Book Review: Ankle high and Knee Deep

Ankle HighAnkle High and Knee Deep: Women Reflect on Western Rural Life is an engaging collection of essays written by ranch women, cowgirls, and farmers. The anthology, edited by Gail L. Jenner, offers a candid look at rural life, its tranquil beauty and its messiness. This anthology is about lessons learned, sometimes the hard way.

Many of the essays reminisce about childhoods on a ranch or farm, sharing the joy of riding horseback in wide open spaces. Along with the joy comes the hard parts, the endless chores, the hardships, the doing without when that year’s crops or stock doesn’t bring the hoped-for price.

Several stories delve into experiences with horses and how they become an integral part of rural lives. Through the years horses have been the constant source of pleasure as well as of necessity.

The book is divided into sections: Fortitude, Horse Sense, Community, Self-Reliance, Memory, Resilience and Lessons. Ankle High and Knee Deep offers stories rich in inspirational experiences The collection isn’t all pleasant—real life never is. The stories shared are from the heart, memories and current experiences of life passed on from generation to generation.

Toward the back of the book a section about the contributing authors and photographers reveals the lives of those who have participated in this fine collection. These brief biographies reinforce the heart of the book.

Photographs throughout the book help the reader feel what the words portray.

This is an excellent read written by women who have lived what they write about. I highly recommend this anthology of life in rural America.

Book Review: Detroit: An American Autopsy

Detroit 2Charlie LeDuff returns to his hometown as a journalist for the Detroit News. Once the richest city in America, Detroit has plunged to one of the poorest. In its heyday, it was the vanguard of the automobile industry. Today it leads the country in crime, unemployment, illiteracy, and foreclosures.

LeDuff paints a vivid picture of empty factories which are routinely burned for their copper. Whole blocks of what was decent neighborhoods are now decaying or gutted- out houses. Crime is rampant; systems put into place to protect the public are corrupt.

As a newspaperman, LeDuff attempts to uncover what destroyed Detroit. He talks to city officials, to homeless squatters, to mothers whose children have been murdered or died of overdose. He befriends firefighters, pointing out their worn-out equipment, the holes in their personal protective gear. He talks to police, some of them good, some on the take.

LeDuff’s writing is tough—no tip-toeing around issues for him. He dives into the heart of a problem and sifts through the ashes to root out the truth. His writing style is caustic and revealing, funny, and honest. He gives specific examples of corruption and ineptitude, and backs up the charges with facts. This is the work of an investigative reporter at the top of his game.

Detroit: An American Autopsy was an eye-opener for me. I knew the city was a has-been, but I had no idea of its depth of despair. I’ve never been so thankful to live in the Northwest; never so grateful not to live in Detroit. This is a memorable work, a suspenseful chronicle of decay.

To learn more about this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Detroit: An American Autopsy, visit

Book Review: Not My Father’s Son

Not my fathers son

Alan Cumming, stage, movie, and television actor has written a revealing memoir about his often-time abusive childhood and how it has affected his adult life.

Born in Scotland, Alan lived with his mother, brother and brutal father. During their childhood both boys were physically and verbally abused, but it seems most of his father’s wrath was taken out on Alan. Their loving mother was verbally abused and treated with disrespect.

The book toggles from his childhood in Scotland in the 1960s to 2010 while he appears in the British television series Who Do You Think You Are. The show is delving into Alan’s ancestry, learning about his maternal grandfather, whom his mother never knew. Alan learns his grandfather was a World War II hero who later died a violent death.

Along the way, Alan learns that the man whom he believes to be his father, may not be. This uncertainty brings anxiety, but as a professional actor, he performs in the series as he is expected to do.

I found Not MyFather’s Son an honest accounting of the effects of an abusive childhood. Cumming’s truthful approach to sharing it is filled with wisdom and observations that show insights and deep compassion. I also enjoyed glimpses of Scotland of yesterday and today.

This is a compelling memoir, often depressing, but painfully honest. It is a story driven to find the truth about his grandfather, his father, and himself.

Book Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things


Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, co-authored by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, is a startling and sometimes gross observation of hard-core hoarding. I’m not talking about messy housekeeping, or a house with clutter, I’m talking about hoarding to the extreme. Stuff piled almost to the ceiling. Floors littered to the point that people have to walk across piles of stuff to get from room to room.

The tendencies of hoarding often appear to be a narrow aspect of OCD (Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder), though not treatable by medication. It’s a condition where people value possession over use. Hoarders have lost the battle of mind over matter.

Hoarding seems to be carried out largely in secret; hoarders tend to be ashamed of their disorder. Marriages break up because of it; children are resentful and ashamed to bring their friends home.

Stuff delves into the psychology of what compels compulsive collectors to create unlivable conditions. Why would anyone collect stacks of newspapers, or scraps of paper with notes that no longer have meaning? Why would anyone scrounge through other people’s trash and take home useless, broken objects? It isn’t uncommon for a hoarder to fill up one living space and move on to another, only to start again. Some people rent storage units for the sole purpose of storing seemingly useless stuff.

Hoarding can be dangerous when the stuff hoarded attracts insects, rats and mice. When the results of hoarding invade other people’s living space, public health often intervenes, but the real problem isn’t solved. Even after a home is cleaned and truck loads of stuff hauled away, the hoarder will feel invaded and simply start in again—often with a vengeance.

With each chapter, Stuff delves into individual case studies, people afflicted with different types of hoarding and their out-of-control behavior. It’s a fascinating study and I came away with a deeper knowledge of the condition, and an appreciation for professionals who serve in this capacity. The book has a “Finding Help” section that contains valuable information to assist hoarders and their families.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things is an intriguing read. Hoarding is a growing problem in our society and this book offers a very readable look at the reasons and ramifications of this unfortunate disorder.


Book Review: Love is a Canoe

Love Is a Canoe

Love is a Canoe’s structure featuring a book within a book delves into marriage, love and need, three staples of life not necessarily related. The novel, written by Ben Schrank, is a complex, fun read.

Marriage Is a Canoe, published in 1971, was a huge success, a self-help book still cherished several editions later. In the book, twelve year old Peter spends a summer with his happily-married grandparents who pass on to him life-long lessons in leading a good, loving life. Many of these discussions take place in a canoe as grandfather and grandson fish in a lake. Decades later, the author Peter Herman is convinced by the original publisher to hold a contest in which he would interview a couple in need of marriage counseling. The winners of the contest would have an all-expense paid weekend with the author, and hopefully gain insights and wisdom about their marriage.

Emily is a devoted fan of Marriage Is a Canoe and as she witnessed her parents’ rocky relationship, she clings to the loving principles of marriage discussed in the book. Emily and her husband Eli’s marriage is faltering. Emily submits an essay as an entry to the contest, hoping that a discussion with her idol, author Peter Herman, will help Eli’s and her marriage.

The publisher of Marriage Is a Canoe, Ladder & Rake Books, sponsors the contest to beef up sales. Ambition at times gets in the way of reality and this contest is not going as planned.

Love Is a Canoe is a compelling read. My one regret is that I didn’t create a list of characters when I first started the book. There are many people to keep track of, including two people with the same first name. The novel contains many truths about love and marriage, love without marriage, and love despite marriage.

Book Review: The Pecan Man

The Pecan Man

Author Cassie Dandridge Selleck’s southern voice is so captivating I imagined sipping sweet iced tea with Miss Ora as we sat on her front porch.

The Pecan Man (pronounced Pee-can) is a name given by the neighborhood children to an elderly black man in the small Florida town of Mayville. The novella takes place 30 years earlier in 1976 and is told by an elderly woman, Ora Lee Beckworth. In her mid-fifties at the time of the story, recently widowed and childless, Miss Ora hires the Pecan Man, whom she calls Eddie, to mow her lawn and tend her flower and vegetable beds.

Blanche has been Miss Ora’s housekeeper for years and the two women have formed a strong bond. Blanche, the mother of 5 and also recently widowed, crosses from the “colored section” of town six days a week to clean and cook for Miss Ora. One day a violent tragedy occurs to Blanche’s youngest daughter. In an effort to protect the little girl, lies are told, lies that perpetuate until truth and lies form an impenetrable web that send an innocent man to prison.

I was captivated by this novella. The author, a native of Central Florida, uses the dialect of the area with ease, giving the book an authentic flavor of place. I highly recommend The Pecan Man.

Book Review: 365 Days

365 Days

This graphic account of the Vietnam War is told by a physician, a doctor who spent a year assigned to Zoma, an Army hospital in Japan. Author Ronald J. Glasser, M.D. arrived in Japan as a pediatrician, primarily to care for the children of officers and high-ranking government officials. However, because the monthly total of wounded averaged six to eight thousand per month, he was called on to treat the soldiers.

The title of the book, 365 Days, reflects the amount of time a tour of duty was: a year, 365 days. At first Doctor Glasser thought the stories, the war accounts he heard from his patients, were exaggerated, but he began to hear the same stories again and again. They were true, and the horrific accounts repeated themselves over and over.

Each chapter is told from a different viewpoint, vignettes about men who served in different capacities. We learn about the war from young infantry soldiers. We read about the men who operate “tracks,” described as any vehicle that runs on treads rather than wheels. We learn about war through the eyes of the of helicopter pilots who take incredible risks to rescue the injured or drop troops into hot areas, or deliver supplies. We learn from special forces personnel scattered throughout the country what it means to be highly trained, but then find that life in a Vietnam jungle is even worse than the most rigorous training.

We learn from explosive experts the danger they live with at every turn. We learn from young men eighteen or nineteen years old what it’s like to confront civilian villagers who have been trapped in war for years, people for whom survival is chancy at best, yet people who set traps that kill. We see medics who risk terrible danger to save their comrades, to do what they can to patch them up good enough to hold them until they can be flown to Japan, or who at least try to make dying less painful. And finally, we see from a physician’s side of things, the damage wreaked as a result of the terrifying stupidity of war, of trying to put back together young bodies that have been so destroyed, life will never be the same.

365 Days is not a book for the faint of heart; it is written in eloquently horrifying detail. But I still recommend it. It is a haunting tribute to those who served, a book about raw courage. It made me want to do whatever possible to avoid war. The human sacrifice is too great and has too many lasting consequences. There has to be a better way. The book doesn’t offer suggestions for avoidance, but rather the aftereffects when choosing war.

Book Review: Big Magic

Big MagicElizabeth Gilbert shares a unique view of creativity in Big Magic. By living creatively, living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear, we promote within ourselves inspiration to pursue our talents without the worry of having to achieve excellence.

The creative process is both magical and magic. Ideas are constantly swirling around us. When approached with ideas, we have the ability to accept or reject them. Not all ideas are good, or good for us to act upon. But when an idea is introduced and you feel an inspiration, embrace it and do whatever it takes to fulfill your desire to express it. Forget perfection; it can stop you from completing your work. Perfection itself is unachievable.

Author Gilbert emphasizes that an advanced degree in creative writing does not ensure success. She makes this point: “Twelve North American writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901, but not one of them had an MFA. Four of them never got past high school.” In other words, writers should not feel that they need a degree in writing in order to achieve success. What it does take to achieve success is dedication and determination to see your ideas through, to work toward a goal of finishing a project.

Gilbert admits that money helps, but she also says that if money were the only thing people needed to order to live creative lives, then the super rich would be the most imaginative, original thinkers among us. We all know this simply is not true. “The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible.”

As a writer, I found Big Magic enlightening and informative. It gave me fresh perspective on the creative writing process. People with other creative endeavors will be inspired by the book, too, and will no doubt recognize themselves in her words. The book is loaded with wisdom and thought-provoking ideas.

To learn more about Elizabeth Gilbert and her work, visit

Book Review: The Man in the Window

The Man in the Window 2

Nancy Pearl, my favorite literary critic, said after reading The Man in the Window, “Here was a novel to love.” And indeed it is. Author Jon Cohen has captured the essence of life in this poignant, funny and often caustic novel.

Louis Malone, now 32, badly disfigured in a fire when he was 16, became a recluse, hidden away in the family home. His world was what he could see from his upstairs bedroom window.

Iris Shuda, an extremely capable nurse, was resigned to never finding love. As Cohen describes her, Iris had been an unappealing baby, and as it turned out, that was her physical highpoint.

Gracie Malone, Louis’ loving mother and a recent widow, is not yet used to living without her husband, and now her son is her whole world.

Widower Arnie Shuda, Iris’ father, is a rough and tumble sort of guy, full of earthy humor. His right hand is a hook and he openly jokes about it.

The Man in the Window develops these four characters with such living force, I felt I knew them, that they were my neighbors. The hospital scenes with Iris are so realistic I wondered how the author knew so much about medicine. But then I learned that Jon Cohen was at one time a critical care nurse.

When Louis falls out of his second-story bedroom window, he and Iris are brought together. And then, along the way, their parents meet.

The Man in the Window is a marvelous, well developed, heart-rending love story. I loved it so much I dreaded reaching the end.

The Blooming Fields of Skagit Valley



It’s like viewing the perfect mural—row upon row of dazzling color—brilliant red, sparkling yellow, vivid pink, rakish purple. Though picture-perfect, they’re real, these delightful tulip fields of the Skagit Valley. Not only tulips, but daffodils and iris grace these lovely fields. Although Mother Nature dictates the bloom dates, daffodils bloom first, followed by tulips and finally, iris.

Now extended to cover the entire month of April, this year’s 33rd annual Skagit ValleyTulip Festival also features, in addition to viewing the blooming fields, a packed schedule of events including art shows, wood crafting events, barbecues, quilt walks, and walking tours.

Since the mid-1930s, spring-time visitors to the Skagit Valley have marveled at the striking beauty of tulip, daffodil and iris fields. Northwest Washington, particularly in the Skagit Valley, has become world- famous for its seasonal showcase and for its commercial bulb production. Washington Bulb Company, the nation’s largest tulip, daffodil and iris producer, makes its headquarters in Skagit Valley.

As it happens, the Northwest has perfect bulb-growing climate with cool moist winters, which encourages root growth. Also, relatively cool spring and summer weather helps control diseases common in hotter places. Another factor is well-balanced, level and well-drained soil.

A favorite local story tells about the local gardener who thought he would buy his bulbs that year from the source, Holland. You guessed it. When he received his bulbs from Holland, the package label said the bulbs were grown in the Skagit Valley!

Those who are returning to enjoy the springtime hues will notice that those fields seen last year frequently will not have the same crop this year. That is because flower bulbs, like many other crops, must be rotated to preserve the soil and reduce pest contamination. The flowers rotate to their original field about every five years.

Tulip Festival maps are available at many Skagit Valley stores, but it isn’t necessary to have a map to enjoy the blossoms. Signs indicate the “Tulip Route,” or you may simply drive along until you see a field. If there is a pull-off, park and enjoy the view, or even walk along designated paths. Remember, for some traffic on the road, it’s business as usual and drivers aren’t expecting sudden stops. Also, this is a busy time of year for farmers and heavy equipment will be moving about, so please be patient.

The Skagit Valley growers ask for your cooperation in touring the fields. Be aware that only certain fields are open to visitors. Always observe private property; please don’t trespass to get a picture. Enter only those fields with signs posted that visitors are welcome. NEVER pick a flower—cut flowers are available for sale at various stands.
Two local growers encourage visitors to stop: Roozengaarde and Tulip Town.

Roozengaarde has a three acre display garden with an authentic Dutch windmill. Bulbs and cut flowers are available for purchase—stroll the gardens to find your favorites. At Tulip Town, in addition to the tulips fields and purchasing opportunities, visitors will enjoy more than 100 exquisite tulip arrangements, live music, food, and horse-drawn wagon rides through the tulip fields

Splendid opportunities await eager photographers. Early morning or late afternoon give the best light for picture taking. For really spectacular pictures, include landscape attractions, such as barns or snow-capped Mt. Baker. Tulip fields provide a colorful carpet against the backdrop of the majestic Cascade Mountains.

To get there: The blooming fields are 60 miles north of Seattle, directly off I-5 using exists 221 through 236. All of these exits have tulip brochures at the nearest businesses. The fields are spread out over a 15-mile radius and events are scattered around the entire county. Festival site guide maps are available.

For more information, visit or call (360) 428-5959.