For the past couple of months, I've been monitoring the buds on the Stargazer Lilies in our back yard. It's rather like watching a pregnancy unfold (only without the stupid baby showers) - noting each minor change, the anticipation, guessing the birth date. Sunday morning, we were rewarded with a litter! More are blooming every day, and the fragrance is heavenly. Here's a slideshow of the pregnancy and birth:

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The Sunday Salon: Reading Down Under

The Sunday Salutations, Salonsters!

I "accidentally" read two Australian novels in a row this weekend. I'm embarrassed to say I don't think I've ever read any Australian literature! I have some Oz authors on my TBR shelves (two or three Peter Carey books and a couple of Kate Grenville's) but until yesterday, they remained TBR. (OK, I just realized I read The Thorn Birds, but that was oh so many lifetimes ago.)

For Orange July I'd picked out a Grenville (The Idea of Perfection - 2001 Orange Prize winner) and a new book by Gail Jones, Sorry, from the 2008 long list. These books are quite different from each other but both excellent reads and worthy of recognition.

The Idea of Perfection is filled with quirky characters, mostly people who are uncomfortable in their own skin and who question their own every move and every word that comes out of their mouth (or not, as the case may be). Harley Savage and Douglas Cheeseman both end up in "the bush," in the small town of Karakarook, NSW, pop 1374. They are there for very different reasons: she, to set up a heritage museum and he, to help destroy the town's most prominent heritage icon, Bent Bridge. Conflict ensues.

One of the lesser characters was my favorite: Felicity Porcelline is obsessed (putting it mildly) with her looks and youth, so obsessed that she constantly thinks about how she is holding her face or her neck so as not to cause a line or, God forbid, a wrinkle.
If she did not smile between now and when he came home, she could afford to give him two smiles tonight. And after each smile she could just pop into the bathroom for a moment to undo the damage by smoothing a little dab of moisturiser around the corners of the mouth.

She would listen very attentively as he told her about his day, and after the second smile there would probably be no need to smile again for the rest of the evening.
I found her character incredibly sad and, though Grenville draws Felicity a bit over the top, it's not that far a stretch when we see almost global obsession with youth and beauty.

The book is humorous and poignant, with characters who struggle to find their place in the world. There's so much discomfort in the characters that I often found myself squirming for them. It's a coming-of-middle-age story.

Grenville makes wonderful use of italics. She doesn't use quotation marks in dialogue, which I thought would make me crazy, but it's quite seamless and effective. Highly recommend.
Sorry is set in western Australia beginning in 1930. It alternates seamlessly between the first and third person narrative of Perdita, the only - and unexpected - child of Nicholas and Stella Keene, recent immigrants from England. Nicholas is cruel and abusive; Stella is mentally ill and is forever quoting Shakespeare soliloquys and sonnets. Perdita, partly out of survival, easily befriends Aborigines and outcasts (such as Billy, a deaf mute neighbor boy).

Perdita's life is filled with loss - of family, caregivers, friends, home. They are evacuated when the Japanese attack Broome. She must start over numerous times. She is sad but strong. When she develops a debilitating stutter after witnessing her father's murder (opening scene, not a spoiler!), she gains a deep understanding of others who struggle to fit in where no one wants them.

This is a tender book, the relationships between Perdita and Billy, Mary, Flora, Stella and the doctor who ultimately helps her discover her truth are beautifully drawn. Highly recommend.
I found an online Australian slang dictionary to be quite helpful while reading these books, for words like chook (chicken), ute (utility vehicle), barbie (barbeque) and billy (container for boiling water). The language is colorful and the landscape lends a unique feel to the stories.

I'm looking forward to reading more by these fine authors --and finally getting to those Peter Carey books too!

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The Further Adventures of Some Book Lovers

Here's a little more story about our wonderful Sylvia Beach Hotel visit last weekend. Three of us are in an online book (plus) group, The Red Room, on LibraryThing (there are a couple dozen women in the group) and we've all gotten quite well acquainted over the last year. Paola lives in New York (she's on the left in the photo); and Wendy , on the right, lives near Redding, California (and barely escaped evacuation from the fires last month).

Paola flew into Portland (very) late Thursday night. I took her on a little tour of one of the "lesser" Powell's book stores on Friday, and the book buying began! Then Paola, my partner Laurie and I drove to Newport on the coast - about a 3 hour drive - and met up with Wendy and her husband Kip (brave man that one, for hanging out with we women all weekend). We settled into our rooms - Laurie and I in the Alice Walker room, Paola in Tennessee Williams and Wendy and Kip in F. Scott Fitzgerald. We had dinner in a local cafe/bookstore; already, it felt like we'd all known each other for years.

Saturday after a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel (breakfast included with room), the three of us Red Roomers took off on a serious book buying adventure. We drove north to Lincoln City and found Bob's Beach Bookstore on Highway 101. The clerk at the hotel desk told us that Bob travels all over the world buying used books - our eyes got big; it was a no-brainer that we'd be visiting Bob! It's an amazing store, nooks and crannies and rooms that go on forever. Paola and I found Viragos - a bit of an obsession for her, a novelty for me.

Newport isn't a techno town and we had a hard time finding wi-fi anywhere; after our booking tour, we ended up parked in front of the public library and piggybacked off their wi-fi so we could get messages out to the rest of the world - some of the unfortunates who couldn't be with us.

We had a fabulous dinner at the hotel - their restaurant is called Tables of Content. The food was superb, the price very reasonable. And the service at the restaurant and the hotel is really excellent. The people who work there have been there a long time and it's obvious they really love their work and have a lot of fun. Diners are encouraged to get to know the people at their family-style table - well, we had no problem with that, but I've been there other times dining with strangers and by the end of the meal, we were pals. It really is a unique experience.

The library is on the third floor of the hotel and is a yummy reading spot. We, however, weren't doing much reading, so we took over the coffee room next to the library and addressed postcards to the rest of our Red Room friends. We got a little silly (surprise!) and ended up in Wendy and Kip's room visiting and laughing until late.

Sunday morning, another wonderful hotel breakfast. Then we all packed up and headed north. Since Paola had never seen the Oregon coast before, we decided to drive north on Highway 101 and then go east rather than leaving the ocean behind right away. We stopped at the Devil's Punch Bowl ten miles north of Newport and had some spectacular views. I love it when the weather cooperates for first time coast viewers!

We got back to Portland mid-afternoon and had a smoked salmon picnic. Laurie and I serenaded our friends with a couple of love songs.

Then for a grand finale, we went to Powell's City of Books - the original, one and only, largest new and used book store in the world. "It's a little overwhelming," said Paola. The store is divided up into rooms named by color; of course, we had to find the Red Room!

This was definitely a weekend to remember - and proof that deep friendships can be formed via sharing common interests on the internet. Read More!

In the Garden




Crocosmia and clematis

Grape leaf

Ornamental grapes
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Reading Challenges - Weekly Geek #9

And this week’s theme is: Reading Challenges. Dewey says:

If you participate in any challenges, get organized! Update your lists, post about any you haven’t mentioned, add links of reviews to your lists if you do that, go to the challenge blog if there is one and post there, etc.

I participate in two reading challenges (and I use the term 'participate' very loosely!) - the Man Booker Prize Challenge and the Orange Prize Project. (Some of my blogging buddies are signed up for multiple challenges - ten or more! Even though there is some crossover, I don't think I could wrap my brain around keeping track of all that. More power to 'em!)

What's the purpose of a book challenge and why sign on to them? Well, given that I love a good challenge and I love lists AND I love to read, it feels like a good fit. The two I signed up for (besides my Library Thing 100 books in 2008 challenge) have long lists of books that I'm already interested in and some of my favorite authors (Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri, Carol Shields, Kazuo Ishiguro). What do I get out of it? Satisfaction. And sharing with a community of people who are interested in the same kind of literature I am.

Most challenge participants write reviews of the books they've read. I haven't been reviewing many books lately, so for this WG installment, I posted updates to my book lists -- books I've read since I joined the challenges in March and books I plan to read in the next six months. Here's my Orange update and here's my Booker update.

I'm excited to be participating in "Orange July" -- fellow book blogger Jill came up with this bright idea: devote the month of July to reading Orange Prize books (winners, short- or long-listed or new authors). This annual literary prize is awarded to women who've written full-length novels in English that were published in the United Kingdom (but not exclusively). I love contemporary women's writing, and these are some of the best novels written today, so devoting a month to reading them is like a slice of heaven. Plus this will move me along in my Orange challenge. Here are the books I've chosen:
  • The Girls by Lori Lansens
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (4/5)
  • The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville (4/5)
  • The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (4/5)
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (3.5/5)
  • What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (4/5)
  • Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (4.5/5)
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka (3.5/5)
  • Sorry by Gail Jones (4.5/5)
Check back at the end of July to see how I fared.

For other Weekly Geeksters' thoughts about challenges, check out these websites:

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And the winners are...

I've been tagged twice in two days for excellent blogging! Wow! What an honor, especially coming from two of my favorite bloggers - Wendy (caribousmom) and Jen (Devourer of Books). Thanks you two!!!

Now it's my responsibility to bestow this award on seven more of my favorite bloggers. Wendy already beat me to a couple of them (including herself!), but there are many wonderful blogs to choose from that I try to keep track of. The envelope please:

  • First, for her excellent book reviews: Laura at Musings. We share a lot of book interests, so I know I can rely on her opinions about any given book. She also has a wonderful site about her family's land restoration called Nurturing Nature, and she organizes some of the reading challenges (organizing is her strong suit!) I consider Laura my blogging mentor - she ushered me in and reassured me, cheered me on when I took the first baby blog steps. Thanks Laura!
  • For her humor, excellent writing and reviews: Andi at Tripping Toward Lucidity. Andi's all over the blogosphere writing reviews and essays. She has a recent addition of a great environmental/political blog, Unlikely Activist.
  • For her wonderful stories and photos of local color (who could forget the orphaned ducks?) and excellent book reviews: Lynne (dovegreyreader scribbles), who is gaining quite a reputation as a blogger and reviewer.
  • For some of the loveliest flower photos on the web, yummy recipes and food photos, knitting projects and excellent book reviews: Karen (Cornflower).
  • For her community building on the web, the originator of the Sunday Salon: Deb at The DebLog.
  • For his originality and wonderful drawings: Simon at Stuck in a Book.
  • For the most eclectic bunch o' books and great reviews: Irish at Ticket to Anywhere.
Go visit these great blogs and tell them Terri sent you.

For the awardees, here are some guidelines:

  1. Put the logo on your blog (no, that isn't an Enron logo!).
  2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
  3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.
  4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
  5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.
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The Sunday Salon - Book Lovers' Paradise

The Sunday Not a lot of reading happening here at our Library Thing mini-gathering. We're at the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon coast, the place for book lovers to come. We've been getting acquainted, enjoying fabulous food and weather, and doing some serious book shopping. We will end our visit with a trip to Powell's City of Books in Portland this afternoon.

I'll share a few photos of our bookish weekend, and that will be all for the Sunday Salon today. There's beach to walk and books to seek out and more good food to eat and friends to visit with.

Sylvia Beach Hotel, Newport, Oregon

The hotel entrance

The hotel from the beach

Yaquina Beach lighthouse

The hotel library

Wendy and Kip took most of these photos.

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Booking Through Thursday - Vacation Spots

This week's Booking Through Thursday question:

Another question inspired by the Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard having burned down on the Fourth of July. Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday? Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip? What/Where are they?

Our getaway this weekend is all about books. I'll be meeting up with a couple of friends from LibraryThing (one is caribousmom, a blogger well known to some of you!) and we'll be staying here Friday and Saturday:

I'm sure we'll be checking out this little beach town for good bookstores, not to mention hanging out in the hotel's awesome library. Each room is themed for an author (the Edgar Allen Poe room has a pendulum above the bed); they have a restaurant called The Tables of Content. How bookish is that?

We'll return to Portland on Sunday and spend some hours at Powell's, which will be a special treat for the out-of-towners.

Not all my vacations are quite so book-oriented, though I often wander through bookstores when I'm visiting new or favorite places, and I always take books with me.

Check back in the Sunday Salon for a report and some photos from Sylvia Beach!

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Friend or Foe?

We had great hopes for our cherry harvest this year. There were lots of cherries on the tree in May and the tree looked healthy and

Until it didn't. First we noticed some of the leaves curling and darkening; then the fruit was dying on the vine. Laurie thought we had some kind of cherry mite. It looked like we wouldn't get any fruit at all.

Last week I noticed some really evil looking bugs on the leaves - and lots of them. We were prepared to have a smashing party (we won't use insecticides in our yard) - but we decided to take samples of the bugs to our favorite local garden shop, Portland Nursery, first. I'm so glad we did before we resorted to extermination!

This is what we were looking at. I was particularly freaked out by the one on the upper left (better photo below, courtesy of What's That Bug?). It turns out these are all ladybugs in various stages of life! I would never have guessed that! The experts told us that at these larval stages, they're actually eating more of the bad bugs than they do at the mature stage.

We have a terrible aphid infestation on the cherry and plum trees, so the ladybugs are having quite a feast. Unfortunately, we probably won't have any fruit this year.

Would you trust this bad boy with your fruit trees?

The good news is, the aphids are leaving the cabbages and artichokes alone this year. Read More!

The Sunday Salon - Bookshelves!

The Sunday Another Sunday, another Salon. Sunny, warm days here in Portland. I'm anticipating a trip to the beach next weekend with some Library Thing friends, our first face-to-face, so exciting! We'll be staying at Sylvia Beach Hotel - a book lovers' paradise. My partner and I have booked the Alice Walker room; another friend will be in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Room.

I have my new bookshelves installed! And they're rapidly filling up! There's another just like this one on the other side. It's wonderful to get my books out of boxes and crates - though a little intimidating to actually see all those unread titles.

Lots of reading this week, not much time for posting. So here's a pictorial of past, current and future reads.

Here's what I've read or am reading so far for Orange July. I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin yesterday and must say it's quite a disturbing book - rather like watching a train wreck, awful to witness but riveting. I felt emotionally drained at the end - and the writing is so good. Now I've picked up something much lighter, A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian.

This is what's left of Orange July after Tractors. So much good reading ahead. I don't know that I'll get to all of these at the rate I'm going, but even half will be heavenly.

Other enticing titles await after July... Read More!

Booking Through Thursday - Bookstores and Libraries

This week's Booking Through Thursday conundrum:

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable? Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?
Deb's question this week was prompted by the sudden destruction of one of her favorite bookstores when it caught fire over the 4th of July weekend. What a sad thing - just the thought of all those books burning makes me shudder.

I live in Portland, a bookstore- and library-rich city. The loss of any of my favorites would be distressing but, frankly, would barely be a blip in my own reading habit.

I use the library system quite a bit (Central Library, photo above); our county has invested a lot in our libraries, and the taxpayers have shown good support for the system. We have a branch in our neighborhood and can order up any book in the system online and have it sent to the local branch. The inventory is incredible - there's rarely a book I'm looking for that the library doesn't have.

Of course, we have Powell's Books here in Portland - we're just across the river from the main store (Powell's City of Books - the largest used and new bookstore in the world) and one of the smaller neighborhood stores, which is no slouch, is right up the street from us.

In Other Words Women's Books and Resources is the last surviving non-profit feminist bookstore in the United States. I used to shop there quite a lot when they were in my neighborhood, but they're somewhat less accessible to me now.

There are lots of other independent bookstores in town, new and used. I feel very fortunate to have the variety and the good local businesses here. There's no reason for me to shop at Barnes and Nobles or Borders, and I don't. I think it's important to support local bookstores and not let the big bullies put them out of business. That said, I do occasionally order books from Amazon because it's so easy to push that button when I'm lusting after a book at 11pm. I've also been buying lots of good used books lately from Goodwill (known as a charity shop across the pond), which doesn't further the cause of the indies, but does put some disadvantaged people to work.

So the lesson, I suppose, is: diversify! If one book stream runs dry, there are others to fill in the gaps. Ok, I'll quit mixing metaphors now and go read.
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Weekly Geeks #10 - Magazines

This week’s Weekly Geeks theme is to talk about the magazines we read.

We have a number of magazines come into our house, but there are only two I read cover to cover when they arrive: The Sun and Orion.

The Sun is a monthly literary magazine chock full of essays, poetry, short stories, photos and interviews. One of my favorite features is a themed section called Readers Write. The editors choose a topic for each month and readers submit short essays on the topic. They are often poignant or humorous and frequently very well written. It's a wonderful opportunity for new writers to get published.

Orion is one of the best environmental magazines around. From their website:

It is Orion's fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.

Frequent contributers are Bill McKibben, Rebecca Solnit, David James Duncan and Terry Tempest Williams. Orion also publishes poetry and some fantastic photos.

One of the things I love about both of these magazines: NO ADS!

Other magazines that come into our house:

Ms. Magazine - a classic. Last week at the grocery store checkout line, my eyes wandered to the tabloids, which I rarely look at. They haven't improved since the last time. The two cover headlines (with photos, all of women of course) that turned my stomach: "Stars Caught without Makeup" and "The Best and Worst Swimsuit Bodies." Ms. is a good antidote for these accidental encounters.

Ode is a good international magazine that covers a lot of environmental and cultural issues.

gleans and compiles articles from a variety of progressive magazines, as well as publishing original articles. They are "most interested in creating a conversation about everything from the environment to the economy, politics to pop culture."

Yes Magazine offers articles about what's working in the environmental and peace and justice movements. A more positive approach than some of the "going to hell in a handbasket" publications.

Shambhala Sun is a bi-monthly Buddhist magazine with teachings of Buddhism and other contemplative traditions. Pema Chödrön, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg are frequent contributors.

There are more periodicals that find their way into our house, but these are the handful that most often get my attention. I'm way behind on my magazine reading -- Mount TBR seems to interfere with that activity. Go figure.

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