Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"F" is for Frolic, Failure, and Fun -- or, Authors Whose Last Names Begin with F

A couple of years ago, my library system added blog posts to our website. Many of the posts were short collections of book reviews, often following a theme. I tried writing a few of these, but never felt like I could keep up with the thought-provoking themes of my librarian colleagues. It was a good challenge, a growth opportunity, and I was honored to have been selected to write for our site. After a few successes, and several wadded-up-and-thrown-in-the-trashcan failures, I realized that what I needed was my old writing partner to get me going again. Enter Polo!

Polo in his reading chair

The next step was figuring out what we could do for themes. I enjoy a range of material from quirky fiction to educational nonfiction, and Polo's game for whatever. How to cover this mix? Let's go alphabetically, by the authors' last names! We like to listen to books (Polo struggles with reading, at least when I'm around), so we only review things we can access via compact discs (audiobook CDs) or electronically (downloadable audiobooks on my phone).

We started listening, reviewing, and posting together on the library website with "A" authors, and the whole process was very satisfying now that we were doing it together. Our posts made it through "E" authors before a website update brought adjustments to the backstage side of the process. Also, my workload seemed to intensify, so we decided it was time to bow-wow out of the website thing. (See what we did there? A little dogga humor!)

And now, feigning fantastic fanfare, Polo and I feature frisky fiction (and whatever) by authors whose last names begin with the letter F.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters
By Juliette Fay

A great story from just past the turn of the century – the last century, that is – complete with cultural references and history made story. An average family is pushed to the brink financially when the father badly injures his hand, and mother and daughters realize it’s up to them to become breadwinners… by creating a Vaudeville act and hitting the road! Ups and downs, twists and turns, as the Tumbling Turner Sisters learn to balance each other, both literally and figuratively. Nothing comes easy for them, but these women have bonds and resilience that carry them forward.

Polo’s considerations: “It would have been helpful if they'd had the companionship of a good dog. I would have helped, but I do not travel.”

The Confusion of Languages
By Siobhan Fallon

How important is cultural awareness when you join your military spouse on assignment to the Middle East? Is attendance at security briefings optional, and can you draw caricatures of the officer presenting this material while he’s speaking? What if you are assigned to acclimate a newly arrived wife, but she resists your help? Told in alternating voices of the experienced, careful Cassie and the upstart, impulsive Margaret, this is an intriguing story of what-ifs and what-now.

Polo’s deliberations: “Again, they could have used a good dog to keep them safe. Margaret needed a herding breed to keep her in check.”

The Mitford Murders – A Mystery
By Jessica Fellowes

You may have heard of Julian Fellowes, creator of the award-winning Downton Abbey television series. His niece, Jessica Fellowes, has collaborated with him to write companion pieces for Downton Abbey, and she has crafted this wonderful period mystery set in the early 1900s. Strong characters, evocative scenery and characters, and a tricky tale of murder make this a winning audiobook.

Polo’s opinion: “The best stories have dogs in them. This is a very good story, complete with a dog and a couple of young human children.”

Monday, May 13, 2019

Being Educated by "Educated"

I don't usually read bestsellers. At least, not while they are still on the bestseller list. The main reason is that I don't feel any need to jump on the bandwagon. The other big reason is that I don't think to put myself on the waitlist for soon-to-be-published hot titles, and once I notice the new book, the hold list is way long. So I don't bother.

But I have friends who recommend books. In fact, they're professionals when it comes to suggesting the next great read. How can I help but get excited? So I put myself on the list for Tara Westover's memoir, Educated. Homeschooled girl from strict religious family makes it big in academia, despite not having any formal instruction in history, science, or math. How did she break free to enter university? How did she manage to earn multiple degrees? How did she overcome her extremely isolated childhood?

When I listened, engrossed, I found the audiobook was more of a horror story. Over and over, I perched on the edge of my seat. "Run! Run from the house before the crazed ax murderer catches up with you! Get away from the giant metal-eating behemoth machine before it crushes you! Tell someone about your brother slamming your head into the wall!"

This is a story of abuse. So much abuse, for so many years. The breaking free was not so much about education, although that certainly was her ticket to a completely different world. As is so common for people who experience domestic violence, it seems impossible to sever the ties that bind them to their abusers. That is the horror of this story. And that is the reader's opportunity for education.

Monday, April 1, 2019

To Write, or Let it Rot?

The more I read good stuff, the more I want to write again. I cannot express how much it means to me when someone asks what happened to the novel I was working on several years ago. It touches me that they would remember and ask, and it grieves me deeply that those manuscripts (plural) have become dry and dusty relics. I think I will write again. My characters are still there, alive after all these years, and maybe there are more stories to be written besides those two. Time will tell.

But I will not dwell on failure -- my own failure to launch. Maybe it wasn't the right time, maybe I wasn't adequately seasoned just then. It sure was fun, though. Time to see what comes next.

I have recently discovered that I have "severe" obstructive sleep apnea. So severe that I wonder how I have managed to put one foot in front of the other each day. Now that I have my very own CPAP machine and am already seeing successful treatment, I wonder what superpowers I will unleash with a few good weeks of sleep. Maybe this writing this could come back into being? And maybe, finally, an increase in physical stamina? I could stand to lose a few pounds, too, so maybe that. Focus is always good. We'll see.

One of my favorite features of blogging is being able to add photo illustrations. However, it's easy to work on my photos OR write the text. If I'm going to write tonight, I need to stick to writing. I'll add photos soon, but not tonight. Words will have to be enough. Words can be amazing, too, on a good writing day. Ha -- the best thing about my photos is that I get to crop them to show the very best of the composition! I've heard that writing is like that. Cropping out the extra, distracting, material in order to highlight the heart.

I've let the compost pile rot long enough. I'd like to write. We'll see what happens.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Well-Known People Here -- Right Here!

Libraries are gathering places for people who like books. But they're also places where interesting ideas are exchanged, where stories are told and culture is shared. And, occasionally, where famous or semi-famous names may appear.

In my oh-so-long library career, I have been privileged to attend a lot of programs and some very good staff training events. And I have met a total of three "famous" people in these official settings. (I can't talk about all the famous people I've helped. Patron privacy is a big deal in the library.)

The first big name was Nancy Pearl, known first as a Seattle librarian, then as the author of the Book Lust series of books and broadcasts. She is so well known that she has her own action figure! Not only does she know a lot about a lot of books, but she teaches others how to identify certain elements about the last good book they read. This, in turn, helps form ideas about what sort of book to suggest next. Great workshop, excellent presentation.

My next famous meeting was with a children's music performer, who also was part of a rock band some time ago. He gave up the nighttime gig in favor of family, and nonchalantly shook my hand as he said, "Hi, I'm Caspar Babypants." Wow. Way to embrace your alter ego, Chris!

Last weekend, a retired TV meteorologist came to talk about the dangers and wonders of mountain weather. What a voice! I had been accustomed to hearing him on our local news broadcasts for twenty years or more, but that was on television. Hearing him speak -- live and in person -- made me a little giddy. Jeff Renner really, really, has a great set of baritone pipes!

So, that's it for celeb sightings so far. But, coming up next month, my brother asked me to get an autographed copy of J.A. Jance's latest novel. She's coming to my library! My brother is a fan, and they have a mutual friend, and she's coming to MY library! It will be great fun to listen to her stories about writing, maybe take a few photos, and then get that book signed for my brother. Woot!

Jeff Renner at my library

Monday, January 29, 2018

Hello? Hi? Is Anybody There?

Golly, when did the wallpaper get changed to this very innocuous light blue fluff? At least I fixed the text so it's black on white. More readable and all that, you know. I've learned a little about writing with accessibility on the Web.

So I've been paying a lot of attention to that daily time-stealing, friend-conversing, mainly-used-by-my-generation face thing. A lot of attention, as in, several years' worth of attention. One lonely blog post here last year. Yikes. I'm sorry! I think often about blogging, but it takes so much time and energy to write up and edit (and edit, and re-edit) multiple paragraphs here. Meanwhile, on that other platform, there are pretty pictures and greetings from friends and more pictures, and I can scroll through a hundred short pieces in an hour and feel as though I've caught up with my people.

But this blog thing has value. Sure, the posts really are short, and they're not deeply personal, but I can pretend that hundreds of kind strangers (or no one at all) will read and nod in understanding. Is there still a place for blogs any more? My, how quickly things change.

I'm blogging for work, though only occasionally. I'm supposed to be able to post book suggestions -- not reviews, exactly, because I don't think I should say that something is so awful that no one should pick it up. I wanted to do this because it's writing, and I'm a writer. (Being a writer, in this case, does not necessarily mean that anyone will choose to read my writings. But I like to write.) Once I got all trained and instructed in the professional aspects of writing for work, I did a few posts... and lost my motivation. Crickets.

Recently, however, I re-discovered my muse and became re-energized to blog again. My alter ego, my writer-side, was right there in front of me all the time. I just hadn't been looking to him for help, because this was supposed to be professional, you know, for my career, writing. This muse of mine, you see, has a sweet face, a black and pink mottled nose, and a long wagging tail. It's Polo. It's so much easier to imagine my dog's responses to things than to write my own highly edited thoughts. Polo is straightforward, honest, and only a little bit cynical about human nature. He's kind and witty. And he uses a simpler vocabulary than I can muster. (Another rule about writing for the work blog is to keep it very readable for English language learners. I don't mean to sound high-falutin' -- it just happens to be how the words fly off my fingers.)

So, I'm taking my dog to work these days, hoping he can get away with writing book stuff for me. We'll see how it goes. At least 30% of the blog posts on our website are read by fellow staff members, and everything is carefully reviewed as soon as it's published. If Polo isn't allowed on that blog, at least he can come back here to lend a paw regularly.

Thanks for checking in. I'll try to get back here more often. Mostly, I'll try to write. Somewhere. Like this guy on the side of a building at the University of Washington. Because he's been at it a long time, and he isn't finished yet.

Friday, March 17, 2017

"I hereby declare, on oath..."

It was a very long time ago, and no one now living was even a gleam in our forefathers' eyes. But some of my ancestors were on that boatload of people -- immigrants, refugees, sturdy dreamers -- who sailed on the Mayflower.

With all the talk about new people coming to America these days, I can't help but consider my family as immigrants. I'm sorry that my people maybe didn't treat their American hosts very well. That's hard to swallow. I'm grateful that we were able to stay, despite all that.

This week at work (yes, as part of my job!) I was privileged to attend a Naturalization Oath Ceremony. There were a couple of short welcoming speeches. There were 19 people from eight different homelands -- Bahrain, China, India, Korea, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, and Tanzania -- who stood to take the Oath of Citizenship. They pledged to renounce all prior national allegiances, and to take up arms or do whatever was legally required of them to defend their new country. I cried a little. When they sat down again, they were citizens of the United States of America. We joined another immigrant in singing our national anthem. I couldn't help but cry. One of the new citizens led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance. I cried some more. The ceremony was totally official and, for me, completely emotional. (I did not shed any tears during the cheesy inspirational videos. I will not be manipulated, after all!)

When my people landed here, there was no oath, no pledge, no anthem, no flag. Nor was there a city in which to find housing or a job. No established resettlement assistance. No national leader to whom they might appeal for refuge. They had to make things up as they went along, from scratch, and they must have made more than a few errors. But they made it, many of them, and even welcomed more refugees and pilgrims who came later.

There are so many, many stories of pain and loss and peril suffered by those who are new arrivals to the United States. And so many more people who are not yet here. Some of those stories are hard to hear, hard to even imagine.

I think it's my job to carry out acts of welcome and care. But I've been really busy, all my life, just living my life. What needs to change, how must I grow, to expand my personal horizons? That's scary. Already, though, I am supporting English language learning and Citizenship classes through my work at the library. My church reaches out to assist refugees in a variety of ways, and I have done small things to join these efforts. I can do some more.

For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."

Highlights from the ceremony --

Thursday, December 29, 2016

[The Beginning of] the Beginning of the Story

The whole "baby in the manger" thing has me thinking. What in the world are we supposed to do with an infant whose birth was heralded by angels, visited by sheep herders, lauded by wise travelers? It makes for a great story, except there's no closure at the end of our Christmas holiday. That Baby, no matter how special and holy, can't do anything. It's great that He came, but...

My dad used to travel for business, and he'd sometimes bring special gifts home. When he went to Alaska, he returned with photos and explanations of a large retaining wall for which his company had supplied the interlocking pieces. Oh, and jade necklaces for my mom and me. One of his early trips to the east side of the state, he witnessed tumbleweeds blowing across the highway. I was thrilled to take a real tumbleweed to school for show-and-tell! (Side note: I had to wrap it in newspaper so my classmates wouldn't guess what it was. Ha!) Looking back, I enjoyed the stories as much as the presents.
my completed moccasins were something like this

And then, on a jaunt to Arizona, he picked up a moccasin kit so I could stitch up my own slippers. No story, but something representative of the place. I loved the idea of having my own moccasins. But the kit, by itself, was only a beginning. It was what came after, the process of putting them together, that would make them useful. Only after that would I be able to wear them.

The baby in the manger is kind of like the moccasin kit. In order to really get something out of it -- Jesus, that is -- you have to involve yourself in a process. There's the first part of His story, understanding that His birth and His very existence is amazing. As an adult, He did things and told stories and taught lessons that should have our attention. But then... then there was the whole "end of story" part when He was killed -- but He could have gotten out of it. What? Yes, Jesus could have opted out, but He let them put Him to death as a religious criminal. And then, after He was proven to be dead, He was resurrected and reunited with His followers before returning to the right hand of God the Father. The point of all of this was to pay the penalties for all of our misdeeds, so that we could also be with Him forever.

So, celebrating the miraculous birth of the Baby is like opening that moccasin kit. It's exciting just to see this beginning, but there's much more to come if you carry it out to the end. Read and follow the instructions, as it were, to receive the real joy and fulfillment.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Does This Derny Make Me Look Dorky?

Maybe it's just that I was tired when I started watching, but the Olympic sport of Women's Keirin was such an amazing spectacle.

It starts on the steeply banked velodrome track, riders' feet buckled onto their pedals, embracing the men who are their handlers. Waiting for the start. Waiting for... the uniformed guy on a motorized bicycle to come around the track behind them, making the turn, riding on the inside lane.

This guy is sitting very upright. None of the hunched-over streamlined posture for him. His helmet is the round, nerdy type. He wears khakis and a polo shirt in the Rio Olympics colors. And he's not pedalling.

So the best funny thing is this dorky guy -- riding a thing called a derny. ("Hello! You're in the Olympics? What's your athletic event?" "I drive the derny." Silence.) He doesn't have to look athletic. He doesn't have to be athletic. He just has to ride around the track, five and a half times (if you don't count the first half lap before the official start), sitting straight up, looking straight ahead, increasing his speed only incrementally through each lap.

Finally, after watching this measured procession around and around and around the track, the derny pulls out and the sprint ensues. This is when the cyclists get down and dirty, jockeying for new positions, sizing up the field, knowing when to push to the head of the pack for the lead. This is when all the strategy they've had in their heads comes to fruition. This is the action. Two and a half laps of all-out, adrenaline-revving sprint riding. "He's gone! Let's go!"

The photo below is not from this year's Olympic event, but I love how this dernyman looks a bit like a traffic patrol officer. All business. Do not exceed the speed limit. Period. This portion of the race is not. a. race.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Eagles in the Tree, Snails on the Fence

I went walking... by the river, where the eagles live. Mama eagle was posing for the paparazzi, but they all had four-foot-long megalenses that made me feel like I'd rather keep walking and see what I could see on my own.

Who knew that snails climb fences? Maybe to keep away from the nesting geese? There was a tiny narwhal-bird in the top of a nearby tree. And I love that Indian plum is one of the very first spring bloomers.

Some thoughts on my shyness. When I feel self-conscious, I lose most of my social graces. Sure, I can put on an act of warm effusiveness, but that takes effort and brain-energy. Those are the times when I lose people's names, or forget that I just greeted this patron five minutes ago. Ugh.

On the other hand, shyness lets me explore on my own, looking for the ordinary extraordinary details that are often overlooked. Like a snail on the fence, or the hummingbird in the tree just a ways down from the giant eagle.

Therefore, being introverted is a blessing and a curse. But mostly, a blessing. And I'm grateful. Mostly. Because I do enjoy noticing the little things. Thanks, God.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Penthouse Real Estate in Heronville

I went walking near home today... and even though I'm not ready for spring to start, it's clear that other folks are more than ready. Here's the local heron rookery, sizing up the nesting situation and occasionally bronking at the neighbors. Amazing to see so many herons at once. That's part of the beauty of winter, you know -- no leaves on the trees, obstructing the views.