Monday, January 14, 2019

A little art and a lot of reading

Last week I managed to join the local Urban Sketchers group, which I'd missed for a few weeks, on an outing to a sporting goods store.  The first thing that caught my attention was a stack of colorful kayaks:

That sketch took about twenty minutes, so I wandered around searching for more subject matter.  I had no idea one of the other sketchers was taking candid photos.  Here I am, looking for something fun to draw...which would have been obvious had the person taking the candid photo just shouted out, "Hey, turn around and look up!"

Eventually, even without any help, I did turn around and look up.  The place was littered with hunting trophies, which some folks may find disturbing, while I just thought of it as a more commercial version of a natural history museum exhibit, and went to work.

It was a fun outing and I enjoyed hanging with the group again -- hope to do it more regularly this year.  (I'm holding two sketches here -- my kayaks, and the sketch done by the person taking our picture.)

Okay, on to a whole lot of reading.  As some of you know, I enjoy having a reading plan.  Last year I tried to read one nonfiction book about each of the 50 U.S. states, and I failed miserably.  I got through Indiana, and it was a struggle.  The books I chose, despite a lot of research and reviews, just weren't that spellbinding.  Sigh.

I also tried a reading "challenge", which various people and groups come up with every year, where they list categories, and you must read a book from each one -- categories such as "Native American author", "horror fiction", "set in your home town", and "recommended by a librarian."   I did succeed in completing one of those last year, only because it had just ten books and the categories were super easy.

This year I decided to set up my own challenge, and a harder one, because I always like to have at least one pointless project to hand (one of these days I'll tell you about my license plate search....).

Since I love nonfiction and didn't read enough of it last year, I decided upon what I call the Dewey Decimal Reading Plan.  Of course you all know the Dewey Decimal system by heart, right?  Melvil Dewey took it into his head one day to invent a classification system for keeping library books in their proper places, and I loved it so much as a child that my personal childhood library was not only shelved according to it, it had handmade tags that I affixed to the spines after carefully researching the proper number to assign.

Yes, clearly I should have become a librarian, and in fact, I worked in the school library as a kid, and had two library jobs as an adult -- in an insurance company's legal department, where I took care of the law library, and at the university department where I was the librarian for a small department collection of books and periodicals until it was de-accessioned.  And now that I'm retired, I get to volunteer at the local library's used book sale room. Yay.

As I was saying some time back, I heart the Dewey Decimal system.  So I found a handy list of all the categories (see: and I chose 40+ of them which I felt might contain at least one book I'd enjoy reading.  And then I went to my library's shelves and had a look.

The first one I found was category 001: Knowledge

I read it, and it was okay, though a bit silly at times and it certainly didn't cover everything.  (I once tried to read The World Book Encyclopedia, but only got through volume B.  I did, however, succeed in reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which isn't nearly as long.)

The next book I checked out was from 002: The Book.  It may seem peculiar to read books about books but it's one of my favorite subjects, and this particular example offers a decent survey and comes with lots of pretty pictures.

And the third book I checked out came from category 027:  General Libraries, another topic that never gets old.

I'll admit these early categories are easy, but I have set up some challenges later on, such as 201: Religious Mythology, 320: Political Science (ugh), and 330: Economics (which I actually read a book on last year before coming up with this idea, but that doesn't count, dagnabbit).

Anyway, that's my 2019 reading plan, and I hope it goes better than last year's!

Monday, January 7, 2019

National See An American Kestrel Day

Did you know that January 5 was National Bird Day?  You didn't?  What kind of birding slacker are you???!?

Well, truth to tell, I didn't know it, either, until someone pointed it out on an online birding group.  Of course, this meant I had to go outside and see a bird.  Maybe even more than one.  But FIRST, I had to check in with the Hounds on this whole "National Whatever Floats Your Boat Day" business that has gotten out of control.  Because naturally, they wanted to know if there was a National Dachshund Day.

After all, there is a National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day (March 24), a Lost Sock Memorial Day (May 9), and an International Sloth Day (October 20).  So I looked it up, and sure enough, JULY 23 (mark your calendar) is National Hot Dog Day -- and they don't mean the bun-with-mustard kind.  This article about dachshund day even has a photo of a Truman lookalike.  Now you know. 

The Hounds and I went out three days in a row this week, the first on January 4 to the Chamna Natural Preserve, and we looked for birds even though it wasn't National Bird Day yet.

We saw juncos and sparrows and ducks and gulls and geese and whatnot, and then we came upon this bird:

This is a Northern Harrier.  It's a good-sized raptor which I've seen lots over on the western side of the state, but this is the first time I've seen one since moving back to the east side.  I was best pleased.

We also saw a really big rock (dachshund provided for scale).

The next day, on actual National Bird Day, we went out to a different spot, Columbia Point. 

We looked for birds again, and found this delightful little raptor, the American Kestrel:

We also found a lot of smaller rocks (dachshund provided for scale).

Here we are at the end of the walk, when we turn around to head back towards the parking lot and the car.  Truman, who hates to walk away from the car, is always motivated to return.

The next day, January 6, was National Bean Day.  We did not look for beans.  Instead, we went to the Columbia Riverfront Trail's northernmost point to look for birds, and there we found a lot more rocks.

I belatedly discovered that today, January 7, is National Old Rock Day.  Go figure.  Here is an old rock that we found, sadly, on Bean Day (dachshund provided for scale):

We also found a lovely trail down to the river, which the Hounds thoroughly explored.

And then I spotted another American Kestrel!

Could it be the same one we saw the other day?  This was about seven miles away from the first one.  How large is a kestrel's territory?  Well, I have no idea, but isn't that what the Internet is for?  Yes, it is, and the Internet tells me that a kestrel's typical territory size is one-half square mile.  I'm thinking I saw two different kestrels on two different days.  Whee!

Since January 6, when I saw a kestrel, is National Bean Day -- an utterly idiotic thing to celebrate unless you happen to be a bean farmer -- and since January 5, when I also saw a kestrel, is already Bird Day, I hereby declare a renaming of January 6 to National See An American Kestrel Day

And perhaps there should also be a National Dachshund Run Back Towards the Car Day, to boot.

Which would pretty much be every day we go out.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Books Read in 2018

A bit of a slow year for me, with only 82 books read, possibly due to the little interruption caused by selling my house, moving to Richland, and buying a new house.  That might have slowed up the reading a teensy bit.

The nonfiction/fiction ratio was off as well -- typically it's closer to 50/50, but this year I read predominantly fiction, and fairly lightweight stuff, possibly due to the minor amount of stress caused by selling a house, moving, and buying a new one.  I seem to have read a lot of humorous mysteries.  Hm.

I started a project to read a book about each of the fifty states, but got bored with that right before reaching Iowa.  I just didn't find the books all that great.  The rest was a hodgepodge of this, that, and the other thing.  One day, for instance, at the used bookstore in Richland, I found Life in a Putty Knife Factory on the $1 sale table, and bought it solely for the title.  It turned out to be a book of humorous essays from the 1940s by H. Allen Smith, who was widely read in his time, and author of a novel called Rhubarb (later a film) about a cat who owns a baseball team.  Go figure.  I tracked down a couple of other similar books by him, and enjoyed the humor as well as the time-capsule aspects of 1940s popular U.S. culture therein.

That's often how I find books -- happenstance via random browsing.  So I found the perfect volunteer gig here, at the Friends of the Library used book sale room.  New donations come in every day, and during my once-a-week shift I scour the shelves for fabulous new finds.  And at a dollar a book, you can't go too far wrong (or too broke!).

Nonfiction read:
Victoria's Daughters (J Packard) - fascinating bio of Queen Victoria's daughters
Alabama: One Big Front Porch (K Windham) - amusing
My Life in France (Julia Child)  EXCELLENT
Coming into the Country (J McPhee) - the Alaska book.  OVERWRITTEN.
Sculptor's Daughter (Tove Jansson) - autobiography, rather light
Uncle John's All-Purpose Extra-Strength Bathroom Reader - trivia/humor
Arkansas/Arkansaw (B Blevins) - one of the better State books
Off Speed (T McDermott) - fun history of pitching!
California's Frontier Naturalists (R Beidleman) - overlong
Greetings from Colorado (J.C. Leacock) - lightweight
Stories in Stone (J deBoer) - the Connecticut book, geology.  So-so.
Colonial Delaware (J Munroe) - or, how to make history mindnumbingly dull
Going Back to Bisbee (R Shelton) - the Arizona book, good in parts, not in others
Oh, Florida! (C Pittman) - fascinating and frightening
Architecture of the Old South: Georgia (M Lane) - lightweight
Unfamiliar Fishes (S Vowell) - Hawaiian history well-told
Dollars and Sense (D Ariely) - money and psychology, so-so
Story of Civilization v6: The Reformation (Durant) - making my way through the series
Chicago's Greatest Year: 1893 (J Gustaitis) - not too horrid
A Girl Named Zippy (H Kimmel) - the Indiana book - depressing
Uncle John's 25th Bathroom Reader - yes, I read in the smallest room in the house
Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (E Shell) - should have been a lot better
Life in a Putty Knife Factory (H Allen Smith)
Lost in the Horse Latitudes (ditto)
Low Man on a Totem Pole (ditto)

This year I discovered Charlotte Macleod, and I can't imagine why, in all the many decades I've been devouring mysteries, I hadn't encountered her before.  She wrote mainly in the 1970s-80s, with amateur sleuths, in a cozy, humorous fashion, which is precisely my thing.  She had several series, one under a pseudonym (Alisa Craig).  I didn't care for one of them, but I gobbled up the other two series and enjoyed them tremendously.

I also did a bit of re-reading here and there, and made a couple of attempts to branch out from my comfort zone.  And then I went right back to the mysteries.  I find them relaxing, and since I do the bulk of my reading in the couple of evening hours before falling asleep, that's exactly what I need!

Fiction read:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (S Alexie) - branching out.  It was okay.
Archyology: The Long Lost Tales of Archy & Mehitabel (D Marquis) - disappointing
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - a re-read, and not an enjoyable one
Money for Nothing (P.G. Wodehouse) - amusing stress relief
The Small Bachleor (ditto)
Summer Moonshine (ditto)
Winterhouse (B Guterson) - fantasy, entirely forgettable
Point of Sighs (M Scott) - fantasty, with too much plot
Murder on the Lusitania (C Allen) - enjoyable, though sequels were repetitive
Murder on the Caronia (ditto)
Murder on the Marmora (ditto)
Murder on the Salsette (ditto)
Murder on the Oceanic - I shouldn't have read these all at once
Murder on the Celtic - though I did like the early 1900s ocean-liner settings
Murder on the Mauretania - just didn't have enough variety
The Case of the Hook-billed Kites (J.S. Borthwick) - birding mystery, not too bad
The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (A Bradley) - solid entry in the Flavia deLuce series
Death's Bright Dart (V.C. Clinton-Baddeley) - older mystery, so-so
The Grub-and-Stakers Move a Mountain (A Craig) - fun stuff
The Grub-and-Stakers Quilt a Bee (ditto - the pseudonym of Charlotte Macleod)
The Grub-and-Stakers Pinch a Poke (silly fluff)
The Grub-and-Stakers House a Haunt (rather over the top)
The Grub-and-Stakers Spin a Yarn (not to be taken seriously)
Murder in an English Village (J Ellicott) - a disappointment
A Rant of Ravens (C Goff) - if only the heroine hadn't done stupid things
Jade Dragon Mountain (E Hart) - 1700s China setting, very good mystery series!
White Mirror (ditto)
City of Ink (ditto)
Awkward Squad (S Henaff) - new French mystery series, policewoman hero, good stuff
Stick Together (ditto)

Trouble in Nuala (H Steel) - India setting, not much to it
The Chinese Nail Murders (R van Gulik) - a re-read.  Eh.
A Very Private Enterprise (E Ironside) - yet another disappointing mystery
Family Vault (Charlotte Macleod) - the series I didn't care for
The Plain Old Man (ditto)
The Withdrawing Room (ditto)
The Palace Guard - hey, I gave it a fair shake
Rest You Merry - the Macleod series I enjoyed, academic setting
The Luck Runs Out (ditto)
Wrack and Rune - I admit they get rather silly
An Owl Too Many (ditto)
Exit the Milkman (ditto)
Something in the Water - silly and peculiar at the same time
Something the Cat Dragged In (one of the better ones)
Vane Pursuit (still silly)
The Corpse in Oozak's Pond (ditto)
Murder Fantastical (P Moyes) - another older writer newly discovered
Down Among the Dead Men (ditto)
Death on the Agenda (ditto) - a lot more serious than Macleod
Death and the Dutch Uncle (ditto) - a bit too much politics
Dead Men Don't Ski (the first in Moyes' series)
Johnny Under Ground (the series is police procedural)
Murder a la Mode (they're okay, but not that captivating)
A Six-Letter Word for Death (this one was pretty good)
Many Deadly Returns (but eventually I got bored by them)
The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog (E Peters) - a re-read
The Last Camel Died at Noon (ditto)

Now it's on to 2019 reading.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Beach in Winter

One day it occurred to me that my new house's main bathroom lacked a window.  This seemed odd.  The other half-bath has a window.  Most places I've lived had windows in the bathroom.  Why not this one?

I could have paid the contractor who lives next door a lot of money to put one in, but then I'd have a view of my mother's garage.  Why not have a prettier view instead?

So I found a level and some Frog Tape, and went to work.

It took about three hours to draw window frame lines that were straight.

Naturally, I wanted a view of the beach, with a lighthouse and a pelican, because hey, why not?

I gathered various reference pics of windows and beach type views, and cobbled them together.

I had to do a lot of taping and un-taping and re-taping to paint the frame and to paint inside the frame, and I think all that taping took more time than the actual painting part.

In hindsight, I wish I'd made the frame wider, but oh, well.  I'm not about to change it now.  Though I  Maybe that could be a project for next year.

A friend suggested I add curtains -- not doing that, either. 

If I ever get tired of the beach (! as if!), I could get out the tape and paint a different scene.  For now, though, I am happy to look at this view instead of the side of a garage or a blank wall.

In other home improvement news, I did pay the contractor who lives next door to add this little fence and gate around my front porch.

I did that because of this little scamp:

Pippin is an escape artist who had squirted out the front door a couple of times and taken off, and without a front-yard fence, this was just too scary.  He is not very obedient and doesn't come when called, and I was lucky that he always ran right next door to mom's place.

He has a huge, fully fenced back yard to romp in, but no, he wants to run next door.  My fear was that one day he'd squirt out, head over there, see a squirrel or cat somewhere else, and never return.

So now there is an extra level of security, and though Pippin doesn't seem terribly pleased with it, I am delighted. 

My post next week will be the annual "Books Read" list, and then it's on to 2019.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Wintering Waterfowl

One thing that I knew I would miss by leaving Seattle was my local birding patch, the Montlake Fill.  It was a fifteen-minute drive from home, had a lot of habitat variety and thus lots of different birds, it was not too large and not too small, and I nearly always ran into birding friends there.

There's no equivalent here in the Tri-Cities.  The natural areas nearest to my new house, W.E. Johnson Park and Chamna Natural Preserve, are okay, and I've seen good birds there, but the habitat is limited and the first is a popular horse trail with lots of horse evidence about while the second is prone to mud (at least in winter).

Bateman Island is the local birding hot spot, 11 miles away via the highway.  It has the same lack of habitat variety, uneven paths, and you have to walk all the way from one end to the other to get water views.  I went there this past week, and it was nice enough, with a few good birds about.

Common Mergansers are winter visitors. 

So are American Wigeons.

The Great Egrets live here year-round.

Then there's the nearest National Wildlife Refuge, McNary.  It's 19 miles away, and has slightly more habit variety, though the biggest draw is the Burbank Slough, which attracts wintering waterfowl by the thousands.

I stopped by there this week to see plenty of ducks and geese.

Duck, duck, goose, goose!

Out on the water, among the many, many Mallards, I spotted more wigeons, mergansers, coots, Buffleheads, and a few Canvasbacks.  It was quite the party.

There were even a few swans about.

These are Tundra Swans, which are very similar to the more common Trumpeter Swans.

The difference is in the shape of the dark bill, along with a small yellow patch near the eye which is hard to see here but clear in my binoculars.

 It was fabulous to see all the wintering waterfowl, which are some of my favorite birds.  I do miss seeing them at the Fill, though, where they tend to come in closer range, and where it also tends to be warmer during the winter months. 

Next Summer I'll be spending quite a lot of time back in Seattle, and will definitely spend tons of time at the Fill.  Until then, I think I'll keep checking back on the local spots here -- I haven't birded them in Spring yet, which should tell me lots about finding a good local patch.