Author Archives: Robin

About Robin

I’m a wife, mother, grandma, retired teacher, gardener, knitter, and passionate reader. I live near Portland, Oregon, USA.

Hello August

Hello, August! It looks like you will be a very busy month for me! Road trip for the first two weeks, then anniversaries and appointments. And then there’s that wonderful feeling of freedom that arrives mid-month when I once again realize that I don’t have to set up my classroom, begin the planning and preparation for another school year. I’m retired! Reading on the porch, watering the garden, picking cherry tomatoes.  August, you are a lovely feeling, really.

July Reading Reflections 2019

July fields of gold…

July was another fun reading month. I am revisiting favorite books from my growing up years, reading books I missed as a child, pursuing my garden reading passion, starting a new “reading around the world” focus, and simply enjoying my time outside reading on the porch!

I read ten books in July, and spent quite a bit of time going back and forth to the library. My favorite book of this month was Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing. And I loved reading two children’s classics that I hadn’t read as a child: Pollyanna (review coming soon), and A Dog of Flanders. Overall, a very pleasant reading month!

One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.
~ Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

The books I read in July:

July in the Garden

Our daughter’s flower garden…

We have had a milder July than usual. While so much of the country has been enduring sweltering heat, the temperatures here in western Oregon have been moderate and thus delightful. The flowers in our garden(s) have done well, and we are especially enjoying the flower garden our daughter planted last year. It is filling in more and more each year, and so it is getting prettier and prettier. This summer she is in the process of planting her own gardens at her new home…a very happy project for her.

We have three tubs where we planted blueberries a few years ago. This summer two of the plants produced masses of blueberries! One little plant didn’t have any blueberries at all, and I don’t know why. Perhaps next year?

The vegetable garden is much neglected this year. I have two empty raised beds (a sin, I know!) that I will plant with fall crops when we return from our August trip. But I did plant beets that are coming along nicely, and two cherry tomato plants that have little green tomatoes on them right now.

Our Garden-Bicycle shed under construction…

The outdoor project that has taken up most of our time this summer is the new “Garden/Bicycle Shed” my husband (and his trusty assistant here!) is building. It’s supposed to be half garden potting shed and half work-on-his-bicycles shed, but I think there’s more room dedicated to bicycles than gardens. Not complaining, though! I’m going to love have some potting shed space of my own.

The most delightful thing about July this year has been sitting on the front porch reading. Usually, it’s just too hot to sit out there at this time of year.

Reading on the porch…

A Dog of Flanders

A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida, is a classic and timeless story from Belgium and was a special book to read. The language is so beautiful, and the story so heartfelt and heart-wrenching. I had heard of this book before but never read it. I’m so glad I found it as I was looking for books to read for each country in the world.

When old Jehan Daas had reached his full eighty, his daughter had died in the Ardennes, hard by Stavelot, and had left him in legacy her two-year-old son. The old man could ill contrive to support himself, but he took up the additional burden uncomplainingly, and it soon became welcome and precious to him. Little Nello—which was but a pet diminutive for Nicolas—throve with him, and the old man and the little child lived in the poor little hut contentedly. It was a very humble little mud-hut indeed, but it was clean and white as a sea-shell, and stood in a small plot of garden-ground that yielded beans and herbs and pumpkins.

The story is of an very poor old man, Jehan Daas, and his grandson, Nello.  Into their lives comes a dog they find that had been cruelly treated and then abandoned along the roadside. They nurse the dog back to health, and the dog becomes their loyal companion and family member, each one of them needed in the effort to earn enough money to live. Although poor and often hungry, Nello is happy living with his grandfather and his dog, Patrasche.

Nello loves art and loves the great works of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter who lived, worked and is buried in Antwerp. His influence is felt everywhere, and inspires Nello to teach himself art.

And the greatness of the mighty Master still rests upon Antwerp, and wherever we turn in its narrow streets his glory lies therein, so that all mean things are thereby transfigured; and as we pace slowly through the winding ways, and by the edge of the stagnant water, and through the noisome courts, his spirit abides with us, and the heroic beauty of his visions is about us, and the stones that once felt his footsteps and bore his shadow seem to arise and speak of him with living voices. For the city which is the tomb of Rubens still lives to us through him, and him alone.

Nello longs to see the two famous Ruben’s paintings in the Cathedral of Our Lady, in Antwerp, but they are kept behind a curtain and are only available to see if you can pay the fee.

As Nello grows older, and his grandfather grows more feeble, the boy and his dog work hard to make a living. Although life is a struggle, Nello teaches himself art and loves all of nature around him, so he is a happy person.  But life takes a cruel turn for this little family, and Nello and his devoted dog do the best they can to deal with it all.

I did love this little story. The dog is such a wonderful character, and the author lets us know what the dog is thinking and why he does some of the things he does. Nello is a gentle, sweet character, full of good cheer, talent, and hope… He is almost too good for this world.

A statue of Nello and Patrasche in Hoboken, Belgium.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a classic from Belgium.

My Literary DNA

I love the following quote from Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing. I finished the book awhile ago, but keep going back to parts of it that really hit home with me. That is a particular pleasure when you’ve read a really good book.

“Books help to form us. If you cut me open, you will find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted and transformed into me. Alice in Wonderland, The Magic Faraway Tree. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Book of Job. Bleak House. Wuthering Heights. The Complete Poems of W H Auden. The Tale of Mr Tod. Howards End. What a strange person I must be. But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA.”

Adventures of a Biographer

I sometimes have the feeling that every biography I have written is a part of my autobiography. Remembered experiences and emotions grant me a lens of empathy through which I can view my subject. One’s writing and one’s personal life frequently mesh. We are the stories we tell.

Natalie S. Bober is an author I came across during my teaching years who quickly became a favorite author of mine (and of my mother after I introduced her to some of her books!). She has written excellent biographies for young people, and I found them fascinating to read.

I discovered recently that she had written a book about being a writer and specifically a writer of biographies. Of course, I had to find it and read it immediately. Simply put: I loved it!  It tells her own story about becoming a biographer, and explains to young writers how to make that happen. It also describes her immersion into the lives of the subjects of her biographies, and so gives a fascinating new view of the lives of those people and extends the experience of each of those biographies. I just wish my mother were still here to enjoy this book as much as she enjoyed the other books by Natalie Bober!

This book gives a wonderful view into the life of a writer. I found myself highlighting many passages, wanting to store them away and refer back to them many times. Here are a few of her ideas that resonated with me:

The story becomes, then, not simply the life of a subject, but the portrait of an era as well. And – in this way biography becomes a prism of history. In fact, biography has been described as the human heart of history. The biographer, then, becomes a historian as well as a portrait painter.

To be a writer, I was discovering, one must first be a reader!

Every biography that I write offers me an excuse to travel. Documents can never tell the whole story. I must go to the territory. I must walk where my subjects walked, and see what they must have seen. The language of landscape is essential.

I have always felt that writing is exploration. I write to learn. My drafts become a lens helping me to see my subjects from a new perspective.

Research can be exciting, for me perhaps more so even than the writing, because when I’m researching I’m learning. It’s like a game, a treasure hunt. I’m playing detective, and the excitement comes from search and discovery – from recreating a life from details.

Most importantly, the good biographer combines the detective work of the historian, the insight of the psychologist, and the art of the novelist.

Always, as I write, I have in mind something written by Sir Sidney Lee (1859-1926), editor of the Dictionary of National Biography in England, and known for his biography of William Shakespeare. He wrote: “The aim of biography is the truthful transmission of personality.”

There are still a couple of her biographies I haven’t read yet, and I would love to reread many of the others. I’ve read her books on Abigail Adams and on Robert Frost but didn’t review them. I would love to reread both of those! When I do, I will definitely review them and add to the list below!

Please check out the other blog posts I have written on Natalie Bober and her wonderful biographies:

I do hope you’ll read some of her books! They are so well written and so interesting!

Wanderlust

When I was 17 years old, I spent a year in Argentina as an exchange student, and after that experience I always considered myself a “Citizen of the World,” not just a citizen of my own country. But I’ll admit it:  I’m more of an armchair traveler than a real traveler, although I would love to visit many different far off places!  Books have always encouraged and mostly satisfied my wanderlust, so I will continue to read books from other countries and cultures.

There are many booklists online about books from countries around the world, and many blogging friends have put together challenges to encourage a broader range of reading. I love putting together lists, so I thought I would build this post with a list of the countries of the world so that when I read a book from or about that country, I can log it here. It’s the journey that calls to me, not the finish line.

I will read as many books in translation as possible. There are also many books for young people that provide wonderful stories and information about other cultures/countries, so I look forward to reading some of those, as well.  Since I’m starting in 2019, I will include books I’ve already read this year that qualify for this self-challenge and will provide links to my reviews.

It is important to me, as a “citizen of the world,” that I broaden my reading journey even more during this time of increasing nationalism. I truly believe the motto of the American Field Service (now known as AFS Intercultural Programs):

“Walk Together, Talk Together, 
O ye peoples of the Earth,
For then, and only then,
Shall ye have peace.”

  1. AFGHANISTAN:  Nasreen’s Secret School, by Jeanette Winter
  2. ALBANIA
  3. ALGERIA
  4. ANDORRA
  5. ANGOLA
  6. ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
  7. ARGENTINA
  8. ARMENIA
  9. AUSTRALIA
  10. AUSTRIA
  11. AZERBAIJAN
  12. THE BAHAMAS
  13. BAHRAIN
  14. BANGLADESH
  15. BARBADOS
  16. BELARUS
  17. BELGIUM:  A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida
  18. BELIZE
  19. BENIN
  20. BHUTAN
  21. BOLIVIA
  22. BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA
  23. BOTSWANA
  24. BRAZIL
  25. BRUNEI
  26. BULGARIA
  27. BURKINA FASO
  28. BURUNDI
  29. CABO VERDE
  30. CAMBODIA
  31. CAMEROON
  32. CANADA:  The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid
  33. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
  34. CHAD
  35. CHILE
  36. CHINA
  37. COLOMBIA:  Waiting for the Biblioburro, by Monica Brown
  38. COMOROS
  39. CONGO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF
  40. CONGO, REPUBLIC OF THE
  41. COSTA RICA
  42. COTE D’IVOIRE
  43. CROATIA
  44. CUBA:  Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba, by Alma Flor Ada
  45. CYPRUS
  46. CZECH REPUBLIC
  47. DENMARK
  48. DJIBOUTI
  49. DOMINICA
  50. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
  51. EAST TIMOR (TIMOR-LESTE)
  52. ECUADOR
  53. EGYPT
  54. EL SALVADOR
  55. EQUATORIAL GUINEA
  56. ERITREA
  57. ESTONIA
  58. ESWATINI
  59. ETHIOPIA
  60. FIJI
  61. FINLAND
  62. FRANCE
  63. GABON
  64. THE GAMBIA
  65. GEORGIA
  66. GERMANY
  67. GHANA:  Emmanuel’s Dream, The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson
  68. GREECE
  69. GRENADA
  70. GUATEMALA
  71. GUINEA
  72. GUINEA-BISSAU
  73. GUYANA
  74. HAITI
  75. HONDURUS
  76. HUNGARY
  77. ICELAND
  78. INDIA
  79. INDONESIA
  80. IRAN
  81. IRAQ
  82. IRELAND
  83. ISRAEL
  84. ITALY
  85. JAMAICA
  86. JAPAN:  Sweet Bean Paste, by Durian Sukegawa
  87. JORDAN
  88. KAZAKHSTAN
  89. KENYA
  90. KIRIBATI
  91. KOREA, NORTH
  92. KOREA, SOUTH
  93. KOSOVO
  94. KUWAIT
  95. KYRGYSTAN
  96. LAOS
  97. LATVIA
  98. LEBANON
  99. LESOTHO
  100. LIBERIA
  101. LIBYA
  102. Liechtenstein
  103. Lithuania
  104. Luxembourg
  105. Madagascar
  106. Malawi
  107. Malaysia
  108. Maldives
  109. Mali
  110. Malta
  111. Marshall Islands
  112. Mauritania
  113. Mauritius
  114. Mexico
  115. Micronesia, Federated States of
  116. Moldova
  117. Monaco
  118. Mongolia
  119. Montenegro
  120. Morocco
  121. Mozambique
  122. Myanmar (Burma)
  123. Namibia
  124. Nauru
  125. Nepal
  126. Netherlands
  127. New Zealand
  128. Nicaragua
  129. Niger
  130. Nigeria
  131. North Macedonia
  132. Norway
  133. Oman
  134. Pakistan
  135. Palau
  136. Panama
  137. Papua New Guinea
  138. Paraguay
  139. Peru
  140. Philippines
  141. Poland
  142. Portugal
  143. Qatar
  144. Romania
  145. Russia
  146. Rwanda
  147. Saint Kitts and Nevis
  148. Saint Lucia
  149. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  150. Samoa
  151. San Marino
  152. Sao Tome and Principe
  153. Saudi Arabia
  154. Senegal
  155. SERBIA
  156. SEYCHELLES
  157. SIERRA LEONE
  158. SINGAPORE
  159. SLOVAKIA
  160. SLOVENIA
  161. SOLOMON ISLANDS
  162. SOMALIA
  163. SOUTH AFRICA
  164. SPAIN
  165. SRI LANKA
  166. SUDAN
  167. SUDAN, SOUTH:  A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
  168. SURINAME
  169. SWEDEN
  170. SWITZERLAND
  171. SYRIA
  172. TAIWAN
  173. TAJIKISTAN
  174. TANZANIA
  175. THAILAND
  176. TOGO
  177. TONGA
  178. TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
  179. TUNISIA
  180. TURKEY
  181. TURKMENISTAN
  182. TUVALU
  183. UGANDA
  184. UKRAINE
  185. UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
  186. UNITED KINGDOM:  Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee  **  The Lost Garden, by Helen Humphreys
  187. UNITED STATES:  The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett  **  The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck
  188. URUGUAY
  189. UZBEKISTAN
  190. VANUATU
  191. VATICAN CITY
  192. VENEZUELA
  193. VIETNAM
  194. YEMEN
  195. ZAMBIA
  196. ZIMBABWE

The Magic Apple Tree and Sunflowers

The Magic Apple Tree, by Susan Hill, is a magical memoir about her years living in the English countryside. I loved reading it, and will enjoy rereading it again before too long. One of the passages I highlighted from the book was about summer and sunflowers. It reminded me of my own sunflower garden from a few years ago, and I’m sad that I didn’t plant any sunflowers in our yard this year. Next year, for sure!

Summer means sunflowers – better called by their exquisitely apposite French name, tournesol. It is folly to try and grow them very tall here, of course, the wild winds of the early autumn nights bend and break their thick stems and bow their great shaggy heads to the ground, but I do try nevertheless, because I love them so, their bright faces and open-golden look, and the way the bees swarm about them, I should like a whole marching line of them up against the wall near the woodshed.

My sunflower garden from 2015.