Monday, July 24, 2017

Getting to Know Four Octopuses

 The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was actually about the souls of four octopuses: Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma. All were intelligent and friendly with humans. Each had a distinctive personality. Unfortunately for the aquarium employees and volunteers who care for and love them, these creatures have surprisingly brief life spans of about four years. My feelings about octopuses changed from "ick" to "awesome" while reading this book. I admired the determination of the middle-aged author to persist in her efforts to master underwater diving so she could meet wild octopuses face to face--this, despite the pain in her ears that would force her to resurface reluctantly more than once. She also introduced her readers to some truly outstanding volunteers at the New England Aquarium. Despite the presence of several colored photos and tiny sketches on the bottom corners of the pages, I wished the book had also included a pen-and-ink textbook-type drawing of an octopus. The author would refer to such octopus body parts as its suckers, arms, beak, funnel and mantle. Mental pictures of some of these came readily to mind. Others, not so much.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

What I've Been Up To

I volunteered to help with crafts at "Camp Saint Philip's," our church's vacation Bible school, which will be held July 17-21.  This year's theme is "Barnyard Roundup: Jesus Gathers Us Together."  Here are the crafts projects I came up with:  four paper sculptures (two "breeds" of pigs, an ear of corn and a carrot) a couple of corn-husk dolls, and a rooster made from paper cut-outs. I hope the kids enjoy making them as much as I did in creating them.

Two other women are also helping with crafts. One of them won first prize in a Washington Post crafts contest for a box crafted from paper she made herself. The other is a kindergarten teacher . She certainly has a more realistic idea than I do of what kids can accomplish in 45 minutes. I've only seen their ideas on a spread sheet. They have plans for small farm animals, a barn, a chicken coop, egg-carton bees, flowers made from prints of the kids' hands, marble paper, a bee house and a barn-owl mosaic.

One of the challenges we'll face with the paper sculptures is getting the individual sheets of craft paper to lie flat so that the kids can trace the patterns and cut them out without too much frustration. I've already cut out 24 sheets of craft paper for the fronts and backs of a dozen paper sculptures. Since craft paper comes in rolls, the cut-off sheets immediately sprang back into tight rolls. I ended up with 24 "scrolls" instead of 24 flat and cooperative sheets. I've been trying to get them to lie flat by stacking the sheets and placing heavy books and gallon paint cans on the stack. We'll see if that works.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Stalin's Daughter

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana AlliluyevaStalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some self-help guru once said, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." For some, it most assuredly is. Svetlana Alliluyeva was a survivor, nevertheless. Never mind that her mother committed suicide. Never mind that her father killed her aunts and uncles and imprisoned others. Never mind his persecution of doctors, poets and journalists. Never mind her feelings of betrayal when her cousin, Vladimir, published a nostalgic memoir in 1996 harking back to the "good old days" under Stalin. Svetlana had four husband, three children, and countless houses. She ran from her demons her whole life.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Erie, PA for our niece's wedding. At first, we couldn't get to our hotel. We could see it, down there by the beach, but we couldn't get to it. All we could do was drive helplessly back and forth on a road overlooking the new beachside hotels. Our 15-year-old map didn't even show Bayfront Drive. We pulled into a park, near a couple of porta-potties and saw a scruffy-looking man. His cap said "Vietnam Veteran." After trying to tell us how to get to the hotel, our rescuer gave up and volunteered to drive there, with us following.

He pulled into the hotel's exit. The sign said,  "One Way, Do Not Enter." My husband spotted an alley behind the hotel and quickly headed for that. He called out to the guy, "Thanks a lot, Buddy. We can take it from here." We were already a little scared of this man, because he seemed--well, a little intense. At the park, he'd confided that he'd been "reborn 36 says ago" and that "the Lord" knew we were lost and sent him to help us out. Also, that we were living in the last days.

Wouldn't you know it? Emerging from the alley and driving into the hotel parking lot, we found our helper had already parked his battered red car. He'd ignored the "Do Not Enter" sign. He got out and insisted on giving us his name and phone number "in case we needed anything." He didn't seem to be hitting us up for money. He was just a nice guy, but maybe a little quirky. We thanked him again and he drove off.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Shirley Jackson: a Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted LifeShirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ms. Jackson was my dad's contemporary, born about the same year as he and dying too early, like him. He expected women to be conventionally good-looking, to be accomplished cooks, to be totally devoted to caring for husband, house and family, and certainly not to be too interested in reading (or writing!) books. Other than being a superb cook, Shirley would not have met any of my dad's criteria. Apparently, she was a disappointment to her own mother because she neglected her appearance and insisted on setting aside time to write. Her husband recognized her talent, but the marriage was not a happy one. They both wrote books, but the royalties from her books largely supported the family. Unlike  him, she was steady and industrious, regularly publishing novels and stories. It was her income that bought them a large house and allowed him develop a course on literature that became one of the most popular at Bennington, a progressive college for women. Still, he seemed resentful in a passive-aggressive kind of way.  He also had numerous affairs. Shirley's biographer links her writings to her struggles with her demons. She noted that Stephen King thought her one of the best writers of the 20th century. I don't happen to enjoy King's work, so I probably wouldn't like Shirley's macabre tales either. However, I plan to read "Life Among the Savages", her best-selling account of bringing up her four quirky and intelligent children.

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