Friday, August 29, 2014

Beauty and the Beasts


Dear Reader,

This past week, I completed The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. This is a debut work of historical fiction with a generous serving of dark fantasy.

The title characters are mythological beings who display human bodies but retain troublesome superhuman capabilities.

The Golem is an animated creature from Jewish mythology. She was formed from clay by a wizard practicing the dark arts in Germany. The wizard sells her to a client for better or worse. Her new owner decides to emigrate to New York but dies on the journey. She is now only a few weeks old and stranded.

The Jinni is a fire spirit that rides the winds of Arabian mythology. However, he is in a magical trap with no apparent escape. His separate arrival in the city is by a different route but no less harrowing.

Both have been thrust into the beautiful and gritty New York of 1899. Their predicaments and struggles are not unlike those faced by many of the new immigrants from Europe. And they have the added burden of learning to be human. As the novel proceeds, they must confront their pasts, which slowly encircle them and tightens.

Helene Wecker has created an informative and attractive website for the book. You can learn more about Golems, Jinnis, New York in 1899, and her here.

Unfortunately, as I read the last word on the last page of this long novel, I was left in a state of mild disappointment. It had crept upon me earlier in the book and didn't dissipate as I had hoped.

Given that, why would I rate the book four stars? Each reader brings expectations and hopes to a book as he or she begins it. My hopes include at least one likeable character and a plot ending that resolves many if not all of the problems introduced earlier.

Sadly, for me, this book is deficient on both counts. However, I don't believe that my criteria represent those of the majority of readers.

It is only fair to consider the book from the perspective of the majority - or presumed majority.

This book is a finely crafted novel by a knowledgeable author. The poignant descriptions of New York create a believable sense of place and time. The characters are well developed. Their thoughts and feelings exude a rich complexity amply representing the human condition. The plot is intricate but tight. It moves smoothly and picks up pace with perfect timing. That will easily draw many readers into the story. I recognize and appreciate these skillful efforts of the author. There many readers who neither require likeable characters nor happy endings. To them, I recommend this four-star book.

For myself and any others with sensitivities similar to mine, this is a three-star book. Proceed with caution if at all, gentle reader.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ye Olde Blog by Ye Olde Blogger

"Nap Time"


Monday, September 30, 2013

Ye Olde Blog by Ye Olde Blogger

This is Misty, our seven year old chow-chow.  She is one of the best behaved dogs I have ever met. This is largely due to the two years of training that Selma put in with her.

She has made at least one animal friend here on the campgrounds. There is a small children's barnyard with two ponies, two goats, and a donkey named Eeyore. Eeyore is her favorite. Whenever she can, she visits him at the barnyard and they stare at each other.  When Eeyore is let out to graze, Misty wants to go there also.  They romp and play like children. Although Misty keeps a respectable distance to avoid being accidentally stepped upon.

She enjoys camping as much as we do, perhaps more. With her acute senses of hearing and smell, her life is more rich with respect to the natural world.  Toward evening she loves to sit at the edge of the forest behind our caravan. She looks, listens, and sniffs the enticements coming from the woods.  What a cornucopia of choices for her. Might that be a rabbit or deer on its quiet way.  Quiet for us but not for her.

What would we do if we had her gifts?  Would it constitute information overload? Would we be distracted from the supposedly "important" things in our lives?
Of course, dogs have no choice and neither do we.  They evolved from wolves it is said. Therefore it seems natural that they have a high sense of awareness of the natural world.  Did we once have their abilities but lost them due to lack of use or need?

Questions to ponder.

Misty doesn't concern herself with such matters.  She doesn't have to.  She simply sits at the edge of the woods and soaks in the fascinating environment.

Would that we could do the same more often.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

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"Reeds & Ducks"

Last evening I took a short stroll to the canal that skirts the south and east sides of our campgrounds. The photo shows the reeds that relish the adjacent wet area.  They are about nine feet high and are acquiring their winter plumage.  A paddling of ducklings swam by practicing their quacking.  They headed upstream.  I was surprised to see ducklings this late in the season.  Since I have no duck family-planning expertise, I'll assume the parents know what they're doing.

Speaking of ducks, the Ballymore duck family is quite busy this season.  They provide the Ballymore delivery service.  Using their raft, they deliver needed and desired goods to the animal residents.  During these busy times, Sam Snapping Turtle helps pull the raft.  The varied goods are procured by the swans from who knows where.  With winter approaching everyone is stocking up.

Pumpkins will be ripe soon and Petunia Porcupine will have her annual harvest weekend. Of course, this marks the beginning of pumpkin pie season.  I plan on publishing her recipe in the near future.  I think the crust is the secret.  But first, next week, I'll tell you about a recipe for my favorite herb bread.

The wind has been coming from the north recently.  Its origin is from the expanse of the cold North Sea.  This results in clear, fresh air.  Another benefit is improved star viewing.  Enjoy the stars if you get a chance.  Perhaps you'll see a comet.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

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"The Forest From The Trees"

Today is the autumnal equinox as the sun has crossed the equator on its journey south.  For those of us in the northern hemisphere, night hours will now overtake daylight hours.  It is a time of harvest and storage for the coming winter.  This week's full moon was known as the Harvest Moon.

We've discovered that a family of mice is living near us in the woods.  I don't know exactly where their home is but each night I scatter some bread crumbs on the path where they've been seen. Someone is eating faithfully.  We hope the bread keeps them satisfied and keeps them from the front tent where they might serve themselves.

Our campsite backs up to the edge of a forest that is miles deep. To travel any distance into it would not be easy, involving a lot of tripping and stumbling.  I'm sure the natural denizens would be quite amused with any attempt on our part.  I think it best to enjoy what can be seen and wonder over the unseen mysteries.

The closest trees are beautiful oaks.  In autumn comes the additional "benefit" of acorns.  These acorns have the bad habit of falling on the aluminum roof of our caravan.  It is amazing how such small objects can cause so much noise at three, four, and five A.M.  Of course, wind and rain make it worse.  For me, this is the first time a tree has interrupted a good night's sleep.  In November there is going to have to be some tree trimming.

Last year the chipmunk kids in Ballymore had quite an adventure involving acorns. There were also some unintended consequences.  Below I have reprinted their story, which is intended for younger children.  It's from my book, Ballymore Adventures, Book 1.  The beautiful illustrations are by Karen Ross Ohlinger:

An Acorn Mountain

The Chipmunk kids were sitting on their dock looking at Ballymore Pond.  Nothing was happening this morning and they were bored.

“I’ve got an idea,” said Conner. “Let’s build an acorn mountain.”

“What’s an acorn mountain?” asked Craig.

“We’ll gather a lot of acorns and some tree sap.  Mix it all together and build a giant mountain.  Then we can climb up it and slide down into the pond on big oak leaves.”

“That sounds like fun!  Let’s do it!” yelled Craig.  

They were really excited.  Building an acorn mountain would be much more interesting than just watching the pond.  They would build the best acorn mountain ever.

It was easy to find acorns.  They were everywhere.  At least they were everywhere there was an oak tree.  They each got a small bucket and headed into the woods in different directions.  Before long, a mound of acorns began to appear in the front yard not far from the pond.  Sadly, there wasn’t a great supply of tree sap available, but they did find some.  They added some cooking oil from the kitchen and mixed the sticky glop into the acorns.  By lunch time the “mountain” was one foot high.  They continued working and, by dinner time, it was four feet high.  That was certainly a good day’s work.

They decided to let their work of art rest overnight and become stronger.  The next morning, it was another beautiful fall day, and their new mountain was shining in the sunshine.  It sparkled because of the sap and oil.  Colin put a paw on it and then a second paw.  It was solid!  In no time, the three brothers were sitting at the top praising each other.  Then they spread a wide path of acorns from the mountain to the pond and began riding oak leaves from the very top right into the cool water.  It was fantastic fun!

A few hours later, Colin was up on top and ready for his umpteenth ride.  Suddenly, without notice, the mountain gave way beneath him, and he vanished.  Muffled yelling could be heard from inside the mountain.  The whole mountain slowly sank.  Shortly, Colin reappeared in the middle of a now flat acorn mountain.  He was a mess with acorns stuck to him everywhere.  Conner and Craig couldn’t stop laughing.

    What had happened was this: There wasn’t enough sap to hold the mountain together.  Worse; the sun warmed up everything and the sap softened.  No more mountain!  This was disappointing to the chipmunks, but they had had a lot of fun.

Their mother, Cheryl, came to look at the mess.  She smiled, picked up an acorn and took a bite.  Surprisingly, it was quite tasty with the sap and oil on it.

She thought for a while and said, “Kids, I'm sorry your mountain collapsed but I think we can make a nice dinner of this.”

“How can we do that?” asked the children.

“We’ll just roast the acorns in our large kettle over the fire pit.  I'll add some herbs and there will be roasted acorns for dinner.”

The children agreed that sounded delicious.

At dinnertime, the family set the kettle-full of acorns over the fire pit and lit the fire.  Cheryl added some salt, pepper, and herbs.  The acorns roasted slowly and, after an hour, a sweet nutty smell filled the area.  They all sat around the kettle and watched as they munched on cheese and grain.

After a while longer, some crackling was heard.  It seemed that the some of the acorns were popping.  And they were!  When they popped, their little acorn tops blew off.  The crackling increased and the tops began to shoot out of the top of the kettle.  At first, everyone thought this was fun, but the popping and shooting continued to increase.  Acorn tops were flying all over the place.

Some acorn tops even hit their cottage.  Some even flew all the way to the squirrels’ tree house to the west and to the frogs’ cottage to the east.  No damage was done but it quickly got their neighbors' attention and soon there were curious visitors.

The exploding of the acorns stopped as quickly as it had started.  All of the acorn tops had blown off.

Cheryl went up to the kettle, looked in and said, “Dinner is served, everyone.”

Although they hadn’t planned on having dinner with their neighbors, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening — and the delicious acorns.

This was a very good example of unintended outcomes.  In this case, mostly good.

It's been a rainy week here but the forecast looks better.  The weather in Holland is quite tame when compared with most of the States.  It rarely goes below freezing or above 85.   Please enjoy your weekend and watch out for those pesky acorns.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ye Olde Blog by Ye Olde Blogger
"Anne With An E"

One of the best children's book series was written in the early twentieth century by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Of course, I'm referring to Anne of Green Gables.  The main character, Anne Shirley, is a joy.  Her boundless imagination fills the books with a childhood magic.  She clearly sees and feels the simple and the beautiful, and she is not shy about vocalizing her observations.

The author is masterful at describing the world as Anne experiences it.  She was blessed with the ability to retain and convey childhood feelings as an adult.

Here's a snippet from the first book:

"Anne stood up and drew a long breath.

"Oh, isn't it wonderful?" she said, waving her hand comprehensively at the good world outside.

"It's a big tree," said Marilla, "and it blooms great, but the fruit don't amount to much never—small and wormy." 

"Oh, I don't mean just the tree; of course it's lovely—yes, it's radiantly lovely—it blooms as if it meant it—but I meant everything, the garden and the orchard and the brook and the woods, the whole big dear world. Don't you feel as if you just loved the world on a morning like this? And I can hear the brook laughing all the way up here. Have you ever noticed what cheerful things brooks are? They're always laughing. Even in winter-time I've heard them under the ice. I'm so glad there's a brook near Green Gables. Perhaps you think it doesn't make any difference to me when you're not going to keep me, but it does. I shall always like to remember that there is a brook at Green Gables even if I never see it again. If there wasn't a brook I'd be haunted by the uncomfortable feeling that there ought to be one. I'm not in the depths of despair this morning. I never can be in the morning. Isn't it a splendid thing that there are mornings?""

These books are not really fairy tales or fantasies but they deserve a place in the Library.  I'll need to create a new category - Family perhaps.

I recently came across a nice collection of the Anne books from Maplewood Books. Available as an eBook, I believe it is well worth the $0.99.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ye Olde Blog by Ye Olde Blogger
"Natural Selection"

From April through October, we are fortunate to spend most of our time at our campsite on the edge of the Veluwe in central Holland. The Veluwe is the largest contiguous natural area in the country. It is mostly forested with some fields, lakes and heather. Quaint villages are scattered throughout.
The picture shows a particularly beautiful area about ten minutes bike ride away. There is a small island in the backgound I hope to visit one day.  Right now, the plants and animals are beginning their preparations for winter. It's something we will be doing also. There's a lot of winter cooking to look forward to.  I'll be posting some favorite recipes.

The animals of Ballymore are also thinking about winter.  Their big winter holiday is on winter solstice.  This year the date is December 21.  One of the most important associated events is the selection of gift givers.  In early December everyone will gather in the pavilion and choose names from a bucket.  When someone selects a name, he or she will be responsible for obtaining a gift for that named animal.  After all names are selected, each animal tells the group what they would like. Everyone knows what they will be getting but they don't know who will be giving it to them. That's part of the fun.

Today is quite rainy but hopefully it will clear by this evening.  If it does, we look forward to toasting marshmallows with some friends.  It's been many years since I've done that.  How about you?