Category Archives: Non-fiction

Mid-August and Hunkered Down

Birdwatching and watching the birdwatchers. Plus, smoky air!

We are well into mid-August and the usual heat of summer has been replaced by the especially miserable record-breaking heat, drought, fire, and smoky air. We do all our errands in the early morning, occasionally picking up a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then hanging out at Fern Hill Wetlands watching the birds and the birdwatchers. Then, it’s home to hunker down as the heat of the day builds up and the air becomes worse. And I must add that the hunkering down is also part of our daily protection plan for my husband’s compromised immune system during this time of raging variants!

So, all that sounds pretty grim, but the nice thing about it all is that we are getting a lot of reading done, are enjoying watching our current K-drama during the day instead of after dinner, and are having fun trying out new recipes. Adjust and Adapt!

Woman Reading, by Henri Ottmann

Books read and enjoyed in the last few weeks:

A Song for Lonely Wolves, by Lee Evie. The first book in a new mystery/detective series that takes place during the Joseon Dynasty in Korean history. The main character is a talented young female detective during a period of time when women were not valued. A very interesting historical fiction mystery. I’m looking forward to reading on in the series when the new books come out.

.

Notes on Grief is a short book by Chimamanga Ngozi Adichie about the death of her father during the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown last year. (He did not die of Covid.) It is a beautifully written account of his sudden death and the grief that followed, complicated by the restrictions of the pandemic. “I am writing about my father in the past tense, and I cannot believe I am writing about my father in the past tense.”  It is a deeply personal, yet completely universal, story, and I appreciated her honesty and her sharing her grief with us. I wrote down many quotes from this book because I know they will give me strength later on.   “Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”

My emotions are like a roller coaster these days, since my husband’s diagnosis. We have days that are “mostly normal” and days where waves of sadness hit us hard. So after reading Notes on Grief, I decided to return to the kind and gentle world of Miss Read’s Fairacre. I picked up the 15th volume in the series, Village Centenary, and read it through in a short few days. It was an absolute delight, and exactly what my soul needed. In this book, the village celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village school. Most of the residents of Fairacre went to the school, and the town comes together to honor the old school with a wonderful celebration at the end of the year. “There was no doubt about it, Fairacre School was the heart of our village, and memories of their own schooldays quickened the adults’ response to this tribute to its hundred years.”  What a lovely series, and this was one of my favorites of the ones I’ve read so far.

We are currently enjoying watching the South Korean drama, Bossam: Steal the Fate. It’s a highly entertaining series about a man of the Joseon Dynasty who mistakenly kidnaps the widowed daughter of the king. Bossam” was a “customary remarriage procedure” during that period of time. “A widow could not remarry. A single man or widower would kidnap the widow and marry her. Some of the kidnappings were agreed upon in advance and others were by force.” So a man could be hired to do the kidnapping, but things went awry with this particular job!  It is both humorous and serious, with wonderful acting, costuming, and filming — just a fun and very addictive historical drama.

Aside from reading and watching historical South Korean dramas, keeping my garden alive in the heat this summer has been a full-time job. I have to get it all watered before the heat builds up, so I start early and finish before noon. Fortunately, my zinnias like the heat!

 

 

Lost in the Yellowstone

Dad (in that special hat) leading the way on a beautiful walk…

The year before my father passed away, our family had a wonderful reunion in Yellowstone National Park. The entire family was there, including the grandkids, and the memories of that special trip are some of my treasured memories of my Dad and family. I haven’t been back to Yellowstone since then, and that’s been way too long! When the pandemic hit last year and we couldn’t even think about taking a trip, I found myself longing to return to Yellowstone. I am hopeful that we can plan that trip sometime soon.

So when I came across an audiobook called Lost in the Yellowstone, by Truman Everts, I downloaded it immediately to help fill my Yellowstone craving. It is the true account by Truman Everts of his incredible misadventure of being lost in Yellowstone for 37 days. He was part of the 1870 Washburn Expedition exploring the area that later became Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Everts was not an experienced explorer and had little or no survival training, so it was truly miraculous that he survived his ordeal after becoming separated from the group. And it was truly an ordeal! Everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong…but he survived nonetheless–just barely.  When he was found 37 days later, he was emaciated and hallucinating, and had frostbite as well as burns from the many steam vents. It was a fascinating story of survival.

It wasn’t the kind of trip to Yellowstone I had been thinking about, but it was interesting to hear his descriptions of the area in its natural state, and to read his story of how he was able to survive. A short but interesting read!

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Aye-Aye and I

An Aye-Aye

In the gloom it came along the branches towards me, its round, hypnotic eyes blazing, its spoon-like ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes, its white whiskers twitching and moving like sensors; its black hands, with their thin, attenuated fingers, the third seeming prodigiously elongated, tapping delicately on the branches as it moved along, like those of a pianist playing a complicated piece by Chopin. It looked like a Walt Disney witch’s black cat with a touch of ET thrown in for good measure. If ever a flying saucer came from Mars, you felt that this is what would emerge from it. It was Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky come to life, whiffling through its tulgey wood.

This is the beginning of Gerald Durrell’s book, The Aye-Aye and I. It is the story of the trip to Madagascar he and his wife, Lee, took to capture healthy specimens of this amazing and rare endangered primate to place in breeding centers around the globe in an attempt to save them from extinction. Aye-Ayes are the largest Lemur, nocturnal primates, and they spend most of their lives in trees. It hunts for grubs by tapping on the wood and then gnawing a hole to get to the grub, and then uses its long narrow finger to pull the grub out.

I had never heard of an Aye-Aye until I found this book. My curiosity, as well as my love of Gerald Durrell’s writing, prompted an immediate purchase of the book, and I very much enjoyed reading it. If you have ever read a book by Gerald Durrell, you know he has a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful way with words. In reading this book, you learn a lot about life on Madagascar — flora, fauna, and human! — and get to know this amazing creature and the struggles it faces for survival.

 

 

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

Crying in H Mart

This week I’ve been listening to the audiobook, Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner, also narrated by the author. It’s been a very moving experience which has touched my heart in many different ways.

It is a memoir of a young woman, a talented musician (her band is called Japanese Breakfast) and the only daughter of a Korean mother and an American father. It is the story of her growing up between two cultures, of her relationship with her mother, and of the loss of her mother to cancer.  It is a very honest and introspective book as she described the struggles between mother and teenage daughter, mother and young adult daughter, and the struggle to establish her own identity. It is a story of growth and grief, and of love and loss.

Her experiences were both unique and universal. I identified with many of the struggles of her teenage years (from my perspective as both a daughter and a mother), and I was fascinated with her cultural and language struggles with extended family. Michelle had just reached young adulthood when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was just at the time when her relationship with her mother began to settle into a more adult closeness after the struggles of the teenage years. The descriptions of her mother’s decline and death were heart wrenching, and I found myself in tears numerous times. I couldn’t help but remember and compare my own mother’s death three years ago, and appreciate once again what a kind death my mother had in comparison to the death of Michelle’s mother to the ravages of cancer with it’s prolonged decline. I just wanted to reach out and hug her and tell her how much I admire her honesty and the courage she showed in dealing with that devastating experience.

Michelle’s writing is beautiful. She is not only a talented musician, but is a very talented writer. I am hoping she continues to tell stories because I will look for and read any book she writes. This book is currently on the New York Times best seller list, so there was a long wait for it at the library. But I enjoyed listening to her own voice narrating it, so I highly recommend listening to the audiobook.

A favorite quote from the book:

I’ve just never met someone like you,” as if I were a stranger from another town or an eccentric guest accompanying a mutual friend to a dinner party. It was a strange thought to hear from the mouth of the woman who had birthed and raised me, with whom I shared a home for eighteen years, someone who was half me. My mother had struggled to understand me just as I struggled to understand her. Thrown as we were on opposite sides of a fault line—generational, cultural, linguistic—we wandered lost without a reference point, each of us unintelligible to the other’s expectations, until these past few years when we had just begun to unlock the mystery, carve the psychic space to accommodate each other, appreciate the differences between us, linger in our refracted commonalities. Then, what would have been the most fruitful years of understanding were cut violently short, and I was left alone to decipher the secrets of inheritance without its key.

An after-reading-the-book experience:

Food was a huge part of her relationship with her mother, so H Mart was an important part of this book. I had never heard of H Mart before, but since the author grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and the H Mart there is the one she wrote about, I thought it would be interesting to perhaps visit that particular store. In searching for it on the internet, I discovered that there are numerous stores even closer to home, so my sweet husband and I drove to Tigard yesterday morning for our first-ever shopping trip to H Mart. Yesterday’s pilgrimage won’t be our last, though, because we were thrilled with the produce and enjoyed shopping there. We came home with some wonderful baby bok choy, a fine looking napa cabbage, a variety of wonderful greens, some new instant noodles to try out, and all the regular weekly items on our shopping list.  And since Korean food was such an important part of the book, I picked up the ingredients to try a new recipe I found for Korean Noodles with Black Bean Sauce. Yum!

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming is a lovely memoir written by Jacqueline Woodson. Written completely in verse, she chronicles her growing up years in South Carolina and New York.

From the publisher:

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

It may seem unusual to write her story in verse, but the beauty of poetry is that a story can be told so powerfully in few words. Reading this book was a delight, and it was well-deserving of the awards and honors it won. 

  • 2014: National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • 2015;  Coretta Scott King Award for Authors
  • 2015:  Newbery Honor Book
  • 2015:  NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Young Adult Fiction
  • 2015: Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal

Here is an example of her beautiful and poignant way of sharing her memories with us:

“Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,
it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness
until you look up and the earth stops
in a ceiling of stars. My head against
my grandfather’s arm,
a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words
on a night like this. Just the warmth
of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise
that the world as we know it
will always be here.”

I should have read this book years ago!  It is definitely one of my favorite books read so far in 2021.

Jacqueline Woodson

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. Part of this book was set in South Carolina.

I also read this book as part of My Anti-Racist Education project.

 

Hanok: The Korean House

My husband is a retired architect, so we are always interested in finding wonderful ‘coffee-table books’ about different architectural styles, projects, etc. So we were both excited when I found a book about the historical and traditional Korean house. Hanok: The Korean House, by Nani Park and Robert J. Fouser is full of gorgeous photographs and very interesting information about the traditional Hanok and the modern updated versions that are so popular right now in Seoul. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about both historical and modern Korean culture.  

From the author:

My aim in this book is to expand readers’ awareness of Korea by adding another word, one that is an integral part of Korean architectural history and, with it, culture. The word is hanok and it refers to the traditional wooden house structure that originated in the Joseon Dynasty in the late fourteenth century.

From the publisher:

Hanok: The Korean House provides new insights on the stylish traditional Korean homes that are experiencing a resurgence of popularity in Seoul today. While the exteriors of these houses are indistinguishable from traditional hanok built decades ago, the insides have entirely changed and adapted with the times. Korea is a nation that has radically transformed itself in recent decades, yet amidst the glass-and-steel skyscrapers and luxury apartments, the Korean design of the hanok still survives and plays a surprisingly important role. This book showcases 12 very special hanok that have been selected to reflect the Korea of today.

The original hanok design has not changed. Traditional craftsman-made materials of stone, wood, and clay are still the only components used in these houses. They also incorporate natural elements such as wind and sunlight, and baesanimsu(better known in its Chinese form as feng shui) is used to position the hanok in harmony with the natural forces and geographical features of the site. Each hanok has a unique story to tell, and this book studies the personality of each house from the point of view of its owners, many of whom are talented devotees of Korean architecture themselves.

The photographs in this book are just beautiful. Two favorite examples are below.

I also loved the names given to many of the Hanoks. Here are two examples that I thought were wonderful.

We have a huge old Cedar tree in the corner of our yard, and I immediately thought that we should name our house, “House Cherishing an Old Cedar Tree as a Lifelong Friend.”

This is a fun read for anyone who enjoys reading about architecture or looking at house books of all kinds, and for anyone who is interested in Korean culture.

The Bukchon Hanok Village, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea.

The Measure of My Days

Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.

I have had this book on my shelf for ages. But as I move into the years she wrote about, her seventies and eighties, I decided to finally read Florida Scott-Maxwell’s, The Measure of My Days. It’s a quiet book, with many thoughts about her daily life, about aging, and about death. I do not live alone at this point, but I am touched by her thoughts on aging and being alone, and think of my mother and how she handled those years. I see them coming ahead of me, sooner than I would like, and look for guidance and wisdom to help me along. And she most definitely has wisdom and guidance to share with me! Here are a few examples of some of her thoughts that resonated with me…

I wonder if living alone makes one more alive. No precious energy goes in disagreement or compromise. No need to augment others, there is just yourself, just truth—a morsel—and you. You went through those long years when it was pain to be alone, now you have come out on the good side of that severe discipline. Alone you have your own way all day long, and you become very natural. Perhaps this naturalness extends into heights and depths, going further than we know; as we cannot voice it we must just treasure it as the life that enriches our days.

It is not easy to be sure that being yourself is worth the trouble, but we do know it is our sacred duty.

The crucial task of age is balance, a veritable tightrope of balance; keeping just well enough, just brave enough, just gay and interested and starkly honest enough to remain a sentient human being.

When a new disability arrives I look about to see if death has come, and I call quietly, “Death, is that you? Are you there?”. So far the disability has answered, “Don’t be silly, it’s me.”

I want to tell people approaching and perhaps fearing old age that it is a time of discovery. If they say “Of what?” I can only answer “We must find out for ourselves, otherwise it wouldn’t be discovery.”

One cannot be honest even at the end of one’s life, for no one is wholly alone. We are bound to those we love, or to those who love us, and to those who need us to be brave, or content, or even happy enough to allow them not to worry about us. So we must refrain from giving pain, as our last gift to our fellows.

Florida Scott-Maxwell, painted by Amanda Brewster Sewell.

When I bought the book, I hadn’t heard of her, I just liked the concept of the book. So, for those of you who have never heard of her, either, I’m including a short biography of Florida Scott-Maxwell from The Poem Hunter.com:

Florida Pier was born in Orange Park, Florida, and educated at home until the age of ten. She grew up in Pittsburgh, then moved to New York at age 15 to become an actress. In 1910 she married John Scott Maxwell and moved to her husband’s native Scotland, where she worked for women’s suffrage and as a playwright. The couple divorced in 1929 and she moved to London. In 1933 she studied Jungian psychology under Carl Jung and practised as an analytical psychologist in both England and Scotland. She died in Exeter, England. Her most famous book is The Measure of My Days (1968).

 

 

.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Ada’s Violin

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, is a true story told in picture book form. It’s a very heartwarming story about the power of music and creativity to bring hope to the slums of Paraguay.

from the publisher:

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

It’s so nice to find a story of inspiration and hope. Ada’s dreams of playing the violin were fulfilled beyond her imagination, thanks to the work of Favio Chávez. Here are some links to more information on both Mr. Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see a live performance on YouTube of the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see an NPR report on the Recycled Orchestra.


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 book based on a true story from Paraguay.

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, is a wonderful introduction to the culture of Kenya, and a fascinating memoir of a talented Maasai boy. Mr. Lekuton tells his boyhood stories and tells how, with the help of his tribe, he was sent to study in an American college, St. Lawrence University in New York.

from the publisher:

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton gives American kids a firsthand look at growing up in Kenya as a member of a tribe of nomads whose livelihood centers on the raising and grazing of cattle. Readers share Lekuton’s first encounter with a lion, the epitome of bravery in the warrior tradition. They follow his mischievous antics as a young Maasai cattle herder, coming-of-age initiation, boarding school escapades, soccer success, and journey to America for college. Lekuton’s riveting text combines exotic details of nomadic life with the universal experience and emotions of a growing boy.

After graduating from St. Lawrence, he taught middle school in Virginia for many years, and then was accepted at Harvard University where he earned a Master’s degree in International Education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He returned to Kenya in 2007, and was elected as a representative in the National Assembly of Kenya. He was reelected in 2013. His work has been dedicated to improving the lives of young Kenyans through education.

To bridge cultures you must mix people together,” he says. “Education and travel are the best teachers.

This was a very enjoyable book, a wonderful introduction to Kenya and to a young boy who grew up to be an inspirational man.

Click here to listen to Joseph Lekuton’s TED Talk, “A Parable for Kenya.”

 

I chose to read this book 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 book about Kenya.

Icelanders

As part of my ongoing project of reading books from different countries of the world, “Wanderlust,” I found a delightful and humorous book about Icelanders. When I was teaching sixth grade many years ago, I had a lovely Icelandic girl in class. She sparked my interest in Iceland and it’s spectacular geological history, but I actually know very little about the people and the culture, so this book was a fun introduction to both!

The book is called:  The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people, written by Alda Sigmundsdóttir.

After more than 20 years away, Alda Sigmundsdottir returned to her native Iceland as a foreigner. With a native person’s insight yet an outsider’s perspective, Alda quickly set about dissecting the national psyche of the Icelanders. This second edition, from 2018, contains new and updated chapters from the original edition, reflecting the changes in Icelandic society and among the Icelandic people since the book was first published in 2012.

It was an interesting way to learn about a culture, through humor. Alda Sigmundsdottir has written a whole series of little books about Icelanders, and I’d like to read them all! I laughed a lot while reading this book, not AT the Icelanders, but at ourselves as human beings. By the end of the book, I was totally taken by the quirkiness and warmheartedness of the people, and would love to visit there (but not until after I read her book called The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland: Tips, tricks, and what the Icelanders really think of you.).

Here are some quotes from the book, that give you a glimpse of the people and culture of this country of starkly beautiful landscapes.

“Grasping the national psyche of the Icelandic people is like trying to catch a slippery fish with your bare hands.”

Hláturinn lengir lífið, the Icelanders say – “laughter prolongs your life”. There is no doubt in my mind that laughter has not only prolonged the life of individual Icelanders, but has been a source of formidable strength for the nation as a whole.”

If there is one phrase that captures the Icelanders’ innate sense of optimism better than any other, it is this: Þetta reddast. Þetta reddast should be emblazoned across the nation’s coat of arms, for it is a phrase that captures the essence of the Icelandic national character perhaps better than any other – their optimism, their irreverence, their faith, their tenacity. It also happens to be a phrase that the Icelanders use constantly. Þetta reddast basically means: This will all work out one way or another. Just lost your job? Þetta reddast. No money in the bank? Þetta reddast. Economy just melted down? Þetta reddast. Volcano just spewed ash all over your arable land? Þetta reddast líka. I love the phrase þetta reddast. To me, it incorporates a profound philosophy. Because when things are totally dark and you really can’t see the way out, often the best thing you can do is let go and trust that somehow, some way, things will work out for the best. And the amazing thing is that … they almost always do.”

 

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 book about Iceland.