Posts Tagged ‘Kate Llewellyn’

reading and life in 2015

2015 was the second year of daily blogging in gardening season.  After my social fiasco of 2014, I had expected to spend the year mostly in social solitude, which gave me no fear.  My close friends were all far away with the exception of Our Kathleen, who is only here part time.  However, in the springtime, I met Melissa and Dave of Sea Star Gardening because they were working on a lawn installation right across the street, and the rest is North Beach Garden Gang* history. *a non-exclusive non-cliquey garden club

The books of 2015, mostly rated on the Goodreads scale of 1-5 stars:

Below, right to left: I began with a looong biography of Patricia Highsmith, one of my top favourite writers.  (I think I would say the top six are Iris Murdoch, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, and Margaret Drabble, Kate Llewellyn, Gladys Taber.)  Four stars, really liked it, a bit bogged down by the length.

From the book: Highsmith harbors a lifelong “dislike of being groomed” by professionals, calling it “a curious way to regain morale–having other people administer” to you. (Written in her house in a village so small that a visit to the post office lumbered her with unwanted attention; reminded me of the small town I live in.)

I dabble in all the arts and make a mess of each.

I’m a person of many parts with a goal beyond my reach.” -Patricia Highsmith

Next, I read a Christmas present from Allan.  I recall I had told him I was looking for The Waterlily, by Kate Llewellyn, because a blog reader had recommended it.  This memoir zoomed Kate L. right up into my top favourite writers.  I adored it and I adore her.

At the recommendation of a friend, I read the novel The Signature of All Things and gave it two stars.  The descriptions of moss are lovely.  I disliked it intensely because of the scene toward the end where the botanist protagonist gets her lifelong dream, squalid unreciprocated sex.  Really?  It turned out my friend had recommended it before she got to that scene. It is a long book with no reward.

Five stars to The Samurai’s Garden, a Christmas present from Our Kathleen, a novel that led me to some online reading about the war between Japan and China, and to wonder deeply how a culture of such beauty was also so cruel in war.

Zombie Apocalypse Now delivers just what the title promises; this Christmas present from Montana Mary is written by a friend of hers and got four glowing stars.

Oh, how I loved to five stars and beyond Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye about a widower who is visited by visions of his late wife.

The Warmth of Other Suns, recommended by Our Kathleen, is a must read about the African American diaspora from the south.

I was inspired by the biography of Highsmith to read a book of her older short stories, probably some I had not read before.  Four stars, not five, because they were not as good as her mature writing and because I don’t like short stories.

After The Waterlily, I sought out and spent considerable dosh on more Kate Llewellyn books.  They pretty much all came all the way from Australia and so were not easily available through interlibrary loan.  Dear You and The Mountain are part of the same memoir trilogy as The Waterlily, having a great deal to do with a tormented love affair.  I thought I would blog about her books eventually, but as I went on to collect more, I realized that it would take weeks to do her justice.

Burning: A Journal, more about her poetry writing, her home, and her unrequited love.  I love her so!

Four stars for All Gone, a memoir by a daughter about her brilliant mother’s descent into dementia.

I look back upon the early years of this 35 year saga of reading and remember how I used to read almost all fiction!

below, right to left: I hoped for more from the book of humourous garden essays, Garden Lunacy.  Just three stars for a basic “liked it”.

I discovered that Susan Wittig Albert had written memoirs, with Together Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place.  I loved it and sought out more.

I got a new Kate Llewellyn memoir shipped from Australia, Playing with Water.  I remember now: Playing with Water was the one recommended by a blog reader, but for Christmas Allan had only been able to find me The Waterlily. I am so smitten with her.  Allan is a skilled online shopper; he is the one who found all the books for me.

Susan Hill gave me an excellent new mystery featuring Simon Serrailler.  Five stars.

An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days, a memoir of home and garden by Susan Wittig Albert is so good that I gave a copy to a contemplative friend as a birthday gift.

from An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days by Susan Wittig Albert
Barbara Kingsolver once wrote that she wanted to embrace “every living librarian who crosses my path, on behalf of the souls they never knew they saved.”  True for me, too.  My soul has been saved, over and over, through books, beginning when I was young and in dire need of salvation.  The only books available to me where in libraries, and librarians held the key, literally.

(When a dog, Lady, dies): I once read that we rehearse our own death in every other death we meet, In Lady’s, I see an image of my own, and hope it will be as peaceful.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving looked like such a promising novel.  I got a few pages in and found it so utterly repellent that I quit it.

In The Bone Clocks I hoped to find a brilliant fantasy novel.  I did finish it, but with difficulty and considerable boredom in places.  Three stars.

The Upside of Your Darkside: Why Being Your Whole Self, Not Just Your Good Self, Drives Success and Fulfillment spoke to me (four stars worth) because of someone I had known who, despite being a cutter-down of people, or perhaps because of it, harshly judged anyone for not being damned perky and happy all the time.

Four more glorious Kate Llewellyn memoirs (one a book of gardening essays/memoirs) came from Australia and made me SO VERY HAPPY.  Angels and Dark Madonnas and Lilies, Feathers, and Frangipani are travel memoirs.

Below right to left: Also on the recommendation of Our Kathleen, I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  I thought I was fairly well informed about racism and social justice but I was not.  I have continued a quest to know more.

Stirring the Mud and Entering the Stone are two memoirs by Barbara Hurd about the natural world that I loved to five stars and beyond.  I cannot remember how I heard about Stirring the Mud…maybe in a Susan Wittig Albert memoir? Or a blog reader? I had to interlibrary-loan them which means they are a bit obscure.

The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, sort of a biography of C.S. Lewis and a treatise on how an adult agnostic can relate to the story, reminded me of how much I wanted to visit Narnia as a child.  One time my friend Montana Mary and I, age 12, decided we had better take our chance to see if the ritual of chanting “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia” in a circle in the woods worked to take us there.  It did not, I am sorry to say. (I’d give it ten stars.)

The Year of Reading Dangerously, a funny (five stars) memoir of trying to read many important books, added considerably to my “to read” list.

The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain debunks the idea that our brain power is all downhill from middle age.  Three stars for a solid like.

Below, right to left: Because I am a pretty anxious person, I loved My Age of Anxiety, the memoir and research into science by someone much more fearful than I.

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, by cartoonist Lynda Barry, got five stars for its inspirational art advice.  I recall that I blogged about it here.

From Open City, a four star novel about a Nigerian doctor doing a residency in New York City, I kept this:

I became aware of just how fleeting the sense of happiness was and how flimsy its basis.  A warm restaurant after having come in from the rain, the smell of food and wine, interesting conversation, daylight falling weakly on the polished cherrywood of the tables. It took so little to move the mood from one level to another, as one might move pieces on a chessboard.  Even to be aware of this, in the midst of a happy moment, was to push one of those pieces, and to become slightly less happy.”


Instinctively saving a baby, a little happiness.  Spending time with Rwandans, the ones who survived, a little sadness; the idea of our final anonymity, a little more sadness.  Sexual desire fulfilled without complication, a little more happiness; and it went on like that, as thought succeeded thought.  How petty seemed to me the human condition, that we were subject to this constant struggle to modulate the internal environment, this endless being tossed about like a cloud.  Predictably, the mind noted that judgment, too, and assigned it its place: a little sadness.”

Superman is Jewish? How Comic Book Super Heros Came to Serve Truth, Justice and the Jewish-American Way taught me what I had not known, that many of the classic comic writers were Jewish, and that Captain America fought the Nazis even before the USA entered WWII.  There is a novel on this subject, very long, that I tried to read shortly after this and had to quit 1/3 of the way through.  I have been told I would like it if I perservered (first I have to remember the title, then I would need a long spell of staycation and the desire to start it again).

Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains was the third natural history book by Barbara Hurd.  Five stars all.

Five stars for Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, a true story of going from middle class to poor and how hard it is to get back up again.

Below, right to left: I had a new mystery by Laura Lippman, always a great treat.  That and A Spool of Blue Thread, a novel by another favourite, Anne Tyler, each got five stars.

An Unknown Woman by Alice Koller is a new to me classic about one of my favourite memoir topics, retreating to a solitary place by the sea.  Twenty stars; I adored it, and there is a wonderful dog.

Four stars for Nick Hornby’s novel Funny Girl.

Four stars for The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer’s story of how she gets people to support her art.  It felt good to read it but did not really stick.  It did inspire me to think of adding a donate button to this blog, for people to have the option to be patrons of our volunteer gardens and community efforts, but I did not have the skill to get the button to stick.  And it felt kind of weird; I don’t have a self-value attitude like Amanda’s.

Straw Bale Gardens explains well why my efforts at a straw bale salad garden failed and how I could do better, if I decided to try again.

Below, right to left: The Big Tiny is a delight, about a woman who builds her own tiny house.  She also writes (and speaks) about living with a chronic heart problem.

From The Big Tiny by Dee Williams:

“Whose idea was it that we should all get jobs, work faster, work better, race from place to place with our brains stewing on tweets, blogs, and sound bites, on must-see movies, must-do experiences, must-have gadgets, when in the end, all any of us will have is our simple beating heart, reaching up for the connection with whoever might be in the room or leaning into our mattress as we draw our last breath.  I hate to put it in such dramatic terms, but it’s kinda true.”

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots through Gardening sounds great, got four stars, and I remember nothing!  I did not think that I would be adding “to reread” books from just two years ago….

Four stars Dataclysm: Who We Are, an interesting and sometimes witty book about what is revealed by the data that we provide all the time with online shopping, Facebook likes, twitter shares, etc.

The Stations of Solitude is the gorgeous sequel to An Unknown Woman by Alice Koller, more musings about her solitary life.

Gorillas, Tea, and Coffee arrived from Australia, another travel memoir from Kate Llewellyn. Five stars, of course.

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is the amusing and education memoir of a copy editor for the New Yorker.  I hope I recommended it to (or maybe I heard about it from) my copy editor friend, Montana Mary.

Below: right to left: I had new books in two of my favourite cozy mystery series, China Bayles by Susan Wittig Albert and the Seaside Knitters, and I read the memoir Orange is the New Black because of having watched the tv show. (Four stars; the real life woman is much more likable than the one in the show.)

The Dressmaker’s Daughter, a childhood memoir by my beloved Kate Llewellyn, arrived from Australia to make me happy.

The memoir Cabin Lessons, a Tale of 2x4s, Blisters, and Love, tells of building a cabin on a lake, and of childhood memories, and introduced me to the North Shore region of Lake Superior.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson is a book that I have often recommended and referenced, about people who have done one foolish thing (or a thing that just set people off) and got dragged and humiliated all over the internet.

Below, right to left: I confess that I will watch any cooking show or cooking competition featuring Gordon Ramsay.  He makes me laugh.  I did not rate his memoir; it was interesting but not well written.

With The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry, Lost at Sea and The Men Who Stare at Goats I went on with more by the witty Jon Ronson.   Four stars all.

I was so pleased to have X, a Kinsey Milhone mystery by Sue Grafton.  My one “bucket list” item was to live long enough to read Z.  Heartbreakingly, you know by now how that turned out.

Shelter is another memoir about a family cabin, this one already built but on leased land that is endangered by developers.  Five stars; I loved it.

Below: right to left: Them: Adventures with Extremists,  is another good four star book by Jon Ronson.

I remembered to add to my books read, from a previous year, How Wal-Mart is Destroying America—and the World about the nefarious and damaging practices of the megastore.  I am sorry to report that one is opening up in Warrenton, Oregon (a half hour away) and may cause some damage here.

The American War on Poverty: How The Other Half Still Lives, about the poor and the working poor, got five stars.

The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty is a lovely book of photos and text.

The Virtue of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits amused me and got four stars.

Gimme Shelter, the story of a the author’s quest for a new apartment in the very expensive New York City, got four stars.

Below, right to left: Another book bringing me joy from Australia: First Thing First, a collection of letters by Kate Llewellyn.

I had lost track of the Dog Lovers Mysteries by Susan Conant and started to catch up on some new ones and reread some old ones.

I was inspired to read the Born With Teeth memoir by Kate Mulgrew after seeing her transformation from Captain Janeway in Star Trek to Red in Orange is the New Black.  I liked it four stars worth, better than I had expected.

Bottom Feeders and Starfish are two entertaining mysteries set on a fictionalized Long Beach Peninsula by local writer Jan Bono.  You can buy them here.

Below, right to left: Anne Hillerman had taken up the Navajo mystery series written by her father, Tony, in a capable way. Four stars.   Three more Dog Lovers’ mysteries were followed by Insignificant Others by Stephen McCauley, a writer of amusing gay fiction whose every book I have loved.

I had been told or had decided by something I had read that I would like Elinor Lipman’s books.  I started with I Can’t Complain (essays, just three stars) and went on with….

(below) ….three Lipman novels, all four stars.

Our Kathleen had recommended The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, five stars about the medical exploitation of one woman whose cells improved the world.  Many many stars.

Not That Kind of Girl, stories from Lena Dunham’s life, got five stars.  I loved her TV show, Girls.

I was terribly sad to read the last mystery written before she died by my favourite writer, Ruth Rendell.

You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen introduced me to a new writer whose books I adore.  This novel of the caretaker for a woman with ALS is so much more than the film and has a restaurant subplot that the film does not include.  Five enthusiastic stars.

I read three more Elinor Lipmans,  The only novel I loved was The Inn at Lake Devine.

Apprentice to a Garden: A New Urban Gardener Goes Wild is a satisfying gardening memoir.

I read two more Elinor Lipmans.  Obviously her novels were good, but they were not all I wanted them to be.  I had a new badly written but darling Agatha Raisin mystery by M.C. Beaton.

I read Bread and Butter, my second Michelle Wildgen novel, a restaurant story, and loved it all to pieces, followed by a collection of foods essays edited by her and then by her novel But Not for Long, which I also loved and which made me want to live in Madison, Wisconsin.

to reread:

Digging Deep by Fran Sorin



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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Allan ambitiously refreshed the paint on the eaves trim of the house.

Allan ambitiously refreshed the paint on the eaves trim of the house.

Allan's photos: before

Allan’s photos: before

and after

and after; the yellow is a left over colour from when the house used to be dull brown with yellow trim.

While I did a lot of productive garden puttering on what turned out to be a hot day, my big event was when I finally, after five years of wooing the orange cat from across the street, was accepted as a friend.

Of course this cat prefers to spend its days in our garden.

Of course this cat prefers to spend its days in our garden.


Up until today, this cat has run swiftly away when I even gaze upon it.

Up until today, this cat has run swiftly away when I even gaze upon it.



at long last!

at long last!


my friend, Orange.

my friend, Orange.

My main project was to set up the long narrow containers that I’d emptied on Friday in a new, sunny area for my new containerized strawberry patch idea.  I dug out with great effort a patch of alstroemerias next to the concrete pad.  I should have listened to Our Kathleen, because they have jumped the lawn into the nearest garden bed.  I piled some into a big pot if anyone wants to try them; they are bright yellow ones.

 alstroemeria by the garage

alstroemeria by the garage, now roots piled in a big pot

I’m sure they will try to come back.

There had been an old falling apart rack of bamboo poles against the garage wall.  I dismantled the whole thing (with some help from Allan) and moved them to outside the lean to in the work area:

ever useful bamboo and buckets

ever useful bamboo and buckets

Some sort of container strawberry and kitchen garden is envisioned here.

Some sort of container strawberry and kitchen garden is envisioned here.

The new area will need deer proofing somehow.  And the ideal thing would be to grow beans up that wall.  Something to think about before next spring.  The lowest container is sunk in to where those alstroemerias were (and probably still are, although I did dig deep).

Allan took on another project, cutting down the pile of storm-fallen wood from last winter for the rest of this year’s campfires.

Allan's photo: my mom's old electric chainsaw

Allan’s photo: my mom’s old electric chainsaw

Allan's photo

Allan’s photo

after: enough for how many more campfires this year?

after: enough for how many more campfires this year?

I puttered with some of the longer pieces raising them up against the fence to block a nearby security light from distracting from the wilderness feeling of the campfire area.  It may or may not work.

The bright light of early evening

The bright light of early evening

an autumnal butterfly

an autumnal butterfly

evening in the garden

evening in the garden

Aster lateriflorus 'Prince'

Aster lateriflorus ‘Prince’

Monday, 5 October 2015

Allan had gone off on a boating excursion by the time I awoke and found it much too hot to garden.


81.5! From 642weather.com. And the Cape Disappointment weather agreed.

I did test out a walkabout in the garden, arousing Smokey’s hope that we would enjoy a day outdoors.



Smokey tried to convince me it was a perfect day.

He flopped along in front of me throughout the garden to convince me how very lovely it was outside, but it was not to be, and I retreated into the slightly cooler house for a day of reading.

I had one chapter left in my current book, so I finished that.


It is a good read about a long quest for an affordable flat to purchase in New York City.

The author and I have certain tastes in common.

The author and I have certain tastes in common.

As she searches for a small apartment in the $500 – $600 thousand dollar range (!!!), she and her friend have a discussion about the rich, inspired by the wealth of some of the parents at her daughter’s school:


I also find Geri’s words validating as I share those feelings about many, although not all, of the rich.

I then settled in to read my last book by Kate Llewellyn, my favourite author of the year if not the decade.

Kate and Smokey, who adjusted to the idea of a day indoors.

Kate and Smokey, who adjusted to the idea of a day indoors.

I’ve had the book since last spring and have delved into a bit, and have since been waiting for a day when I could completely focus on it.

Here are just a few of my favourite bits.  I do hope to blog at length about her books this winter.

When someone questions her Blue Mountain journals of every day life:


“…the events of a day made (hopefully sometimes) into a work of art and nothing can be made up.  [My topics] are the weather, domesticity, love, art, gardening, the names of plants, a woman’s simple daily tasks and her heart’s thoughts.  The people she meets who are her friends and visitors are included but no one else.”

and later:


That is just how I feel about writing this blog, although with less hope of it being a work of art.  My favourite parts of Kate’s books are “her heart’s thoughts” and I often don’t have the transparency and courage to put those in.  She inspires me.  The most intensely personal thoughts about her life are something that I want to explore more here this winter.

(Stardust was later published as Burning.)

I also make nothing up, and even though I have been tempted with some time altering for better narrative flow, I find it necessary to my piece of mind to stick strictly to reality.

On moving to a smaller garden with houses close by:


What a perfect description of two different landscape styles:  “…a house sits, ideally on a green lawn like a white stamp on an unaddressed envelope…that is happiness to many.  I like an envelope scrawled all over with a stamp indecipherable from ink and inside a letter that is full of repose and serenity.

Someone who does have a house like a postage stamp on a beautiful green lawn said to me, in a way that was meant to be a compliment, that my garden is “primitive”.  I took it as the compliment it was (I think) meant to be, as she was comparing it with another garden that she thought might be worthy of being on the garden tour, and I think primitive meant wild and free, perhaps.  I thought at the time, “You don’t know how actually sophisticated this garden is!”

People expressed their thoughts about Kate’s garden, too:


Twice, Kate mentions reading Iris Murdoch, with whom she now vies as my favourite author of my whole lifetime.



I’m fascinated with Kate’s passion in later life for making public gardens and know just how she feels about wanting to expand on and on:


After making the boatyard garden (which eventually turned into a paid job) and the post office garden, we now may be expanding into making a volunteer garden at the park a few blocks away.

With an early evening break to water some plants outside with the very last of the rain barrel water, I stayed in Kate’s world until finishing the book at about 10 PM.

The joy of reading all of Kate Llewellyn’s prose books came about when a reader of this blog suggested I might like Playing with Water.  Allan could not find that one for me at Christmas so he got me The Waterlily, which just perfectly turned out to be the first of her journal series.  Soon, I was mail-ordering all of her prose books from Australia since they are mostly not available here.  Unless she writes more, and I hope she does, I have now finished them all.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

I could have gardened despite the chilly wind (much better than yesterday’s heat).  Instead, I had enjoyed my reading day so much that I had another one.


I recently found that there are new additions to the Dog Lovers’ Mystery series and I intend to go through them all.  I started re-reading here, as my poor memory makes it seem like this book is all new.  Conant’s series is well written, informative, with good insight into the character of humans and dogs, and best of all, they are witty.

I took one little walk through the garden and leave you with a few photos.

front garden with Coreopsis 'Flower Tower'

front garden with Coreopsis ‘Flower Tower’

cardoon gone to seed

cardoon gone to seed

I've stopped deadheading my cosmos.

I’ve stopped deadheading my cosmos.

Melianthus major and criss crossed elephant garlic

Melianthus major and criss crossed elephant garlic

late flowering clematis

late flowering clematis on the west wall of the garage

Smokey again hoping for a gardening day, or maybe he is asking me to come back indoors and read.

Smokey again hoping for a gardening day, or maybe he is asking me to come back indoors and read some more.

a grey and windy day

a grey and windy day

I could have found many small weeds to pull.

I could have found many small weeds to pull.

late autumn roses

late autumn roses

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Stipa gigantea

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Stipa gigantea

This is the view I see each morning from my south window...enjoyable in all seasons and all weather.

This is the view I see each morning from my south window…enjoyable in all seasons and all weather.

Tomorrow:  Allan’s boating excursion in Seaside.



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Friday, 2 October 2015

I had the most wonderful long sleep with no artificial sleep aid, most unusual and most welcome….even though I did feel I had lost half the day.  When I finally went outside, thinking to putter and weed a bit, I suddenly remembered two projects that had come to mind this past week.

Yesterday morning, I had had a revelation that the bed running next to the garage could be made more of an ornamental grass Piet Oudolfy type of garden.

Here it was yesterday morning.

Here it was yesterday morning.

So first I transplanted two big Miscanthus into the middle bed of those three.  The far in the distance bed is a debris pile at present.

the west side garden where tall ornamental grasses will grow next year...

the west side garden where tall ornamental grasses will grow next year…

I am still trying to decide whether or not to turn the shabby grass paths to gravel.  I do love a gravel garden and yet the grass, even dormant, feels so soft underfoot.

And then I suddenly remembered that I had decided the four long low containers by the south wall must be moved.  I think they would be wonderful containers on the edge of a deck.  But I do not have a deck, or even the prospect of a deck.  I always thought I could successfully grown beans or peas up the side of the house on bamboo stakes.  After five years of failure at that plan, I was sick to death of the same-iness of those long planters.


before, 3:30 PM

Much digging of potting soil into buckets ensued, along with the digging out of two whiskey barrels that were outside the deer fence.  Allan helped me move the empty barrels into place.

Devery stopped by partway through the frenzy.

Allan's photo

Allan’s photos; I want to expand the scree garden all around the boat by moving the strawberries that are on the other side.

I was telling Devery all about the strawberry plan (because we share them with her)

I was telling Devery all about the strawberry plan (because we share them with her)

I gave her some lavender.

I gave her some lavender.

Then I got back to finishing the big exhausting project.

after, 6 PM

after, 6 PM

I’m happy with having a variety of heights against the house instead of the long low stretch of four identical planters.

If I can find a place for these, I can grow strawberries in them, thus freeing up the strawberry bed for a scree garden expansion. (Allan's photo)

If I can find a place for these, I can grow strawberries in them.  (Allan’s photo)

Another frenzy followed of moving a plant table from behind the garage onto the patio, by which time it was too dark to take a photo.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

After a day of pleasant garden puttering, and some small worries about wind, the wind did die down at dusk and we were able to have a campfire with Our Kathleen, Dave, and Melissa.

Allan's photo

Allan’s photo

the shade garden looking fine at dusk

the shade garden looking fine at dusk

a simply perfect autumn campfire evening

a simply perfect autumn campfire evening


I wish to relive the idyllic time from all angles.

I wish to relive the idyllic time from all angles.


We had three kinds of sausages, buttered corn foil-roasted in the fire, beer, cider, or root beer, Allan’s homemade pumpkin pie, Melissa’s brownies; what a feast.  Smokey joined us; the other cats are not campfire aficionados.

To make the evening even more perfect, I looked at my phone and saw that garden writer Ann Lovejoy, who I had just realized this day was on Facebook, had accepted my friend request.  This meant the world to me as her gardening talk over 25 years ago had changed my life.

"Plant Vessel" Ann Lovejoy

my garden boat, the “Plant Vessel” Ann Lovejoy!

Afterward, as Kathleen was leaving, I saw that the J’s house across the street had all its Halloween lights up.  As I took my camera one house down to take a photo, I suddenly exclaimed:  “Damn, I left my property!”  Kathleen said something like, “All of Lake Street is yours,” and I said, “Some would beg to differ.”  So much for not setting foot off my property for five days.  (I realized than that, because there is still compostable debris in our trailer,  I would at some point have had to set foot out on the sidewalk to unload it.)

My photo did not even turn out well, but Allan’s did:

The J's house across the street.

The J’s house across the street. (Allan’s photo)

next: three more luxurious days off



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In sharing the favourite bits from what I read during staycation, I also share a form of autobiography because what we take for keeps from a book has everything to do with who we are.  Apologies in advance for the text being wonky in some of the photos.  It’s hard to get a flat page with one to three cats on one’s lap.

1-3 January 2015


On the recommendation of Kathleen Shaw.

I thought I was pretty well read on the topic of racism, but I learned so much more about the migration from the south.


The book is long, and I can but advise that especially if you live in the USA, you would benefit from reading it.  It is dense with information imparted in a readable way with lots of personal stories.

4 January, 2015


Short stories, going back to the beginning of the career of one of my favourite authors.

 I was moved this passage in “The Mightiest Mornings” about a man who moved to small town.  He has fallen under suspicion because of taking walks with Freya, a young girl from the wrong side of town (walks that seemed innocent to me, the reader).  Early in the story, he had rhapsodized about his happiness in his daily routine of feeling welcome at his boarding house and the small town shops and Mac’s café.  Now he has come to know the perils of small town gossip and how being shunned can alter a person’s self image.  He had given up and is moving away:

His thoughts foundered in an emotion he could not at once identify.  It felt like guilt,  But what was he guilty of?  Why had he not been good enough? Why was so wrong with him that  his best efforts had not made him fit in the town?  His mysterious fault seemed to date further back even than New York, and to be something over which he had no control, and could never grasp and cast out of himself.  Then, in an instant, his half  vision was cut off, and he felt the guilt and its cause both sealed in him once more.

He faced about and began walking with fast weak steps.  He went back to the quiet dirt road that led almost to the factory before it turned and went northward beside the river, away from Clement.

What hurt was the sense that it had been almost avoidable, the sense of the destruction in the very act of his leaving.  The town was crumbling at every step, the facade of Trevelyan Boulevard, the Dandy Diner, all the fine trees that grew among the houses, Mrs. Hopley’s [boarding] house and his room, all the fine things he had somehow ruined.  ….The river, the railroad, the men climbing in slow steps up the slope from the factory, the noonday whistle, the good meals served by Mac’s hands, the mornings in his big room and with them the joy in his existence and the sense of the eternal potential.

He walked until he had lost the river, until the sun changed its position, not knowing where he walked except that the town was at his back.  His feet swished dismally through high grass.  Then he tripped and was too tired to catch himself.  The stillness was delicious.  The river, the railroad, the facade of Trevelyan Boulevard passed in pictures before his eyes.  The grizzled old men, the church and the hymnals. the railroad, Freya, the knife factory, the bud on the rosebush, the mornings of the eternal potential and the eternal nothing. 

There was a time last summer and fall when I would have walked away from Ilwaco were it not for my garden, and the city and port and post office gardens, which keep us here.

5 January 2015


Kate Llewellyn’s Playing with Water had been recommended to me by blog reader Rebecca of Scene in Our Garden.  Unable to find that one, Allan had got me The Waterlily for Christmas.  I was completely smitten with Kate Llewellyn upon reading it and began tracking down all of her books and ordering them from Australia.  She will get her own blog post after I have read all her memoirs.  (As I write this, I have read seven of them and have two to go.)  Here’s a sneak peek, the moment when I fell madly in love with this author:


6 January 2015


I had fallen behind on the books of another favourite author.  This was a quick read with a theme of one of the topics I think about sometimes, especially during attacks of hypochondria: death and the possibility of an afterlife, and what happens when a loved one dies.  When the main character observes his  Tom Petty and U2 vinyl recordings in his childhood room, I realized I was old.  Stories did not used to use the music of my 20s as childhood memories for characters.  The fact that I seek out large print books from the library when I used to eschew them is another sign.

7 January 2015

A Christmas present from Kathleen

A Christmas present from Kathleen

There is something disconcerting in how this novel contrasts the peace of a Japanese garden and seaside landscape with just hints of the atrocities that the Japanese army was inflicting on China at the same time (1937). I stopped in the middle of the book and read some horrifying articles about the war. It made the peacefulness of the village seem more like a dream. Perhaps the idea is that the average citizens of a country are not the ones who hate each other, as the young Chinese man staying in a Japanese village is for the most part treated with great kindness.  And the garden and nature descriptions are beautiful:


8 January 2015

A Christmas present from Montana Mary (the book, that is)

A Christmas present from Montana Mary (the book, that is)

inscribed by the author

inscribed by the author

The book was good. Very good indeed, suspenseful and witty. It is self published which surprised me because it is much better than some commercially published books I have read. I also love the inscription.  I’ve only read two other self published books. One was dreck, one was….adequate. Both were one offs, the only ones said authors published. I’ve read some cosy-type commercially published mysteries that I could not even plow through.  I think this man could get a book deal.  He is clearly able to edit himself well, a trait other self published authors seem to not have.

9-12 January, 2015

It took me several days to get through my next book.


The good weather allowed for some gardening…and the book was over 600 pages long and small print.

She is a favourite of mine, as a section of my bookshelf shows:



Highsmith was difficult and intense.  I wonder if she would have written such dark material had she lived now when she could have been more out as a lesbian.  She was brave and did not hide much of her life but was definitely a recluse in some ways.  For awhile, she lived “in a village so small that a visit to the post office lumbered her with unwanted attention.”


Even I am not that reclusive.

“She drew, she sketched, she made sculpture.  She handcrafted furniture and carved out little statues.  Her notebooks and diaries are punctuated with charts, symbols, line drawings and thumbnail sketches.  She pasted up her own Christmas and birthday cards and decorated the covers of all fourteen of her fat press books with cutouts and letterings of her own devising.  At the end of her life, she tried oil-painting lessons, but quarreled with her teacher.  The teacher said Pat had her own way of doing things.

‘I dabble in all the arts’, Pat wrote in a 1961 quatrain, ‘And make a mess of each./I’m a person of main parts,/With a goal beyond my reach.'”

And I couldn’t even make myself take a watercolour class.

An insightful review by “Jessica” on Goodreads pointed out something about the book that I had not quite been able to put my finger on, even though it bothered me:  “Hence, something as simple as the fact that Highsmith loved to iron her clothes, that some of her story ideas came to her while she was ironing, is met with lots of speculation about Highsmith’s penchant for creased, sharp clothing, and yet (I paraphrase) “Highsmith’s villians were never murdered with an iron as a weapon…”
Schenkar seems oblivious to the fact that many writers get their best ideas while engaged in some mundane chore, be it dishwashing, driving, showering, lawn mowing, as the body is engaged but the mind is not… Any writer could have told her this.
Highsmith, of course, is not just any writer, but Schenkar too often looks for murderous impulses, treating her as if she is evil, practically homicidal.”  True, the book tends to treat everything Patricia does with a dark suspicious eye, probably the same way that Patricia turned a suspicious eye on the motives of her characters.  That’s really why the book was 600 pages long.

I was glad to finish it as I had an enticing selection of books to read next.

Three more Llewellyns had arrived in the mail!

Four memoirs: Three more Llewellyns had arrived in the mail all the way from Australia, and I had purchased a book by Nick Jaina (a Sou’wester performer) and had another memoir through interlibrary loan.   Dear You might claim to be a novel but I do believe it is a memoir based on knowledge I gained later in my Llewellyn saga.

17 January 2015

After reading four Kate Llewellyn books in a row, I had two easy reads in one day.

a quick read, but poignant, of a mother who has dementia

a quick read, but poignant, of a mother who has dementia

All Gone has many memories of a childhood rich with delicious food.  Recipes included.

a cute garden humour book, even though I did not like the scarecrow on the cover.

a cute garden humour book, even though I did not like the scarecrow on the cover.  Too clownlike. Probably on purpose.

The funniest garden humour books I’ve read are Crazy About Gardening by Des Kennedy, Mrs Greenthumbs by the late lamented Cassandra Danz, anything by Dulcy Mahar, The Opinionated Gardener by Geoffrey Charlesworth, and The Gardener’s Year by Karel Kapek. Oh, and Elizabeth and her German Garden.  Even though Garden Lunacy is not as sharp edged as my other favourites.  I think any gardener would enjoy it.  Examples:



Art Wolk opens the world of garden show madness with suspenseful chapters about competitions for best plant.

19-21 January, 2015

On the 19th, I read another memoir: Together, Alone by mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert, acquired through an interlibrary loan. I immediately realized that it would need its own admiring blog entry along with her next memoir (also an interlibrary loan), An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days, which I read on the 21st..

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

On January 20th, I had finally acquired Playing with Water (from Australia!), the book that had first been recommended me to by my favourite author of this winter, Kate, who will also get her own blog post.  I spent the day in Kate’s world.


On the 21st, I began the excellent Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days.  Then good weather forced me out into the garden for several days and in the evenings, reading took a back seat to starting up the blog again.  (And we were working our way through some boxed DVD sets of Ruth Rendell Mysteries.)

When I'm not in my reading chair, they are.

When I’m not in my reading chair, they are.

23 January 2015


I was thrilled to get, from the library, the latest Simon Serrailler mystery.  It was a dark one.  They all are.  I read them for the continuing drama of the repeating characters as much as for the mystery.

24-26 January 2015


This had been recommended in a pamphlet about books from the bookstore and library.  I was bored by the fantasy subplot.   I enjoyed the “real” parts of the story and until I realized the plot bogged down in fantasy, I thought it was going to turn out to be a favourite novel of mine.  It took me three days to get through the book (during a time of nice weather for gardening) and I almost gave up but had already put 400 pages (out of 600!) into it. Unable to slog through the “Horologist’s Labyrinth” chapters,  I found a synopsis of the fantasy plot line. I skipped ahead to the last dystopian section (“Sheep’s Head”) and enjoyed the end of the book very much.

27 January 2014


For my last book of January, I delved into a highly entertaining pop psychology book.  In the introduction, the authors wrote “…[in positive psychology], both of us were increasingly put off by the gung ho happiology we often witnessed.  Over the past fifteen years, positive psychology has been transformed from a reminder that “positive experiences are important” to a kind of smiling fascism.”


As someone who sleeps ascetically on a hard foam pad (and who has even worse insomnia in a comfy hotel bed), I was amused by this:


The philosophy of “gung ho happiogy”:


The effects of the struggle to be happy.


This was the passage I found most meaningful:


I was enlightened by the difference between the wanting/liking bias.  Here’s just the beginning of that passage in the book:


I also appreciate their paragraph about not feeling superior about what does make you happy…


…which is why I have recently tried very hard to avoid making snarky remarks about my dislike of football.  The authors are endearingly geeky about what they like, with references to Star Trek, Aquaman, and the number 42.

They would probably like this poster over my desk.

They would probably like this poster over my desk.

Perhaps the most useful takeaway that I got from the book was the concept of turning anxiety into excitement:



That could come in very handy.  The second best takeaway I got, other than validation for how I feel about “happiology”, is using the word “takeaway” to describe my favourite bits from a book, as at the end of each chapter the author summaries the “takeaways” about that topic.

In a fascinating chapter called “Recognizing Your Positivity Bias” the authors point out the American habit of smiling.


(Since then, I’ve read two travel books by Kate Llewellyn.  In her memoir about New Zealand travels in 1992, she wrote about American tourists, “The American I hear have usually an immensely polite way of speaking.  In conversation, they are, or appear to be, deeply interested, even concerned, and flattering, while not being actually ingratiating (though I have known that type too) and profoundly hospitable….in the sharing of news, information, and the giving of the heart. I often feel anxious for them.  They seem so open, so unwordly.  I fear they’ll be taken down.”)

I’ve only touched on what The Upside of Your Dark Side has to offer, so have a go at it if you like that sort of book. It would make a good companion piece to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided .

I’d call that a worthwhile month of reading.

Next up: Enjoying two memoirs by Susan Wittig Albert

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