Saturday, February 28, 2009

Towanda - and invisible 60-something women

I'm familiar with this feeling of being invisible, when people standing right in front of you don't seem to even see you. I've stood in line and actually had a clerk ask the person behind me if she could help them. At the front of a line, even a short one, you'd think a big full-grown woman like me would be hard to miss. But people seem to do it quite easily. I guess it's sort of like when I lived by Stapleton airport back in the 60s, and got so I could block out the noise of the planes landing and taking off except for those few seconds when they were louder than the television. People just block out 60-year old women.

I'm in the market for flooring and furniture for the little bedroom I'm turning into an office. At R.C. Willey last evening I did have a very nice and helpful salesman try to help me find carpeting.  I did find the right carpet but I wanted a price-saving roll-end for that little room, and when I found the one that matched, it was a couple of inches too short. I could get it from a not-roll-end at regular price, but it was a couple hundred dollars more than I wanted to spend. I said I'd think about it.

Driving home took me directly past Ashley Furniture. I had seen their ads in my Sunday paper and it always appeared they had nice things and decent prices. I stopped in to see what they had. I'm looking for a small desk, or better yet, just a table for my computer and printer, a comfortable plush straight-backed chair rather than an office chair, and then a reading chair and ottoman. I think, with some lamps and accessories, that's all that little room can really handle.
I walked through the store unmolested, though I crossed paths with at least six unoccupied salespersons. Two young giggly girls were more interested in a recently married male co-worker, and were making slight spectacles of themselves laughing loudly and obnoxiously at him.

An older male salesman seemed too tired to help, leaning on a table, he did greet me but did not move nor ask if he could help me find anything. I wondered if these people were paid hourly or commission.

I felt a little like the Kathy Bates character in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe when after waiting patiently for a parking space, she was outmaneuvered by two young chicks in a sports car who then jumped out of the car and said something to the effect of "face it lady, we're younger and faster than you [giggle, giggle]." Whereupon Kathy calmly uttered the name of her alter-ego Towanda and began repeatedly ramming the sports car with her own vehicle, and then rolled down the window and said to the stunned girls, "Face it girls, I'm older and have more insurance!"

Okay, I didn't feel as violent as that, but I did think to myself, too bad girls, I have money and I'm willing to spend it. But it'll have to be somewhere else. I did find a couple of possibilities in the store, but somehow I just didn't think it was worth it.

I think it's time for a trip to IKEA.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Girl from Yamhill, and My Own Two Feet

A Girl From Yamhill
My Own Two Feet
two autobiographies by Beverly Cleary
My own introduction to Beverly Cleary was in the mid-50's at perhaps age 9 or 10, when at a weekly visit to the Emerson Stone Branch Library I came across Henry Huggins. I became an immediate fan and went back looking for more from this author. I read the few available Beverly Cleary books in our little library and re-read them from time to time.

When my friend passed these two autobiographies (published in 1988 and 1995, respectively) to me to read, I was not sure I was interested (and I wondered why two autobiographies). I did enjoy them, however. A Girl from Yamhill takes Beverly from her earliest memories only to junior high school. My Own Two Feet picks up from there, taking you through public school, the Depression, college, marriage, World War II, and finally the publication of her first book.

As you read of her life, you soon realize that her children's books are so successful because her stories come from real life experiences.

Beverly was an only child, born in 1919 and still living today. She was well cared for despite many financial struggles her family faced. She recalls a happy childhood filled with fun and adventure that kids are bound to find when left to their own devices. Her parents were not restrictive in her younger years while they lived on a large farm in Yamhill. Beverly enjoyed less freedom after they moved to Portland when the farm could no longer support them during the Depression. As Beverly grew older, her mother become more and more possessive and even jealous of her daughter's youth and friends and fun, but Beverly rarely rebelled until college age. Beverly was always eager to leave home and become independent, and in college studied to be a professional librarian. At an early age she discovered a desire to write, and found she had a knack for storytelling, especially to children. She was offended when teachers asked her if her stories were original, thinking a young girl could not have written so well. She was in her late 20s before she finally sat down and started her first novel, Henry Huggins.

If you are a fan of Beverly Cleary books, you will enjoy both of these well-written books, which also include pages of photographs of Beverly and the people in her life during those growing up years.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A flicker in the basement and other wildlife stories

Friday I was very upset. Some creature had found its way into my chimney to the downstairs fireplace. Since my work-at-home office is in the downstairs family room, I listened to the guy rustling and banging around in there all day long. I feared it was raccoons, having heard nightmarish stories of how hard they are to get rid of. Friends offered advice: open the flue and let it out, build a fire and smoke it out, play loud talk radio (I had already had the idea of loud music, but so far that was having no effect), shine a bright light on it (how?) etc., etc.

By the end of the day I had worn myself out with fretting. I began to believe whatever was in there was actually stuck and so I bravely opened the damper, and closing all doors to the room, went to bed early. It was only later I remembered I have that false ceiling which would certainly be a good hiding place for a creature. Well no matter. I retired to bed early and slept fitfully.

In the morning, cautiously entering the family room, I found no critter and heard no noise. I closed the flue and thought whatever it was had left. But later, when I went back downstairs to work on my taxes, what a racket! Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Sounded like a woodpecker. That's not possible. It sounded like something large. It was tapping directly on the metal damper door. Fearing some scary animal might rush out at me, I nevertheless determined there was only one way out for this creature, and that was through my house. I had to open the damper again. I did though I felt the presence of the noisy animal inches away. I ran out and shut the door.

Within 10 minutes I heard something moving about the family room. I peeked in to see something slipping in and out of an opening in my false ceiling. A large bird! I made my plan. I tacked up a sheet at the stairway to prevent the bird from flying upstairs. Then opened the garage door, and the two doors leading to the garage. I put some bird seed on a bright white box I found, then ducked behind the sheet to wait. I didn't have to wait long. The bird came to investigate the seed, and I'm sure, feeling the fresh air from the garage, flew out.

It paused for a minute in my yard and then flew up into the neighbor's pine tree where I got my first good look at it. A magnificent flicker. Not covered with soot as I would have imagined, but bright and colorful and seemingly in good condition. He hopped along the branches for a couple of minutes and then flew off.

I felt so relieved that 1) it wasn't raccoons after all, 2) that I was able to rescue the creature before it died, and 3) well, I was a little thrilled and awed at the thought that for a little while I had a wild flicker flying about in my family room. How many people experience that in their whole lifetime?

Chatting with one of my co-workers on Friday before I knew what I was dealing with, I said I needed to sell my house and move to the city where there is no wildlife. But I love it here, and wildlife is one of the reasons.

This morning, as I walked to my back door to fill the bird feeders. a flock of quail greeted me, scurrying about the patio to clean up seeds neglected by the finches and other little birds. Then as I took my coffee and went to examine the little room I had just painted, looking out the window, I watched six deer come up over the crest of the hill and stop in my neighbor's yard to graze. Four does and two doe yearlings. The young buck that was with them last year is gone now - too old to hang out with the mothers and girls any longer. Later in the spring we'll have one or two new tiny baby fawns as we do every year.

I have many wildlife stories from the 30 years I've lived here. Skunks - oh my, don't get me started! A porcupine, foxes, coyotes, two different rabbits (domestic i believe), and many wondrous birds.

I think I'll stay a little longer. I am not quite ready to leave this place.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Remember sleep? When we were young, it was so easy, we never gave it a second thought. We'd sleep late, stay up late, go without sleep for 24 hours, make it up the next day. We never worried about it. Sleep was just something that interrupted all the other things in life.

When you get older, you begin to appreciate sleep. For many years I considered sleep a waste of time - time when I could be more productive, squeezing more things into a busy day. Through my 30s and 40s I slept maybe 5 or 6 hours a night. I developed a habit of getting up very early, getting a lot done before work, and then staying up late for fun and entertainment. That getting up early habit is hard to break.

I've begun to realize I have needed more sleep than I've been getting. But now I'm at an age when sleep does not come easily and is often restless and interrupted. So I've made a point of trying to allow the time needed just for sleep. Though my old habit of thinking it a waste of time creeps in, my sensible self insists on at least trying.

This week, twice, I was so tired in the evening, I went to bed before 8, read a little and then fell asleep, only to be awakened in a half hour by a call soliciting donations or sales. These calls are happening more and more in the late evening. There is no way to stop them except to turn off the phone. And then no-one can reach you, even for an emergency. But once awake, I find I have to get up and do something before I can become tired enough to sleep again.

One thing I learned from my stint on graveyard shift earlier this year, is that you have to set aside the time and make the environment right if you want to get the sleep you need. I was very successful with that as I was so worried I might fall asleep driving home after an all night shift. So I know how to do this. I have begun turning off the alarm on the weekends and sleeping until I wake up. On weekdays, I have the alarm set an hour later than before, and only get up very early if I wake up on my own (which is often). If I'm tired at night, no matter the time, I just go to bed -- one of the advantages of living alone. If I wake up too early, I try to just relax and not think about my list of things to do - yet.

Many people of my age have sleep issues. I've come to realize it's as important a consideration for health as diet and exercise. This year I'm making a concerted effort to get the sleep my body wants. I'm doing better, though I don't know if you can ever make up for a couple of decades of sleep deprivation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Un Bel Di

The ballet was so lovely. The music was all Puccini, but no voices. But still so familiar. How many times have I heard this? A hundred? It's possible I will never again be able to listen to the familiar operas without crying.

A brochure came in the mail today for the summer Utah Opera Festival. They are doing my very favorite opera, Cavalleria Rusticana. I will not miss this.

Another snowy day

Valentine's Day, snowing lightly, and all my regular feathered friends are paying a visit -- the juncos including some of the pink-sided variety, finches, and the ever dainty little pine siskins. Of course the quail are puttering about as well. I've placed seed on my patio where the birds particularly like it because of the roof that shelters them from the snow while they nibble at my offerings. They make a mess out there, but I love seeing them so close up.

Going to the ballet today - matinee, Madame Butterfly. One of my favorite operas but I assume it will not be sung today, but only danced. I'm sure it will be lovely, but it makes me want to listen to the opera. Lunch at Bambara, too, my first time there. I hope the snow does not interfere with our plans.

Used my new coffee grinder for the first time. Did a pretty good job at guessing the quantity for the pot I wanted to brew. I'll get better with time. It does make a good cup of coffee.

I've been walking 4 or 5 miles at a time when I get out, but hate these interruptions with the weather. We'll see how the weather is this evening when I get home from the ballet. If not too bad, I'll try to do at least 3 miles.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Chieftains, Long Black Veil

Chilling words, this Long Black Veil from the Chieftains' album by the same name, Mick Jagger doing the lead on this. On my list of best albums of all time.

The Moody Blues, Go Now (1965)

Great video, looks like American Bandstand, 1965.

The Reader

Review: The Reel Women found this movie, compelling, intense, extremely well acted, and offering something for us to think about long afterward.

Michael, nearly 16 years of age, becomes terribly ill on the way home from school, and is helped by a woman he does not know. After confinement to bed for months with scarlet fever, he seeks out the woman to thank her. As happens sometimes in life, they are attracted and they fall into an affair. And there begins the story that will become heartbreaking on many levels.

Hannah, perhaps twice his age, is a quiet woman who lives alone and works as a ticket taker on the city trams. Michael is so enamored of her and the uninhibited sex they enjoy, he finds every opportunity to be with her, skipping school, lying about lateness for dinner. Hannah remains cool to him not necessarily discouraging the affair, but never encouraging it. Soon she asks about his schooling and when he talks of books, she asks him to read to her. Reading becomes the first part of every meeting.

The relationship is sometimes stormy and one day he finds she has moved and left no way of finding her. This coincides with her job offer of a promotion to an office job with the tram company. We are left for a time not knowing what happened to her.

The beginning of the movie includes a great deal of nudity and sexuality shown in a raw human and not necessarily romantic way.

***Spoilers ahead***

I don't want to reveal too much of the story here but will need to reveal some in analysis of the movie.

Let me begin by saying Kate Winslet, playing Hannah, does an incredible job of making you believe who she is. She is not portrayed as drop-dead beautiful, but in fact, somewhat plain. The women in our group discussing the movie over dinner afterward could not agree whether she was a sympathetic character or not. Half of us felt sorry for her situation, and the other half thought her to be a terrible woman - not because of the affair with the young boy, but because of what you learn later about her.

Ralph Fiennes, too, plays a role that breaks the heart - Michael grown up. Although the affair lasted just a summer, it changed his life. And when she appears in his life again, without planning or warning for either of them, the circumstance is too horriable and too devastating to his soul, and leads to a lifetime of further failed relationships and even a coolness toward his own daughter and parents.

David Kross, who plays the young Michael, is notable as well, progressing from a sex and love-obsessed young boy to a law student faced with a traumatic revelation.

While in law school, Michael's class attends a war crimes trial of six women, German SS guards, accused of being in charge of female prisoners of war, Jews, who were locked in a church when it catches fire. The guards fail to unlock the church and 600 prisoners die in the fire. To his shock, he sees Hannah is one of the guards.

In the trial we see a glimpse of the thinking of what has been written of extensively -- how people placed in a position of authority and given orders, will follow those orders without questioning right or wrong. In chilling honesty, Hannah tells how she and the other women routinely had to select prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz in order to make room for new arrivals at their camp.

In what is perhaps the most stunning development of the trial, we see Hannah make a choice to take the greatest blame for the deaths of the women rather than admit to another shame she has hidden her entire life - one that is certainly not illegal, and to us seems to far less significant than the horrible loss of life, but to her something for which she'd rather go to jail for a long time than admit to.

The Reel Women found this movie, compelling, intense, extremely well acted, and offering something for us to think about long afterward. Photography and casting combined to make stunning pictures of post-war Germany. Of particularly note are the straight-on shots of amazing faces that in themselves seemed to tell you all about the person.

We highly recommend this movie.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Any more, I am finding it difficult to keep up all my blogs. Besides this one, I have my own political blog and two others to which I contribute. Then there's my book review and movie review blogs and one more private blog. I can't do justice to them all, and I can't decide to drop any of them. So the posts get a little sparse.

But today I'm going to the movie, The Reader, with my Reel Women film group. A matinee followed by late lunch/early dinner. I have failed to keep up on reviews of all the movies we've seen, but I will try to review this one. I also resolve to review every book I read now as well.

Reel Women are meeting around noon-ish, so I have the morning to get a few things done. Today I plan to make runs to donation drop-off places and decrease the quantity of "stuff" in my house. There seems no end of this, but I keep on working at it. I've found it hard clearing out the room where my granddaugher spent several years, but most of those toys and games are not going to get any more use in my house and need to go. And I want to use that room again. I've actually nearly finished clearing it and have kept some special things to give to her later.

Now the garage, no sentimental feelings for anything there. But it's still hard because there are things of value and things that are simply junk. Lots of sporting equipment that is good - found my golf clubs. A whole lot of old outdated yard and house chemicals that I need to take to a hazardous waste dropoff. Old electronics - ditto. And one large heavy metal desk, as well as a weight bench and nearly a ton of weights. And behind that stuff? Well I still don't know what's back there. Nothing of value, I suspect.

Celia told me I'd been cleaning out my garage as long as she's been back in Utah. I think it's true, mainly because I don't stay with it. I make progress and then stop. It's like I'm deliberately torturing myself.

I only have a few hours this morning, but it will be enough to make another good dent. So that's the plan. Two donation runs, as least one recycling run, and fill up the trash can for Tuesday's pickup.

Then this evening, catch up on book and movie reviews. And maybe a political blog or two.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Salt Creek Bird Refuge

Sunday I went in search of bald eagles. The newspaper had announced the annual bald eagle outings at various locations around the state for the coming two weekends. I saw no need to wait for that. One of the announced locations was Salt Creek way up north near Promontory and since I had visited there last summer, I chose that for my destination. On the way there I stopped to visit my sister, and her husband told me I could also see a bunch of eagles up close at Henefer up Weber Canyon -- in the trees on the road that runs by the river. Next weekend I'll go there, but I had my heart set on Salt Creek.

I got lost along the way. You go to Corinne as if you are heading to Golden Spike National Monument, but just a few miles out of Corinne, you turn right (north) on 6800 West, and a few miles along there you will turn west following the signs to the landfill. Where the road forks, you go to the right to enter the muddy but short drive to the parking lot. However, I missed the 6800 turn off and kept going past the public shooting grounds, past Thiokol rocket test range, past the turnoff to Promontory Point. I checked my guide book and saw where I had gone wrong and turned back. But not without first getting pics of some of the many mule deer wandering the fields everywhere around.

It's desolate and remote up there. I saw no-one else while there. It's odd to be so totally alone so near civilization. As I walked to the crest of the hill overlooking the water, I noticed many animal tracks all around me. Most common were dainty dog-like prints--probably coyote. One set of very large cat prints with impressive claws - probably a bobcat. Charming and unmistakable rabbit prints - parallel exclamation marks!! Other smaller tracks too, maybe raccoons or skunks.

Then I saw in the distance what I had come to see--eagles. At least a hundred or so yards away, in my picture just tiny dots on the ice. Maybe 8 or 10 was all. I walked down toward the dike, but before I got very close, they scattered to the skies.

A couple of Canada Geese set up quite a racket. I am not stealthy enough. I got a picture, but eventually, they took off as well.

There were human tracks, two sets of the same bold print. A man, I deduced, as I measured my shoe inside the footprint. And along the dike, carcasses of deer. Roadkill. Now I know they are put there deliberately by rangers to attract the coyotes, raccoons, and other predators, to protect the nests of birds near the shoreline.

I noticed signs of little dramas on the ice. Eagles on the hunt perhaps. In the new inch or so of snow, signs of a scuffle, skidding, and a perfect imprint to one side of large wing prints, perhaps balancing on touchdown while catching a mouse or rabbit. The snow offers greater opportunity for observing life on the preserve.

It was near freezing, the snow was crunchy, the skies hazy. I had arrived in late afternoon and I feared the sun might set while I was out on the dike. I knew it would be very dark after sunset at this time of the new moon, and didn't want to be out there with not even a flashlight for finding my way back. I'll admit I felt a little afraid of the coyotes, too. The sun was already low as I headed back up the dike.

On the way home, I stopped off at Farmington and drove out to the bay just at sunset. Saw a few eagles in trees and one flew low over my car.

Not as many eagles as I've seen on other occasions, but worth the trip.

Sky Burial

Sky Burial
by Xinran

UPDATE: I have learned this is not a true story after all, and am somewhat disappointed at being led to believe it was. Still, I recommend the book, it is a good read. The book jacket says:
It was 1994 when Xinran, a journalist and the author of The Good Women of China, received a telephone call asking her to travel four hours to meet an oddly dressed woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet into China. Xinran made the trip and met the woman, called Shu Wen, who recounted the story of her thirty-year odyssey in the vast landscape of Tibet.

Shu Wen and her husband had been married for only a few months in the 1950s when he joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two countries. Shortly after he left she was notified that he had been killed, although no details were given. Determined to find the truth, Shu Wen joined a militia unit going to the Tibetan north, where she soon was separated from the regiment. Without supplies and knowledge of the language, she wandered, trying to find her way until, on the brink of death, she was rescued by a family of nomads under whose protection she moved from place to place with the seasons and eventually came to discover the details of her husband's death.
This story will grab your attention and grab your heart. It is hard to imagine the twentieth century life in Tibet she describes. Things changed so little from centuries past for the little nomadic family of sheepherders who saved her life and then took her into their family. As you read you become aware there must be some great passage of time, but only a couple of times does the author reveal to you just how many years have passed during Wen's sojourn in Tibet.

The book is just over 200 pages in length, small pages at that, and easily read in a single cozy afternoon. It has all the elements I love most in a book: stories of women and their loves and their friendships, stories of unfamiliar cultures (I am particularly drawn to stories of the far east), stories of love and struggle, and stories that are true.

I won't tell you the outcome of Wen's quest to find her husband as you need to read it in the words told by Wen herself.

After the story was related to her, the author [claims] she lost track of Wen, and has since desperately tried to find her or the nomadic family with whom she lived.

I highly recommend this splendid book