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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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If my art had to be perfect, I would never draw. As Leonard Cohen said “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I’m Not Perfect, But I’m Enough

“Doesn’t it feel fabulous to be an entirely reborn person with flawless habits, unbroken willpower and a rose-tinted view of the future? Oh, that doesn’t describe you? Me neither.”

The above comment, which I recently came across in an opinion piece about books to read in the new year, had me belly-laughing. I rarely get through a week before any New Year’s resolutions I was foolish enough to make are broken.

Once upon a time, but not in a galaxy far away, this foolish writer strived to be the perfect wife and the perfect mother. The milestone marker in my life, which didn’t happen until I was in my mid-30s, was the day that I realized I didn’t have to be perfect. And not only did I not have to be perfect, I no longer wanted to be perfect.

When someone assailed me about something I had done wrong, I began simply replying “You’re right,” which always took the sails out of whoever was harassing me. I even reveled in the childish delight of their dismay.

But while I’m not perfect, I’m enough. I’m not mean, and I have never intentionally tried to harm anyone. I take pride in knowing that, and that I’ve finally joined the rest of the human race in not being perfect.

Now, as for books to read, if you’re a mystery fan, but would like a little something beyond cozy, you might want to check out Louise Penney’s Inspector Gamache series. I recently discovered the books, which delve deeply into just how imperfect we humans are. I’m currently reading The Brutal Telling, which is Book 5 of 17.

I love it when I find a new author who has a long series. Now, that’s what I call a perfect moment.

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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Schadenfreude

Thistles look pretty but are prickly, just like us humans.

The Meaning of a New Word

I was scanning through the New York Times this morning in search of something to write about when I came across the word schadenfreude. As usual when I come across a word I don’t know – and this has been a habit even before I hit my teens – I stopped reading and looked the word up.

Schadenfreude means taking pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Now who in the hell would want to do that, I instantly thought. But then I remembered how much pleasure it gave me over the years when I heard my narcistic ex-husband was having a bad time. So much for my momentary feeling of superiority.

And I knew if I thought about it longer, I would come up with other instances in which I took pleasure from someone else’s pain. We humans are not a nice lot. I’ve long known this, but it was confirmed in my head even stronger after reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a book I highly recommend, by the way.

The book concluded that we humans were the cause of most extinctions and that groups of more than 100 humans quickly found something to go to war over – beginning with religion and politics. The big item in today’s news that has everybody disagreeing is Covid. Masks, no masks. Vax or no vax. Isolation or herd immunity.

I wonder how humankind is still managing to survive?

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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Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. — Photo by Pat Bean

Connections

I just learned that when the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum renovated its hummingbird aviary in 1992, the new hummingbird nests kept falling apart. Museum workers scratched their heads for a while, but finally realized why this was happening.

 During the renovation, all the old vegetation inside the aviary was   removed, and replaced by new plants. The removal took away any spiders that inhabited the vegetation and the hummingbirds needed the web spiders produced to hold their nest materials together. The problem was solved by workers gathering branches that held such webs, and placing them inside the aviary until the spiders could reestablish their presence.

While digesting this bit of information, I came across a mindfulness tip about how to stay calm during these chaos-filled days when the news is all about Covid, political shenanigans and tornado deaths. It came from TV writer Cord Jefferson, who said traditional meditation didn’t work for him. What did, he said, was to just get lost in the gentle pulses of jellyfish for a short mindfulness break during his workday,” Cord then noted that Monterey Bay Aquarium has a jellyfish cam that can be bookmarked on a phone or laptop browser.

I’ve watched hummingbirds at the desert museum and the jellyfish at the aquarium in person, and found both these things calming. I think it’s just letting ourselves get out of our heads a bit that does the trick.

But reading these two stories back-to-back, made me realize how interconnected we beings on this world are. And by beings, I don’t just mean we two-legged sapiens. It’s certainly something to think about. Meanwhile, if you’re in Tucson or Monterey, you might want to check out the desert museum and the aquarium. Both are great places to visit.

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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Madelaine Albright and My Granddaughter

          I had an enjoyable conversation with my granddaughter and her wife last night about working women and overcoming myths about the female gender, long considered the weaker sex.

          Having myself given birth to five children, I find that idea seriously demented, but I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my 82 years.

          Then, this morning, as I was reading Madelaine Albright’s book, Hell and Other Destinations, I came across the chapter about her pins, and the suggestion that she write about them.

          Her answer was a resounding “No way,” noting how demeaning it would be for the first woman secretary of state to write about her jewelry. It would be like one of the male presidents writing about their ties, she wrote, despite the fact that she often wore pins to convey how she felt about an issue. Just as one president was known for saying “Read my lips,” she became known for urging others to “Read my pins.”

          Some years down the road, Madelaine relented. While the Smithsonian put together the pin exhibit, she wrote Read my Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewelry Box.

          In writing about this, Madelaine noted that in her day – and my day —   women emulated men in order to succeed. It’s time that ended, Madelaine suggested, noting that “punctured earlobes do not mean a leaky brain.”

          Now that’s a quote I’ll keep in my head for the next time my granddaughter and I have a gender conversation. But then she, and her wife, already know that women don’t have to emulate men to succeed.

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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