Saturday, December 31, 2016

This week in birds - #237

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:


Red-tailed Hawk (Krider) photographed at Big Bend National Park.

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President Obama designated two more new national monument sites for protection this week: Bear Ears National Monument in Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Here is a video of the Bear Ears site.


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The Union of Concerned Scientists have more than ever to be concerned about with the incoming administration in Washington. They are especially concerned about the selection of climate change denier Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Meanwhile, as an anti-science, anti-environment administration takes control of the federal government, it will be up to local officials in states to take a more aggressive stance in protecting the environment and public health. 

*~*~*~*

John Platt of Scientific American's "Extinction Countdown" has a review of the best wildlife conservation stories of 2016. Yes, in this awful year there have actually been some bright spots, most of which have been reported here.

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The clandestine nature of crimes against wildlife make such violations difficult to identify and to prosecute. The National Whistleblower Center, hoping to address the problem, has established a Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program. It is a secure website and attorney referral service that will help people provide tips on wildlife crime and obtain rewards from whistleblower provisions of relevant laws.

*~*~*~*

The overall shapes of birds provide important clues for their identification, clues which experienced birders learn to decipher. But the forms and shapes of birds can change subtly as they go into and out of the breeding season or prepare for winter.

*~*~*~*

As Earth's temperatures continue to rise, birds are migrating earlier and earlier. Summer breeding birds are reaching their nesting grounds about one day earlier for every degree rise in temperature.

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Roll call of the dead: Here is a list of animals that went extinct in 2016.

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The American Ornithologists' Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society have merged to form the American Ornithological Society. The society maintains the official checklist of birds of North and South America and it promotes the study of ornithology.

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A Seattle woman, Jen McKeirnan, set out to do a special kind of Big Year in 2016. Her intention was to try to photograph in its natural habitat every species of bird known to inhabit Washington state. As of mid-December, she had found 285 of her 346 target species and she expected to fall a bit short of her goal. Still, that is an amazing achievement. 

*~*~*~*

Adelie Penguins are specially adapted to survive and thrive in the harsh cold and windy environment of Antarctica.

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The deaths of four bears in Pennsylvania are being blamed on their ingesting the berries from a non-native invasive plant, the English yew. The berries of the plant are known to be highly poisonous if ingested by humans or animals. One more reason for using native plants in our gardens.

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The rare and mysterious Night Parrot of Australia is adapted to life in the harsh arid zone, but when it must drink it puts itself at risk to predators. Conservationists are studying how and when the parrots drink in order to try to provide better protection for them and they are working to eliminate populations of feral non-native predators that pose a threat to the endangered bird. 

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Northern breeding birds are threatened by a warming climate. The deteriorating climate creates a huge risk for disruption of their breeding cycle and could put survival of vulnerable species in doubt. 

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Meanwhile, there is a wildlife mystery on Seahorse Key in Florida. A thriving seabird breeding colony disappeared two years ago and scientists are not sure why. There are many theories but research on the mystery continues.

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Species of birds often get split as new information about their genetic makeup is obtained. It appears that the Willet may be a candidate for such splitting, with the East Coast and West Coast varieties being different enough to warrant such a separation.

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Project SNOWstorm tracks the migrations of Snowy Owls and their move south in winter. Some of the owls that are wearing tracking devices have returned to their winter ranges and are providing data from their year's travels. Meanwhile, a Snowy Owl has been found at Island Beach State Park on the Jersey shore and visitors are being warned to keep their distance to avoid disturbing the bird.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James: A review



What an ordeal this book was to read! Many times while perusing its 700-plus pages, I asked myself why I was bothering. But, true to my code of finishing what I start, I persevered and, in the end, felt somewhat vindicated, although I can't pretend that the rewards were really commensurate with the effort required.  

Jamaican writer Marlon James' book was the 2015 winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. At the time that it came out, I read many glowing reviews of the work. Intrigued, I added it to my reading queue and, finally, here at the end of 2016, its turn came up. Even though I knew the broad outlines of the story and the author's method, I was clearly not prepared for what I was undertaking.

A Brief History of Seven Killings begins with the run-up to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley (referred to as the Singer throughout the book) in January, 1976. It continues through the political unrest of the '80s and '90s in Jamaica and the crack wars of that period in New York. It contains a mind-boggling number of characters (more than 75) and many of them get a turn to tell the story, as the narrator changes from one chapter to the next. 

Throughout, the story is full of violence (there are a lot more than seven killings here!) and profanity, and much of it is told in a Jamaican patois that was virtually impenetrable for me. I was reading the book on Kindle and the dictionaries and Wikipedia available to me there were just as confused as I was. 

Bombocloth? Duppy? Pussyhole? Fi? Bloodcloth? Ackee? Battyhole? R'asscloth? What do any of those words mean? I could only infer their meaning from context and mostly they seem to be swear words. That's just a small sampling of the patois words used on every page of this book. The judges for the Man Booker professed themselves very impressed with this language. I was somewhat less impressed.

I guess I can understand the writer's decision to use the unique patois of the region he was writing of in telling the story, but if one of the goals of a writer is to be understood by his/her readers, I'm afraid he failed miserably with me. I can appreciate the brilliance of his writing and what he has achieved here; I just wish it had been more accessible to me. 

One cannot deny that the book is very inventive and that the writer was incredibly ambitious in the way he constructed and presented the story. I can only think that the reader that he had in mind when he was writing is probably much more adventurous and much more masochistic than I.

At one point when I seriously despaired of ever being able to complete the book, I came across this quote:
The only way forward is through.
Yes, I thought, I can do this! And I did. And the last few chapters of the book, which covered events of the early '90s mostly in New York, actually began to make some sense for me. But it all seemed a very small return for such a tremendous effort. 

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My favorite books of 2016

It is the solemn duty of every blogger who writes about books to compile a year-end list of the best books read that year. Since I am nothing if not a dutiful blogger, I have been agonizing for days over my list.

As of today, I have read 88 books this year and the majority of them were terrific reads. Those who follow the blog know that I rate my books on a scale of one to five stars, using the Goodreads definitions; one-star meaning "not good" and five-stars meaning "exceptional." I had a few one- and two-star reads this year, but most of them were three stars or higher.

In compiling my list, I narrowed the 88 books down to four- and five-star reads, because often there's very little daylight between four and five stars. But that list proved much too unwieldy. I couldn't give you a list with more than forty books on it! So, in the end I selected just the five-star reads. Even that list had nineteen books on it, but I simply couldn't choose among them, so here they all are - my favorite books read in 2016 with links to my reviews of the books.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante: This was the second in Ferrante's highly (and justifiably) praised Neapolitan Quartet series. In my opinion, it was even better than the first book.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: Macdonald wrote this memoir of her lifelong obsession with birds, particularly with raptors, and with her work in attempting to train a Goshawk, supposedly one of the most difficult raptors to tame and train. 

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante: This was the fourth and final book in Ferrante's Neapolitan series. I was sorry to see it end.

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin: This was the first in Le Guin's fantasy Earthsea Cycle books. It was a wonderful beginning. 

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes: I am a big fan of Julian Barnes and I always look forward to his books. In this one, he takes the bare facts of Dimitri Shostakovich's life and gives us Shostakovich's interior dialogues, his explanation and justification of his life.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley: A blockbuster summer read that was much more than just a thrilling page-turner. Hawley ruminates on the role of the media in modern life and presciently touches on the issue of fake news.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich: Nobody does it better than Louise Erdrich, in my opinion, and this story of a conflicted man who tries to make amends for accidentally killing a child by offering the grieving family his own child as a replacement is one of her best.

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith: Smith caught the personality of Jane Austen's delightful Emma and translated her smoothly into a modern setting. This was one of several retellings of Austen or Shakespeare classics that I enjoyed this year.  

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: Another retelling, this one of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and it's by the wonderful Anne Tyler, another personal favorite. How could I not love it?

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope: And, yes, still another reinterpretation of an Austen classic makes my list. This was actually the first book published in The Austen Project and it set a high standard for all those retellings that followed. 

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Chernow's book, published twelve years ago, has had a revival of interest because of the hit Broadway musical which is based on it. It had languished on my bookshelf for twelve long years and I finally got around to reading it this year. Wonderful book! It reads almost like a Dickens novel.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan: Ian McEwan is a writer of perfect little gems of books in which not a single word can be extracted or changed without altering the meaning. This was another one, an imaginative retelling of Hamlet with Hamlet being represented as a fetus!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This was an under-the-radar Swedish novel that unexpectedly became an international bestseller. It featured an irascible curmudgeon as its main character, Ove, and the reader would have to have a heart of stone to end the book without loving him.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood: This was another one in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a retelling of The Tempest, that I had been impatiently waiting for all year. It was worth the wait!

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: Many of my favorite writers had new books out this year, which is one of the reasons it was such a terrific year of reading for me. One of those favorites is Ann Patchett and her story of the Keating and Cousins families and their intermingling lives was wonderful and gave the reader a lot to think about.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: Strout's ability to delineate and explore the motivations in the lives of conflicted women is well known. Like her wonderful Olive Kitteridge, this one drew me in and I didn't want to leave Lucy Barton.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon: If you held my feet to the fire and forced me to name my favorite of all the wonderful books that I've read this year, this would be it. Chabon's fictionalized memoir of his own family's experiences has everything that one could wish for in a book, and like Ian McEwan's books, one would not want to extract or change a single word of it.

Here I am by Jonathan Safran Foer: Foer's tale of the unlovable and unraveling Bloch family of Washington, D.C., juxtaposed with upheaval and catastrophe in the Middle East and the possible destruction of Israel is a tour de force of imaginative storytelling.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith: And of my favorites, this one would be a very close second. Smith's portrayal of the lives of two young girls raised in poverty but in very different personal circumstances rang true for me in every aspect. Smith just gets better and better as a writer.

And there you have it, my creme de la creme of 2016. I can unreservedly recommend any one of them to lovers of good writing, and there were so many others that just barely missed making the list. One can only hope for another such fascinating year of words in 2017.  

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Christmas Bells

1863 was a troubled year in our country's history. It was a time when it was not at all certain that the country would continue as constituted. Civil war raged, splitting families and friends as well as the nation.

In the midst of all this, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suffered his own family tragedies. His wife was tragically burned and in November of that year, his oldest son who had joined the Union Army to fight for the country, was seriously wounded. Longfellow was near despair.

On Christmas Day of that year, he wrote this poem which gives voice to his despair and yet ends on a positive and hopeful note. 

2016 has been a time for despair for many of us and at this point it does not appear that 2017 will be any brighter. Indeed, it seems our darkest days may be ahead.

But let us remember that there have been dark times before but that hope still lives; hope that "the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail." Let us work to make it so.

Christmas Bells 

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
     And wild and sweet
     The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
     Had rolled along
     The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
     A voice, a chime
     A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
     And with the sound
     The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
     And made forlorn
     The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
     "For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
     The Wrong shall fail,
     The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pause

"This week in birds" is taking a day off while I prepare to receive holiday visitors. It will return next week.

Happy holidays to all!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Swing Time by Zadie Smith: A review


Two young girls growing up in poverty in North London in the '80s and '90s meet at a Saturday dance class. One of them has natural talent as a dancer. Both of them love music and rhythm. 

They become friends and remain close, with only occasional adolescent fallings-out, through all the years of growing up, sharing a love of old musicals and of dancers like Fred Astaire and Bojangles. They watch those movies over and over again, learning and copying the moves of the dancers.

Swing Time is the story of those two girls as they make the passage through adolescence and into young adulthood and increased responsibilities. The girls grow apart, but their friendship will always be the major influence and touchstone of their lives.

The talented young dancer is Tracey, friend of the narrator of this book. The narrator is never given a name. Both girls are biracial; Tracey has a white mother and black (Jamaican) father and the narrator has a black (Jamaican) mother and a white father. 

The narrator's family is intact, both parents present and caring. Her father is the primary caretaker of the home while her mother pursues her education and supports the causes about which she is passionate.

Tracey's family is a mess. Her father is not present in the household, at least not on a regular basis. He makes occasional visits and Tracey adores him and constructs an entire fantasy life for him as a back-up dancer for Michael Jackson. In her story, his being on constant tour with Michael is the reason he's never home. In truth, he is in and out of prison, plus he has a whole other family in another part of town. Her mother dotes on Tracey and is particularly proud of her dance talent. She sees it as the girl's ticket out of poverty.

Eventually, Tracey does get some professional dancing jobs, while the narrator goes on to college at her parents' insistence. In her early twenties, she goes to work for a company that seems modeled on MTV and there she comes to the attention of rock superstar Aimee.

Aimee hires her as a personal assistant and she spends the next nine years in Aimee's orbit, flying around the world on tour with her and easing her passage through life. When Aimee becomes obsessed with West Africa and wants to establish a school for girls there, the narrator spends a lot of time there with the villagers. She comes to admire them, but never really seems to understand them.

Much of this story, on its surface, seems torn from Entertainment Weekly headlines; the superstar superficially obsessed with Africa, building schools, adopting African children, etc. But Zadie Smith is only using that superstructure as a broad outline. She is interested in what lies beneath.

Smith writes brilliantly about modern culture and about female friendship, identity, and family. All of this medley is sifted through timeless themes of power and powerlessness, misunderstanding and crass manipulation of others, and the dichotomies between third world values and values of what we are pleased to call the "developed" world. It is a heady mix that makes for a huge and powerful novel.

Although she raises many issues in her narrative, Smith does not necessarily provide us with the answers. In the end, her narrator, not a particularly likable person, has to acknowledge, as the mother she has battled with lies dying, that even though she is in her early thirties she has not grown into a fully realized and admirable human being. Cut loose from her ties to Aimee, she is adrift in the world with little idea of where to find a mooring.  

I loved this book. The story has such energy and is so deeply human. It reminds us once again that we can never truly grow away from our roots. Of course it helps that Zadie Smith is such a brilliant writer.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Winter Trees

The deciduous trees have mostly shed their leaves by now and, bare-limbed, they stand prepared for a long winter nap. 

Winter arrives for real, according to the calendar, on Wednesday, but it is already present in cold spirit in much of the country. 

We don't get much winter here in the subtropical south in most years, but still our trees shed their leaves and prepare. Just in case.

Winter Trees

by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and 
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds 
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

This week in birds - #236

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:



Golden-crowned Kinglet photographed at Big Bend National Park in West Texas. The Ruby-crowned variety is more common here. I've never seen a Golden-crowned in my neighborhood.

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Few of the 20,000 Earth scientists meeting in San Francisco this week had much to say about the takeover of the government by climate science deniers in 2017, but the shadow of the incoming administration loomed over the conference. Some viewed the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the largest Earth and space science gathering in the world, as a call to action, and on Wednesday, they heard that call loud and clear from Gov. Jerry Brown who told them "It's up to you as truth tellers, truth seekers, to mobilize all your efforts to fight back."

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Winter is the time when birders really learn to appreciate the small birds who are with us year-round. In my area, that would include birds like Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, and Brown-headed Nuthatches.


Carolina Wren having a snack.

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A recent study reveals that hundreds of species of animals and plants are going extinct locally as they attempt to move their ranges due to the effects of climate change.

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A study published on the Avian Conservation and Ecology website posits that the estimates of bird mortality due to collisions with windows and other structures is probably too low because many of the bodies are removed by scavengers.  

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Photo courtesy of Audubon.

A rare white hummingbird, a leucistic Anna's Hummingbird, has been creating excitement for birders in California. The bird has been present in the Australian Gardens at the University of California, Santa Cruz Arboretum, almost continuously since May. The bird is male and was probably hatched this year.

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The lionfish is an ornamental tropical fish native to the Indo-Pacific that has long been a part of the aquarium trade. Unfortunately, aquarium owners sometimes get tired of the fish and irresponsibly set them free in local waters. In the waters of the southeastern United States, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, the fish has made itself at home. Too much at home. It is now an invasive species posing a threat to native species in those waters and scientists are seeking a technological means of stopping the invasion.

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The EPA has released its final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and it confirms that the controversial practice can contaminate drinking water "under some circumstances." This is a reversal of the position that the agency had taken earlier under heavy political pressure.

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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also addressed the American Geophysical Union this week and urged the 20,000 scientists there to "fight disinformation" about science, to speak up and talk about the importance of scientific integrity.

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Lady beetles (ladybugs) are usually identified by the number of spots that they have, but counting the spots is not always an easy matter. "Bug Eric" gives us some ID tips.

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A rule allowing wind energy companies to operate high-speed wind turbines for up to 30 years has been finalized. They will be allowed to operate even though they kill many protected species such as Golden and Bald Eagles.

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Birds are adaptable creatures and they are doing their best to adapt to climate change. Generally, that involves moving ranges farther north, but a study by the University of Massachusetts found that birds are shifting their populations in unexpected ways.

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America's first offshore wind farm started operation this week. Its turbines will supply electricity for small Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. In spite of concerns about damage that turbines may do to wildlife, wind power is an essential part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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The Texas bow-legged bug looks like an ant and acts like an ant, but it isn't an ant. They are actually ant mimics - at least the nymphs of the species are - and they can probably fool most non-entomologist observers.

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A new study has nearly doubled the number of known bird species in the world from 10,000 to 18,000. The increase is mostly due to the splitting of some species. Birds that were once thought to be all one species have been found to have differences that justify them being classified differently. This gives a new goal for all those guys that engage in "Big Years"!

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An area the size of Virginia off the New Jersey coast has been protected as a marine sanctuary by the federal government. It is designated as the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area. It covers more than 40,000 square miles and includes about a dozen deep water chasms.



Friday, December 16, 2016

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer: A review


The Bloch family of Washington, D.C., are very annoying people. They embody the worst of all the traits that "flyover states" right-wingers mean when they scathingly refer to "East Coast liberals." On a personal level, they are all wise-cracking, fast-talking smart-asses, except for five-year-old Benjy who still manages to retain an aura of sweetness.

Jacob and Julia Bloch are an enlightened liberal Jewish couple. Jacob is a novelist turned writer for a successful television series. Julia is a frustrated architect, with big ideas for structures that she never gets to build. They have been married for sixteen years and live with their three sons (Sam, who is on the brink of becoming bar mitzvah; Max, who is nearly eleven; and the aforementioned Benjy)  in a posh townhouse in a posh neighborhood in Washington. 

They see themselves as special people. They are essentially living in a bubble. A bubble that encompasses Washington and Israel. But there are plenty of problems lurking underneath that bubble.

Sam is resisting the whole idea of bar mitzvah and has recently been accused of writing racial epithets on a paper at his Hebrew school. He denies having written them. His father chooses to believe him. His mother does not. The first sign of a rift perhaps.

Then Julia discovers sext messages sent to another woman from Jacob's phone. He says they were just words and that he never acted upon them. The rift widens.

Julia is attracted to another father of one of the students at Hebrew school. Jacob senses the attraction and is jealous. A little wider still.

The family's old dog, Argus, has become incontinent and Julia is constantly having to clean up his messes. She had never wanted a dog in the first place and yet she's often the one caring for him. Another tiny fracture.

The Blochs receive a visit from two of their Israeli cousins who have come to be present for Sam's bar mitzvah. In the midst of their visit, a massive earthquake hits the Middle East, causing enormous destruction and casualties in Israel and neighboring countries. All air traffic to Israel is halted and the cousins cannot go home. 

The earthquake disaster leads to a predictable humanitarian crisis. Israel chooses to withhold assistance from its neighbors, essentially closing its borders and hoarding medical and food supplies. The humanitarian disaster leads to a war against Israel by its united neighbors and the Israeli government puts out a call to all Jews of a certain age group to come to Israel and defend it. Will Jacob answer the call?

The main action of Here I Am takes place over a period of four weeks in the present. It's a period during which the Blochs wrestle with the disintegration of their marriage and the potential destruction of Israel. The author explores the questions of what it means to be a Jew in modern America and what are the ties that bind such a person still to the country of Israel. How does one reconcile the conflicts inherent in familial duties and religious identities and an international crisis?

Here I Am is a jigsaw puzzle of all these pieces and it is a credit to Foer's talent that he is able to piece them all together as well as he does. He gives us a thoughtful and understanding account of how history affects families, even to the third and fourth generation, as we see the effects of the Holocaust on the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the survivors. It feels like a very personal novel on many levels, particularly at the end.

I did not learn to love most of the Blochs, but at least after reading the book I understood them a little better. They are just another family, broken by the events of history and trying to piece themselves together in a way that makes sense to them. In that, their story is universal.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2016

Blooms are sparse in December, but there is still plenty of color in my zone 9a garden.


The ornamental pepper looks like a Christmas tree all lit up with multi-colored lights.


Never let it be said that we don't get any autumn leaf color here, for we do have crape myrtles and, although some have already lost all their leaves, others are now at their peak of color. 


The Meyer lemon tree is weighted down with bright yellow balls.


The Mandarin orange tree is similarly weighted but with bright orange balls.


The Duranta erecta is full of the flashy yellow berries that give it its common name - golden dewdrop.


But wait! The duranta is also still carrying loads of these pretty blooms that are so attractive to butterflies.


The weird little shrimp plant carries its blooms for weeks, months even, before they fade.


The orange flame justicia is still burning brightly.


Yellow cestrum is virtually a year-round bloomer here.


Convolvulus 'Blue Daze' still sends out a few of its tiny flowers every few days.


The well-named firespike, Odontonema strictum.


The daisy-like blossoms of the wedelia continue to brighten gray December days.


Another plant with daisy-like blooms is the Farfugium japonicum, giant leopard plant.


It's not a leopard but the White-tipped Black moths, Melanchroia chephise, really, really like those blooms.


The tropical jatropha is still blooming in its protected spot along the south wall of the house.


The lavender is a little past its prime but is still colorful.


Anisacanthus wrightii is sporting a few blossoms.


Almond verbena has periodic flushes of bloom over our entire long growing season and it is in the middle of one of those now.


I can depend on 'Old Blush' to send out a few of these pretty little roses on a regular basis.


And few plants are more dependable in our gardens than lantana.


The loquat tree is in full bloom. The blossoms are not much to look at but they have a lovely scent.


Turk's cap, another year-round bloomer.


Purple trailing lantana.


What would December be without violas?


And pansies, of course.


The unstoppable blue plumbago, blooming since April.

In mid-December, a week before the official start of winter, we are still waiting for our first frost. So far our lowest temperature has been 35 degrees F. Will we have another winter like our last one when we never had temperatures below freezing and never even experienced a killing frost? The weeks ahead hold the answer to that question.

Meantime, we will enjoy our coolish, mostly pleasant weather, wonderful conditions for getting things done in the garden.

Thank you for visiting my garden today, and thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting this meme.

Wordless Wednesday: Common Buckeye










Sunday, December 11, 2016

Poetry Sunday: A Copywriter's Christmas

'Tis the season, and here is a rather acerbic - but not inaccurate - comment on the commercial exploitation of that season.

A Copywriter's Christmas

by Margaret Fishback

The Twenty-fifth is imminent
And every known expedient
Designed for making Christmas pay
is getting swiftly under way.
Observe the people swarming to
And fro, somnambulating through
The stores in search of ties and shirts
And gloves to give until it hurts.

They're eyeing gifts in Saks' and Hearn's
And Macy's, not to mention Stern's,
While earnest copywriters are
Hitching their copy to the star
Of Bethlehem quite shamelessly,
For they are duty bound to see
That Peace On Earth Good Will To Men
Gets adequate results again.