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Home for a Bunny

We are a family of book lovers, and everyone is competing to read to our newest member, my first little grandson. Of course he’s brilliant! Only five months old and he’s already getting the hang of turning the pages. The grownups in his life all enjoy their Kindles and Paperwhites and iPads, but we are agreed screens can wait for this little one. One rule my husband and I had as parents was that the kids could have all the books they wanted, and thus Powell’s Books in Portland became son Miles’s dream destination. Now his baby will get the same treatment.

My very favorite baby book is Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Garth Williams. Of course the pictures are perfect and the rhythm and repetition of the words make it a lovely read aloud, which is a good thing since I make a point of reading it to my grandson every single day.

This is a character driven book and I love that bunny! Please note, when the groundhog is rude—“No, you can’t come in my log,” said the groundhog.—does our bunny pause to point out how poorly he’s being treated? Does he remark on the meanness of the groundhog? No, he does not. He simply heads on down the road, bravely continuing his search for a home, thus retaining the reader’s sympathy.

And people, what a plot! The search for home. In finding his mate, he finds his home, my idea for the best happy ending ever. Yes, I do believe we’re programmed to pair up. I was so happy to hear that our poor gray wolf, OR-7, who’s been roaming Oregon for several years in search of a mate, has finally found her! Wildlife biologists say it’s likely these two have spawned pups who are snuggled up somewhere in their cozy little den.

It’s the oldest of stories, and always a good one.

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Everybody wants a review! Have you noticed that? I returned home from having my teeth cleaned the other day and already at the top of my e-mail list was a request from the dentist’s office. SO, HOW DID WE DO? Buy a card at the Hallmark store and they’re at great pains to explain that if you’ll rush right home and rate on your computer the experience you’ve just had in the store, they’ll give you points toward a $2 coupon or something. Internet sales sites beg for your feedback before your item has even arrived.

I learned my lesson early. I wrote a review of a sweater from Sundance, one of my favorite catalogues. It was rejected! Okay, maybe they didn’t want to hear gripes about their ridiculous shipping charges even if they did come attached to raves about the sweater. Still. The last thing I need is rejections on anything I write, so that was the first and last review I ever tried to post.

Also, I’m perversely proud of my record of never having hit “Like” on anything on the internet. What does it even mean? Hopefully any approval of anything I might express will carry more weight for being so stingily granted!

With that in mind, I want to give a sincere shout out to Fishwife Seafood Restaurant on North Lombard Street in Portland, Oregon. Check this place out!

For the past month, my husband and I have logged more time in Portland than at Wake Robin Farm, as we have been fixing up a lovely 1904 house in the University Park neighborhood to go on the market. Well, it’s lovely now that we’re done with it! For eight years I’m afraid it was a bit of an Animal House, with our son and his fellow classmates at the University of Portland living there. So now, while my husband worked his gardening magic on the yard, I repainted the entire interior.

Each evening we would drag ourselves over to Fishwife and drop, exhausted, at the same red vinyl table by the window and enjoy a wonderful, reviving meal, served by the friendly, smiling waitresses. Herb and I are so much alike. While others seem to crave novelty and want to continually explore new venues, we are creatures of habit and enjoyed making Fishwife our home away from home during this project.

Their menu offers all the best seafood standards—I ate a lot of crab—but Herb always tried their non-seafood specials and found them excellent. The atmosphere is casual and family friendly, and it was fun to watch people with their children. Although I wouldn’t have minded dressing up a bit more, it was nice that we felt welcome even when we showed up looking a bit grungy—painting and yard work will do that to you! With all the tattoos, piercings and inventive costume choices that seem standard for North Portland, we were hardly going to draw attention anyway.

Now our days of eating at this fun restaurant three or four nights in a row are at an end, but I’m sure we’ll find an excuse to go there again. This is my first ever restaurant review, and I’m giving FISHWIFE five stars.

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Keeping it Local

Yachats—pronounced YA-hots (go figure)—is known as the Gem of the Oregon Coast and boasts a gem of an independent bookstore called Mari’s Books And…..For several years the lovely owners, sisters Mary and Mari, have been cheerfully handselling my set-in-Yachats middle grade novel SOMEDAY I’LL LAUGH ABOUT THIS, making it one of their small-scale bestsellers. Sweet deal--I let the store know when my mother is heading to her beach house in Yachats and she delivers whatever new stock they need of this title plus BRIDES OF EDEN, which also has a local setting. In this person-to-person way, we save shipping costs and keep it local.

For this recent Mother’s Day, my mother was booked with my brother and his clan (four great-grandchildren!) at the Yachats house before I invited her to our smaller gathering, so, to get a card to her on the right day, I sent a Mother’s Day card to the bookshop, with a note to Mari and Mary asking them to hand over the card when my mom showed up with the current delivery of my books.

When I didn’t get a call from my mom, I worried. Had she inadvertently left my books at home and so not visited the bookstore? I didn’t want her to think I’d forgotten her on the big day, and the Hallmark card (first off the rack to choke me up) was a misty-making epistle about a Lifetime Legacy of Love which I knew she’d agree was perfect.

Well, I needn’t have worried. As it turns out, the sister who received the card was not the sister in the store when my mom came in. When they realized the card hadn’t been handed over, Mari took it upon herself to go looking for my mom at the family cabin, knowing only that it was up at the end of Salmon Street. How hard could it be? She ended up delivering the card to my mom as she sat with the rest of the family down on the beach.

Now, I ask you—do you think anybody at would pull through for a writer like that? Please support your local independent bookseller!

And don’t forget to stop in at Mari’s Books And…in Yachats.
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Horizon Gazing

I just finished reading—and loving—Maria Semple’s novel WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. It did what my daughter Mary and I agree our favorite books do; it took me, with delightfully snarky authority, to places I’ve never been, and let me listen in on pockets of people I will never know: The culture of Microsoft, Seattle real estate, architecture in Los Angeles, the MacArthur Genius Grants, and an amazing trip to Antarctica. I particularly enjoyed Semple’s West Coast take on things, and the fact that none of her areas of exploration involve anything to do with yet another view of life in Manhattan.

Because she had me believing every detail, one sentence jumped out at me. The father explains to his daughter that, “When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It’s the same as a runner’s high.”

Wow. So that explains it. My husband and I have noticed that we can’t seem to read with any efficiency while sitting on the beach. Our eyes keep drifting up. I’ve always described it as the scene simply being too compelling, but now Maria Semple offers the science behind it: gazing at the horizon is a better brain fix than anything anybody can write.

I guess this also explains why I’ve always longed for a cabin with a porch facing West, and now that I have it, why it feels so good to me to sit there and gaze across the valley of young trees to the forested ridge beyond.

Seven months ago today I had total knee replacement surgery. I’m doing okay with the knee itself. I’ve had a bad knee almost my whole life, ever since I knelt on a sewing needle at fifteen, so, no big deal there. The hard part has been detoxing from four months of Oxycodone. My brain, apparently, has to learn how to pump out the endorphins on its own again, and it sure is taking its sweet time about it.

People have always known about this horizon gazing, of course, even if they didn’t know the science. Isn’t it right there in the King James version of the Bible?

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

A good RX for me.

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Stranger Than Fiction

The topic of this morning’s “This American Life” on NPR was coincidences. It made me want to tell about a couple of mine.

While working on a remodeling project one fall day back in the seventies, I spun the radio dial, looking for something diverting, and landed on a channel I’d never listened to before. A few minutes later I almost fell off the ladder when the DJ said, “You know what today is? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, today is the anniversary of the day Harold Oaks of Hood River broke the world apple picking record.”

Harold Oaks! He’d been my fiance! I’d been there watching the day he picked those apples!

As if this weren’t enough, the DJ went on. “I thought I’d give him call,” he said, “but instead I got his mother on the line. She thanked me for calling and said, as a matter of fact, Harold’s getting married today.”

Wow. What a weird way to find out what happened to the guy you almost married. Maybe Facebook makes this sort of random surprise a thing of the past?

Fast forward about twenty years. In the antiques mall in Lincoln City on the coast, I picked up a beautiful old scrapbook. The first time I went to put something in it, I saw that it wasn’t empty after all, as I’d thought. A few pages in, someone had pasted an autographed concert program and single newspaper article. The review of pianist Samuel Sorin was written by:

Kathryn Oaks! Harold’s mother!

I am not making this up.

Poor Kathryn. She spent a good deal of the review lamenting the poor attendance in the Hood River High School Auditorium for Mr. Sorin’s most excellent performance. She was a former opera singer herself, and now I think how hard it must have been for her to be stuck in Hood River, mothering twin boys, who would have been about three at the time the esteemed pianist briefly graced the fruit growing hamlet. I remembering seeing a gorgeous photo of her, dressed as Juliet. I was mightily impressed. I could have been her fan, but she didn’t like me. Maybe I wasn’t patient or appreciative enough, watching her son pick all those apples. But it was boring! I would have preferred hearing her sing opera….

Anyway, coincidences like this happen in real life, but you could never get away with them in serious fiction. I ran up against this in writing BRIDES OF EDEN: A TRUE STORY IMAGINED. The editor who’d worked with me on my previous books wanted me to forget what really happened when Edmund Creffield came to Corvallis in 1903. She and the others at Random House thought I should just fictionalize whatever I wanted and make it a novel.

But that was the whole point! That this strange story was true. It all really happened! I’m glad I stuck to my guns and the folks at HarperCollins agreed. Real life IS stranger than fiction sometimes, and not everything should be turned into a novel.
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Life Imitates Art Imitates Life Etc.

My father’s father, my Papa Bill, was a gentle, handsome man, an artist with the soul of a poet. He loved the Rubayatt of Omar Khayyam, and when he built a cabin at Arch Cape on the Oregon Coast, he inscribed the beam above the fireplace with this line: AND PITY SULTAN MAHMUD ON HIS THRONE.

As a little girl, this fascinated me. In my book SOMEDAY I’LL LAUGH ABOUT THIS, I fictionalized the cabin in Yachats owned by my mother’s very practical and non-poetic side of the family by transporting that line to the beam over the rock fireplace there. As my character twelve-year-old Shelby explains it, it means you feel even luckier than a king, because a palace can’t top a good cabin.

Now my husband and I are building a little cabin on one of our forest properties, and I am copying my grandfather in real life by putting the line over the doors framing the view to the west. I think he would have approved.

The next lines of the poem are perhaps the more famous:

A book of verses underneath the bough
A flask of wine, a loaf of bread and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise ‘enow!

Well, we’re usually too busy planting or limbing trees to sit around reading poetry to each other, and drinking and chainsaws are not a good mix. But the part about being out there together? Pretty much says it all.

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I am a huge fan of the TV show Portlandia. I only wish it were longer! I could sit here laughing my head off all night. I guess it’s the recognition factor for me. I’m thinking Yeah, people talk like that. And then…Wait. You mean they don’t talk that way everywhere? You mean that’s just a Portland thing? A Western Oregon thing? I feel like Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have been spying on us and showing us sides of our laid-back selves we hadn’t even noticed.

After the first few episodes, I couldn’t help starting to collect what seemed to me like Portlandia bits here in Corvallis, eighty miles to the south. My favorite is having our eggs delivered by Dan Crall in his pedicab. Along with his backyard chicken coop project, Dan also ferries people around town in his bicycle powered cab, a business for which he was recently nominated local entrepreneur of the year.

What a privilege to eat these fresh, orange-yoked eggs laid by super happy chickens. Dan has a wonderfully mellow voice, powerfully charming enough that it used to grace the airwaves of Oregon Public Broadcasting. I’m sure his hens must enjoy being called to dinner by him!

Of course we reuse the egg cartons. Sometimes Dan writes slogans or reviews on them. Today’s says, “Eggs so good you’ll say, ‘These are good.’”

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I promised an honest report and here it is: today, Monday, the well-drillers hit a deep vein of good water at 130 feet. First try, drilling where David Brinker arranged the pink tapes at X marks the spot. Make of it what you will, we're happy!
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Water Witching

We have to dig a well at Plunkett Creek, one of our tree farm properties. It’s silly, actually. We have no intention of building, but in order to maintain the right to build, we have to go ahead and do it. I wonder if the people who made these laws thought of these consequences--ugly and perhaps unoccupied white trailers parked here and there, blighting the forest zones of Oregon. They’re place savers. Why can’t we just have a legal paper stating the property is buildable sometime in the future? Since that doesn’t seem to compute, and we’ve paid a price reflecting the right to build, we must build to protect our investment.

As the self-appointed Director of Cute of this operation of ours, I have vetoed the ugly trailer bit and hope, for the same money, to have some locals build a little cabin. Even the smallest picnic house requires all the services.

Thus, the well. Yesterday we went up to the Kings Valley property with our timber manager, David Brinker, and watched him do the witching. My husband and I both held the witching wires and felt them go nuts over the spot where David said we’d find water.

I thought it was exciting and magical, but last night I went on line and found nothing but material debunking the whole idea of water witching. No proof ever of it working, they say. And lots of stories of people doing just what we did, holding the wires where X marks the spot and claiming they’d felt them move in a decisive way. These people were not being written of with admiration!

But everybody, including David, has stories of having found the water with witching and coming up dry when the witching process was bypassed.

So, next week, we’ll drill. I want to watch. I can’t wait to see if David’s right. Stay tuned! I promise an honest report of happens.
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IN THE KEEP OF TIME by Margaret J. Anderson

We are celebrating the brand new availability of our dear friend Margaret J. Anderson’s charming novel, IN THE KEEP OF TIME, as an eBook. Originally published by Knopf over thirty years ago, the story of four English children sent to Scotland for a bit of summer vacation in the countryside has many fans who adored the book as children themselves and now want to share the time-slip adventure with their own children. That the book--as of today--can be speedily downloaded is especially good news for all of those who have been unable to find the out-of- print paper versions.

It seems particularly appropriate to me that my first book read on a Kindle should be this tale of travel to the past and to the future. It's a story that offers up much food for thought for young readers about the way we care for our planet and yet manages this without miring itself in the darkness of many of the current dystopian titles being published. As a Scot, born in Lockerbie, the charming lingo of “wee bairns” and the like come naturally to Margaret, and her background in science afforded her a prescience in imagining the consequences of global warming long before it was much discussed.

I love picturing a brand new generation of readers being introduced to this exciting and yet somehow cozy adventure by the parents who loved it when it first came out so many years ago. IN THE KEEP OF TIME is a book which has stood the TEST OF TIME!
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