Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Book Review: The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

Getting out into nature is my favorite way to recharge.  I like to pedal along local trails, paddle in our local waterways and hike or run in the hills whenever possible.  But I've never thought to self power myself over 4,000 miles of North America's wildest areas.  The Sun is a Compass is Caroline Van Hemert's story about the trip she and her husband made from Bellingham, Washington north to the Arctic Ocean and backdown through the Brooks Range to Kotzebue, Alaska. Their 4,000 mile trek included miles paddled in their custom crafted, handmade rowboats and long stretches of remote landscape hiked or skied in Canada and Alaska.                                                                                                                                   

Caroline is a native Alaskan, and is an intrepid traveler.  She also set out on this trip after finishing her Ph.D. dissertation in ornithology.  Through the story, Caroline weaves in stories of the birds she sees during the trip, giving glimpses of the birds' journeys and the effects climate change is having on their futures.  On a journey of this magnitude, birds sometimes were the only wildlife the pair would see for days, and they were always a welcome sight for Caroline.

To travel to the areas the couple did took extensive planning.  For months they were pouring over maps, guidebooks and consulting others about the trip.  My favorite statement about how big an undertaking this was is when Caroline sees the topographical maps her husband, Pat, taped on the wall, and they are tilting crookedly.  This irritates her.  Pat's response shows just what a big undertaking this was.  The tilting wasn't due to him sloppily taping up maps, but due to the curvature of the earth.  "The scale is that big"

Planning also involved packing up supply boxes of food that would be dropped off for them along the route.  This is a journey of endurance, and their food supplies were full of high calorie, easily prepared, often dehydrated foods.  The resupply boxes were always a welcome sight for the pair after traveling hundred of miles.  The hardest wait comes for a resupply box in the Noatak Valley.  Caroline and her husband arrive and expect the supply box to be delivered after they call the pilot.  But when they call on their satellite phone, weather conditions have the plane grounded.  Day after day passes, with the couple losing energy and nearing starvation.  The sight of that plane on the 5th day was euphoric, and the items in that box were quickly eaten until they were sated.  

Caroline and her husband have some magical sightings of animals.  They also have memorable interactions with people during their trip.  My favorite story is of Ricky who lives in a 140-square foot house in Noatak Valley.  Of course when you are the only person in the middle of nowhere, when two travelers set foot near you, you welcome them in, warm them up, feed them and trade stories.  Ricky was a remarkable man, one of several personalities they meet during the trip.  

This book proved to be a great escape from the recent smoky, hot air we've been experiencing on the West coast.  Well written and very informative.  Take the journey and read this book.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


What happens when a botanist gets her hand on a book about the meaning of flowers?  She gets one of her quickest reads in years.  

The Book:  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a novel about young Victoria, a girl who is in the foster care system in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The story follows her life from her adolescent years as a foster child, through her emancipation from foster care on to her young adult years.  Victoria was given up as an infant, and she then bounced around the foster care system for 18 years.  The descriptions of her experiences in various potential adoption situations, followed by her life as an adolescent and teen in group homes vividly portrays what many children in the foster care system experience.  

The story may resonate with me because it is set in San Francisco and in the North Coast viticultural area of California.  Victoria lives most of her childhood within the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her life really changes when a vineyard owner becomes her guardian.  The vineyard owner, Elizabeth, farms her own land and welcomes young Victoria into her home and teaches her all about grape growing.  Elizabeth also has an extensive lexicon of flowers, knowing the meaning of each flower in the garden.  Elizabeth finds an apt pupil in Victoria, and they form their own language of flowers during their evolving relationship.  

Victoria is a strong willed, and sometimes violent child who has a hard time finding a family that will become her adopted family.  She is taken in by Elizabeth, and almost becomes Elizabeth's daughter, but it doesn't happen.  You see the relationship build, but also how it is marred during their time together.  

Once Victoria turns 18 she is no longer a ward of the state, and she has to find her own way in the world.  Homeless in a park, she finds a job at a flower shop after she wows the owner with the exquisite and meaningful bouquets she presents to her.  Victoria is a natural florist, and can find the perfect flowers for every customer, for every situation and for every need.  Quickly she is indispensable at the flower shop and she is starting to establish herself as an adult in San Francisco.

Victoria does fall in love with someone who understands her affection for flowers.  They form a solid relationship.  All relationships are fraught with problems and misunderstandings, this one is no different.  The relationship is severed, suddenly, by Victoria, and you wonder how she is going to keep herself together.

Reconciliation does happen, on Victoria's terms, and her future happiness is probable.  Reading this story, I really appreciate that Vanessa Diffenbaugh does not paint a portrait of innocence and victimhood in her descriptions of Victoria.  She shows Victoria's faults as well as her talents.  

The Botany:  This book talks about flowers and their meanings.  In Victorian times (it should be noted that our main character is Victoria) flowers and their secret meanings were used to communicate messages between people.  Flowers continue to communicate messages now.  Here are the flowers and their messages that I'm interpreting this this summer:  

Fennel = Strength.  Fennel is growing with abandon in my garden this year.  I spied a flock of goldfinches pecking out fennel seed yesterday, and fennel is a great habitat for Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars.

Grapevine = Abundance.  With the grapevines being laden with fruit right now, you can see the abundance around you.

Oregano = Joy.  I have planted oregano in every incarnation of it this spring.  Variegated, Greek, Italian.  I hope it brings a lot of joy to my household.

Sage = Good Health and a Long Life.  My sages this year have been so drought tolerant and are thriving everywhere I have them in the garden.  I hope it signals good health and a long life for my family during the pandemic and afterwards.

Wheat = Prosperity.  At the beginning of the pandemic my straw bale sprouted and a small crop of wheat was soon flourishing by my compost pile.  

Scarlet Pimpernel = Change.  Every spring this flower finds itself in my garden, along my walkways and places where I least expect it.  I have a new patch of it coming up in a recently planted flowerbed.  I hope this brings good change.  We could all use it.  

Definitely a well written book.  The Language of Flowers was a fun discovery. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Time to Polish Up Your Resume: Ideas, Resources, Templates

With little warning, the pandemic has thrown many people into job search mode.  Many of my readers are finding themselves starting over, looking for a job, any job.  To have a fighting chance at landing a suitable position, now's the time to get the job hunt going in full force.  First item of business:  Get your resume updated.  

I've often written about how to make a great resume.  I do think you can write your own resume, and here's how.   I've also compiled my other resume writing advice here

To get started, use a resume template.  Some good ones I've mentioned in the past are on  Recently I have learned about Resume Genius.  They have some great templates and also information about how to write your resume, what to put on it, and how to format it.  I enjoyed their advice on The One Page Resume and The Two Page Resume.  I'm a fan of a one pager, but know that it is tough for an experienced professional to get everything on one page, so I'll concede to a two page resume if completely necessary, just make sure the first page counts!  And don't have the dreaded one-and-about-a-half-page resume.  If you need two pages, fill both pages up.

Not everyone is up for writing their own resume.  With COVID, resume writers are coming out of the woodwork, and plenty of them aren't worth the fee they charge you for a mediocre resume.  Robin Ryan wrote a great article for Forbes Careers about how to avoid getting duped when hiring a resume writer.  Robin is a resume writer, and encourages you to do your homework on the person who will be making your prime marketing piece for your next career move.   

Robin recommends finding a resume writer who has strong referrals, someone who has hiring and work experience in your industry, and someone who takes the time to learn about you and turns around the resume to you in a timely manner.  

Robin also wrote about five resumes mistakes to avoid.  This was all spot on with what I experience with resumes.  While taking her advice, here's another great article from Rebecca Henninger of the Forbes Coaches Council about what your resume should look like in 2020.  

If you find yourself out of a job, treat your job hunt like a job.  Have daily tasks, work with your professional network, and stay on top of industry news.  And keep on keeping on.  If there was ever a time when people will understand that you are job hunting, now is the time.

And don't forget to send me your new resume!