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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A tree and birds. I like that. — Art by Pat Bean

Nothing like a day spent at a hospital emergency room after being woke up at 3 a.m. with crippling leg pain to set you on a path of new beginnings. I swear it was worse than childbirth, and I have five children.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a blood clot, or something else life-threatening. After tests, it turned out to be related to the back pain I’ve been fighting for a few years – just on an atomic bomb level.

It clearly called, however, for a major change in my life, one family members have been pestering me to take for a few years now, a move to a ground-floor apartment. I know I’ve been a stubborn bitch for not heeding their advice, but I loved my apartment, and I wasn’t interested in a change, even if it meant continuing to walk my dog up and down three flights of stairs four or five times a day, not to mention laundry and errand trips.

I’ve been calling it my fool-proof exercise plan. But dang-it, the plan was no longer working.

So, while recovering this week at home, with family and friends taking on my dog-walking duties, I came across a quote by Stephanie Raffelock, which I found in her book, “A Delightful Little Book on Aging.

We should all take a little more time to cry and wail, allowing tears to baptize us into fresh starts,” she wrote.

Well, I certainly did that Friday. I wailed and sniveled practically all day about my horrid, bad, no-good dilemma. Then on the weekend, I begin online searches for a new apartment. It wasn’t looking good, until my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn, remembered a small nearby apartment complex that they had looked at for themselves a few months ago.

Its office was closed until Monday, but with them carefully ushering me down the stairs, we drove by to take a look at the apartment that was for listed to rent on their web site. It was just about 10 minutes away, a location near the top of my priority list because I wanted to stay in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills, which I’ve come to love since moving to Arizona in 2013.

While I still haven’t looked at the inside, I immediately fell in love with the soon-to-be-vacated outside’s large, fenced-in patio that had doors leading to it from both the bedroom and living areas. It would be perfect for simply letting my canine companion Scamp in and out, an amenity that topped my list of must haves, given that I’m 83 and my back pain is likely to recur.

The clincher for me was the huge tree growing in the middle of the patio. You should know that I once bought a house almost solely because I fell in love with its huge backyard tree.

The new neighborhood is older but nice, and the small apartment complex grounds abounded with flowers and greenery. And within minutes I was looking at birds, including nesting doves above the office door. I can already envision a small fountain and bird feeders beneath that patio tree.

All of the above gave me the confidence that I can meld the inside to fit my needs. Age has let me know that no one can ever simply have everything they want, but it looks like I will have all I need for a happy life.

I cinched the deal Monday and will be moving in around the middle of August. I’m so excited about this new beginning that I’m not even thinking about all the tasks involved in a move. Not yet anyway.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited) and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Viewing Niagara Falls from the bow of the Maid of the Mist

In The Beautiful Mystery, book eight of Louise Penny’s Inspector Garmache series, one of the homicide investigators is sitting at the bow of a boat as it speeds across the water, reveling in the spray of water peppering his face.

The writing reminded me of all the times in my life that I, too, have claimed the bow of a boat.

My first experiences were simply sitting up front as someone else drove a motorboat around a lake. Then I discovered white-water rafting when I was 40. From the first, I wanted to be up front.

Never was I happier than facing an oncoming wild wave with only a paddle to defend myself. If I plunged the paddle just right into the oncoming torrent, I would both be able to help pull the raft through the onslaught and be held firmly in the raft.

Misjudge, and the wave would eat you and not so gently toss you around in a maelstrom of fast-running water and currents. If you were lucky, it would finally let your life jacket float you to the life-giving air above. I lost the wave battle a few times during my white-water days – but I was lucky.

Why would somebody do something so stupid, you might ask? I think, back then, I might have said because it’s fun, exhilarating. Thinking on it now, I know it was more than that. I don’t consider myself brave, as my ski instructors well knew from my fear of pointing my skis downhill. I don’t try to beat red lights and these days I always hold on to railings when I walk up or down stairs.

But I think each of us might need just a little something to let us know we’re truly alive. For me, it was sitting up front in a boat and being drenched with spray, or as close to that as I could get.

 I also remember a time when I scrambled my way through a crowd of tourists to grab a front-row view on the Maid of Mist for a water-drenching view at the bottom of Niagara Falls. The ferry, which has operated since the mid 1800s, takes passengers quite close to the falls. I got so drenched that the blue plastic poncho handed to me as I boarded the boat was totally useless. But the exhilaration lasted for hours – as did my wet jeans.

Louise Penny’s words brought back all those magical memories so clearly that I suspect she might have sat at the bow of a boat a time or two herself.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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1953 House of Wax Movie Poster

Back in the mid-1950’s, I watched a movie called “House of Wax,” starring Vincent Price, whose character created his wax figures using people he killed. The part of the movie that stayed with me for months afterwards involved a missing head.

 Every time I went into the garage, which held a freezer and a washing machine, I feared I would come across that head. Perhaps the fact that the movie was presented in 3D had something to do with my fright, but I’ve not watched a true horror film since then.

But I have children, grandchildren and friends who love nothing better than going to a scary movie. I thought about the reason behind this willingness to be scared this morning. It popped into my head while I was reading Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, in which the author talked about the fear of letting oneself be imperfect when writing that “first shitty draft.”

Before you ask, I have to say I don’t know why my brain made this odd connection. It just did. And then it jumped to what I have done over the years that gave me a fright. For one thing, I loved riding roller coasters, the bigger, faster – and scarier – the better.

And then in my 40s, I took up white-water rafting. There was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting in the front of a raft facing a roaring rapid – even after I fell out of the boat in Granite Rapid floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. When I was pulled back into the boat, after being thrashed through the racing water quite vigorously, I was still eager to take on the next stretch of rapids, of which there were many ahead.

 Was I afraid? Yes. But adrenalin coursed through my body and I felt more alive than ever. Remembering this, I might have just answered my own question of why people want to be scared.

But no way will I watch a horror movie.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Books and Birds make me happy. — Art by Pat Bean

I’m currently reading Bury the Dead by Louise Penny, whose protagonist features Armand Gamache, a homicide inspector in Quebec. He’s an older man who’s risen through the ranks to a leadership position, and a thoughtful man whose mind is always pondering about the people he meets and what makes them tick.

I wouldn’t call Louise’s books a cozy. They’re darker than that, but the darkness comes more from looking into the corridors of the black places in the mind of possible suspects than blood and gore.

Reading Penny’s words this morning was like taking a graduate course in psychology. It was wonderful.

I came away with bits of wisdom and much to ponder about how the author’s words translate to my own life. One of the many thoughts of wisdom scattered throughout the book, was the idea that things are clearer from a distance. Quite true. I know that from experience. But then I also know, as did Gamache, that from a distance, details are missing. So, which is view is more important, he and I pondered.

I decided the best option is to be able to view an event from both distances, a tip I should keep in mind when pondering life events. Even an old broad can learn something new.

A few pages later, another character told Gamache: “Sometimes life goes in a direction not of our choosing. That’s why we need to adapt.”

Recalling all the directional detours in my own life, I silently said Amen to that – which was quite appropriate as the character speaking was a pastor. But not just a pastor, one who would rather canoe a half-frozen river than sit one-on-one with a dying parishioner. He did both. Because he felt weak for not wanting to do the second task, he was doing the adventure to prove to himself that he was strong.

Penny brings her characters to life on the pages, even the minor ones feel like they are worth knowing.

As I put down the book to go wash my breakfast dishes, I thought about how fortunate I was to have books like Penny’s to read. And then another thought hit me. Bury the Dead was only the sixth in the Gamache series and the author has written 17.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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The Meadowlark and the Chukar: I wrote a bird column for three years back in the early 2000s, and a chukar I saw on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake was the first bird I wrote about. — Art by Pat Bean

 My mornings start with my to-do list, which is a carry over from the day before, and the day before that, and the days before those. Eventually a dreaded chore finally gets done because I’m tired of looking at it.

The daily list actually is two lists in one. The tasks I need to do, or simply want to do (like watch a bird cam located in Panama), and the list of the books I’m reading, or want to read.

As an old broad, my body appreciates many breaks during the day, and the reading list gives me something to fall back on besides computer games – which according to my self-imposed rule must not be played before 4 p.m. This rule, because I love playing games is often broken. So as a reminder I have a note taped to my refrigerator that says “You could be reading.”

 Besides the daily list, I keep lists of books I’ve read, places I’ve been, the proverbial bucket list, menu lists and an idea list, from which I always can find a topic to write about.

But one of my favorite lists is the one I begin on April 1, 1999 – the day I joined the world of avid (translate crazy) bird watchers.

 I keep a list of every bird I’ve seen, noting the place and the date. But thankfully, I’m not like the birder who once passed me on a favorite birding trail. I was dawdling along, watching red-winged blackbirds flash their scarlet marked wings while listening to a couple of breeding male meadowlarks trying to out sing each other.

Barely slowing his pace, a middle-aged hiker came upon me and asked if I had seen a chukar. I replied that I often saw this partridge-like bird in the rocks near a bend up ahead. About 10 minutes later, the man ran past me going the other way. 

  “Got it … that’s 713 birds for me now.” His voice was like the rumble of a passing freight train.

How sad, I thought, that he didn’t take a minute to admire the flashy scarlet markings on the blackbirds or to enjoy the melodic voices of the two meadowlarks.

 Numbers and names on a list are only that. It’s being present in the moment – seeing the golden yellow on a meadowlark’s throat as it tilts its head toward the sky in song, or the magic of a sunrise slowly coloring the sides of a canyon – that make my heart beat faster. And I’m thankful I enjoy such wonders whether I’m seeing them for the first or the hundredth time.

 Seeing birds is always delightful – but then so is getting my oven cleaned after seeing the chore on my to-do list for three weeks running.

  I’m glad I’m a list-maker.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining. 

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The Possum Monument in Wausau, Florida, the Possum Capital of the world.

Quite Tasty

These days I often scratch the itch of my wanderlust soul from the comfort of my living room recliner, but it’s large enough so that my canine companion Scamp — who thinks 45 pounds is the perfect size to be a lap dog — can curl up with me.

 From this seat, books and the internet take me all over the world. This morning it was to Wausau, Florida, a small town of only 400 where possums supposedly outnumber humans, and which is home to the Possum Monument.

Erected in 1982, the monument’s inscription reads: “…in grateful recognition of the role the North American possum — to be technical correct possums only live in Australia, America has the opossum — played in furnishing both food and fur for early settlers and their successors.

 Possums were also a great source of protein for residents during the Great Depression, the article said.

On reading that, I remembered the time in the early 1940s when my dad went hunting and brought home a possum for dinner. My grandmother cooked it with sweet potatoes, and as I recall the meal was pretty tasty.

If you want to taste for yourself, you should visit Wausau on the first Saturday in August, which is the day the Florida Legislature designated as Florida Possum Day when possum and sweet potatoes will be on the menu.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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In Left at Oz, a profusion of flowers at a farmhouse represents Dorothy’s Oz. — Photo by Pat Bean

It’s All About the Tiny Details

I just started reading Left at Oz, a Jennie Connors cozy mystery by Sandra Carey Cody. It was a free Kindle book, and since the title intrigued me, I downloaded it.

Occasionally I’ll read a book and never really understand what, if anything, the title has to do with the story. For some as yet unknown reason, this bothers me. But I knew before I had read half a dozen pages why this book had been named.

Jennie, the protagonist of the book, was following directions to find her lost car, and one of those directions, given to her in an anonymous phone call, was to turn left at Oz. As a fan of L. Frank Baum, she immediately recognized Oz when she came upon it after passing a gray and dusty landscape. Oz was represented by a white farmhouse surrounded by a profusion of brightly colored flowers.

Clever, I thought. And my writing brain wondered how Sandra had come up with such an idea, especially after finding her car with a dead body in it. Perhaps while taking a shower, or a walk, or as often happens to me simply through my fingers as I type on my keyboard. Such little details are what makes reading, or watching a movie, delightfully enjoyable for me.

My wandering-wondering brain than jumped to Death on the Nile, a movie featuring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot that I recently watched, and which is based on Agatha Christie’s book of the same name.

Long an Agatha fan, I knew to watch for unexpected and trivial clues as a way to identify the killer. One of my goals in reading murder mysteries is to figure out who done it before the killer is revealed. In this case, one of the clues was simply a missing tube of red paint. I don’t think I’m giving much away as it happens early on, and it takes a lot of other details to make the connection to the killer.

The clue was something totally different in the 1978 movie version of Death on the Nile, in which Peter Ustinov played Hercule Poirot. That version also starred Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow and David Niven — of whom I’m sure many younger readers are asking: “Who were they?”

Other than the primary setting – a boat floating down the Nile River – the two movies are quite different. I enjoyed them both, but Ustinov was my favorite Poirot. And because I watched closely for insignificant details, I successfully figured out who the killer was before the end of both movies.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out who done it as I continue to read Left at Oz, which I think must be a clue in itself. Or perhaps it’s just a red herring. I’m not far enough along in the book to decide.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited) and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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It’s always storming somewhere, but there is nothing better than a rainy day for curling up and reading a good book.

When do you stop reading a book you’re not enjoying? That is the question I’m currently asking myself. Normally, I give a book 25 to 50 pages before deciding it’s not right for me.

Currently, however, I’m about 90 percent finished with a mystery book whose ending I don’t particularly care about. It’s a book I’ve been slowly reading for a while, and I hate to stop reading it so near the end.

But I haven’t fallen in love with, or come to hate, any of the characters. The truth is the characters all bore me, and Ihave no passion for the plot.

In my world, the best books are ones that you learn something from, either about the world or about yourself. Even better are the books that do this and also make you both laugh and cry.

On average, I usually have about five books I’m currently reading, each from a different genre such as travel, mystery, nature, fantasy, memoir and essays. I read just about everything except horror (I like to sleep peacefully at night) and true crime (I get enough of that in the daily news).

Sometimes I stay up until the wee hours of the morning finishing a book I started just that day – such as What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas. And sometimes I take a month to finish a book because the writing deserves deep thoughts – such as Hell and other Destinations by Madelaine Albright.

 And believe it or not, reading multiple books at the same time, actually helps me better remember what I’ve read, probably because each time I return to a book I need to remember where I left off.

On average, this method lets me finish reading two books a week. Sadly, that only adds up to about 100 books a year. And I have just about that many books on my future reading list.

So, why am I asking if I should finish reading a book I’m not enjoying – even if it’s almost finished – when there’s so many others to choose from? I think I just answered my question.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Ducklings Dressed for the Winter

Winter Fun

It’s cold this morning in Tucson, and colder elsewhere say the weather men. But Boston’s ducklings have been dressed for it, as you can see in the above photo, which I came across while reading my email.

I spent a couple of days at the ducklings’ home on the Boston Commons back in 2006 during my RVing days. I parked my RV in a small town an hour’s drive from the city, and took the commuter train into town for a week of sight-seeing of historical sites like The Old North Church and Paul Revere’s home. I wrote about all this in Travels with Maggie. 

I found everything quite educational and interesting, but nothing charmed me as much as the bronze Mallard Family statues, created in honor of the 1941 classic children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings.

Designed by Nancy Schön in honor of the book’s author, Robert McCloskey, the ducklings were installed in the gardens in 1987. The book tells the story of how Mr. and Mrs. Mallard came to Boston looking for a home, and eventually settled in the gardens.

 Daddy Mallard, however, is missing, for the statues only consist of Mother Mallard and her eight babies: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack.

The family is often dressed for holidays and the weather, but they were only in their birthday suits when I visited Boston. Because I was so charmed, I guess I’m still a child at heart – and thankful for it.

The ducklings were being enjoyed by kids like me when I visited them. — Photo by Pat Bean,

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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The Gift of Books

Someone’s idea of the perfect library.

Paul Theroux and Dorothy Gilmore  

Travel writer Paul Theroux, in his book Deep South, said few people he met while traveling to such places as Greensboro – Catfish Capital of Alabama – knew his name. But the unlettered person, he added, “has other refined skills and is often more watchful, shrewd, and freer in discussion than the literate person.”

But when he met up with a reader like himself, he noted that “a reader meeting another reader is an encounter of kindred spirits.”

How true, I thought, remembering how delighted I always am when I meet someone who has read some of the same books as I have. We end up having what I call the best kinds of conversation. We talk about ideas, writing, characters, human traits and differences of opinions about what we read, among other things. The talk is almost always interesting and exciting.

I recently got my best friend reading the Mrs. Polifax books by Dorothy Gilmore, which I’m currently rereading, and that has resulted in interesting texts back and forth about her upbeat philosophy. I have many a quote from Mrs. Polifax, as written by Gilmore, in my journals.

As an old broad myself, I especially like these: “I have a flexible mind – I believe it’s one of the advantages of growing old. I find youth quite rigid at times,” and “It’s terribly important for everyone, at any age, to live to his full potential. Otherwise, a kind of dry rot sets in, a rust, a disintegration of personality,”

Meanwhile, when I first started reading Deep South, which is about Theroux’s travels on backroads through small towns, many of which were dying, I thought he was writing about a bygone area. But I began to see things different as he wrote about the gun shows and Black churches he visited — two extremes of Southern ongoings. I then realized the author was writing about the background of what’s going on in the world today. I’m being educated as I read.

I’ve been a reader all my life, having begun by reading everything in my late grandfather’s library, which was all stuffed into a chest at my grandmother’s home. He had had many classics, including the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. I even read Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor before I understood it was all about an unmarried woman having sex. It’s actually quite tame compared to what’s written in many non-erotic books today, in which the author forgot to close the bedroom door.

When I was in junior high school, I heard some girls talking about the “naughty” book, Forever Amber, and so I went back and reread it. I was still too naïve to understand what the fuss was all about.

But being a reader is one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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