Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tenting To-night - Mary Roberts Rinehart

If you're like me, you know Mary Roberts Rinehart as a fairly prolific Golden Age mystery writer.  I've read a bunch of her books and enjoyed them.  But browsing through the Travel section of Manybooks, a free books download site, I noticed that she'd written a book called Tenting To-night, about a pack trip she and her family had taken around 1917.  I like older travel narratives, so I downloaded it.

Rinehart, her husband, and her three sons hired guides and horses to take them through Glacier National Park and the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.  These were places that almost no one had travelled to before.  According to her, they were the first non-Native Americans to reach some of the places.  They took thirty-one horses to ride and to pack in all their supplies.  When you're gone for weeks and weeks, you need lots of supplies.  She and her family were, apparently, accomplished  horsemen.

The Rineharts were fond of the outdoors and had camped often.  They were also great anglers and were always stopping to fish.  Sometimes they were successful, sometimes they were not.  The boys, heavily armed, were also encouraged to shoot a bear if they saw one, you know, just so they had a skin or two for their college rooms.  They did see some, but, fortunately, they were apparently very bad shots and mostly just scared off the bear.

Although I've ridden horseback in the Tetons, I'm a tenderfoot.  I prefer to ride all day and come back to a hot shower, a good meal, and a soft bed.  The Rineharts, as the title implies, spent the trip in tents, if they were lucky.  Rain, snow at high altitudes, the occasional miner's or trapper's cabin, mosquitoes, deathly steep mountains and rock slides  -  no way would I do what they did.  They risked their lives, the lives of their horses, and the lives of the guides.  They considered the trip to be a victory, an accomplishment.

I was surprised that despite her apparent love of the wilderness, she waxed ecstatic about the eventual conquering of it by man.

Although there were interesting details in the book, maybe this wasn't the book for me.  I worried about the horses and didn't really care if she or her family disappeared over a cliff.  Maybe you'd like it better.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Autumn at Longwood Gardens

It was a gorgeous fall day, so we decided to drive out to Kennett Square (PA) to Longwood Gardens.  We're members and can visit any time they're open.  Would you like to come along?

Here are parts of the topiary garden.  Unfortunately, they're doing a major renovation of the fountains that are next to the topiary.  The topiary garden was closed.  The fountain garden isn't scheduled to reopen until next spring.

Every place you look, there's something lovely and peaceful.  That's primarily why we go:  to look at beautiful things and to soak up the tranquility.

Now we're inside, looking at the fern wall.  We love this wall.  If the demolition and construction that's made our lives a nightmare for the last 10 years ever gets finished, we'd like to replace the metal wall on one side of our  patio with a wall like this.

We're still inside.  Now we're enjoying the tree ferns.  Aren't they lovely, feathery and light?

I like waterlilies.  I don't know what it is about them.  They're  exotic and graceful and I think fairies live in them.  Or frogs.  Who turn into princes.  There are, at least, little fish that live in the waterlily garden at Longwood.

But my favorites are these:

Don't they look like something from a science fiction movie where the plants eat the people?  They remind me a bit of Venus fly trap plants that have a taste for humans.  I made this photo extra large so you can read the sign.  It takes only 3 weeks for the 'platter' to grow as big as 8 feet!  Whoa!  I've seen photos in old books of children or small women standing on them, but they forbid that today at Longwood.

Here's the conservatory.  The waterlily garden is right in front of it.

This is one of the chandeliers in the conservatory.  There were three hanging in a row.

Longwood was a 402-acre farm back in the 1700s, owned by a Quaker who bought the land from William Penn.  I believe the house in the photo above is the 1730 brick farm house.  (There's another farmhouse on the property, on the other side of the meadow, but it's fieldstone.)  His grandsons were interested in trees and nature and planted an arboretum.  In the early 1900s, after the farm had been sold several times, Pierre du Pont bought it to save the trees from being cut down for lumber.  Longwood is now over 1,000 acres, so thank you Mr. du Pont.  It's a wonderful place, well maintained, and the trees and plants are marked.  It's so frustrating to go to gardens without labels.  What is that tree?!  What is that plant?!

This ginkgo must have been planted by the original owner's grandsons.  I forgot to take a photo to show you how big the tree is.  It's big.  Philadelphia has lots of ginkgos along the streets.  They have beautiful fan-shaped leaves.  The only problem is that there are male trees and female trees.  The female trees have fruit that drops on the sidewalks at this time of year and it's the stinkiest fruit!  Stinky ginkgo!

The last few photos are the view across the meadow.  A few trees are starting to show fall color, but, if we remember, we'd like to go back in a few weeks to see if the color gets better.

I hope you enjoyed a few hours in Chester County, PA.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September Books

I read a lot of interesting books this month.  They ran the gamut from my usual preponderance of mysteries to an older novel, a book by a vegan runner, MOBY DICK (!!), and two memoirs of sorts.

     The Light Years  -  Elizabeth Jane Howard

     Eat and Run  -   Scott Jurek

     The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating  -  Elisabeth Tova Bailey

     Lament for a Lady Laird  -  Margot Arnold

     MOBY DICK (I'm sorry, I'm just so proud I read it!)  -  Herman Melville

     Murder in Stained Glass  -  Margaret Armstrong

     A Cat of a Different Color  -  Lydia Adamson

     A Great Reckoning  -  Louise Penny

     In the Company of Dolphins  -  Shaw

     The Blue Santo Murder Mystery  -  Margaret Armstrong

     Something Borrowed, Someone Dead  -  M. C. Beaton

     Widowmaker  -  Paul Doiron

Widowmaker - Paul Doiron

I read five books in the five days we were in Maine (2 days out of the week were travel days), but I've only read one in the three and a half days since we got back to Philly.  Mostly, I've been doing laundry, buying groceries, and going through a week's worth of mail and newspapers (for the crosswords).  Yesterday, Jack and I walked up to the library to pick up Widowmaker, which they were holding for me.  I read it in two days (technically, a day, since I started it yesterday afternoon, didn't read it last night or this morning, and finished it this afternoon).

This is a series that Elaine, of Random Jottings, in Colchester, England, posted about a few years ago.  Here he was, in my own backyard, but I had never heard of him.  Him being Paul Doiron, him being Mike Bowditch, Maine game warden.  Now I've read all seven of these books.

Mike Bowditch is a game warden who has trouble following the rules.  He's had many close calls and they've left him with both physical and emotional scars.  He's only 29 in this book.

Widowmaker is a ski resort on its last legs after a fatal accident involving poor maintenance of a ski lift.  A woman who works there finds Mike and tells him she wants him to find her missing son  -  who she says is Mike's half brother.  It could be true because Mike's father was a womanizer and a poacher and a general bad guy.  Mike balks at first and then decides he has to find out the truth.

Along the way, he encounters a couple of druggies and confiscates their wolf dog.  It's illegal to own a wolf dog in Maine unless you have a permit.  There's something about this wolf dog - his superior intelligence, his acceptance of people, his wildness - that gets to Mike.  The dog will be euthanized unless Mike finds someone qualified who will take him.  He finds a wolf rescue in New Hampshire, but, after visiting it, Mike can't leave him there.  The dog is domesticated but has killed a deer, so he's considered dangerous.  DNA shows that he's 90% wolf.

The boy who may be Mike's half brother is a convicted sex offender.  When he was 18, he had sex with his underage girlfriend.  Her father found out and convinced / coerced his daughter into saying it wasn't consensual.  Now the boy's branded a sex offender, on the sex offender list, but without a description of his crime.  He's been sent to a logging company that is the last resort for sex offenders who can't find work anywhere because of their conviction.  In reality, it's a slave labor camp.

Mike can't find the missing boy, but his bloody truck is found.  Someone decides to become a vigilante and rid the world of sex offenders and perverts, which is whomever fits their own description of pervert.  Was Mike's brother one of his victims?

The last several pages flew past as I raced to the end.  Which was slightly disappointing.  I like books  with all the loose ends tied up tightly and this one didn't do that.  Just a personal preference.  But, it was a fun read and very exciting in parts.  Snowstorms, wolf dogs, cross dressers, helicopter crashes  -  what more do you want?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Isn't this pretty?  Wouldn't you want to spend a few days looking at lighthouses and fog and crashing waves and sea birds?  Well, we would and we did.

We rented the most charming cottage in Cape Elizabeth, ME, for a week to escape the heat, humidity, dirt, and noise of Philadelphia.  The owner, an artist and gardener, met us and showed us around.  Her talents are obvious at the cottage.  The cottage has been completely updated and decorated in a casual, chintzy, antiquey style.  It has new bathrooms (1.5), a new kitchen, and everything you might need or want to be comfortable.

The cottage is surrounded by gardens, with hydrangeas, ferns, turtlehead (a native favorite of mine and the bright pink flower above), touch-me-nots, and other plants.  Our last morning there, we saw a deer up to her neck in ferns, just her long ears and dark eyes showing.  We watched the squirrels, chipmunks, and little red squirrels.  I will, however, never talk to you again if you rent the cottage when we want to rent it  -  which is all the time!

The road is private, so there's little traffic.  It's very dark and very quiet at night.  The cottage is less than 500' from a private cove.  The cottage isn't oceanside, but you can see the ocean from the cottage.  In the morning, I would lie in bed and watch the sun come up over the sea.  At night, the sound of waves lulled us to sleep.  I tried to buy the cottage, but she wouldn't sell!  I don't blame her.  It's paradise.

We walked to the cove every day and sometimes twice a day.  Maine beaches are usually pebbly, as this one is.  You could swim  -  if you dare to brave the frigid Maine water.  (And if you can swim, which I cannot.)  The ocean is endlessly fascinating.  There are birds and boats to watch.  The sea changes every few minutes.  At the beginning of the week, there was fog, which meant fog horns, and which made me want to watch the old TV series Dark Shadows.

At this part of the coast, the rocks look like petrified trees.  I was sure they were, but I found out they are 400-million-year-old silt formations.  They still look like petrified trees to me.

Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper both painted here.  Edward Hopper painted Two Lights Lighthouse, which is the one in the top photo.  The coast abounds with lighthouses, and shipwrecks.  Portland Head Light is a short drive away.  You can go to Crescent Beach State Park, Two Lights State Park, or Fort Williams Park, all less than twenty minutes away.  Two Lights was our favorite and the closest. This is Portland Head Light, which Hopper also painted.

Portland is less than a half hour drive and has restaurants, bars, shops, and is a nice old town down by the water.  We always stop at Gritty McDuff's because an old friend of mine used to bartend there.  Back in 1989, we were bartenders in Boston, and then she moved to Portland.  Cape Elizabeth has at least two good restaurants, too.  We were impressed and pleased by the two we ate at:  The Good Table and Rudy's.  C Salt Gourmet Market makes great sandwiches

There was also time to read.  I read five books while we were there.  I've posted about a couple of them.  We sat on the open patio in the afternoons and read.  Jack read his vacation book.  I cannot understand people who only read on vacation - and yet I'm married to one.  On the other hand, he probably can't understand why I can't keep my nose out of several books at one time.

Here are some random photos of the fog and the rocks.  Most of the days we were there, the sun was shining, but I, being photophobic, prefer the foggy days.  I already miss everything about Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and can't wait to go back.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Blue Santo Murder Mystery - Margaret Armstrong

I just read and reviewed another book by Margaret Armstrong, Murder in Stained Glass.  I bought The Blue Santo Murder Mystery at the same time, and I've just bought the last of her three mysteries, The Man With No Face.  These are all Kindle books at about $3.99 each.  A very good deal, I think.

This book starts a bit backwards, with the news that the richest woman in America, Mrs. Kearny-Pine has disappeared while vacationing in New Mexico.  The news is shocking.  Then the book moves to Tecos, New Mexico, before Mrs. Kearny-Pine disappears.

The Blue Santo is a hotel, as well as the name of a carved figure over the hotel's mantelpiece.  The local Indians / Native Americans consider it bad luck.  Mrs. Kearny-Pine wants to buy it.  Very badly.

She's not an easy woman to live with, as her younger, philandering husband knows, or to deal with, as her high-living nephew, Algy, or her very nice young cousin, Rosalie, know.  Or as many other people know.  She wants what she wants and she gets what she wants.

But when she disappears from the hotel, everyone is out looking for her.  It's a real puzzle.  She's just vanished.  Everyone has a theory.

Despite some stereotyping of Indians / Native Americans (this was published in 1941), I think the author did a good job with her characters and with describing the landscape, although I have to admit I've never been to New Mexico.  If I'm wrong, tell me.  The plot was good, too, ending with a twist just when I thought I knew everything.

I'm eager to read The Man With No Face.  There don't seem to be any consistent characters in the three books.  I was sorry that Miss Trumbull from Murder in Stained Glass didn't reappear.

While I was trying to find out how many mysteries Margaret Armstrong had written, I found that I probably have some of her books:  she was a highly sought-after designer of book covers and book bindings.  Before I stopped collecting things, I collected what I call illustrated bindings, those gorgeously decorated books that it would be a shame to cover with dust jackets.  Most of her covers were Art Nouveau, a style I particularly like.  Some of her art is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and she wrote and illustrated the first book on wildflowers of the American West.  A very interesting woman indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Great Reckoning - Louise Penny

I've read all of Louise Penny's books and she never disappoints.  

Armand Gamache is now the head of the Surete Academy (there should be some accents over 'Surete' but if my lap top has them, I don't know where they are), determined to reform the way police cadets are chosen and trained.  It's a difficult job because there's been so much corruption.  He fires many of the professors and replaces them with people he knows to have integrity.  But some of his choices are questioned because they are those very corrupt people.  Gamache has his reasons.

He is also personally checking the applications to the academy, accepting most of the previously reviewed acceptances and rejections.  But when he comes to Amelia Choquet's rejected application, he reverses the decision and admits her.  She seems unsuited for the position:  pierced, tattooed, a rude street girl, who reads ancient Greek and Latin, or so she says.  Why does he seem to have a special relationship with her?  He's questioned about admitting her, but he has his reasons.

An instructor at the academy is murdered.  Gamache, Amelia, and several others are suspected.  As the case is investigated, dark secrets are revealed.  Gamache asks that a high official in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police review the investigation as an outsider since the investigation is being conducted by Isabelle Lacoste, a former member of Gamache's homicide squad and now head of that squad. 

Meanwhile, in Three Pines (where we all want to live), an old map has been found in the walls of the bistro.  It's of Three Pines, which has never shown up on any map before.  Not even now.  Gamache asks four cadets to investigate the map and find out all they can about it.  A couple of the cadets think it's busy work, a waste of time for a police officer in training.  Gamache has his reasons.

It all comes together in the end, the stories, the people, the crimes and their solutions.

And we find ourselves back in the warm circle of friends in Three Pines.

Louise Penny has written a touching Acknowledgements at the end of the book, allowing us into her personal life.  My heart goes out to her.

P.S.  As I post this, I see that there is an update to her Acknowledgements.