Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

What is the opposite of patience?

Sunday, March 12th, 2023

This morning I woke up in leisurely fashion to find that it was a half hour later than my usual five ayem internal alarm says “up-and-at-’em!”  I guess I’m only halfway ready for Daylight Savings Time — a concept that, try as I might, I can’t wrap my mind around.

You’d think that I’d be at one with skipping ahead an hour.  As Nyel (who was my polar opposite in that regard) often said, “Patience is not your middle name, Sydney.”  He was oh so right about that.  And so, wouldn’t you think that skipping ahead a whole hour would be perfect for me and all the others of my ilk?  All the others who are the opposite of patient?

(As an aside — I looked up words that mean the opposite of patient.  The first choice, of course, was “impatient” which annoyed me no end.  It’s like saying the opposite of resolute is irresolute or the opposite of beautiful is unbeautiful.  DUH!)

It seems to me that we non-patient types should be pleased that we are an hour closer to whatever or wherever it is that we want to accomplish.  But… no, that’s not the case for me.  I want all the time I can get, thank you very much.  My impatience is with myself — that I never seem to reach my goals soon enough and, my experience is that more time (or less) doesn’t make all that much difference.

So then, perhaps, I’m back to Albert Einstein and his belief that time and space are interconnected.  Or maybe it’s just because I’m deep into Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and am, again, intrigued by the possibility of time travel.

Not that I think setting our clocks ahead or back is a kind of time travel.  Or is it?  However you slice it, I definitely have an hour less between now and mid-day to get ready to wish Barbara Bate a Happy 80th.  So… I’d better get on it!

So whadjathink?

Thursday, March 9th, 2023

Did you see this drawing by the late Larry Weathers on Page B-1 of the Observer this week?

Or maybe you don’t get our weekly paper, the Chinook Observer.  If not, you might as well stop reading here, because this is going to be all about yesterday’s issue.  And me.

One of my grandmother’s is rolling over in her grave at that first paragraph.  My beloved Oysterville Granny who believed most firmly that we should keep our light under that proverbial bushel.  My Bostonian Nana, however, thought that if you didn’t toot your own horn, no one else was going to do it for you.  So for this blog, I’m going with Nana.

In case you don’t get our paper (for shame!) or in case you didn’t really have time to read it (REALLY???) I will tell you that my new series began yesterday with a story about F.C. Davis.  Don’t know who he is… or was?  You are missing out on one of the true characters of our local heritage.

That’s what the series is about.  It’s a collection of short stories cobbled together from bits and pieces found hither and yon — that I hope will become my next book.  Tentative title:  “Saints or Sinners?  Characters of Pacific County.”

Oysterville Cemetery Sketches by Marie Oesting — one of many sources for stories about our local history

And, as I hope you come to understand over the weeks ahead, there’s a reason for these stories.  I have long believed that it’s the memories that we gather and that we tell and re-tell that are important in the great scheme of things.  It’s through our memories and the stories — not just the names and dates and battles fought and won — that we pass on our history, generation after generation.

When I was a child, before cell phones and television and even before decent radio reception, conversation was our main form of evening entertainment.  We might be telling the “news” we learned in the neighborhood or the fate of the two chickens who “flew the  coop.”  Or, the old folks might be reminiscing about their own childhoods — those days long ago when there were no roads here on the Peninsula and almost everyone had some kind of a boat.  What was talked about around our old fireplace was my first inkling of “history” — so much more engaging than the history classes of my school years.

Years later, when Nyel and I owned the bookstore in the ’90s, there seemed to be a big push on for grandparents to write down their memories for posterity.  I can’t say we got rich selling those “Memory Books” but I did like the idea.

Papa and Aunt Dora c. 1896 — Storytellers Extraordinaire!

My fondest hope is that readers will enjoy the Saints or Sinners stories that will appear in the Observer and will even be inspired to tell a few of their own.  Better yet, write them down!  A hundred years hence those stories will be the historic record — the words that will convey who we ordinary, everyday folks are.  God forbid that the glaring headlines in the metro news about mass shootings and spy balloons and war ad nauseum will become our only history of record.  Not my history and not yours.

What a great title, Jim Tweedie!

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023

You know, there are some things about this aging process that don’t bear thinking about.  Like the wonky ways of one’s memory.

Some years ago, Jim Tweedie asked me if I’d be willing to read a draft of his first book and, perhaps, write a foreword for it.  I remember both the reading and the writing very well — that I did those things, I mean.  But, when I ran across a pile of “new” books the other day with Jim’s (apparently) unopened book among them — Long Beach Short Stories: Possibly Untrue Tales from the Pacific Northwest — I had no memory of ever having read it.  None.

The cover looked vaguely familiar and I had a glimmer that Jim had handed it to me at a Vespers service a year or more before Covid shut us down.  Tucked between the first few pages was a note — also seemingly pristine and unread.  It was dated January 20, 2017 and began, “It suddenly occurred to me that I had not sent you a copy of my book — so here it is.”  The date made me wonder if my Vespers memory was right…

And there, right after the Table of Contents was a Foreword by Sydney Stevens dated “Oysterville, 2016.”  So… part of my memory is correct and I began to relax a little.  But as I started reading… not so much.  So far, I’ve read nine of the fourteen stories and, though it’s scary to admit, I don’t recognize a single one of them.  Not a plot.  Not a character.  Nada.

I took a break and re-read my Foreword.  In it, among other things I wrote, “I found his stories to be beguiling, enchanting, and challenging in ways I did not expect.”  That’s still absolutely true.  But where did the memory of them go after I read them?  And how did the Foreword disappear the same way?

James “Jim” A. Tweedie

I can’t decide if I owe Jim an apology for waiting so long to read his finished book and for completely forgetting its contents over the past seven years.   Or do I owe him a thank-you for writing a book that has obviously delighted me at least twice?

I’m going with the latter.  Thank you, Jim!  (And did I tell you, I love the title?)


Of course I turned to page 188 first!

Saturday, February 18th, 2023

Plant Green Garlic – by Lee Johnston

Stevens, Nyel, 188.  That’s what the index said and that’s the page I went to right off the bat.  Maggie’s book, The Container Victory Garden, arrived last night, and although it was addressed to me, I knew it was truly Nyel’s.  Maggie had said that all those who had contributed to the book would get theirs about a week prior to its official publication.  And here it was!  Nyel’s copy!

I was born in 1943 in Montpelier, Idaho.  It wasn’t until after World War II that I first became aware of the term Victory Garden, but I well remember my grandparents’ garden from those days, even though I didn’t know the name and they probably didn’t call it that.  To them, it was just the garden.

Painting by Janice Minjin Yang

Straightforward.  Spare.  It sounded so much like Nyel that he could have been inside my head reading it to me.  He went on to tell about his grandfather, a conductor on the Union Pacific Railroad — He grew just about every vegetable you could think of, but my favorites were the carrots, which I was allowed to dig and eat right there in the garden, with the dirt rubbed off on my Levi’s.

And he went on to tell about the Nyel I knew for forty years: Wherever I have lived since then, I always tried to have a garden whenever possible, some large and some not so large.  Today I’m trying to garden in pots, in a very small area off our kitchen.  So far, some things have been very successful, some were a complete bust.  The experiment continues.

And so it will, dear Nyel… with the inspiration of your words and the help from Maggie’s wonderful book.  And so it will!

Maggie’s New Book – COMING SOON!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2023

In less than a week– on February 21st to be precise — Maggie Stuckey’s new book, The Container Victory Garden: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Groceries will be in readers’ hands.  Order now (from your local bookstore, from your favorite online source, from wherever) to make sure that you are one  of those readers!

This is a book that is after my own heart.  First and  foremost:  Victory Gardens!  You have to be older than dirt to remember them during World War II, but maybe you can remember your elders talking about them or, if you were lucky, you had a part in the gardening “bug” that took hold during that time of desperate need, and “Victory Gardens” became a part of your life.

By Lee Johnston

Maggie’s book was inspired not by war but by Covid — a time when many of us stayed close to home, sheltering and staying far from grocery stores and produce stands.  Many of us didn’t really have garden space and, anyway, who would think of seriously growing a garden in containers?  Maggie, that’s who!  Once again she brings her expertise and her understanding of the limited spaces and resources of others to offer delicious solutions right to our dinner tables.  And what’s more, she brings our friends right along with her!

Farmer Nyel, 2016

Of the twenty stories Maggie includes about World War II Victory Gardens, six are told by people we know:  Margaret Staudenraus, Clay Nichols, Sandy Stonebreaker, Dobby Wiegardt. Mary Funk and my own beloved Nyel Stevens!  And in addition to the six rich original acrylic illustrations by Oregon City artist Janice Yang, are 25 detailed line-art drawings that illustrate gardening techniques and set-ups especially valuable for container gardens by — drum roll — our own Lee Johnston, one of the gardening team who keep many of our local gardens picture perfect year ’round.

I can hardly wait!  Oh boy!  Oh boy!  Oh boy!



In 1991 – “Little Creatures Everywhere”

Saturday, February 11th, 2023

If you lived on the Peninsula in 1991, you may remember a rather poorly written murder mystery centered on the Moby Dick Hotel, thinly disguised as the “Grey Whale.”  Also thinly disguised were a number of well-known Peninsula northenders who “starred” in this highly controversial book.  I probably wouldn’t remember who they were all these years later except that I have Gordon Schoewe’s “annotated copy.”

On the first page he wrote this list:  Helen & Gavin Nelson – Dot & Wayne; Ralph – Dick Shelton [sic]; Tilly Vine – Larry Warnberg;  Fran – Marge Welling; Althea – Anita Stone; Grace- Carol Wiegardt; Martin – Wiegardt Kid; Doc’s Tavern.  As I recall, those weren’t the only characters that most of us recognized and, as you might imagine, the book was the talk of the Peninsula — at least for a while.

The Moby Dick – 1940s

The New York author, Mary Bringle, was a friend of Fritzi and Ed Cohen who had recently purchased the Moby Dick Hotel.  How it happened that the Cohens encouraged (or even allowed) the book to be published is perhaps the greatest mystery of all.  As Publisher’s Weekly introduced their review: “The theme of newcomers-vs.-oldtimers is rehashed in this low-key, heavy-handed mystery.”    I’m not even sure I read the entire 183 pages, but here I am, willing to give it another go.

My interest has been rekindled because in the thirty-plus ensuing years, Fritzi made a lasting impression on many of us.  Her recent death brought to mind so many of her outspoken opinions and controversial actions. Looking back over her life here, I can’t help being reminded that she, like so many “characters” who have lived here need to be remembered.  She may, indeed, appear in my next book — which will not be a mystery and I hope will not be heavy-handed!

“Three Pines” – Two Thumbs Down

Monday, January 30th, 2023

Alfred Molina as Armand Gamache in “Three Pines” series

FINALLY!  I watched “White Out,” the first two episodes of the “Three Pines” series.  I doubt that I will watch any more.  I was really disappointed — mostly that Louise Penny had endorsed it so heartily.  (But then her last book was a bit of a departure, too.  Maybe she is through with Inspector Gamache et al.)

Mostly — I disliked the characters in the TV episodes — there wasn’t a single one who appeared as I had envisioned.  Not even Rosa, the duck!  (Too big.)  Who was that svelte, neat Clara, for instance?  Surely not the distracted artist with bits of food or paint in her hair and wearing an old raggedy sweater or paint-daubed flannel shirt!  And Myrna?  Wrong size entirely!  Not the woman who sinks clear to the floor on Clara’s old, sprung couch cushions because of her immensity?
And I can’t even begin to talk about Jean Guy, Armand, and Reine Marie — where was the chemistry between them — the years of family relationships honed by threats of unimaginable magnitude?  They seemed distant, polite, but not at all as Penny wrote them.  Maybe Peter, Clara’s husband, was close to her depiction, but we never really got to know him anyway…

Only In The Drawing — Not In “White Out”

But worst of all — the village!  Three Pines!  Where the hell was it?  In fact, where were the three pines which are supposed to be standing sentinel in the village common?  Where was the peacefulness?  The friendliness?  The relationships between the residents?  And why was this village, always depicted as nestled around the central commons — why was the village so sprawling and non-cohesive?  As a matter of fact, why was the Bistro so loud — Penny pictured it as cozy, friendly, a good place to talk and renew oneself, often busy but never 21st century LOUD!  I wonder if the director or script-writers or any of the cast had even read the books.

I guess there was a reason I put off watching this for so long.  (I needed to gather my strength!)  As I’ve often said, there is only one film adaptation of a book that I felt really depicted what I “saw” as I read it.  That was “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  The movie was exactly what I had seen in my head — Harper Lee’s words in 3-D!.  In all other instances, I’ve been disappointed but never as much as in this TV depiction of “Three Pines.”

Sydney at “Three Pines” – 2016  (Better than no pines at all!)

Perhaps, partly, it’s because of the trip five of us took some years back to the Eastern Townships where we explored the places Penny had used as inspiration for her books. Any one of the villages that we visited could have been a better backdrop for Three Pines.

In fact, I wish I had another thumb.

So now that January is almost over…

Friday, January 27th, 2023

“If January is the month of change, February is the month of lasting change. January is for dreamers… February is for doers.” — Marc Parent. “ …

I’m not sure who Marc Parent is, or more to the point, which Marc Parent I have quoted here.  There are several Marc Parents listed on Google and I’m inclined to go with “Marc Parent, author of Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk.  But, whoever the Mr. Parent is who said the “February is for doers,” he gets my vote of approval.

February is my birth month and I think being “a doer” is as apt a description of me as most others might be.  I like to get things done.  The old teacher adage, “Plan your work and work your plan” are the words I’d like to live by.

And I have lots of plans for February, you betcha!  First and foremost is to continue making progress on my new book — at least enough to see if it has merit or not.  Second, to begin exploring a new series for the Chinook Observer.  And third, to get that pesky income tax stuff ready for my accountant.

Each of those sounds like a project of many months in itself.  But, as I remind myself now and again — I’m retired.  There’s really nothing I HAVE to do so there’s not much reason not to accomplish what I WANT to do.

And then there’s the chimney…



“One Hundred Saturdays” by Michael Frank

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

“One Hundred Saturdays:Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World” by Michael Frank

I’ve not quite finished Michael Frank’s latest book — three pages to go — but “my eyes say quit” as my grandmother used to say.  And I can’t wait to tell you about it!  Mostly, I just want to say:  “Get it!  Read it!” And by the time you get to these last three pages, you (like I) will probably want to read it again.

But before I tell you about the book, let me first say that Michael is a friend of close to 40 years standing.  He and his brothers and parents came to one of our first Croquet Galas — fundraisers for local non-profits that Nyel and I put on for sixteen years.  I think the Frank family came for the first time in 1986, or maybe 1987– the year Nyel and I were married.  Here.  In the garden.  At the Croquet Gala.

Whichever year it was, I remember Michael (and brothers) objecting to the Rules of Play.  “They aren’t the official rules,” they said.  And I remember Patty Thomas saying, “Their fundraiser.  Their rules.” And that was that — although we knew from that beginning that nothing Michael (or his brothers) did was ever without questioning, examining, investigating.  And it was the beginning of a long-distance (Michael and family divide their time between New York City and Camogli, Italy) and long-treasured friendship.

Michael Frank

“One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World” is based on years (six? seven?) of Michael’s Saturday visits with ninety-nine (perhaps now one hundred) year- old Stella Levi, one of the last survivors of the Auschwitz death camps of World War Two.  Saturday after Saturday, Michael and she talked, beginning when she was ‘only’ 92.  He asked gently, cleverly, insistently the questions that lead to her story of growing up in the Jewish community on the island of Rhodes — a community that had been there, in that place for generations — all the way back to the fifteenth century.  On July 23, 1944 the entire community — 1,650 human beings — were herded aboard a ship and headed toward their death.  Only ten percent survived. Stella was one of them.

I found myself rushing through Michael’s questions and Stella’s answers. And then stopping for a while to think… I knew from the beginning that I would read the book again.  And perhaps again after that.  Stella is only thirteen years older than I but…  I can’t begin to explain how I perceive her.

I urge you to read the book.  Let me know what you think.  And for the record:  “One Hundred Saturdays” has been named one of the Wall Street Journal’s “Ten Best Books of the Year” and is the recipient of the Jewish Book Council’s Natan Notable Book Award.

Wow! This one is tough!

Friday, December 2nd, 2022

Dust Jacket – Front

Louise Penny’s latest book arrived on my front porch right on time.  In fact, probably 12 hours earlier than the “pub date” which was November 30th.  I was waiting with baited breath, having timed my life so I could dive right in.

A World of Curiosities is the 18th book in Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series.  I expected to read straight on through and surface only to eat and maybe sleep a little.  But that’s not how it’s working.

Dust Jacket — Back

This book is hard going, at least for me.  Really hard.  I can only read a smidge or two at a time.  I’ll tell you that, as usual, the topic is timely and of concern to each and every one of us — those are the things Ms. Penny gifts us with time after time.  The subjects that bring up past and present concerns (or perhaps horrors) and make us intimately aware of the extent of our ineptness and, yet… the infinite capacity for good that abides in us all.  Almost. Maybe.

As always, I am impressed with — no, overwhelmed by — Penny’s percipience and her almost uncanny ability to gently push her readers onward until they, too, see the possibility of hope.  Or closure.  Or can come to terms with… whatever it is.

I’d love to sit down and chat with her, though I know the “conversation” would be one-sided and I’d feel way out of my depth.  On the other hand… the times I’ve seen her interviewed on various television networks, she seems full of humor (often at her own expense) and infinitely approachable.  I am full of admiration.  She is a master at her craft and a genius at human understanding.  How lucky we are to have her in our lives, only a printed page away!