Sunday, March 1, 2015

winter reading list

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom - A mother tells her daughter that her father's wife has died and so they would go see what was in it for them. That's basically the first sentence of the book. Eva's mother abandons her to her widowed father and her older sister Iris. This is the story of Eva and Iris, sisters who share the same father, both motherless. Iris's mother has died and Eva's has run off without her. The sisters form a bond of sorts as Iris leaves home, with her younger sister in tow, in the mid 1940s for California so she can follow her dream of being an actress. She is a rising star but it's cutthroat out there and just as she has fallen, their father shows up. With their father and a favorite Hollywood make-up artist, Eva and Iris head back across the country to New York and job opportunities there. Even though it seems Iris is the star, it's really Eva's story, told from her point of view mostly, of family and those who become attached, become family as they try and make their way. I don't want to tell too much. It grabbed me right away, it's a good story and well written and an easy enjoyable read and not too long, 230 pages or so. I liked it a lot.

The Watcher: a novel by Charlotte Link – this is a murder mystery set in Scotland. Two older women who live alone and isolated are murdered weeks apart. A painfully shy 30ish man, Samson, who lives with his brother and his wife, fills his days spying on certain women in his neighborhood to pass the time after he gets fired from his job. Gillian, a woman who is having a troubled relationship with her young teenage daughter and who feels unimportant to her husband and also feels isolated in their community because she has trouble finding common ground with the other women starts an affair with her daughter's ex-detective tennis coach with a murky past in Scotland Yard. When Gillian returns home late one night after a failed attempt to meet with her lover, she finds her husband has been murdered and her daughter is hiding in the attic. Samson quickly becomes the prime suspect by the police and goes into hiding. When her lover becomes convinced that Gillian was the intended victim instead of her husband, he starts his own investigation but he's afraid he won't solve the crime in time. A decent read.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson – In this alternate world story, Elantris is a beautiful city inhabited by benevolent beautiful beings that seem to glow with an inner light and who use their god-like powers for the benefit of all the people of Arelon who have built their cities around Elantris. These beings were once human but were transformed, chosen by no rhyme or reason, by the Shoad. Once transformed, they became citizens of Elantris. Ten years previous, some disaster has put an end to the magic and Elantris died and although the transformations still take place, they become leper-like and are banished by the people of Arelon to the dead city. The people crown the richest merchant as king of Arelon at the end of the riots and destruction that followed the death of Elantris. The crown prince, a week before his political marriage to the princess of a neighboring country to forge an alliance to ward off the impending invasion of a religious army intent on taking over the world, wakes to find he has been taken by the Shoad and banished to the dead city. Here follows political, palace, and religious intrigue when the prince's 'wife' arrives unexpectedly and makes herself at home in the palace. Meanwhile, the prince is doing what he can to make life better for the Elantrians and tries to figure out what went wrong. It's a good story and I enjoyed it but I wish these authors that make up worlds and names would stop making them with weird combinations of vowels and consonants as to make them unpronounceable. Like Fjordell, Hrathen, Raoden, Teod.

White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – another Pendergast novel. In this one, Pendergast's protege, Corrie Swanson, has left her goth image behind (but not her impulsiveness) and is working on her thesis project which takes her to an extremely wealthy ski town that had been founded by silver miners. Corrie's attempts to examine the bones of miners who were 'killed by a bear' lands her in jail with the prospect of a ruined career before she even gets started. Enter Pendergast who springs her from jail, getting the charges dropped, just as one of the mansions goes up in flames killing everyone inside. Corrie's continued examinations and discovery of what actually killed the miners and her aforementioned impulsiveness puts her in danger from the people who have been trying to keep the secret secret.

The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman – For three hundred years, the Sparrow women have had only girl children and they are always born in March. On their 13th birthdays, they wake with a new talent, always different. Their forbear, Rebecca Sparrow, appeared out of the woods at the edge of a small town and is eventually taken in by the washerwoman. When Rebecca turns 13, the town discovers she can no longer feel pain and so start the events that lead to her death but not before she gives birth to her daughter. Generations later, Elinor, who can smell a lie, and her daughter Jenny, who dreams other peoples dreams, are estranged. Jenny left the family home with the boy her mother knew was a liar and a cheat at 17 and it isn't until her own daughter Stella turns 13 that circumstances take her back. This is a lovely novel about mothers and daughters and their relationships as well as their relationships with the men in their lives and love and the history of an unusual family. I enjoyed this one a lot though there were times when I would put it down mid-sentence as it waxed esoterically about these issues.

I've Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark - I wanted a quick easy entertaining read and while I usually avoid authors whose books take up two or three shelves of space in the library, Mary Higgins Clark knows how to tell a good story. This is sort of a double murder mystery...Laurie's husband was murdered in front of their three year old son and the killer, who was never caught, promised to kill him and his mother and a famous 20 yr old unsolved murder of the socialite wife of a wealthy man on the night of the big graduation party given in honor of her daughter and three of her friends. Five years after her husband was killed, Laurie, a TV show producer who needs a hit show, proposes a series on unsolved crimes with the 'Graduation Gala' as the first episode. Her boss gives her the go ahead and the four friends, who each have a motive for the murder and the widower agree to recreate the night and submit to interviews about the unsolved murder. When the recently released from jail killer of Laurie's husband learns of the upcoming filming he decides that perhaps this is the perfect time to carry out his threat.

The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – A.J. Fikry is a depressed, bitter, and brusque widower who has not recovered from the death of his very loved wife and has managed to alienate just about everyone in the small town on Alice Island which in turn has his bookstore suffering the worst sales since they opened. His one treasure, a rare first edition of Poe's first published book, worth a quarter of a million dollars and the only retirement account he has, is stolen from his apartment above the bookstore one night while he is passed out cold drunk. He reports the theft to the police and is further sinking into a pit of misery when one Friday evening he discovers that a small child has been abandoned in the book store with a note explaining that the mother has nothing to offer her, that the child is very smart, and that she has picked A.J. to care for her because she believes he will do right by her. Several days later, the body of a young black woman washes up on the beach, obviously the mother of the child. Because he finds the child late on Friday, Social Services won't arrive to take possession of the girl, whose name is Maya, until the following Monday. By the time they arrive, A.J. finds that he cannot part with the child. Maya transforms his life. I don't want to say too much, it's a sweet little book about love and loss and becoming who we are, not sweet like all sugar and roses and happy stuff but in the sense of a story well told, about 250 pages. Each chapter starts with a title of a short story pertinent, in a way, to the following part of the story, with A.J.'s comments about it to his daughter as he recommends the story for her to read. I didn't stop and read the recommended short stories, as they weren't readily to hand, but I imagine that it would add to the enjoyment of more literary minded readers. Or maybe that's just artspeak on my part only about writing. Anyway, I really liked this one and recommend it to everybody.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein – Trevor gets his first look at the massive legendary family mansion, Riddell House, the summer of his 14th year. His parents have separated and his father, Jones, takes Trevor back to the family home where he grew up and was sent away at 17 by his father, Samuel. The two have not spoken since. The family is now destitute and Samuel is sliding into dementia and Serena, Jones' sister, wants to sell the extremely valuable property for the wealth that they should have inherited if their founding fortune timber baron great great grandfather, Elijah, and great grandfather and father had not either given it away or spent it. The house itself is crumbling from disrepair. To say that this is a dysfunctional family with secrets is putting it mildly. When Trevor sees and talks to the resident ghost of Elijah's first and treasured son who died suddenly and mysteriously, he learns that Elijah made a promise to let the land return to natural and untamed forest in penance for the millions of trees he cut down. In Trevor's explorations of the rambling mansion with it's secret doors, tunnels, and rooms, he discovers all the secrets of the family history, a history he knows nothing of because his father refused to talk about his past. It's a good story, a good book and I suppose it ends the only way it could.

The Fever by Megan Abbott - Deenie and her brother, Eli, live with their father Tom, who teaches at the local high school. She has two BBFs, Lise and Gabby though Lise and Gabby are connected mainly by being friends with Deenie but lately Gabby seems to be pulling away from Deenie, spending more and more time with a fourth, Skye, a bohemian new age type, Gabby's new BFF. Confused yet? So one morning Lise has a seizure at school and then a heart stoppage at home that results in her cracking her head open on the table when she fell, rendering her unconscious. She slips into a coma. The next day, Gabby falls victim to a similar event only she is sent home without being admitted to the hospital. Two days later, another of their friends fall victim. Then more and more fall to what becomes a collective hysteria, parents panic, the police and health authorities start to investigate. Only Lise though shows toxicity. Eventually Gabby cracks and confesses and Deenie corners Skye and she learns that Gabby has only mainly been her friend because she has been in love with Eli, the brother, since she first set eyes on him. One day Skye tells Gabby that she saw Eli and Lise getting it on in the bushes and the two girls conspire to drive the dark energy away. Skye makes a concoction out of jimsonweed and Gabby puts it in Lise's thermos. Lise eventually comes out of it and recovers. There's more going on that confuses things like mandatory HPV vaccines, a polluted lake, losses of virginity, and a father who doesn't seem very confident in his role. I told you the story because I don't really recommend it. It was OK but nothing to write home about. And really, the only reason I picked this book up was the author has the same name as my niece.

Friday, February 27, 2015

sun salutation

Back before we bought the country house, before we moved out here 4 years later, I belonged to a gym and went and worked out and did cardio for two hours mostly three times a week plus an hour and a half of yoga once a week. I loved the way I felt, the way I looked, no jiggly bits and the strength but it was a big time commitment out of my week. Moving out here I only had one gym available and it was attached to the Junior College with restricted hours of use. Plus having to travel back and forth to work even after another gym opened just made it too hard to establish a routine.

Fast forward, four years later, to now. I miss my firm strong body but I'm not likely to start going to the gym again. I guess I'm over that whole body building culture. I do have a pair of 10 pound weights that sit on the shelf totally ignored. Same problem, developing a routine. I'm really bad about developing a routine at home. Same with yoga.

But. I read something on FB towards the end of January about New Year's resolutions which I don't really make. I did make them for a few years running and my most successful one was to spend my change, especially my pennies. I still do that even if it does take maybe a whole extra minute for me to pay, much to the impatience of the people waiting in line behind me. Actually, I don't really do that much anymore since I started emptying my pockets every night and putting my change in a jar for the grandkids to divvy up. But, I digress.

What I read was about resolutions and difficulties keeping them because they are usually just too ambitious (with regard to exercising) and the article suggested doing just 5 sun salutations (surya namaskar) a day. Sun Salutation A is a series of 12 yoga postures done in a single graceful flow, and it warms you up, stretches just about every part of your body and builds strength and flexibility. Sun Salutation B is a little different, a little more strenuous.

So, I'm thinking...5 sun salutations a day? I can do that. Pffff. I can do it. It's the will do it part I have trouble with. But come February, I decided to try and do it, every morning after I get up and before coffee. I do 2 rounds of A, one round of B, and 2 rounds of A. Well, I haven't been quite successful, I'm kinda hit and miss, have probably done it less than half the days but I'm getting more frequent. Sometimes I even add in some other poses before I head for the coffee pot.

You can see Sun Salutation A here (though the one I do is slightly different, like the image above, but I couldn't find a video of it that didn't have a long lead-in).

You can see Sun Salutation B here

I'll be happy when I have some sun to salute.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

work stuff

The gallery that has the Botanica Eroticas sent me a pic of the installation. I think they did a very fine job of arranging them.

You might remember that I had a meeting with an architect scheduled for last week and I did meet with him last Wednesday and the window is about 4 feet square and I brought books and he selected a border to go around the words Grace's Bar. It's the only decorative element at the entrance to the bar area of a new restaurant named after the owner's grandmother using her recipes and the building is built to resemble a home with different rooms for dining vs the one large room with partitions. The bar will be a little more upscale than the restaurant proper. And they are ready to get started as soon as I present my proposal.

So I wrote that after meeting with the architect last week. I warned him that what he was asking for, carved glass with cream etch and lace etch, three techniques and three stencils, was high end, and he indicated that that was acceptable, just send him the proposal and he would get a check to us. I spent the better part of Monday working on sketches and sent my proposal yesterday.

Well, now it seems that the architect will 'hopefully' get his client's approval (this family can afford it) today at their meeting. How quickly it went from a sure thing to a maybe. The last time he had me come out was for a residence...two side doors with full lites and the front door side lites for a very wealthy woman. I figured it was also a sure thing but she never responded to my proposal. Oh well, that's how it goes. I do have two other proposals in the works and another proposal to write this week. At least I'm finally getting some inquiries.

Oops, just heard from the architect. It's a go. I guess I'll be busy now as if I had trouble filling my days before.

In the meantime, I have not been back over to the shop and still have the last 4 molds to fill, been having a little gastric distress and, besides, it's been really cold and damp here this week but today the cloud cover is breaking up and it will be warmer. Speaking of which I should get over there and fill another mold since my plan was to have them all done by the end of this week.


Monday, February 23, 2015

the wheel is trying to turn

Late winter is like an impotent old man angry at and frustrated by the budding young woman of spring.

Another cold front blew in last night after a week of warm spring weather and most of this week will be in the 30s to 50s range with one day in the 40s.

It's still pretty bare out there, only a few things budding green like the mock dogwood and the redbud and we think we might actually get a few flowers on the true dogwood this year.

It has never bloomed before, not for us, not for the previous owners who planted it. I always thought it was an understory tree but I think it hasn't bloomed because it wasn't getting enough sun. I saw one in full bloom out here last year that was in full sun. Now that we have lost four big branches off the pecan tree that was shading it, it has put on half a dozen buds.

The earliest bloomers are doing their thing though. Besides the daffodils, these early iris sprang up overnight, or so it seemed. These are the ones that were blooming when we got that late hard freeze last March. I was worried they wouldn't come back but come back they did and even earlier.

My little native peach is in full bloom as are the chinese fringe flower shrubs.

The fleabane in the yard is another white early spring bloomer.

And I saw this first early bluebonnet.

Sometimes the white 10 petal anemone bloom pale lavender.

This little frog was clinging to the window Saturday night.

And the buddha is contemplating the changing season.


Friday, February 20, 2015

the tempting warmth of proto-spring

The birds at the tea cup continue to entertain me, the cardinals and chickadees and titmice and now the orange crowned yellow warbler. And the little painted bunting who continues to be around, lately more often at the other bird feeder in the front that is farther from the window than the tea cup is back here under the eave. His colors have really come out since the first time I spied it. The cardinals are looking fine and healthy. Right now as I type there is a female on the cup and a male is waiting in the bush. They look directly in at me and I look back as they eat. A chickadee just flew in, tossed out a bunch of stuff (hopefully the empty shells) and then flew off. Outside, the red shouldered hawks are riding the thermals kee keeing for mates.

Despite the cold front that came and sat on us for a few days, spring is here, at least judging by the emerging green shoots and flowers and the chirping and flirting birds. Oh, and the warm temps and blue skies. It will still yo-yo back and forth for a while. I haul cold tenders out when it's nice and haul them back in when it's not. The small easily managed ones at least. The plumerias will have to wait until I'm thoroughly convinced that we won't get another dip into the freezing zone.

A week after Frank died, one of his peach trees was in full bloom, another was just starting to bloom, and a third was already covered with tiny future peaches.

I saw through the window of one of his greenhouses the huge cacti he has in pots all around and went in to get a better look. I heard some loud banging around and followed the sound to a small woodpecker, a flicker or yellow bellied sapsucker perhaps, that was trapped and frantically crashing into windows. I finally trapped it in a corner and reached out and grabbed and it started screeching it's little head off. I didn't think about that long stabby beak until I had it in a clumsy grasp. I carried it out and opened my hand and off it flew.

Early spring is pink and white, daffodils and dandelions notwithstanding. Pear trees, always the earliest, bloom white and peach trees bloom pink, pink chinese fringe flower and white narcissus, and pink and white japanese magnolia and apple trees, pink red bud tree and even in the wild the white 10 petal anemone and little wild onion flowers and the bright pink henbit. Later will come the blues, purples, and reds of later spring followed by the yellows which is the color of summer.

It's overcast today with high fast moving clouds heavy with rain. I don't think we'll get any of it besides the light mist we already got earlier. I've been in the shop cleaning up after filling a mold yesterday. The metal building of the shop is so noisy in this high gusty wind. It pops and creaks and shudders and squeaks and grinds and thrums, nothing like the quiet groans or creaks of wood framing even with metal siding. Still getting used to the new work environment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

flip flop

Winter is back, overcast and damp though the sun, if it doesn't come out exactly, brightens periodically. It was cold and wet yesterday too so I straightened up the in-house workroom. I still have those four molds to fill but still don't feel like going over to the cold gloomy shop. Instead I'm working on some compositional sketches for a window that will eventually go in a master bath in Wyoming as part of the shower. Nice people who live down here in the winter and up there in the summer. So I'm dicking around with the photos he sent me of their cabin with the mountains in the distance. They want the log cabin and that specific skyline and treeline. You'd think it would be easy, them being so specific and all but the perspective in the photos shows the peak of the cabin's roof competing with the peaks of the mountains behind and I've got 30” of vertical space to fill. I gotta wonder, why they want the view they see outside on the glass in their shower. Unless I'm wrong about which house it's going in.

I also have to prepare for my meeting tomorrow with the architect. We have a busy day tomorrow since we are taking a window that we completed this fall to the company that is going to crate it and ship it to the recipient in East Texas as well as my meeting and the plan is to get the materials we need to build at least one of our new raised beds for the garden since it's already planting time!

Plus, I've been binging on Walking Dead. One of the TV channels has become the Walking Dead/Breaking Bad channel as it seems that's nearly all they show, one marathon after another. Anyway, I don't, as a rule, watch much television; too many commercials and Marc channel surfs. Just when I get interested in something, he changes the channel. So I don't direct my attention to it when it's on. But Walking Dead has been on enough the last three months that I have seen enough interspersed here and there to want to know the whole story...who's that and how did they get there and what happened to that other guy. So now I'm trying to get caught up.

Well, it has cleared up here now in the late afternoon and the birds are singing and the squirrel is doing acrobatics to gnaw on the piece of driftwood that the oyster shells dangle from, but it's still cold and will get colder tonight, maybe down to freezing. Maybe this will be our last freeze. It's possible. But then it's also possible to have a late hard freeze in March like we did last year.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

the goods are gone, time to make new goods

Wednesday, shortly after 4 PM, I dropped the last two boxes off at the post office. These were the six small bowls for the gallery in Florida. She passed on the two wall mounted pieces and the shell sculpture. I was surprised she didn't want the two wall pieces but not the shells. I don't know why I continue to try and do shells as they have never come out that great, though this was the best so far, and they never sell. Ah, optimism springs eternal, an Island famous for it's shells, I figured it was a shoe-in. Too trite I suppose.

I'm OK that she didn't want the two wall pieces though, the bee one and the lizard one, because I was thinking about doing a grouping of small framed pieces like that and I thought those would make a good first start. So now I'm going to expand on the idea.

Anyway, Thursday morning after falling asleep early the previous evening, I woke up feeling heavy, my eyes never really woke up and my body was full of aches and pains so I spent the day mostly just being outside pruning here, weeding there, nothing too strenuous or busy. It's been a pretty labor intensive couple of months.

The three botanicas that were in the kiln with the shells cast very well and I washed them and did some very basic cold work, grinding off the little bit extra at the bottom. I probably won't do any more cold work on them til after the last four molds are in the kiln but before I can start on them I have to clean up the shipping materials and reorganize them in boxes. Right now it looks like a foam factory exploded in there.

So next week we have to go into the city to deliver an etched window panel so it can be crated and shipped. We have several errands to do while we are there and I need to meet with an architect for a possible job. I don't know how big the panel is yet but they want an 'old fashioned' design. What the fuck does that mean? Oh well, I'll get more guidance. I also have some sketches to do for a roughly 3 foot square window, a log cabin with a tree line and mountains.

I have mixed feelings about that. We can certainly use the income but I'm not ready to shift my focus.