Friday, August 28, 2015

Photo Friday: Backpacking the Sierra Nevada

Okay, we've been here before. Me and backpacking photos, I mean (like every time I don't have a bit of flash fiction ready to go on a Friday!). This trip went into a new area, with a new family configuration--one of our sons was away for the whole month of July, leaving us to backpack as a family of three (weird) (but as the eldest is now at college, something to get used to). Looking for someplace to go after dropping Second Son off at LAX for his trip to Mongolia, we settled on Sequoia National Park, in particular the Mineral King area.

The road in to Mineral King is not for the faint of heart. It takes over an hour, is steep, windy, and only one lane wide. And when you get to the trailhead, the ranger will suggest that you marmot-proof your car, as the little demons have a habit of crawling underneath, then nibbling anything rubber. Like brake lines, something you will really want for the trip back out. We borrowed chicken wire, scrounged our ground clothes, and secured the car before departing.
The author and Eldest Son contemplate the well-wrapped automobile.
One of the evil marmot-creatures, lurking about and looking for a car to steal. I understand that after they eat the rubber parts, they go joy-riding.
From the parking lot we climbed up and through Timber Gap, soon putting on rain gear as a thunder storm passed over us. It moved on so that we could stop for lunch at the pass. This was the first climb of the day, followed by a long drop to Cliff Creek. 
Flowers look extra-nice after the rain. These nicely washed leopard lilies caught my attention.
 A second long climb brought us to Pinto Lake, halfway to Black Rock Pass. Our camp there gave us a beautiful view of the sunset, as things had cleared up (aside from the smoke).
Looking west.
While the sun was setting, behind us a full moon rose over the mountains.
Looking east.
 Next morning we broke camp under a threatening sky (had to toss the fly back on the tent for a few minutes when a shower came through), and climbed toward Black Rock Pass. We hadn't gone far before the rain started in earnest, with much wind and general unpleasantness, though fortunately (given our exposed position) not thunder and lightning. We pushed on up and over the pass, and down into the trees on the other side before stopping to eat. That was too long, and took a toll on me and Eldest Son.
Lupin against the dark clouds and rain-washed mountains.
Not  long after we finished lunch (under a fallen log--seriously!) and put up camp near one of the Little Five Lakes, the storms moved off and the sun broke through and dried all our gear (including my camera, which had developed an interesting tendency to take photos on its own). An evening walk gave us great light on the Kaweah Peaks across the Big Arroyo.
Whitebark pine snags add interest to any view!
 The third day was a slack day, moving camp only about 3 miles, to Big Five Lakes. We did laundry, napped, read, and came out eventually to make dinner.
For those who wonder--dinner is usually in zip-lock bags and is made by adding boiling water. This is the entire kitchen kit for 3 of us, and weighs about 10 oz.
An after-dinner walk produced nice light and reflections, which we were able to photograph between  slaps at voracious mosquitoes.
One of the Big Five Lakes and a nameless peak. Calm winds make for nice reflection, but a brisk breeze is better when the mosquitoes are out!
 The fourth day we were back to covering the miles. Over the hill and down to Lost Canyon, then up the Canyon and over a divide to Columbine Lake.
The mountain meadow just at treeline was a real treat before climbing to the saddle just right of center on the skyline.
Arrived at Columbine Lake just after lunch (we like to start early, hike steadily--and make camp early so we can nap). It doesn't look promising, but there are actually a number of nice campsites in the low area ahead of the hikers.
The Spouse and Eldest Son homing in on home for the night.
 Fog moved in and out, so that we thought there would be no sunset. But the weather gods smiled on us, and we ended up with some of the most magical light I've experienced. The photos don't do it justice.
Moving right to left, the second dip on that skyline is Black Rock Pass that we crossed 2 days earlier.
 Gratuitous additional photos of the evening light.

Last lights on peaks reflected in the lake.
Fifth and final day: a short climb to Sawtooth Pass, and a long, painful descent (about 3000' down) to the car! The view from the top was spectacular, but I'll not deny my feet and knees were whimpering before we were done.
Sawtooth Peak from Sawtooth Pass
We experienced some rain nearly every day, mosquitoes were definitely worse than they are in August, but the scenery was world class, the kid carried more weight than I did (for the first time ever!), and it was great to see that we could still do significant mileage.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Middle Grade Review: Listen, Slowly


Title:  Listen, Slowly
Author: Thanhha Lai (my apologies to the author for not knowing how to reproduce the diacritical marks in her name)
Publisher: Harper, 2015. 260 pages.
Source: Library

12-year-old Mai Le is ready to spend the summer at the beach in Laguna, CA with her best friend. But her family has other plans. Her grandmother has heard from a detective in Vietnam who has information about the grandfather who disappeared during the war. Now Ba can't rest until she goes home to learn if Ong might still be alive. And Mai is told off to accompany her because her parents are too busy, as Mai says, "doing good." The girl's resentment gradually melts as she finds that some things might be more important than the beach.

First, can I just say that this book has the most beautiful cover?! I love it. And the book is lovely enough to match the cover. Mai is an entirely human girl, neither inhumanly dedicated to her grandmother nor so totally self-centered as to irritate the heck out of me (she is just as self-centered as a 12-year-old should be). She resents what she has been asked to do and give up, but not so much as to fail to--gradually--come to recognize what she has been given instead. I'd say that, in a nutshell, the whole book is about acceptance, peace, and priorities. As Mai makes peace with her task, and connects with the extended family she's never known, Ba also finds peace. Watching those two take care of each other is part of the beauty of the story. 

I think that while the story has a great deal of appeal to adults on some levels that kids may not get or appreciate, it is also (as cannot be said about all books we grown-ups love) a story that I think will resonate with children. Mai is delightfully human, and while many kids may not relate to the obedience to her elders that is part of the culture she has inherited despite her American upbringing, all can relate to what happens when she is pushed outside her comfortable world and given something real to do.

I think this is one that really does appeal to both kids and adults. I'd say more girls than boys (not just because Mai is female, but because she is a bit obsessed with a boy), and probably from ages 10 or 11 up. References to the war are mostly oblique, but some of the reality of war does come through.

See also my review of Inside Out and Back Again, by the same author.

Full Disclosure: I checked Listen, Slowly, out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mystery Monday: Malice at the Palace


Title: Malice at the Palace (A Royal Spyness Mystery)
Author: Rhys Bowen
Publisher: Berkley, 2015. 304 pages
Source: Library

Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line for the British throne, is back from America and as broke as ever. Fortunately the queen assigns her to be a companion to Princess Marina of Greece, about to marry Prince George. All Georgianna has to do is keep the princess from finding out about the less savory side of George's history, protect her from the ghosts at Kensington Castle...and figure out who murdered society babe Bobo Carrington, "the girl with the silver syringe," and dumped her body at the castle. Of course, no one can know about that, lest it involve the royal family. Naturally, Georgie is up to the task, with a little help from her sweetheart Darcy O'Mara,  and her decidedly non-royal maternal grandfather.

This was a delightful romp, hitting most of the high points, with just a hint of a darker side. Georgie probably spends a little too much time feeling sorry for herself as a general rule, but events in this book contrive to first give her good reason to, and then remind her things could be worse. A few loose ends from the series are wrapped up, and a couple of new ones created to keep us hoping for more about Georgie.

To be honest, this series will never qualify as great literature. Bowen isn't quite willing to make Georgie suffer as much as a good writer probably would her heroine. But it's great entertainment, and I am happy to have things turn out well. The series may well be a nearly perfect cosy-mystery balance of mystery, romance, excitement, and easy reading. Long may it last.

I can recommend the book and the series to all lovers of the cozy mystery, and particularly to those (like me) who are drawn to books about England between the wars. I'm obviously not the only one who thinks it's a great fun read, given the length of the waiting list at the library!

Full Disclosure: I checked Malice at the Palace out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."