is the escapist. Oil and water.

When Evan dies, their stoic mother appears to fall apart. They discover her sitting for hours in her snow-covered garden wrapped in a blanket over her nightgown with bare feet exposed. The sisters end up grappling with their own faltering relationships while trying to care for their mother who experiences manic episodes. Nina decides it is time to get to the bottom on their mother's past. They know she was born in Russia and married their father after World War II. Nina believes the Russian fairy tale their mother recited when they were young is the key to the truth about her past. Meredith does not share Nina's determination, but she is drawn into the story as Nina gets Anya to repeat the fairy tale in full. Anya gradually drops the imaginary trappings to reveal the true identities of the characters that she had disguised with fantasy.

They learn that Anya is a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad during which she lost her entire family. She eventually arrived at a German prison camp where she was rescued by the American troops that included Evan. It becomes apparent that Anya suffers from survivor's guilt and she is ashamed that she could not protect her loved ones from the German invasion.

Most of us agreed that the book started slowly and was a bit repetitious in setting up the family relationships. However, Anya's war experiences were riveting. We discussed whether the book would have been better without the present-day story but tended to think it put into perspective how Anya's horrendous experiences affected her and those around her.

I had several credibility issues throughout the book. I couldn't believe Meredith and Nina were so dense when it came to interpreting Anya's fairy tale (the Black Knight was so obviously Stalin) and researching her past (given their birth dates and the post-war marriage of their parents it was likely that Anya had lived in Stalinist Russia for at least part of her life). And for me the ending seemed tacked on at the last minute.

We explored the theme that pain can be isolating. Without forgiveness there can be no love. Anya could not forgive herself and carried her pain forward. No matter how hard Meredith and Nina tried to prove that they were worthy of their mother's love, Anya was unprepared to demonstrate it because she believed she had been a failure as a mother.

Two of our book club members had mothers who were emotionally distant and they could identify with the situations in the novel. They discussed how their upbringing affected their relationships throughout their lives. I felt fortunate to have such a close relationship with my parents and a knowledge of stories from both sides of the family tree.

In the end, Anya lived through the siege because she didn't know how to give up surviving. And, like their mother, Nina and Meredith refused to give up on discovering the real Anya.

This was the first novel I've read on my new Kindle. Since Winter Garden is not a novel I would have selected outside the book club, and I have no interest in keeping it on my book shelf, the digital version was perfect. I'm still figuring out the bookmarking, highlighting, and notes features. As I stated in my previous post, I rather missed being able to easily flip back the pages. But the more I use the device, the easier it will become.

One Kindle feature I find intriguing is the ability to see what other readers have highlighted in the book. It was apparent that certain passages of Winter Garden had much more meaning for wives and mothers than they did for me. Having been neither, they didn't resonate the same when I read them.

We take turns proposing the next novel for the group to read. Ideally, we'd like a selection that none of us has read previously so we can all experience it at the same time. But that can be difficult. Two of us have read the next book, but it's been so long ago that I'm sure we'll enjoy reentering the world of:

Frankly, I was surprised that other members of the book club were unfamiliar with the book and author. As both are among my favorites, I'll be interested in their reactions to the story and DuMaurier's writing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Paper or Plastic?

I bought an Amazon Kindle. I was curious but not inclined to own one until a couple of the neighborhood book club members discussed their advantages. I was less impressed by the lower cost of books (more on that later) than I was the thought that I could acquire books that have become hard-to-find in most stores. Plus, it's ideal for our book club selections that I have no desire to keep in paper format. Not to mention the free and near-free classics (although I already have nice volumes of my favorite classics).

As for cost, I belong to Book of the Month Club, The Mystery Guild, and Science Fiction Book Club. I can get popular new hard-bound books for the price of a trade paperback, and I've even beat the Kindle e-book price on a couple of recent purchases. Plus, these book clubs occasionally issue special editions that combine series novels into a single volume and/or replicate the original printing of a much-loved classic.

Okay -- so I've read only a couple of books on my Kindle. One a reference book and one a novel (our most recent book club selection). I rather miss the ability to flip the pages back to review something I've already read. I'm still trying out the bookmark and highlight features. I can't say that it's an improvement over a regular book. For now, it's a novelty and sort of fun.

But check this out. I have no idea how I came to possess this book. I suspect it's something my father picked up secondhand.

Yes...copyright 1941. It's a fabulous story about a young married couple who venture into Nazi Germany as amateur spies just before Germany invaded Poland and England joined the fight. It was made into a 1943 movie starring Fred MacMurry, Joan Crawford, and Basil Rathbone.

Frankly, I can't see Joan Crawford as Frances, and the couple was English, not American, and they weren't on their honeymoon. But as we all know, Hollywood never lets the facts get in the way of mangling a perfectly good story.

Anyway, here's the best part. Check out the notations inside the cover:

I'm not exactly sure what "Summerfield" was, but "Lipman Wolfe's" was a department store in downtown Portland (now long gone). Cameron's Book Store was one of my father's lunch-time prowls when he worked at City Hall (thus the suspected origin of the book on my shelves).

These notations record a fascinating history for this volume. Then there is the heavy-weight stock of the pages. This book was popular enough to produce a movie, so it makes one wonder how many other people held the book that was in my hands. What did they think of it? Were they reading it during the war, with no knowledge of its eventual outcome? Or enjoying it after the fact, well aware of world events that would occur after the final pages?

Digital books won't have histories like the above. They can't be autographed by the author. They can't be inscribed when given as a gift or for a special event. And what happens when the technology changes? We're still reading Chaucer and Shakespeare in printed form, but few of us listen to 8-track audio tapes. How attractive is a walnut-paneled library empty of books except for a lonely e-reader?

I'll have fun with my Kindle, but I don't know that it will really replace books. My bursting bookshelves are full of recollections of well-told tales, and the promise of new worlds and adventures to capture my imagination.

But as I heard at last summer's Willamette Writers Conference -- it's still a story. Only the delivery has changed.

Friday, February 18, 2011

For a Good Laugh....

I had a good chuckle Thursday night while watching Grey's Anatomy. This show's theme was "anything can happen in an hour." With Meredith Grey serving as the supervising resident for the ER, it was an action-packed hour of broken femurs, mysterious headaches, shenanigans in the linen closet, etc.

Why was I laughing? Because the patients were seen immediately and lab results were back within minutes! This episode aired the night after I took my mother to the ER (per doctor's orders) with another bout of severe anemia. She is being treated by her doctors for several maladies, but at 88 her symptoms sometimes get away from her.

So we arrived at the ER, checked in at the desk, went right in to registration, then sat in the waiting room for 1-1/2 hours. That is good news in that my mother wasn't so sick that she needed Grey's Anatomy-drama care. On the other hand, she would have felt better spending that time in the comfort of her own home.

We were then ushered into a treatment room where we waited for an examination and blood draw, and then waited some more to learn the lab results.

The fictional Seattle Grace Hospital must have a heck of a lab -- they always provide instant results. I envision row and row of lab technicians waiting for blood draws to snatch and process.

Anyway, the doctor determined my mother should be admitted for observation and more tests, but the small neighborhood hospital didn't have any vacant beds. She would have to be transported to the much larger central hospital in the system -- which of course would take time for the paperwork and arrival of the ambulance. Five hours after our arrival at the ER, my mother was wheeled into the ambulance.

Now, I'm not complaining about the care received. This particular health care system has so far taken excellent care of us both. And, as I said, I was thankful that my mother didn't need "crash cart" care.

But I sure did get a laugh out of the instantaneous ER care portrayed on last night's Grey's Anatomy after just experiencing actual care at a more leisurely pace.

It's called fiction for a reason! :-)

P.S. My mother will likely be discharged tomorrow and then spend the next few weeks in a round of follow-up doctor visits.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Waterproofless" in Oregon

Western Oregon is gloriously green because it RAINS. A lot. The Pacific Northwest is the land of Gortex and fleece for a reason.

Since Indy's need to go outside isn't necessarily timed for breaks in the weather, I have rain gear for both of us. He has an equine-inspired rain sheet, I have waterproof pants to wear over jeans and a hooded waterproof jacket that I can wear over appropriate layers. I thought I had waterproof boots but alas, that's not the case.

I have a pair of insulated, waterproof nylon lace-up boots. The fabric is definitely waterproof. Regrettably, the seams aren't. Who designs a "waterproof" boot with seaming and then doesn't seal the seams?!

So last winter when I found the above boots on sale I thought I'd solved my problem. Tall enough to tuck in my jeans so the hems won't get soaked, and high enough to trek through a rare snowfall. Combined with the waterproof pants and jacket -- I was impervious. Indy and I could stroll as far and wide as we desired and still arrive home dry. Well, I was dry and he was mostly dry.

Then... :-(

...a few weeks ago while walking Indy, my right foot felt wet halfway through our trip. Sure enough, when I got home and removed my boot, the sock was wet. Darned if I could find a hole or slice or abrasion that would explain the leak. More recently I discovered the heel of the left boot had mildew beneath the sock liner. An indication of another leak. Huh?!

It seems my low-cost boots were worth every penny.


So the waterproof, dog-walking, realistically-priced boot search resumes. It's February. Do you know how WET this place is during March and April?! Heck, it doesn't dry out around here until after Portland's Rose Festival is over in mid-June. Usually summer waits until Independence Day to settle in.

Uh oh. Gotta go. Or, more accurately, Indy's gotta go. Just let me peek out the window to see what rain gear I need to pop on.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not Anti. Just Non.

I don't know...if I lived anywhere near the Black Bear Lodge in New York maybe I would have attended yesterday. Most likely not. But it gave me a cynical smile.

Having never had a "significant other," Valentine's Day used to depress me. I mean, talking about rubbing my nose in it! LOSER.

But I've gradually overcome the tears and self-flagellation that accompanied every holiday or event that is associated with a loving relationship. No one to kiss under the mistletoe or on the stroke of midnight. No anniversary of any kind to celebrate. No one to give and receive red hearts on February 14.

When family or friends gush over the thoughtful gifts received from their men for holidays or relationship milestones, I just think "that's nice." I no longer go into an envious blue funk.

I was very shy and quiet when younger. I had no idea how the dating thing worked. I didn't know what to say or do to make someone like me, so I did nothing. Making me a very uninteresting person. No wonder no one noticed or asked.

In my twenties and thirties I was left behind by friends who got married, bought homes, and had babies. I had nothing to contribute to coffee break discussions about husbands, paint swatches, or the color of poop. I was desperately lonely. And we all know how attractive desperation is.

I tried a pre-online dating service for one year. Only two men asked to meet me. I actually met one of them and we were mutually unattracted. I didn't find anyone who seemed a good match. Of the very few men I indicated interest in, none wanted to meet me.

At forty I gave up trying. I just did not get how women met unattached men who were on the same wavelength who would date age-appropriate non-models. The men I encountered did not interest me, or they were married, turned out to have fiances, or they were gay. My friends never introduced me to likely matches. I am not religious, so meeting men at church, synagogue, or temple wasn't going to happen.

The experts advise singles to pursue their interests or hobbies where they may meet the special one. Well, I couldn't afford the concerts and exhibits that interested me, they weren't much fun to attend alone anyway, and I didn't care to be traveling unescorted after dark. I tried raquetball when it burst onto the scene but discovered that it, too, was designed for even numbers. It seemed I was expected to produce a significant other to play against the husband of the woman I was signed up to play with. Huh?

Rather than be owned by a house (which would be the case on my modest income), I instead bought my first horse. If I was going to go broke, at least I'd enjoy it. Besides, the horse world is full of men! Um, well -- not so much. On the periphery are the husbands and married fathers of the horse owners. I am not at all on the same wavelength as cowboys and besides, I always wanted to ride hunter jumpers not western. Then there are the gay or married male horse trainers. And the happily married or much-divorced farriers, etc. So after 30+ years of involvement with horses -- I've encountered 0 unattached compatible men.

After all these decades, I still don't understand how single women manage to meet their "soulmate" outside of a Hollywood "romcom" script.

Thus...Valentine's Day for me is a non event. Not even worth a "Love Sucks" evening at the Black Bear Lodge or somewhere closer to home. Although the poster did make me a grin. With all the commercial hoopla associated with romance on Valentine's Day -- at least a few places gave a thought to singletons.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sunday Stills: Spring Preview

Those folks that are still in the throes of winter will have to go to their archives for signs of spring.

We've had a snowless winter thus far in the valley and the bulbs are sending up shoots like crazy. People who can't wait for the crocus, daffodils, and tulips to bloom have given spring color a jump start by planting primroses.

I noticed these at the adjacent neighborhood park and took photos on one of the dry days this past week.

To see more spring colors, visit Sunday Stills.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Stills: Emotions

The challenge was to take photos that would elicit an emotional response from the viewer. Since nothing captured my imagination this week, I went to my archives.

The following photos are for those folks who are weary of their winter weather. I hope they make you smile.

Visit Sunday Stills to see what others have posted.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Same Plot, Different Story

Our neighborhood book club recently read and discussed Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden. We are currently reading Kristin Hannah's Winter Garden, which we will discuss later this month. The garden theme was purely accidental.


The basic plots of the books are the same: uncovering secret identities.

In The Forgotten Garden, Nell and her granddaughter search Nell's past to learn how she arrived in Australia as an unattended child. The Winter Garden focuses on sisters Meredith and Nina who realize their Russian-born mother's fairy tales contain as much fact as fantasy.

Which made me think about 20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them) by Ronald B. Tobias. In the first chapter of the book, Tobias addresses different responses to the question "How many plots are there?" For the purposes of his book, he settles on twenty. Tobias defines "story" as a chronicle of events -- a narration of events in the sequence that they happened. He distinguishes "plot" as a story that has a pattern of action and reaction -- a chain of cause-and-effect relationships that constantly create a pattern of unified action and behavior. Plot adds "why?" to the story questions of "who?" and "what?"

So which master plot describes the two Garden books? I'm guessing Master Plot #7: The Riddle. This is the basic mystery plot. Tobias begins the chapter with a quote by Mary Roberts Rinehart: The mystery story is really two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.

Rinehart, a master of mystery and suspense, sums it up quite neatly.

In The Forgotten Garden, it appears that a four-year-old girl has been abandoned by her family. I won't reveal what actually occurred in case anyone wants to read the novel. In Winter Garden, it appears to Meredith and Nina that their mother is cold and reserved -- saving her love and affection for only their father, Evan. The reality they uncover changes all their lives.

Which only goes to show, different writers can take the same basic plot (searching for a woman's secret past) and develop it in their own unique fashion.

Which in turn brings me to editor and agent workshops I've attended at the Willamette Writers Conference. Just when you think dragons, vampires, and zombies have been over done -- some writer takes the same basic plot into a whole new direction that catches everyone's imagination.

Dickens wrote the classic novel about an orphaned boy (Oliver Twist). Then came J. K. Rowling. writer should become discouraged by trying to come up with a brand new, never-been-done-before plot. Write your own version of one of the Master Plots.