Book Review: Morning Glory

Author Sarah Jio takes her readers to a house boat community on Seattle’s Lake Union. Morning Glory was a fun novel for me as I vicariously revisited Lake Union houseboats and a part of Seattle I know so well.

Ada Santorini tries to find a new life after the tragic death of her husband and young daughter. She rents a furnished houseboat and discovers not only a new lifestyle, but an unsolved mystery that occurred a half-century earlier.

The story toggles in first-person accounts between Ada and a former resident of the houseboat, Penny Wentworth, the young wife of an established artist. Ada is intrigued when she discovers an old wooden chest left by Penny. The chest offers just enough clues to keep Ada on track to unravel the mystery of Penny’s disappearance.

Some residents on Boat Street remember Penny, but they are closed-mouth and avoid the subject when Ada asks. Ada and Penny’s stories come full-circle in a surprising revelation.

Sarah Jio is a best-selling author of several books and an acclaimed journalist of major magazines. For more information about the author, visit http://www.sarahjio.com/

Surrendering our Weapons in The Marquesas

First Landfall: Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas

First Landfall: Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas

 

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

At our first landfall, The Marquesas, we had an experience we later laughed about, but which at the time was no laughing matter.

Upon Impunity’s arrival and after clearing customs, we were required to surrender our weapons at the police department, more property called gendarme, since French was the official language. We had brought our weapons on our journey in case we should be accosted by pirates at sea, a very real concern in some areas. Before relinquishing them to the local authorities, Bruce had put trigger locks on both our handguns, his Ruger .357 Magnum and my Smith & Wesson .38 Special. We had been warned to lock the triggers so they couldn’t be used by others. The law is that visitors leave the country with the exact weapons and ammunition they had when entering.

Surrendering our weapons made us nervous, but it was the law and we would comply. Luckily, this was the only location we would be visiting in the in the South Pacific where this action was required.

We found the gendarme, a Marquesan, helpful and friendly. He admired our guns and said French weapons lacked accuracy. He spoke a little English and explained that with a French gun you aim here (he pointed) but it shoots there (he pointed in a different direction). We were given a carbon copy of the form we had signed surrendering our guns and about 100 rounds of ammunition.

Two weeks later, when we prepared to leave The Marquesas, we walked the distance to the gendarme station and presented our receipt to the same fellow who had originally taken our guns. His dark face colored as he said, “Yes, well, the Commissioner would like to talk to you.”

“Is there something wrong?” Bruce asked.

“Oh, no, no. But before I can give you your weapons, the Commissioner has asked to see you.”

Oh boy, what was this all about? We followed his directions to a big concrete building, the Commissioner’s residence and office. We were escorted to a large bare room with only a wooden desk in the middle and a chair behind the desk, where the Commissioner sat, and two wooden chairs in front of the desk. A huge ceiling fan slowly rotated above his desk. Tall, shuttered windows lined the outside wall. For some reason, the movie Casablanca popped into my mind.

The Commissioner rose, warmly greeted us and invited us to sit. He could speak very little English and what little he could was difficult to understand. After saying what we supposed was something to the effect he hoped our visit there had been satisfactory, he came to the business at hand. Leaning forward and folding his hands, he directed his attention to Bruce.

“I want to sell your small gun.”

I looked at Bruce’s furrowed brow. He didn’t understand, either.

“Oh!” I said, the Commissioner’s meaning dawning on me. “You want to buy the Smith & Wesson.”

“Yes, yes! That’s it. I want to buy that gun.”

In the first place, what he asked was illegal. I’m sure that’s why the gendarme looked so embarrassed. The law dictated we leave with the exact number of weapons and ammunition with which we arrived. Now the top official on the island was asking us to do something illegal?

In the second place, that was my handgun, a gift from Bruce, and I didn’t want to part with it.

My mind whirled. I glanced at Bruce. He was thunderstruck.

“But you see,” I said, gesturing to Bruce, “my husband gave that gun to me for Christmas. I cannot part with it.” I looked lovingly at Bruce.

The Commissioner was quick to respond. “Oh, but of course. It was a gift from your husband. I do understand.” His manner was gracious and he seemed to completely agree with our position.

The Commissioner stood and shook our hands. “Enjoy the rest of your journey.” At least that’s pretty much what it sounded like.

Book Review: Finding Dorothy Scott

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Sarah Byrn Rickman has written a captivating, scholarly biography of Dorothy Faeth Scott, the 25th woman to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in November, 1942. Finding Dorothy Scott: Letters of a WASP Pilot is a masterpiece, written by an author who has made a years-long study of these fascinating women who gave so much to our country.

America was at war, in both Europe and the Pacific, and pilots were critically needed for combat. In order to free up the male pilots, civilian women were trained and called into service to deliver liaison and fighter planes from factory to training fields and embarkation bases throughout the continental United States.

Even before the war, many women showed interest in flying and some had even made a living as pilots. As a child, Dorothy had been fascinated with flying and was a regular visitor at the small airport near their hometown of Oroville, Washington. Dorothy Scott graduated from the University of Washington Pilot Training Program, and after joining WAFS had extensive additional training in the various planes being used in combat. Much to their chagrin, the women were only allowed to ferry planes within the United States and Canada, not overseas like their fellow male pilots.

WAFS’ life was not easy. They weren’t always well received and, although they followed military protocol, WAFS were still civilians. They didn’t have the advantages of male military pilots, such as riding back to their base aboard military transport after delivery. The American Red Cross played a significant role in assisting the women pilots with a meal and transportation to civilian airports so they could return to their home base.

In 1943 the name WAFS was changed to WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), which also broadened the scope of their duties. Many graduates of flight school served in different jobs around the country, such as instructors, in addition to ferrying planes. But the women were still considered civilians without the privileges or pay of military pilots. When their unit was disbanded in 1944, many WASP even had to pay their own bus fare home.

The driving forces in this biography are the letters Dorothy wrote to her family during her time of service, letters that surfaced in 2000. These letters give a sense of time, place and mood of the country during these war years. Through her letters, Dorothy’s strong, steady voice relates her struggles, victories and her love of family.

Finding Dorothy Scott is an intriguing study of the life and times of these exceptional women who filled a needed void during World War II. After a long struggle, the WASP were afforded Veteran status in 1977. The biography concludes with news of belated but much-welcomed recognition when, on July 1, 2009, President Obama signed into law a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The description of the ceremony and a joyous reunion serves as a satisfying ending to this extraordinary story.

Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of five previous books about the WASP, the women who flew for the U.S. Army in WWII. To learn more about the author, visit http://sarahbyrnrickman.com

The Deckhand Who Never Sleeps

The wind vane's paddle is to the far right

The wind vane’s paddle is to the far right

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Impunity’s Aries wind vane proved to be one of our most valuable assets. As we prepared the boat for off-shore cruising, we even sent to England for spare parts for our wind vane, knowing how valuable it was to have self-steering capability. A wind vane is so valuable, it’s often thought of as an extra deck hand.

The wind vane, a thin plywood paddle that caught the wind’s direction, automatically adjusted the self-steering gear. Without it, all steering would need to be done by hand. Bruce kept an eye on the direction of the wind and tweaked the sails accordingly while the wind vane kept us on course. When the Aries steered the boat, the tiller was engaged to a chain hooked to the wind vane.

With favorable winds, hand-steering was rarely required. The wind vane did its job keeping us on course. Every once in awhile, it was necessary to make some adjustments, but for days on end we didn’t have to hand-steer or even change course.

Our easiest passage, a ten-day sail from Bora Bora to American Samoa, was blessedly uneventful. For awhile, we averaged 125 nautical miles a day; but settled into 100. Under these steady conditions ,the passage was so consistent that once Bruce adjusted the sails after an early rain squall, we sailed day-in, day-out with the same configuration. We never had to change sails or even adjust the wind-vane steering. It was the smoothest sail of the journey. The wind vane added immeasurably to our comfort and ease in sailing.

Months later, during one of our most difficult periods, a 30-day passage between American Samoa and Honolulu, we had some anxious moments with our wind vane. Around 3:00 a.m. while Bruce was on watch, he called to me, asleep below decks. He needed my help. Our steering vane had become partially detached from the boat. If Bruce couldn’t repair it, or worse, if we lost it altogether, it would mean having to hand-steer for the rest of the journey. Hand-steering makes a watch a real chore because you can’t leave the wheel or tiller without going off course.

Working upside down in the dark, his face inches from the rolling sea, Bruce hung over the transom to replace bolts while I shone a flashlight for him and held onto the seat of his pants to keep him from falling in. After about 20 minutes of fitting and tightening bolts, all the while upside down, he made the repair and reset the wind vane, and we were off again. Losing the vane wouldn’t have been life-threatening, but it would have been extremely inconvenient.

Again, we were thankful for our strict watch system. If no one had been on deck keeping watch and making routine checks on the equipment, the problem would likely have gone unnoticed until it was too late to save the vane. And, this was yet another affirmation of having spare parts on board for all the important systems on the boat, and also a reminder of the importance of a sailor knowing his boat intimately.

Our Aries wind vane was one of our most useful tools. It helped to make our journey a pleasurable success.

Book Review: Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

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Jass Richards has written a fun, lively collection of dog stories, tied together by Brett, a woman who’s had a hard time hanging on to traditional jobs. She already has two dogs, Kessie and Snookums, and she likes nothing better than to hang out with them. Why not make this interest an enterprise and get paid for something she loves?

Brett easily acquires four regular “customers,” Chum, Hunk, Little Miss, and Spunk, and they rotate their daily activities between going to the beach, dog park, field, or whatever else comes along. And plenty of other things come along.

Jacko won’t leave his property, Carson won’t come into the house, Rosie is a depressed former race dog. Biscuit refuses to go on walks, and Winner, a blue-and-grey Australian shepherd is an over-achieving herder. Amber is a distraught search-and-rescue dog, Toby’s a wall-flower unless he’s wearing his turtle costume. Cookie, a puppy-mill casualty, sees the light of day, probably for the first time in her life. Can Brett and the pack help Bo and his person compete in serious Frisbee competition? And can they help Nisha, a blind lab, swim again?

The author’s descriptions of the various breeds and their problems are poignant and heart-warming. As a dog lover, I enjoyed the stories in Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun and could relate to many of the situations. The main human character, Brett, is funny in a caustic, quirky sort of way, with a heart for dogs in need and a propensity for knowing how to have fun with them.

To learn more about the author, visit http://www.jassrichards.com/

The Loretto Chapel of Sante Fe

loretto-chapel-2

 

The Loretto Chapel in old Sante Fe, New Mexico is as mysterious as it is beautiful. While attending the Women Writing the West writers’ conference, I joined our group on a walking tour of the old Sante Fe’s historic district. The highlight of that tour was the Loretto Chapel.

Loretto Chapel was almost completed in 1878 when the builders realized the chapel had a major flaw: there was no access to the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded that building a staircase would take too much space from the limited seating of the small chapel, and that the only access would be a ladder.

The Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared with a donkey and toolbox looking for work. He had two requirements: that he work completely alone and that the nuns furnish vats of hot water several times a day. They honored his request.

Months later, on the appointed day, the nuns entered the chapel to find an elegant circular staircase with two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. The staircase was built without nails, only wooden pegs. Mysteriously, the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks.

The staircase was said to sway slightly and ten years later bannisters were installed for safety in climbing to the loft.

Today the chapel is a private museum and maintained for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the Chapel itself. Besides museum visitors, the Chapel is a popular site for weddings.

If you’re in Sante Fe, be sure to visit this lovely chapel. It’s an amazing experience.

Dead Calm: The Doldrums

Photo:L Philip Rosenberg

 

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Although we had plenty of lively, even rough seas aboard Impunity, we also had periods of dead calm.

The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), known by sailors as the doldrums, was pretty much what we expected, slatting sails and oily looking seas. With virtually no wind for these few days,, most of the distance we made was when we turned on the engine so that we could make some progress.

Another advantage of running the engine was that we also ran the watermaker, a desalinator used to obtain potable water by reverse osmosis of seawater. We were doing well with keeping our fresh water level up. We also charged the batteries, important for a boat alone at sea.

No matter where we looked—ahead, astern, starboard or port—we saw nothing but water. We were alone in the world. For days on end, nothing, not another boat, came into view. Occasionally we saw a jet trail in the sky. That far away from land, we didn’t even see birds.

In warmer waters, we began seeing flying fish and quite often they’d land on Impunity’s deck. They ranged from a couple of inches long to about six inches. They were usually dead when we’d find them and we’d throw them back into the sea. To escape a predator, a flying fish can glide several feet through the air by using its large pectoral fins.

I was thrilled to see a turtle swim close to our boat. What a mystery. Where was he going? Did he have a mate? We were hundreds of miles from shore. How did he rest? We’d never know.

We were in a different world, with different rules. Just the two of us. Our voyage to the South Pacific was a special, magical time. It was the voyage of a lifetime.

Mitchell Monument: A Remembrance of World War II

Photo credit: Michael McCullough (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Michael McCullough (CC BY 2.0)

 

While driving along Oregon Route 140 in southern Oregon, we discovered a poignant and sobering memorial. The small picnic site is managed by the Fremont-Winema National Forest in the Bly Ranger District.

A monument made of native stone and displaying a bronze plaque is the pivotal attraction of the recreational area. The Mitchell Monument is dedicated to six picnickers, the only World War II casualties to occur on continental U.S. soil as the result of enemy action.

On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife Elsie, and five of his Sunday school students planned a picnic about five miles northeast of Bly, Oregon. They stopped at Leonard Creek on Gearhart Mountain. Archie let Elsie and the children out to explore while he parked the car.

Before he’d even left the car or turned off the engine, he heard his wife call to him to look at what they had found. He observed the group huddled around a foreign-looking object and saw one of the children reach for it. Before he could step out of the car, an explosion shattered the area, killing his wife and the five children. Archie was the only survivor.

The object they’d found was a Japanese fugo, a simply-designed wind-driven bombing balloon. The fugo balloons, developed in the final months of World War II, were hoped to create psychological terror, death and destruction in the continental United States. The balloons were launched in Japan and carried by the jet stream, an easterly blowing wind current. About 300 of the 9,000 balloon-bombs launched were found in several states—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Mexico and Canada.

The United States government knew the country was under attack but ordered the media not to disclose information, hoping to minimize public awareness and also to prevent the Japanese from discovering their mission’s success. The silence proved valuable. Americans were not alarmed and Japan believed their mission had failed.

In 1945, after the Mitchell party tripped a balloon bomb, the government finally alerted the public to the danger. By then, the Japanese were no longer sending fugos.

In August, 1950, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, which owned the bomb site, dedicated a memorial to the six who perished

In later years, on a trip to Japan, Yuzuru John Takeshita, a former internment camp prisoner, was told how a friend and her classmates were taken out of school to work in a factory to make paper balloon bombs. When told of the tragedy, the former students, moved by regret and compassion, asked Takeshita to deliver 1,000 paper cranes to the families of the victims. Paper cranes, the Japanese symbol of healing and peace, were sent as good-will gifts. In addition, six cherry trees were also delivered to Bly with the former Japanese students’ condolences. The trees were planted at a re-dedication ceremony in 1995.

The Memorial plaque lists the victims of the fugo bomb:
Mrs. Elsie Mitchell, age 26
Jay Gifford, age 13
Edward Engen, age 13
Dick Patzke, age 14
Joan Patzke, age 13
Sherman Shoemaker, age 11

A Star to Steer By

b-sextant-sp_t1_2-cropI must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
……John Masefield

Navigating by electronic devices using GPS (Global Positioning System) is usually accurate and convenient. But what happens if/when the electronic system fails? Before our 13,000-mile trip through the South Pacific, Bruce taught himself celestial navigation, finding our position by the sun and stars using a sextant. It was our primary source of navigation aboard our Bristol-40, Impunity..

Using celestial navigation during the daytime, the sun normally would be our only source of position information, and a sun shot would give a line of position. Bruce knew we were somewhere on that line, which he would draw on the chart.

During morning and evening twilight when Bruce could make out both the horizon and some stars, he could get multiple lines of position, one from each star, and where these lines intersected was our position. When getting a line of position from a star or the sun, Bruce would label the chart with “sun” or the name of the star, such as “Vega.”

Bouncing around on a small boat at sea while taking visual observations using a sextant is not entirely precise, but with care each line of position would be accurate, hopefully within a half mile or less. When many miles from land, that is close enough.

Note: The above was aken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

 

Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed

and-the-mountains

Khaled Hosseini’s sweeping novel, And the Mountains Echoed, captivated me with its powerful prose and layered, complex plot.

Abdullah, ten, accompanies his father as they walk to Kabul, Afghanistan, pulling his four year-old sister, Pari, in a wagon. The father’s poverty necessitates selling his daughter to a childless wealthy couple, an arrangement made by their valet, the father’s brother. Abdullah is heart broken to lose his beloved little sister and hopes some day to be reunited with her.

The little girl’s new mother, vivacious Nila and much older father, Suleiman Wahdati, give their only child all the advantages money can buy. When Suleiman suffers a stroke, Nila takes her daughter to live in France.

Pari often feels there is something missing in her life, an emptiness, but can never quite grasp the mystery. War rages in Afghanistan; the Taliban and Russians play their part, but the story is about the people affected by war, by wrong choices, by their own humanness.

The story takes place over a 50-year period, beginning 1952. At times I was confused by a newly introduced character, but eventually realized its significance to the basic story of loss and separation.

I found the ending a revelation as Hosseini brings this complex tale to its conclusion. Hosseini’s characters are vivid, his descriptions of the various countrysides—Afghanistan, France, Greece, and the United States—and their cultural differences, realistic.