Posts Tagged ‘books’

Mind-boggling beyond my comfort zone!

Friday, August 5th, 2022

“I learned so much about oysters that I hadn’t known before,” my neighbor Paul told me.  He was lending me a book by Rowan Jacobsen called The Living Shore — a smallish book that I felt I might be able to handle, at least in bits and pieces.  It was April or May and Nyel was struggling as was I, right along with him.  I needed a distraction now and then — maybe even something to talk with Nyel about. Something not quite so tied up with doctors and hospitals and blood draws and medications.

And there, on page 25, I chanced upon the words “Shoalwater Bay (today known as Willapa Bay)” and we were off and running — soon accompanying Jacobsen and a team of marine scientists on an expedition to the remote coast of British Columbia.  We were looking for the last pristine beds of Ostrea conchaphila, the Olympia oyster — the very oyster that drew my ancestors (and Dobby’s and Tucker’s and scores of others) to this remote area of “the Oregon Country” — soon to become Washington Territory.

We soon were on a quest — a vicarious one, to be sure — that became an exploration of our ancient connections to that “living shore” of bays and estuaries.  We learned about revolutionary archaeological discoveries from British Columbia to South Africa showing how deeply people have bonded with the coast and how it has influenced our development and well-being from our modern origins 164,000 years ago to our colonization of North America.

My take-aways were simple.  I now am not only glad/content/ecstatic that I live on the coast, I also understand the reason I feel a profound connection to the shore.  And I understand why I love salt and how fortunate we all are that the importance of iodized salt was discovered a century or so ago.

And I also understand why Peter J. D’Adamo’s book, Eat Right for Your Type was so NOT right for me.  And why, when our ancestors moved inland and we left our seafood diet behind, “the four-million-year-old freight train of brain expansion ground to a halt” according to Steven Cunnane, Professor, Universite de Sherbrooke.

And besides all that — the book is just plain fun to read.  It moves right along, takes you to places (both good and bad) that you never thought you’d visit and challenges you to think even more deeply about what we are doing (and not doing) to protect this planet we call “home.”  Let me know what you think!

In the eyes of the beholder…

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Sue’s Chair… at first.

Last summer — or was it summer before last? — Nyel and I were on a garage clean-out marathon.  Among the  things we put a “For Sale” sign on was the ugliest chair in the world.  It had been in the Back Forty for as long as I could remember.  I don’t think I ever did see it in use and I’d have been happy just to haul it to the dump.

But “no” said my ever-practical husband, and he put a reasonable price on it and set it outside on the verge.  I didn’t think much about it as long as there were strangers looking at all our sad discards.  But then along came our friends, Sue and Bill Grennan, and… Yikes!  Sue was actually sitting in that ugly old chair!

And then… were they actually considering buying it???  I was truly mortified.  “But I really want it,” said Sue.  “You don’t know how hard it is for my short little legs to find a chair that’s comfortable — a chair that I can sit in and have both feet on the floor.  And, in this case, maybe even rock a bit!”

When I saw that she was serious, I tried to give her the chair.  “Just take it,” I said.  But she was having none of it.  I can’t remember what she paid, but she truly looked so pleased with herself that I wondered what I was missing.

It took a long time to find out…  and it’s still a work in progress.  The wooden frame has been stripped of it’s ugly varnish — did Bill say it was mahogany?  The back has been re-caned and, says Sue, will be done again.  “It was a learning experience,” she laughs.  “By the time I got to the seat — that ugly old upholstered seat — “I knew better what I was doing.”  And now she plans to re-do the back.

I should have known!  Sue is a prize-winning quilter.  She’s good with her hands.  She’s a perfectionist.  And, she’s obviously motivated by those needy little legs of hers, though I don’t believe that for a minute!  I have a feeling that only other quilters and caners and knitters and crocheters will truly understand.  But no one will clap louder than I!


Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

Saturday, July 9th, 2022

Louise Penny

A copy of author Louise Penny’s July Newsletter arrived in my inbox this morning.  It was just what I needed — a welcome diversion from the “sea of despond” which laps at my toes now and then.  The last family members returned to their normal lives a few days ago, gently leaving me to find my own “new normal.”  It will take some time, I know.  And I also know, as Nyel so often reminded me, patience is not one of my outstanding qualities.

Marie Lagrouix, Quebec City Guide

But, like the characters in her wonderful Armand Gamache series,  Louise Penny’s newsletter speaks to me in soothing, meaningful words.  It has always been so and, in this issue, the words “Deep Breath In.  Deep Breath Out.” were just what I needed.  She, however, was writing about her recent horrific experiences with airline travel.  To me they were the perfect advice for these difficult days of adjustment to life without Nyel.

And, as I read Ms. Penny’s words in their familiar cadence, I thought about the “Trip to Three Pines” that Nyel and I went on with three other members of our Mystery Book Club.  On the last day, we had scheduled a guided tour of Quebec City where we would visit some of the places the author had highlighted in a recent book.  And, not only that, we would get a glimpse of where she had stayed and where she’d eaten and where she’d had afternoon coffee during her days of research there.

Coming November 29th!

We met our guide at the tourist information center.  She was a little late and arrived with a welcoming smile, but with an ashen face.  “Michael died this morning,” she began.  Louise Penny’s beloved husband.  Her anchor.  Her helpmate.  Her strongest supporter.  Her prototype for Armand Gamache.  We all wondered if she would continue to write…  But, of course, she has continued — all the while praising and thanking her friends and millions of fans for their support.

I thought about all that as I took a deep breath in and another deep breath out.  And I’m looking forward to her next book — the 18th in the Gamache series — “A World of Curiosities.”  It’s due out November 29th!



What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

My grandmother, Helen Richardson at 18– the year before she married Harry Espy in 1897

At our Friday Night gathering, the conversation drifted around to language and how our use of it is changing.  We lamented that the kids of today who aren’t learning cursive will never get to read the love letters of their grandparents.

“WHAT???  WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO?” came from Fred.  And, since I have no grandchildren, I couldn’t answer with complete honesty.  I could only say that I learned a lot about the 1890s by reading the letters my own grandparents exchanged during their courtship in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I think Fred would find them pretty tame!

We then segued into a discussion about the breakdown of vocabulary — using letters to represent words, like BTW and WTF and a host of other increasingly used shortcuts to writing (and speaking.)  But, I’m here to tell you that P.G. Wodehouse was using similar “shorthand” in his books written in the 1920s and ’30s and I don’t see that our vocabulary has suffered unduly in the last hundred years.  In fact, it has no doubt expanded the possibilities.

From Wikipedia:  Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (/wodhaos/WOOD-howss;;  15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His creations include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster  and his sagacious valet, Jeeves…

I am just re-reading Wodehouse’s 1934 novel, The Code of the Woosters and came upon these (somewhat subtle) examples of the Wodehouse minimalism:

I spoke with satirical bitterness, and I should have thought that anyone could have seen that satirical bitterness was what I was speaking with, but she Merely looked at me with admiration and approval.
“You are clever, Bertie.  That’s exactly it.  Of course, you needn’t wear a mask”

“You don’t think it would help me throw myself into the part?” I said, with sb., as before.

So there you have it!  I can’t really think that Wodehouse limited our expansion of English language.  But that’s just IMHO.

Coming Soon! May 2nd, to be exact!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

This is “almost-but-not-quite” the final version of the cover. (What do you think has changed?)

According to the Arcadia Publishing website, my newest book with them makes its debut on May 2nd, two weeks from this coming Monday.  WOOT! WOOT!  Look for it beginning that day on the shelves at your local book stores!

The book is called The Ghostly Tales of the Long Beach Peninsula and is part of Arcadia’s new “Spooky America” series for middle-school readers.   These particular tales were adapted from stories in my 2014 book in Arcadia’s Haunted America series — a bit less explanatory background and history, perhaps, and just a tad bit scarier than the originals.  “That’s what middle-schoolers want,” the editor told me.

I had no doubt that such was the case, but just to be sure, I checked with Gabi and Dani Wachsmuth, two of Tucker and Carol’s grandchildren.  “Yes!  Spookier!  Creepier!” they concurred.  Being the stickler that I am for telling stories the way I heard them and without gratuitous embellishment, made the writing a bit of a challenge.  I’m sure my young consultants will let me know how I did!

There once was a Pacific House in Oysterville (shown here in 1870) but, as far as is known, there was never an “Oysterville House.”

Meanwhile, I see on the Arcadia Publishing website that this is what they are saying about the book:  Ghost stories from the Long Beach Peninsula have never been so creepy, fun, and full of mystery! The haunted history of Pacific County comes to life—even when the main players are dead. Visit the Oysterville House to catch a glimpse of the wandering spirits who still call it home. Or step foot into Sprague’s Hole, but be careful or you’ll end up trapped for eternity, too. Dive into this spooky chapter book for suspenseful tales of bumps in the night, paranormal investigations, and the unexplained; just be sure to keep the light on.

I wrote the editor and asked if they might tone down that “come-on” a bit.  Just what is the “Oysterville House” that readers are being invited to visit??  (I surely hope it’s not mine or anyone else’s here in our little village.)  And suggesting that they “step foot” into Sprague’s Hole (which fortunately doesn’t exist anymore) seems a bit beyond responsible.  The editor’s response was that the blurb has actually been “out there” for quite a while and, besides, readers are being “invited” into the story — not into the actual places in the book.  Yes, I get that.  But will the readers??  SIGH!

“Sweet Love Remembered” by Dennis Carter

Saturday, February 5th, 2022

Dust Jacket – Front

I am here to tell you that there is absolutely nothing better than getting a surprise in the mail!  And what a wonderful surprise was in the package that arrived for Nyel and me today!  It’s not that we didn’t know it was coming…  It’s just that we had no a idea how fabulous it would be!!

First, I have to say that Dennis Carter, the author, is the man who has stolen our good friend Linda away from us.  Until several years ago, she lived in Seattle, often vacationed here in Oysterville, and we saw her every few months.  AT LEAST.  Then she met Dennis, traveled hither and thither with him (while we could still travel safely) and for the past two years has lived with him in San Diego.

We have met Dennis twice — once at Linda’s 70th birthday extravaganza at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park in 2018 and this past summer for a socially distanced visit in our South Garden.  Neither time did I know that her handsome partner was writing a book — “A Memoir” — nor did I know he was the third child of eight, that he was a career navy man, that he grew up in Prosser WA, and is just three months younger than Nyel.

Dust Jacket – Back

As I flipped through the book, making its acquaintance, I was delighted to see many colored photos of his growing-up years, his children and grandchildren and, toward the end, apicture of Dennis and Linda taken during recent sheltering days.  So many familiar names and places and concerns jumped out at me — the Limeliters,  the Vietnam War, the trials of a single parent of teenagers.  And all told with the frankness and humor of a long-time friend.

I “think” the book is self-published and, if so, it’s about the best of that genre that I’ve seen.  I’m eager to find out more about the production aspect.   But mostly, I hope that the book serves as an example to all of us — write it down!  It’s not only your history, it’s our history and is best told through the eyes of those who lived it.  Thanks, Dennis Carter!

In A Plain Brown Wrapper

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

brood by Jackie polzin Doubleday 2021

The package came in the mail a few days ago — totally unexpected and totally intriguing.  My high school journalism friend Betty Cooper (who married Bob LeFevre, the most handsome “older man” — well he had graduated by the time Betty and I had a class together — that I’d ever met.)   After she graduated (she was a year or maybe two ahead of me) I didn’t see her again until she and Bob celebrated their 50th — maybe 20 years ago or so!  Wow!  Since then we keep up mostly via the internet.

And here came a package from her!  A book!  brood is the title with a lower case ‘b’ and I could tell it was about chickens even before I read the note: Hi Sydney: This book was given to me.  I’ve read and enjoyed it and decided to pass it along to you because it is about, well, chickens!  Well, sort of…  She went on to say that I should pass it on or keep it I don’t need to have it returned.

It was a quick read and one of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  The author seems to know a lot about chickens — and not much at all.  I think she has a good sense of humor — or maybe none whatsoever.  She speaks of her husband as a total stranger — but then I guess we all do, sometimes.  (But, hopefully, not in writing.)  And I can’t decide if I liked the book, want to read another by her, or maybe I should write Betty and ask her what in the world she was thinking.

jackie polzin

I thought it was interesting that all the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket were by women and not at all surprising that they were all positive.  (After all, that’s why there were chosen to go there, eh?)  The one closest to descriptive, at least for me, was by Lynn Steger Strong, author of Want: “A book about caretaking, about trauma and loss, about keeping others and one’s self alive, with sentences so confident and exact they continually took my breath away…”  Well, I don’t know about that last part.

The author’s picture does make me think that there is a serious generation gap between us and being caught in the chasm might account for my lack of empathy.  But, she looks perky and fun — probably accounting for my thought that she might be writing humorously and I’m missing it.  She also uses no capital letters in her name.  Probably another age disparity thing.

I don’t actually recommend this book.  But if you do read it, tell me what you think.  I might even read it again to get a better handle on what I think.

Some Things Don’t Change

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

The First of the Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series

It wasn’t just the unwelcome homecoming they had received that bothered her.  That was certainly upsetting… It was more everything around them.  The whole world was unsettled.  People were leaving for an expedition to the Holy Land knowing no more than they should face the east, relying on faith to get them there and back safely.  Others were turning completely from all they had been taught, believing instead in new gods invented by deluded fools.  Starvation threatened all around them from the barren fields and ignorant preachers were there to addle the minds of those already weakened by hunger.  Bands of ruffians were attacking…  The order of the universe had been rearranged.  Perhaps these are the end times, she thought.

This passage is from Sharan Newman’s book, To Wear The White Cloak, the seventh of the ten books in her Catherine LeVendeur Mystery series.  Although the author is still writing and is from Oregon, these books are not about the here and now.  The delusion, the starvation, the bands of ruffians she speaks about are integral to twelfth century Paris  — so far off in time and distance from our own lives, and yet… with so many similarities.

The Seventh of Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series

I’ve read all ten books in the series which were published between 1993 and 2004 and am now re-reading them — not in any order but just as I rediscover them on my bookshelves.  Granted, they are fiction but I do factor in the fact that Sharan Newman is a medieval historian and author. She took her Master’s degree in Medieval Literature at Michigan State University and then did her doctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara in Medieval Studies, specializing in twelfth-century France. She is a member of the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Association of the Pacific.  And mostly, I count that she chose not to teach in the traditional sense, but to write novels set in the middle ages.  She gets high marks from me for that choice! What better way to pass on her knowledge!

As I read. I am at once struck by how far we’ve come in some areas and by how little we’ve gained in others.  I wonder if we humans actually have the capacity to interact with one another successfully over the long term.  Have we made strides in that arena over the last thousand years?  And yet, the books are not depressing.  If you have yet to discover them, I recommend you start with the first one, Death Comes In Epiphany.  I can almost guarantee that you’ll find it a learning experience and a delight!

1,000 Years of Slogging through Poland

Monday, November 29th, 2021

James Albert Michener 1907 – 1997

James A. Michener’s Poland is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read — 556 pages of unrelenting war and oppression, occasionally lightened by marvelous descriptions of classical music and art.  I’m now within 125 pages of the end but with almost every paragraph,  I need to put the book aside for a while.  I have to take deep breaths before I go on.  It is 1943,  Poland is under Nazi occupation and its citizens are being systematically eliminated so that the country can be re-populated with Germans.

Michener describes the holocaust extermination methods — the shootings, the hangings, the torture methods, the death camps, the gas chambers — in excruciating detail.  It will probably take me quite a while to finish the book given my need to set it aside now and again.  Published in 1983, Michener appears to have drawn heavily from information disclosed during the thirteen Nuremberg Trials, 1945 -1949.

I have to confess that my knowledge of Poland and its history is, or at least has been, extremely limited.  That it is a country in Eastern Europe, that the names are hard to pronounce, that Pope John Paul II was not only the first Polish pope but the first non-Italian Pope in 400 years — are about the extent of it.  Otherwise, the sum total of my understanding is confined to the great admiration I had for two Polish men I taught with in Hayward, California — Stan Laird, a 5th grade teacher, and Paul Gowack, a speech therapist, and to the music of Chopin, especially as played by my father’s favorite composer/pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

This is the third (and most difficult) Michener book I have read.  I loved Hawaii; I liked The Source so much that I read it twice.  With each, I vowed to read all (is there still time?)  of Michener’s  forty-some books, most of which are long, fictional family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating detailed history. Many of his works were bestsellers and were chosen by the Book of the Month Club; he was known for the meticulous research that went into his books.  He won  he Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948 for Tales of the South Pacific (1947), his first book, published when he was 40.  Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it as the hit Broadway musical “South Pacific” which premiered on Broadway in New York City in 1949.

There are other Michener books I think I’d enjoy more than this one, but I must say that Poland has been an eye-opener.  I only wish that my friends Stan and Paul were still around to talk with me about it and, you can be sure that I am slogging through this last hundred pages with the two of them and their families much in my thoughts.




Every little once in a while…

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

I’m sure it happens to other people, but maybe not in quite the same way as it happens to writers.  Every once in a while, I run across something that I wish I had said or, more to the point, written.  Not often, and usually nothing of great moment.  In fact, frequently it’s something a bit off-beat or humorous.  Take today, for instance…

I was sorting through boxes (and boxes!) of newspaper clippings, getting rid of duplicates and trying to categorize them by broad subject matter — a mind-numbing sort of task that in no way lends itself to more than cursory skimming.  But when I ran across something about oysters that my uncle had saved from the University Week, a University of Washington publication, I took a better look.  The article, “Oh those oysters!” by Sandra Hines was a review of a book called Heaven On The Half Shell by David G. Gordon, Nancy Blanton, and Terry Y. Nosho.  Both article and book were written in 2001.  As I skimmed, this bulleted paragraph jumped out at me:

The Sorting Game

Oyster biology:  By some standards, an oyster leads a dream life.  It doesn’t have to hunt for food, but simply waits for the tide to bring the next serving.  Breakfast in bed never ends.  Snug in a subtidal channel or secure on a soggy mudflat, an oyster can feed at its leisure, filtering up eight gallons of food-rich salt water per hour.”

“Breakfast in bed never ends.”  I LOVE that!  I immediately flashed on my own book, O is for Oysters written in 1998 and had a momentary flash of writer’s envy.  The entire paragraph, but most especially that one sentence, would have fit right in with the bits of humor I used to intersperse the sometimes rather dry (go figure!) oyster facts.

And if I couldn’t have come up with such a gem on my own, I’d have given full credit as I did with several of the following:

Said one oyster to another
In tones of pure delight,
“I will meet you in the kitchen,
And we’ll both get stewed tonight.”
C.J. Espy (Uncle Cecil)

Q.  What do you get when you X-ray an oyster?
A.  Basic black and pearls.

Oh me, Oh my, What shall I do”
Asked the oyster of its mother.
Yesterday I was just a girl but
Since I slept, I am her brother.

There’s no sense in your complaining
I haven’t the time to bother;
You’re not the only changeling here
Since I have just become your father.
Florence M. Pratt

And my all-time favorite:
I do not roister with an oyster
I like my bed dry.
An oyster moister.
Willard R. Espy (Wede)