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. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Overload

I'm sorry I didn't bring my good camera to last Wednesday's urban sketch group outing, because my poor-quality smartphone takes horrid pics and cannot convey the true wackiness of the place.

One of the sketchers invited us to her home, which was decorated for Christmas.  Every available space was crammed full of decor -- you could barely move without tripping over Santa Claus.

There were at least four trees decked out to the max. 

It was stunning, and overwhelming.  There were plenty of things to draw -- too many things.  I sat down on the sofa facing the fireplace and made an attempt to draw it, while Christmas music played on the TV.

The group meets for only 1-1/2 hours, and with some time spent just goggling at the displays, chatting, and eating the lovely treats provided, I did not have time to finish.  I wish I'd chosen a smaller portion of the scene, but oh, well.  That's the way it goes sometimes!

It was a quiet week overall, with "highs" in the low 30s, so there was a lot of sticking around the house.  One thing I do a lot of is contemplate home decor.  Recently I acquired two etageres at antique malls, though I have not yet acquired enough stuff to fill their shelves with -- that will come in time!

The smaller of the two is in the living room, and so far has only one lonely snow globe and the very first Christmas card I've received at my new address:

The larger (and nicer) one is a corner piece that fits nicely in the dining room, where it holds a few cookbooks, a mug, a plate, and an owl:

The owl was bought at my local Fred Meyer department/grocery store, where they were having a buy-one-get-one-free sale on select home decor items.  I normally don't bother looking at this sort of stuff there, but imagine my reaction when I glanced at the sale display to see this:

Yes, that is a WINGED wiener dog with a UNICORN horn.  Um.  Er.  Say what?  Who thinks up stuff like this?  There were other animals with wings and horns too -- I think there was a pig -- but a DACHSHUND?  A winged, unicorn DACHSHUND????   WHY???!??!??!?

Well, I don't suppose it matters, because clearly they found their audience.  Plus I got a free owl to boot.

So it's been an exciting time for home decor.

I'll end with two non-flying, non-unicorn wiener dogs.  Here is Pippin, tired out after a long romp:

And here is Truman from this very morning, and look what's in the back yard -- SNOW!

Okay, so it's merely a dusting, and it supposed to get to 42 today so it won't stick around, but hey, SNOW! 

Let's hope that's it for this Winter.  Stay warm out there, everyone!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Before the Big Chill

This coming week the forecast calls for highs in the 30s.  Winter is heading our way, and though I did invest in a warm winter coat, that doesn't mean I actually want to use it.  Brrrrrr!!

So this past week we mostly had temps in the low-to-mid 40s and I was willing to go out a few times with the Hounds.  I have no idea how I'm going to entertain them during the chilly days to come, although Truman is a couch potato who doesn't care if he ever moves, and Pippin enjoys being chased around the house by his human.  We shall see if that's enough.

On one of our outings we visited the Chamna Natural Preserve which is right here in Richland, a 276-acre spot alongside the Yakima River.  It has eleven miles worth of trails zig-zagging through it, and we explored about two miles worth.

There are some seriously cool trees in this place.

There were some birds about -- chickadees, White-crowned Sparrows, flickers, one Red-tailed Hawk.  And there were wigeons in the river, but they were skittish -- every time I got close enough to try taking photos, they flew away.

Possibly Pippin scared them off.

Some of the trails felt rather isolated, hemmed in by brush and trees.

Other sections felt more open.

The Hounds enjoyed exploring, and so did I.  It was a very overcast morning, and I look forward to revisiting this place in the Spring on a sunny day.

On Wednesday I hung out with the Urban Sketcher group, which met up at the non-profit Gallery at the Park.  My first effort was of a pottery display, a sketch I was not that happy about.

With only twenty minutes left, I turned around and quickly drew a display of glassware and scarves, and was a little happier with it.

During the sketch sharing, I discovered that one artist had drawn other sketchers, including ME!  I'm the one on the right, sitting on the floor.

And here is the group photo -- I'm in the middle of the seated folks.

The next day I took the Hounds out again for an early afternoon stroll at W.E. Johnson Park, also in Richland.

We had blue skies, so I was able to get some decent photos -- here is a flock of Canada Geese.

While most of this park is grasslands and trees, a small section does run along the Yakima River.

Once again, the waterfowl there all flew off at our approach.

But later I lucked out when a Ruby-crowned Kinglet popped into a tree close enough for a pic:

The Hounds found smelly stuff to roll in -- possibly not a great idea, since this park is popular with horseback riders -- who knows what they left behind.

So that's all for last week's adventures.  In home decor news, the piano arrived!

It's a Yamaha digital piano, with a terrific sound.   The hammered action feature really makes the keys feel as if they are weighted -- it's amazingly close to having an acoustic piano, at one-half to one-third the cost.

And although it was heavy, I managed to put the stand together and get the keyboard on top all by myself.  Truman did not assist in any way, though he tried.

That's it for this past week.  Stay warm out there!