Sunday, December 4, 2016

Airs Above the Ground - Mary Stewart

This book has been reprinted so many times.  There are tons of covers for it and this isn't the best one, but it's the one I read.

Not too long ago, I started re-exploring Mary Stewart's books, which I enjoyed when I was a teenager. I read The Ivy Tree and had to force myself to finish it.  Not so with Airs Above the Ground.

I thought I'd like it partly because I love the Lipizzan horses.  I've been to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and I've seen the horses perform more than once.  They were trained as fearsome war horses.  The horses aren't the focus of the story, but they're an important part of it.  

Vanessa March and her husband have a fight before he leaves on a business trip.  He's in Stockholm, at least he said that's where he was going.  But a friend of hers sees him in a news clip at the movies in a story about a circus fire near Vienna.  That friend uses the information to coerce Vanessa into escorting her teenage son, Timothy, to Vienna to visit his estranged father.

Tim's father isn't interested in having a teenage son, so Tim and Vanessa go off to find her husband.  They find the circus and make friends with the performers.  Vanessa is a veterinarian and helps an old horse with an abscess.

They find her husband, who is there under a different name.  A man from his company was killed in the fire and he's trying to find out what happened to him.  He's been keeping a secret fromVanessa, a big secret.

There are car chases up a steep mountain, a near accident with a cog train, drug smuggling, and an equine surprise.

The action was so intense that I could barely put the book down.  It rekindled my interest in Mary Stewart. 

If you want to see the Lipizzaners in action, go here:

If you want to watch an amazing equine athlete with an amazing sense of rhythm, here's the late, great Blue Hors Matine:

Friday, December 2, 2016

November Books

I did better this month than last, despite feeling restless much of the time.  I started a few large books that have since been idling on a table.  But here's what I did finish:

The Lost Boy  -  Camilla Lackberg

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd  -  Alan Bradley

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living  -  Louise Miller

Fifty Days of Solitude  -  Doris Grumbach

Bodies in a Bookshop  -  R. T. Campbell

Bear  -  Marian Engel

Turn Right at Machu Picchu  -  Mark Adams

The Princess Bride  -  William Goldman

The Skeleton Road  -  Val McDermid

Hiss and Hers  -  M. C. Beaton

You can see a trend here toward mindless reading, comfort books, things that don't require too much attention.  I started and discarded a couple of books.  Life's too short.  I can't imagine December's list will have much more depth.  We'll see.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Skeleton Road - Val McDermid

I've read a lot of Val McDermid's books, but I gave up a while ago because they were so violently graphic.  Or graphically violent.  Maybe I've been reading the wrong series.  Those were the Tony Hill / Carol Jordan ones.  This is a DCI Karen Pirie book.  It takes place in and around Edinburgh.

During a routine safely inspection of a long abandoned building, a skeleton is found on the roof.  No identification is found on the body except a hotel key card and bits of bank card information rubbed off on the key card.  Pirie discovers that the bones belong to a Croatian general from the Balkan wars in the early 1990s.

Her investigation takes her to Oxford, to Maggie Blake, an Oxford professor, and her best friend, Tessa Minogue.  The general had been living with Blake after the wars and had disappeared eight years earlier.  Blake thought that he had decided to go back to whatever he left in Croatia.  A wife?  A family?  She had never known anything about his past.  It was only the present and the future that mattered to them.  She never tried to contact him or find out where he was.

In the meantime, someone is killing war criminals from the Balkans, people the war tribunal is about to arrest.  Someone is meting out swift justice of their own.  Was the general killed by the same person?  For the same reason?

DCI Pirie goes to Croatia to investigate.  Pirie stays one step ahead of the lawyers trying to solve the case of the premature murders of war criminals.  They do not like her for that.

I think this book lacked the intensity of the Tony Hill books.  Maybe that's something the violence brings to them.  But I enjoyed the plot and the characters in The Skeleton Road.  I'm up for another DCI Pirie case.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nayeli, A Child in Need

Most of us want to help others in need, especially children.  Here's a chance to change the life of Nayeli, a young girl who has suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her family in Nicaragua.  A family here in the United States wants desperately to adopt her, to bring her here to be part of their family, to be safe, but they need some help.

Atalanta Sunguroff is my best friend's daughter.  She's the kind of young woman who gets things done, who puts her ethics first, who doesn't give up when things get difficult.  When she was just a teenager, she founded a charity to bring education and medical care to families living in the mountains of Nicaragua.  She hiked into the villages and organized opportunities for young people.  She's the real deal.  She doesn't talk about changing lives, she changes them for the better.

Atalanta is raising money to help with the expenses for adopting Nayeli.  You can read Nayeli's story in the information on the fund raising page at the link below.  Any amount will help Atalanta and her family save this little girl.  It all adds up.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Turn Right at Machu Picchu - Mark Adams

When I was younger, I was more adventurous.  I don't think that's unusual.  Jack and I travelled a lot in the 1980s and were interested in the non-tourist side of travelling.  Although we could have been kidnapped and murdered, or just kidnapped, or just murdered, several times, by taking chances, we took those chances.  We went to a posh, private gaming club in London, invited by non-felonious-looking English people.  And we got a private, unexpected tour of St. Lucia's decidedly non-tourist side by a man who jumped into our car at a forlorn crossroads and said he was a tour guide.  We couldn't get him out of the car, so we gave in.  A little riskier, but there was a rain forest and hot springs  -  into which we could have disappeared forever.  According to the newspaper, those things do happen.

Anyway, I'm much happier to travel via armchair and book.  The last time I flew to Boston, I had to almost strip in the middle of the Philly airport.  Is that civilized?  I think not.  I worry more about bug bites and non-vegan edible food, bathrooms, sleeping quarters, delayed flights, etc., than I ever did.  So I love a good travel narrative, and Turn Right at Machu Picchu is that.  I also love lost cities and exploration (yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favorite movies), so I especially loved this book.

Mark Adams, a travel journalist who works mostly in an office, decides to follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor credited with finding Machu Picchu, the city of the Incas, in 1911.  Bingham's story alone is worth reading.  Adams hires John Leivers, an Australian guide whose passion is documenting Inca structures before they're 'saved' by a sometimes inept Peruvian government and overrun by tourists.  Many of the perfectly constructed Inca roads have been paved over and the caretakers have badly repaired some ruins.  Machu Picchu, although the most famous of the Inca cities, is not the only one.

Adams writes humorously at times, like Bill Bryson, but he also adds the history that we should know to appreciate the world of the Incas, destroyed by the treasure hunting Spanish in the 1500s.  He alternates the story of the Incas and the Spanish, the story of Hiram Bingham, and his own excursion into the deserts and jungles of Peru.  I'd like to read more about John Leivers.  He's such a character that he deserves his own book.

This was an interesting and fun book.  I learned a lot about the Incas, the structures they left, the indigenous people of Peru, and the natural beauty and dangers of the country.  If this book piques your interest, you can find lots of things on YouTube and the Internet about Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, and Peru.  For movie buffs, Secret of the Incas, a movie starring Charlton Heston, is available only on YouTube, as far as I can tell.  I have a first edition of Bingham's book Lost City of the Incas, so I've been delving into that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bodies in a Bookshop - R. T. Campbell

A little while ago, my friend Peggy reviewed another R. T. Campbell book, Unholy Dying.  She made it sound so good that I had to find a copy.  I did, and I added Bodies in a Bookshop to my order.  What reader can resist a mystery about a bookshop.

How can you not love a book that starts:  'I don't know what came over me.  It wasn't as if there were not enough books in the house to begin with.  There were books on the floor, books on all the tables, books on the beds  -  and in the beds if one wasn't careful.'  The narrator, Max Boyle, then goes out to find a book he wants to read  -  and ends up in several bookshops, with several bags of books.  Until he finds two bodies in a bookshop.  Even then, he's careful to package up the books he's found there and write his name on the package so whomever inherits the store will know to contact him about buying the books.

The mystery revolves around stolen books and prints of a certain degree of pornographic imagery.  At the same time, it's a humorous book.  'I had rarely heard a man say less at greater length.'  In addition to Max, there is his employer, Professor John Stubbs, a Scottish botanist, and Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop (The Bishop), of Scotland Yard.  All three collaborate to nab the killer.

I'm not one of those readers who tries to figure out who did it.  I'm happy to lazily wait for the killer to be revealed.  But I did figure this one out on page 148.  That didn't make the rest of the book uninteresting.

I liked the characters and I will go on to read Unholy Dying.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fifty Days of Solitude - Doris Grumbach

I had heard of Doris Grumbach, but she wasn't really on my radar.  When a Kindle deal for Fifty Days of Solitude came up, I bought it.  I'm so glad I did.

This short book is Grumbach's observations and contemplations on solitude and loneliness.  Her partner, Sybil Pike, went off for several months to buy books for their bookstore in Sargentville, Maine.  Grumbach is determined to spend her fifty days alone, appreciating the silence.

I made so many notes while reading this that I can't put them all here.  She says that Edward Hopper, the painter, was a master at depicting loneliness.  I agree.  Even with no one else in the house, she finds there are so many distractions.  There's the distraction of paying her annual taxes, during which she wonders why it's called the Internal Revenue SERVICE.  Whom does it serve?  Certainly not the taxpayers.

She feels guilty because her friends think her solitude is a rejection of them.  No one wants to be alone, do they?  By herself, she can concentrate on seeing, listening.  She reads and listens to music and writes and thinks.  She realizes that sharing her experiences is exhausting.  She hates the concept of sharing feelings.

To isolate herself further, she doesn't read newspapers or watch the news.  In her self-imposed small world, the important things are the arrival of birds, the freezing of the cove.  What would the world be like if these were the things more important to people than war and violence and money?  She gets letters with the news of deaths of friends, though, and that shatters her solitude.  In particular, the death of Dr. Anna Perkins distressed her.  I wish I could find a doctor like her.

Grumbach wonders if contentment is more obtainable in places of physical beauty, like the coastal Maine village she lives in.  I think that's true.  

When she reads about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, she goes to her bookstore to find out more about her.  Then she calls the library for an interlibrary loan of a biography of her.  She also sounds like an amazing woman.  Isolating herself doesn't mean diminishing her world in all ways.

The absence of another person intensifies cold.  'Silence seemed to lower the temperature of the room and to extend the size of it, death is the great cold, I thought, and turned on the radio.  Sound, I found, was somewhat warming, even the sound of a talkative host interrogating sleepless callers.'

Not everyone is fit to live in silence.  Small noises, a refrigerator running, the scraping of branches on a roof, a log falling in a fireplace, can be disturbing.  Velcro is noisy.

Silence made her value written and spoken words more. 

'In the silence I eagerly sought, I could hear myself think, and what I heard was, sadly, often not worth listening to.'

Until death, it is all life.

If you want to know more of her insights and thoughts, you'll have to read it yourself.  I don't think you'll be sorry.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd - Bradley / The City Baker's Guide to Country Living - Miller

I finished these two library books in the last few days.  I whipped through both of them, so you get a 'two-fer' today.

I've read all the Flavia de Luce books.  They're like a cross between Nancy Drew and the Addams family.  I like that sort of mix.

Flavia rides off on Gladys (her bicycle) to deliver a message to an old man who does wood carving.  Someone has damaged some of the carvings in the local church.  Flavia finds the man dead, hanging upside down from a contraption of some sort.  She, of course, investigates before calling the police.

I think the mystery in this one is a little thin.  I was a bit disappointed by the perpetrator and the solution.  But, on the way, there were some interesting characters and incidents.  The ending was abrupt and unexpected, though.

Danielle at A Work in Progress mentioned The City Baker's Guide to Country Living a while ago and just recently posted her review of it.  Danielle is a much better reviewer than I am.  I'm always in too much of a hurry to get on to the next book.

Olivia Rawlings is a baker who sets a prestigious private club in Boston on fire while serving Baked Alaska.  She was ready to leave anyway, to leave the club and her married, wealthy lover.  She goes to visit her friend Hannah in Vermont and ends up taking a job baking at the Sugar Maple Inn.

Livvy, as her friends call her, also plays the banjo.  She's invited to play with a group in town.  One of  the other musicians, a fiddler, is handsome and she falls in love with him.  His family treats her like a daughter.  But it all comes apart when his father dies.  It's the kind of small town where everyone has known each other for generations and where everyone knows everyone else's business, even though there are lots of secrets.

This was a light read, full of lots of baking and cooking.  It inspired me to bake a Lemon Drizzle Cake, which I've been intending to do for weeks.  Once it's baked, it has to be eaten, which is why I'm feeling a big porky at the moment.

It also ticked several of my boxes, as they say.  Olivia lived and worked in Boston, where I used to live and work, she has an Irish Wolfhound mix, and I've had the pleasure of sharing my life with three Irish Wolfhounds, and she uses Nancy Drew books to level the legs of a table, and I love Nancy Drew.  Although I'd never use them to level a table.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

October Books

I only read a measly eight books in October.  I don't know what my problem was.  It seemed like I never had time to sit down, but don't ask me what I was doing because I can't remember.  I keep a journal, if you really want to know, but I don't think you want to waste your time.

The Man Without a Face  -  Armstrong

Vermilion Drift  -  Krueger

Northwest Angle  -  Krueger

Trickster's Point  -  Krueger

(I was trying reading straight through all the books by an author I like, but I don't think that's for me.  I like more variety.)

Death is a Word  -  Holt

Tenting To-night  -  Rinehart

Marking Time  -  Howard

Hungry Heart  -  Weiner

I hope you had a good reading month.  Here's to more time to read in November!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Marking Time - Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is the second of the five books in The Cazalet Chronicles.  I read the first one a little while ago.  I enjoyed that one so much that I started right in on volume two.  I feel more comfortable with the Cazalets now.  I was overwhelmed by meeting the three Cazalet sons and their wives and children and Villy's sister Jessica and her family.  I had trouble keeping everyone straight:  who was married to whom, which children belonged to which families.  There's a family tree at the beginning of each book and I made a copy to have at hand while I was reading.  I'm starting to know them better.

In Marking Time, several of the characters get their own chapters.  Clary has her own chapter, as do Louise and Polly.  Thinking back, the book is mostly about these girls growing up under difficult conditions, both personal and historical.  It's hard enough growing up under normal conditions.  Growing up with bombs falling around and shortages of all kinds must have been horrid.

Clary's father goes off to war and disappears.  She refuses to believe that he's dead, although the rest of the family believes that he must be.  She and Zoe, her stepmother, become closer.  Zoe has a baby and between that and her husband being MIA, she matures and becomes more compassionate.

Polly is faced with her mother, Sybil's illness.  She's outraged that her father and mother don't talk about it to her or to each other.

Louise is pursuing her acting career.  She meets an older artist who falls in love with her.

The book is full of the sorts of things that happen in all families.  People get older, people get sick, people fall in and out of love.  I'm still enjoying the series and plan to get on to the next one  -  as soon as I finish several library books that I have or have on hold.  You could do much worse than to befriend the Cazalets.

Katrina has just read this, too, so you might want to check her blog to see what she has to say about it.  I think she'll be posting her thoughts soon.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hungry Heart - Jennifer Weiner

I don't know Jennifer Weiner, but she's one of my neighbors.  I used to see her writing at the coffee shop across the street from my house.  I haven't read any of her novels, for no reason other than that I almost never read contemporary fiction except for mysteries.  I did watch the movie In Her Shoes, which was from her book of the same name.  But now that I've read Hungry Heart, I feel like I know her intimately.

This is a collection of her essays  -  about everything.  And EVERYTHING about everything.  If you know anything about her, you know that she's a feminist, opinionated, and that she's struggled with her weight and body image all her life.  When I used to see her at the currently defunct coffee shop, I didn't think she was noticeably large.  Maybe that was after her gastric bypass surgery.  Yes, in detail.

It was strange to recognize so many places she writes about.  We took our pets to the same animal hospital.  I know the park on Front Street where her dog was attacked by another dog and I know the dog park her dog hated.  I know which hotel her family stayed in when she got married the second time and the bookstore she took her little girl to to buy a birthday present for a friend.  It was a little unreal and it makes me feel a little creepy that I know so much about her.

I admire people who can be so self-revealing.  I'm usually honest, but I'm reserved, and I reserve my deepest secrets because I've been burned by people I trusted with them.  She puts it all out there:  her two marriages, her ex-boyfriends, the father who abandoned his family and ended up dead of a heroin overdose, her miscarriage (again, in detail), childbirth, her beloved dogs  -  it's all there. 

Maybe oddly, I found it refreshing.  The only way we know about people, about our own selves, is to know what other people experience, how they live, how they feel.  But it's a weird feeling to know so much about someone you don't know but who you see every now and then.  I walk past her house several times a week.  The next time I see her, will she know that I know her now?

It's Chilly - Time for Chili!

I was chatting with my friend Katrina over the Internet yesterday and mentioned that I was making chili for dinner.  She suggested that I share the recipe with my blog followers, or at least with her.  So here's our favorite chili recipe.  I usually have all the ingredients in the pantry except the peppers.

                                                    Bean Chili with Peppers and Corn

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)                            1 Tbsp. olive / vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped                            1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded & chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded & chopped    2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tsp. ground cumin                                            2 C. frozen corn kernels
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz. can)                1 C. water
12 oz. spicy vegetable juice (I use Spicy Hot V8)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained & rinsed         1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained & rinsed          2 Tsp. white vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Saute onion in oil in large pot for 3 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute.  Add peppers, saute for 5 minutes.  Add chili powder & cumin and saute 1 minute.  Stir in corn, tomatoes, water, juice, and beans.  Simmer for 30 minutes (it gets better the longer you simmer it).  Add vinegar, salt, and pepper before serving.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Covered Bridges, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, on a crisp, sunny day, Jack and I headed off to Bucks County, just north and east of Philadelphia.  I'd seen a self-guided tour of covered bridges that looked interesting.  The weather was gorgeous and adventure was in the air.

We started at Washington Crossing, which is where General George Washington made his famous and icy  Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River in 1776.  We didn't spend any time there because there's no covered bridge.  But we'll go back someday.

Our first bridge was the Van Sant covered bridge, built in 1875 and 86' long.

Next up was Loux covered bridge, 60' long and built in 1874.

Then on to Cabin Run, built in 1871 and 82' long.

As we left Cabin Run, we turned onto Dark Hollow Road.  Wouldn't you want to live in a creepy old house on Dark Hollow Road?  I would.  There was a huge, deep hollow behind the road, so I understand how it got its name.

Next up was Frankenfield covered bridge, built in 1872, 130' long.  Are you getting a sense of mystery?  Dark Hollow Road?  Frankenfield?  Late October, just before Halloween, seemed like a good time for a stop here.

Then to Erwinna covered bridge, the shortest in the county at 56', built in 1832.

When I pulled the car to the side of the road to look at the Erwinna bridge, we spied three deer browsing beside the creek.  It appeared to be a doe and two fairly large fawns.  The doe kept a close eye on us until we left.  You can see the doe (which looks sort of like a kangaroo), to the left, but I can't even see the fawns.

The Uhlerstown covered bridge was next, built in 1832.  I thought this one was interesting because of the huge cliff behind the bridge.  Very dramatic.

On to Knecht's bridge.  We debated about how this should be pronounced.  I voted for a silent 'k'.  There was no one around to ask.  The map said that this bridge is set on the route of the Penn family's famous Walking Purchase.  

Sheard's covered bridge was next on the map, built in 1873.  It's 130' long.

Then there was Mood's covered bridge.  The original was built in 1874 but burned down in 2004.  This reproduction was built in 2007.  This was a fairly common fate for covered bridges.  I'm happy that people care enough about them to rebuild them.

South Perkasie covered bridge was  moved in 1959.  There's a wall of photos of the move, which was quite an undertaking back then.  It would still be an undertaking today, but we laughed when we saw the 'large cranes' used to move it.  Cranes are part of our business and today's giant cranes make those look like erector sets.  This was one of the two bridges not still in use.

How about this sign above the Perkasie bridge?  Don't you be smokin' yer segar on the bridge!

Nearing the end of the tour, we came to Pine Valley.  It was built in 1842 and is sometimes also called the Iron Hill Bridge.

The other bridge not in use is the Schofield Ford covered bridge.  It's in Tyler State Park.  The bridge was destroyed by fire in 1991 but was rebuilt.  At 150', it's the longest covered bridge in Bucks County.

And now we're done.  I drove the whole time because I can't read in the car.  Jack was a terrific navigator.  There were a few times when I had to yell 'Left or right, quick!'  There are small pull offs near most of the bridges.  Many of the bridges were in very rural areas, so traffic wasn't a concern.   Here's a map of the route:

We left Philadelphia at 10:30AM and got back at 5:30.  We stopped briefly at a park to eat lunch.  We had most of the bridges to ourselves, an advantage, I'm sure, of doing this trip on a weekday.  It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed being out in the country.  If you're in the area and are interested in covered bridges, I highly recommend it.  You can find more details of the tour here.

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.