I have read each of Allen Eskens books, and I as pleased to find his newest, Nothing More Dangerous, at the library this week. The book makes a significant departure from his earlier books; it’s less a mystery and more a coming of age story with mystery elements.
Intrigued by this change, I returned to the author’s note at the start of the book. Here Eskens had written: “I began this novel in 1991 as a way to explore my own failings regarding notions of prejudice and racism. The characters and story line intrigued me, and I worked on the novel for twenty years before setting it aside. It wasn’t ready, and I knew it.”
I found this honesty refreshing and encouraging. Years ago a winemaker had a slogan “we will sell no wine before its time.” Eskens was echoing the sentiment as he discussed his writing. Too often I have started to write a long essay and realized that I was not ready. I have often attributed this to many factors including writer’s block, lack of discipline and various other self-condemning terms. I had never thought to have the compassionate approach to the task that Eskens stated here.
I will remain open to the wisdom that there is a due time for each piece of writing. I needed that concept and I will try to remember it the next time the gremlins of self-criticism descend.
Each winter numbers of Connecticut residents head south to Florida for the winter avoiding the snow and ice. On the other coast Oregon residents flee to Arizona for the winter to get out of the relentless dark cold rain. Each group is known as “snowbirds.” Here we are visited by snowbirds of a different sort. In the last couple of weeks one of my favorite birds, the dark-eyed juncos, arrived for the winter. Apparently we are enough warmer than the Arctic to entice them south. They don’t like to pose for photographs, but I managed to catch one in the middle of picking through the discarded seeds from the feeders. Mourning doves and juncos love to eat on the ground, and the sparrows and finches leave plenty of uneaten bits for them.
Fortunately I filled the feeders before the “light dusting” of snow turned into seven inches on Monday. We have been visited by goldfinches, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves and these lovely juncos. They seem to get along all right, though I noticed everyone scattered when the blue jay arrived.
Meanwhile the squirrels are having planning meetings, sharing their tips for getting seed out of “squirrel-proof” feeders. Yesterday I watched one try to figure a way to prevent the weight sensitive device from preventing his reaching the seed. In the end, he lay on top of the feeder, rested just a bit of his head on the perch and scooped out seed with one paw. He had outwitted another feeder. Well at least I am keeping the feeder manufacturers in business!
Here I am sitting on an outdoor throne reading a book and contemplating my review. It looks as if the book is passing muster and I will recommend it to other three year olds. I occasionally receive advance reader’s copies of books and write reviews about them. Reviewing books challenges any writer to try to be fair, concise, and to not spoil the book for the reader by divulging too many plot details. Similarly it helps if enough details are provided to let the reader decide for herself whether the book looks worth reading. A totally scathing review, too colored by the viewpoint of the critic, can make that decision difficult.
I had finished reading the 2019 Frank Lloyd Wright biography, Plagued By Fire by Paul Hendrickson last week. That had led me to explore the Oak Park neighborhood where he lived and realize he was my grandmother’ neighbor. The book was reviewed in yesterday’s New York Times book section and I was eager to see the critic’s view on the book. The same aspects of the writing that I had enjoyed were roundly panned by the reviewer. The complexity I found showing that Wright was, like the rest of us, sometimes a cad and sometimes empathic, was disregarded. Instead the reviewer believed the entire book was an attempt to redeem Lloyd’s reputation by showing him to be compassionate.
The book is very long and takes many–to me–delightful side tracks as it unfolds. Those same discursive sections were seen as unnecessary, while I found them enlightening. In the end, I was glad that I had already finished the book. It’s possible that the review would have kept me away from it. I was reminded that I should take all reviews with more than a grain of salt. I need to let reviews alert me to books I might otherwise miss, but I shouldn’t let them keep me from books altogether.
Many of you get to see it snowing on a regular basis, but some of you live where it never or rarely comes down. You can enjoy 10 seconds of snow on video. Today, on the first of December, we are having our first dusting. Despite the hysteria about Thanksgiving travel, people should be able to return to New England homes with little difficulty.
The snowblower has gas. The refrigerator holds milk. I can always bake bread. A lovely evening at home waiting to see how much or how little snow actually falls tonight.
Although I have no desire to travel overseas, some of my friends do. Yesterday dear friends came over to share the mincemeat pie I mentioned a few posts ago. They had just returned from Israel and brought back as a gift the lovely blue and yellow scarf pictured above. As soon as I saw it I knew it would look perfect atop the dining room sideboard below our blue and yellow wallpaper. It looks as if I was made for just that spot.
I treasure friends who now me well enough to gift me with just the right things. Giving takes certain skills, most especially the ability to know not what I would like, but what would suit the other person. Near my home there are several “gift shops” which seem to fill a niche for people who want or need to give someone a present but have no idea what that might be. While I have poked around in them occasionally, I have rarely found anything that would suit any friend. I imagine that many of the items end up in closets.
I love running across things in the course of my life. Sometimes I see something, most usually a book of course, that I know would be a perfect gift. Then I have to practice the aforementioned skill. Who am I really thinking about, me or my friend? If it is me, I buy it for myself. If for my friend I enjoy knowing the pleasure sure to come.
I hope that, as often a possible, we can gift from the heart rather than from obligation. Despite all the advertising, there really are no “everyone wants one” presents. Don’t be suckered into buying one of those “as seen on TV.” Except maybe those copper bracelets to heal arthritis! Hint. Hint. (Just kidding.)
Over 30,000 citizens of Connecticut have died in wars over the last two hundred and forty years. Last month our Congressional representative installed a memorial near our home to all those who perished. Called the Gold Star Memorial, its name reflects the Gold Stars that were given first to mothers and later to all family members of the casualties of war, beginning in the first World War.
The image is striking, easily viewed from the highway near by, but surrounded by a small park with benches. One can sit on a bench and be accompanied by two other bronze figures.
In the first image a bronze soldier stands in contemplation before a giant star that has fallen earth. While seemingly too literal an image, in reality it moved me greatly. So today while Americans are enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, I am thinking of those who died for this country. It gives me pause.
Grace, our Australian Shepherd, is now approaching 14. She is the third in a line of Aussies that we have raised since puppies. The breed is affectionate, loyal, alert, active, protective of children, a hater of mailmen and an all around great family dog. Grace came from upstate New York, one of two puppies of an excellent sheep dog. We had to promise not to breed her, and sent proof of her spaying once it was done. Reputable sheep dog owners don’t want puppy mills to spring up from their offspring.
Both of our earlier dogs had flunked obedience school, preferring to do their own training. Grace has followed suit. Their own training is owner focused, that is, I, as the owner, needed to be trained. Grace has outperformed her predecessors in this endeavor. In case you are an owner in need of training, Grace suggests the following tasks to be mastered.
- Open the back door when your dog stands near it to go out.
- Open the back door when your dog who just went out wants to come in.
- Repeat as frequently as necessary.
- Leave the toilet lid up for cold drinking water. (Grace says her owners constantly fail at this.)
- Step over or around your dog and never ask her to move.
- Feed regularly. Don’t listen to the vet’s recommended amount.
- Toss frequent table scraps. Ignore the vet’s directives.
- Keep the yard full of squirrels for endless enjoyment of your dog.
- Disregard the vet’s recommended immunization demands.
- Let the dog’s nail and hair grow to please the dog, not the owner.
- Never call anything a “doggy hotel.”
- Never leave town, especially not with the dog in a “doggy hotel.”
Grace reports that despite her constant training, we continue to fail at some key tasks she considers important. She asks why we expect her to go to obedience school. Clearly the problems lie with her owners.