Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What I read in April (2014)

It was a great month for reading. For full reviews of these books (these are just excerpts of the reviews), click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.

Two great historical fiction books

The Invention of Wings
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
The Invention of Wings is based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists. The novel begins in the early 1800s, with Sarah Grimke turning 11 and her mother "giving" her ownership of her own slave, Hetty, or Handful. Sarah is deeply uncomfortable with her family's legacy as slave owners. The novel weaves the story of Sarah with that of Handful and her mother Charlotte. While Sarah struggles to put a voice to her passionate thoughts, Handful and Charlotte weave their own pains and desires in their quilts and pass on their family history through stories. This novel is not an easy read--Kidd depicted the horrors of slavery without flinching. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers of their time, standing up for what they believed was right, even if their voices shook.

My Notorious Life, by Kate Manning
I LOVED this book, but it's probably not for everyone. Introduced as a lost diary, the book opens with a suicide. The main character fakes her own death with this dead body of another. We know she's married, and her husband helps cover it up. Axie Muldoon, a poor Irish immigrant child, was sent off to the midwest on the Orphan Train with her siblings.
Without giving too much more of the plot away, I will say that Axie is a complex, fascinating character. Axie's story is based on the life and death of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-1879), also known as Madame Restell, a "notorious" midwife. This wonderful piece of feminist historical fiction will give you new perspectives about the status of women--then and now--and the lesser evil of abortion. I could not put his book it! It's sad and thought provoking, but redemptive. 

Interesting nonfiction

Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder
Before I read this book, I knew very little about Burundi. After reading this memorable narrative nonfiction, I feel more educated about this part of the world. As a third-year medical school intern, Deogratias (Deo) Niyizonkiza fled the genocide in Burundi 1994. He arrived in New York City with $200 to his name and no English, and ended up sleeping in Central Park and eking out an existence by delivering groceries to rich New Yorkers for a few dollars a day. Helped by a few kind people, he eventually attended Columbia University and the Harvard School of Public Health. Tracy Kidder tells Deo's extraordinary story with vivid detail. Deo established Village Health Works, a community-driven health center. Most people do not return to Burundi after they leave, but Deo has dedicated his life to helping the poor in his native land. His life and story are astonishing.

Engaging thriller

Gone GirlGone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
These characters are extremely unlikable, but they are interesting. Amy is married to Nick, and the book starts out with Amy going missing. They're both also spoiled brats in their own ways. It's beautifully crafted, and I couldn't put it down. But I also understand the perspective of people who didn't like this book. It doesn't exactly give you hope in the future of humanity, and it makes me wonder how on earth people could want to stay married to each other when they clearly despise each other so much.

Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Z is for zoo (Portlandia from A to Z)

As much as I enjoy writing these A to Z posts, I am delighted to say this is my last one for another year! Z is for the Oregon Zoo, which is located in Washington Park, 2 miles from downtown. It opened in 1888 when a private animal collector, Richard Knight, donated two bears to the City of Portland, making it the oldest North American zoo west of the Mississippi. Knight began collecting wild animals and keeping them in the back of his drugstore on Third & Morrison, until it got to be too much for him to handle. By 1894 the zoo had over 300 animals. The 64-acre zoo is Oregon's largest paid attraction, with more than 1.6 million visitors a year.
First animals in the Oregon Zoo--such a sad little cage.
The zoo gained real popularity when it bought Rosy, an Asian elephant, and then became even more popular when Packy was born in 1962...the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years, and the tallest Asian elephant in the U.S. (10.5 feet tall). Since then, 28 more elephants have been born at the zoo in the most successful zoo elephant breeding program in the world. On August 23, 2008 (my oldest son's birthday), Samudra was born. My 7-year-old Nicholas was obsessed with Samudra when he was little, after we went to see the baby elephant shortly after his second birthday. He thinks of Samudra as "his" elephant. Of all three of our boys, Nicholas is the one who has loved the zoo and the animals the most.

In November 2012, Samudra had a little sister, Lily. The zoo's elephant program has been mired in controversy, though, as animal rights activists seek to free the elephants. If you want to see some cuteness, watch Lily's first year in two minutes.

I have many childhood memories from visiting the zoo, which was different when I was younger. The zoo used to have a scary Halloween zoo train--I remember my sister hiding under the seat when we were going through the completely dark tunnel! The zoo train is one of my favorite things about the zoo--that and the otters and sea lions.

Old entrance to the zoo
We've been to a few concerts at the zoo, the most recent being Cyndi Lauper in 2010. Here are some zoo photos through the years. Enjoy!

Visiting the zoo with my friends Jeannette and Amila in 1982 (with Packy?)
Celebrating Chris' first birthday at the zoo, 1997

Kieran at the zoo, Halloween 2004

With Kieran near the monkey exhibit

Elephant play area

Our family on the zoo train when I was pregnant with Nicholas

At the mountain goat exhibit

Kieran wearing his "Big Brother" t-shirt

Kieran and Nicholas

At the African Serengeti exhibit
Making faces
The lines to meet Samudra
Kieran with his elephant hat
Playing in the African exhibit area
Riding an elephant tricycle
In the play jeep

On the zoo train
Tattooed Kieran

Lily is born!

This was the era when Nicholas wore his Indiana Jones shirt everywhere!

My three boys with a mountain goat in the background

My baby who celebrated his first birthday at the zoo!
I hope you've enjoyed my Portlandia from A to Z posts. You can read all of them here. Let me know if you have suggestions for next year!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Y is for Yin and Yang (Portlandia A to Z)

Yin and yang is for Chinese and Japanese Gardens--Portland has both, and while they are different, they are both tranquil and beautiful.

Japanese Garden

The Portland Japanese Garden is located in Washington Park (W is for Washington and Waterfront Parks). It's frequently touted as the best Japanese garden outside of Japan. We have visited a lot of Japanese gardens, in Japan and elsewhere, and this is my personal favorite. The Japanese ambassador to the U.S., Nobuo Matsunaga agreed with me, saying "I believe this garden to be the most authentic Japanese garden, including those in Japan." The two things that troubled me about the gardens in Japan were the proliferation of vending machines and people smoking--this garden fortunately lacks both of those features!

Occupying 5.5 acres, the garden has five major subgardens: the Strolling Pond Garden, the Natural Garden, the Sand and Stone Garden, the Flat Garden, and the Tea Garden. The lower entrance has a 100-year-old authentic temple gate. The garden was designed by Professor Takuma Tona, a famous Japanese landscape architect. Design began in 1963, and the garden opened to the public in 1967.

When our oldest son was a baby, we had an annual pass to the garden. I haven't been there for several years, but I'm longing to go back after looking at these photos! It's such a lovely place!

Makes me homesick for Japan!

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Front gate
It's hard to believe I've visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden only once, on my birthday back in 2008. It's a wonderful walled little gem in the middle of the Pearl District downtown. It occupies a full city block, about 40,000 square feet in Chinatown. It's modeled after the famous classical gardens in Suzhou, China.

The Chinese Garden is much younger than the Japanese Garden--it was a result of a sister city partnership between Suzhou and Portland. Then-Portland Mayor Vera Katz helped find a site for the Chinese Garden in the 1990s. Designed by Kuang Zhen Yan, it was built by 65 artisans from Suzhou on land donated by Northwest Natural Gas. 500 tons of rock from China were used in the garden, which opened in September 2000.

Previously it was called the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, but at its 10th anniversary in 2010, it was renamed to the Lan Su Chinese Garden...Su represents Suzhou and Lan represents Portland.

The garden has more than 400 species of trees, orchids, water plants, perennials, shrubs, and bamboo, all indigenous to China. The garden also has a lovely tea house and gift shop.

One of my favorite features of the garden is the gorgeous stone walkways. Well worth a visit, and time for me to return there!! These are photos of our visit to the garden in October 2008, when my little Nicholas was only two years old.

My favorite pathway!

Tomorrow's my last Portlandia blog post! Z is for Zoo! Read the rest of my Portlandia A to Z posts here.