Archive for June, 2012
Vincent McCaffrey is a book collector and ran a successful bookstore, both brick-and-mortar and online, in Boston. He has written a book with a book hound as the main character. Clearly, McCaffrey made friends and connections in the publishing world. Hound got a beautiful cover and five-star treatment from his publisher.
I enjoyed Hound, but I’m not quite as carried away as the gushing enthusiasts quoted on the back and in the opening papers. McCaffrey’s writing, line by line, is mostly lovely, except for glitches like, “the huskiness of her voice was smoother.” The descriptions of exteriors and interiors in Boston are beautiful.
Henry Sullivan is a book-hound, who buys old books. The opening sentence, “Death, after all, was the way Henry made a living,” alerts us that this is a literary mystery. Sure enough, soon a wealthy, beautiful older woman with whom Henry was once involved, who has asked him to appraise her book collection, is found dead in her Boston condo. Henry is drawn into the mystery of Morgan’s death, and a lesser, historical secret-room mystery uncovered by his friend Albert, who runs a salvage business. Henry is a subdued character, but Albert and their bartender friend Tim, Henry’s landlord Mrs. Prowder, his father and his rapscallion uncle are interesting.
Clearly McCaffrey loves books and the places books live. He has lush descriptions of Morgan’s library, the Boston library and the Gardner Museum. His descriptions of the books Henry collects are also concrete and detailed.
Don’t read this book for the mystery. It is fairly predictable and McCaffrey uses an irritating technique; characters trot onstage, deliver information, and exit stage left. There is nothing wrong with this technique but I don’t care for it. The secret-room story is more of a puzzle, and I liked it more. Read it for the lovely descriptions and the occasional flashes of humor as Henry reminisces about parts of his childhood.
Hound is the first of a series. I enjoyed the prose and the books, but I don’t know if I will seek out the next book.
Thursday we visited the food trucks at Ragle Park again. The three choices were:
Awful Falafel. I think this clever name is a bit unfortunate, because I hear that their food is good. They have falafel of course, and also schwarma, kabobs and other Mediterranean goodies.
Yum-Yum Trolley, which offered a rib eye steak, burgers, a chopped salad and other treats.
Fork Catering. The Facebook page said Street Eatz (the county’s first gourmet food truck) was scheduled to be there, but I guess there was a change. Fork also had two enterprising lemonade vendors, age 10ish, close to their door.
We decided on Fork. Spouse had the Victorian Farmstead beef burger. Victorian Farmstead is right up the street from our house. I don’t know if they have met all the requirements for organic meat yet, but their animals are grass-fed and additive-free.The burger comes on a ciabatta roll and is served with potato chips. I had a baby spinach and beet salad, with local cheese-maker Laura Chenel’s goat cheese. Here are words I hardly ever use; there was a little too much cheese on the salad. The spinach was fresh and crisp, the small beets earth and sweet, and it was loaded with Chenel’s creamy, tangy goat cheese. The cheese was not in chunks but perched on the leaves like hills. It would have been better if it had been broken up a bit more, but it was still good.
Spouse thought the burger was good enough that he would order one again, and ditto the salad for me. And the lemonade had a bit of lavender in it (that’s the latest thing out here in west county — lavender lemonade) and was tart and refreshing.
We walked around the park after dinner and Spouse discovered this hidden treasure of feral rhodies!
My review of Mieville’s latest, a young adult fantasy, is up on Fantasy Literature. I heartily recommend this book!
A couple of weeks ago in Coming this Summer I posted a picture for Mockingbird Books. I was delighted to see that there was going to be a used bookstore back in town, since Paul Jaffe shut down in Copperfield’s Used Books.
Monday afternoon I was downtown and I ran into my friend Brandy. I met Brandy through a writing group. She is a power-reader with a bright intellect. She worked at Copperfield’s books for several years — and she is the proprietor of Mockingbird! Brandy, along with a partner named Mark, plans to open the store in mid-July.
Saturday, June 2, I went to the county’s annual Foster Parent Appreciation Picnic. It’s held out in the countryside, in a grove of heritage oak trees with a built in barbecue. I didn’t know what turnout to expect, but it was great! Lots of foster parents, social workers, and children, over 100, I think.
One of the local Kiwanis groups donated hamburgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers and did the grilling for the lunch. Side dishes included a huge, luscious fruit salad, green salad, potato salad, and chili. The tables were decorated with flowering plants. Kids could play softball, or go over to an adjacent building to see the magician or get funny photos taken.
Pam, who works for the Central Valley Healthcare Coalition as a program manager, works with a lot of initiatives to improve children’s nutrition. She is also a chaplain, and part of the Kawanis group. She was assisting with the day’s cooking.
California has about 60,000 children in foster care; Sonoma County has about 1% of those. Nationally, in 2009, 408,000 children were in foster placement. “Placement” includes foster parents and the more expensive, more structured group homes. Why do kids have to stay in foster care? Why aren’t they just adopted? Well, in 2009, nationally, 57,000 were, according to the Brookings Institute. That’s about 14%. Many children get to go home to families who have changed their behavior and can keep their children safe. Some children come into care school aged or older, not attractive adoptive candidates for people who want a cute baby. And some of these children have special physical, medical or psychological needs.
Foster parents, as a group, are frequently maligned in fiction, especially television and movies. Most of this is the same laziness that creates dumb doughnut-eating cop characters and cold, officious nurse characters. Writers who don’t know much about the child welfare system (and don’t care to find out) think it’s very easy to give a character a terrible back-story by showing them in nasty foster homes with caretakers who are either abusive or “just in it for the money.” The big bucks these folks are getting, in California, is somewhere between $446 and $627/month to raise a child. California pays an out-of-work carpenter more in unemployment benefits than it pays someone to give a wounded child a safe home.
Foster parents do get an annual clothing allowance of around $200 for each child. Some foster parents, who have special training or have taken additional classes, qualify for a higher payment because they open their homes to children with special needs.
(You might be thinking, “Well, weren’t there any kids at this picnic? They aren’t in the pictures.” There were plenty, and lots of nice pictures I couldn’t use because they showed children. Foster children have the right to privacy, so I’ve tried very hard here to only use the photos that don’t let people identify the kids.)
On Saturday, the foster parents gave appreciation awards to some social workers, and the social workers gave appreciation awards to outstanding foster parents. One couple stood out for me because they care for medically fragile infants; babies who might require medical procedures every two of three hours, or who have suffered brain trauma or head injuries.
What do foster parents think makes a good social worker? Certain words came up repeatedly. “Professional and respectful” came up more than once, but the one constant seemed to be, “returns phone calls.” Generally, it seems that what foster parents want more than “just the money” is support; someone to talk to when the eight-year-old is having a meltdown because her parents were a no-show for the visit; when the thirteen year old is acting out; when the baby’s medication is no longer covered by Medi-Cal and the cost is $1100/month.
Support doesn’t always have to be a paid professional. The Redwood Empire Foster Parents Association provides formal and informal networking. Nobody can walk a foster parent through a meltdown better than another foster parent who has experienced dozens of them.
The social workers gave an appreciation award to this couple, because nobody is better than they are at interacting with troubled teen-aged girls. In my social service career I’ve interviewed people just released from jail, the mentally ill, and biker families, and teen-age girls scare me. I think these foster parents are probably superhuman.
The woman standing next to me, who had a three-year-old and a baby placed with her, summed up foster parenting this way; “You love them and you let them go.” That’s a lot like parenting – except “let them go” can happen at any time.
Foster parents who got awards also had their choice of elaborate gift baskets!
They had miniature horses for the kids to pet. The white spotted horse is named Aurora; the chestnut with the attitude is Mr. Mister.
There were several very mellow dogs who attended the picnic. This is Umi, hanging out with Chloe, a social worker.
The event was very pleasant. For everything foster parents do for these children, the least we can do once year is give them a hamburger and say “Thanks.”
I went to the new location of the Santa Rosa farmers’ market on Saturday, because I was one of the SAVOR volunteers. The new location is lovely and pastoral. To the east of the market are Sonoma County’s rolling golden hills, dotted with oak trees, while to the south is a lush vineyard.
SAVOR was providing a new kale salad recipe, and bike-blended strawberry smoothies. Elizabeth Eichold, who worked at the satellite market last summer (held in front of the clinic that houses the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutritional program), brought a delicious kale and quinoa salad, festooned with pumpkin seeds and grated carabiner cheese (from Weirauch Creamery.) It was eight-thirty in the morning, and I wasn’t sure kale is everyone’s idea of a morning treat. In fact, we couldn’t keep the portion cups on the trays. We also had copies of the recipe, and when I left at noon, two farmers had said they were sold out of kale.
Quinoa is a South American grain with a mild nutty taste. Anything you can use rice for, you can use quinoa. Elizabeth says that the salad, with the grain and the kale, is a complete carbohydrate.
Nancy Sumida, who managed the WIC satellite market and helped several local farmers market get the equipment that lets them accept CalFresh benefits, stopped by to lend her support.
We ran out of recipes shortly before ten, so I made a run to the Windsor Office Depot and got two hundred fifty more copies. About seventy-five of them went away as well.
Just before eleven, the blender bike showed up, and we segued into silky strawberry smoothies. The young folks from VOICES joined us and took over the smoothie operation seamlessly. We didn’t have the bike athletes we saw in May, and I think our gearing was off, so smoothies were coming off the bike a little more slowly than before. They tasted just as good, though.
Lata, who has the Indian food booth, gave us samples of her summer fruit lasses. While mango is the classic and still my favorite, her apricot lasse was ambrosial.
I stopped at Foggy River farm to visit my co-worker’s daughter who is working for them during the summer. On the way back I bought two bottles of olive oil from Stonehouse Olive Oil.
Spouse and I walked up to the nearby regional park Thursday night, to browse the food trucks for dinner. The County Parks Department, facing funding cutbacks and threats of closing some of our great local parks, have come up with several brilliant fund-raisers. One of these is inviting the food trucks to Spring Lake Park in Santa Rosa on Tuesday nights, and Ragle Ranch Park in my town on Thursdays. The trucks donate a share of the proceeds to the Regional Parks Foundation, which helps support the 19 local Regional Parks. The program’s called Park-n-Eat.
Ragle Park had a banner announcing food truck night. There are usually three trucks, but this particular night there were only two; Charlie Bruno’s Chuckwagon and Fish On! Chips. The trucks are there until at least 7:30, and we got there shortly after six. I do not know what kind of a crowd I was expecting, but we certainly did not fit in. The lines were filled with bright and energetic six and seven year old girls and their dads, getting dinner after softball practice. Two grumpy want-to-be-retired people didn’t fit the demographic. Still, we toughed it out and checked out our menu options.
Fish On! Chips had one menu item; fish and chips; the minnow (one piece) and the Holy Mackerel (two pieces). The fish is Alaskan cod. When you do something, and you know you do it well, you don’t need to get fancy. He also offered soft drinks and root beer floats.
Charlie Bruno’s Chuck Wagon has a varied menu with two salads and other items mostly in the meat theme; hot dogs, sandwiches, and so on although they did have fried calamari. It is a more stylish truck (Fish On is a trailer pulled by a pickup).
After some deliberation we picked the fish and chips. The twenty-something dads we were sharing the line with gave us a few tips for next time; split up, one orders salads from the Chuckwagon while the other orders the entrée from Fish On! Chips.
While we waited I ran into a retiree from work; so I felt a little more like we fit in. I ordered the minnow and Spouse the larger size. Each order is cooked individually. My fish was moist and flaky with a crunchy crust that held up under the onslaught of the tartar sauce. The fries were crisp on the outside, lightly dusted with some kind of spice mix. Fish On! Chips makes a special spicy hot sauce that I recommend.
The park was filled with families and kids – and a rich golden light from the lowering sun, casting the oak bark into high relief and turning the dry wild oats nearly white. After careful consideration as we walked around the top loop of the park, we pronounced dinner a success.