A SIDE TRIP TO PHILLY

August 30, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Tales of Inspiration

I couldn’t imagine a visit to Pennsylvania without a side trip to Philadelphia. The richness of the history encased in this one, walkable area was too much to pass up.

After our visit to Hersheypark, we hopped in the car and drove the two hours to Philly, passing by Valley Forge, the site of the American Continental Army winter encampment in 1977-78 during the Revolutionary War. Thousands of soldiers died during this rough winter of disease, starvation, and weather. Yet, the Americans emerged from this deadly cocoon with enough organization, spirit, and skill to tackle the British at the Battle of Monmouth. I only wish we had time to stop and tour the park. Next time, I thought, if we ever get back to Pennsylvania.

We stayed right in the middle of historic downtown Philly, surrounded by cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and Independence Hall. I wish I could describe how clean and quaint this area is. Where else in the world can you be transported back in time to the birthplace of our country? We tourists walked alongside minutemen as we viewed the Liberty Bell, learned how to write with an old-fashioned ink pen, and stood in the courtyard of the magnificent Independence Hall, where both the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence were signed. (We didn’t get there in time for an actual tour…maybe next time.)

We toured the US Mint, peered through the bars at the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence, and, my absolute favorite, visited Betsy Ross in her home. Not only was it fun to see how people lived back then, in tiny spaces connected by steep and narrow staircases and with no electricity or refrigeration, but we got to spend some actual time with Betsy Ross (magnificently portrayed by a character actress) who so charmed us with her courage and cleverness that we didn’t want to leave.

She told us the story of how she came to be the maker of our American Flag, commissioned by none other than George Washington. He wanted 13 six-pointed stars representing our original 13 colonies, but Betsy Ross demurred. She didn’t like the arrangement of the stars, stacked straight across in lines, so she delicately suggested arranging them in a circle instead, signifying the unity of our country. Washington agreed, which emboldened her to make another suggestion, she told us with a glint of mischief in her eyes. Instead of six-pointed stars, she thought it would be better to make five-pointed stars. Her reason? She knew, as a seamstress, that with a piece of fabric folded a particular way, she could cut out a five-pointed star with only one cut of her scissors. She could whip out those 13 five-pointed stars in no time, and then she proceeded to show us how. It was like magic! She handed her magic paper star to my youngest son, and I have it now. As soon as I figure out how she folded the paper, I’m going to create an art project for my kids that requires cutting out a lot of stars in this very simple way…so cool!

Visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…there are no words.

We topped off our historic day with dinner at Max Brenner’s: a chocolate lover’s delight with a dessert menu much longer than the dinner menu. I chose this delectable little number that was as delicious as it was interactive:

The Melting Chocolate Truffle Heart Cake & Shake with vanilla ice cream and an iced milk chocolate shot with a chocolate ganache I got to pour myself.

My son ordered this dessert treat that I sampled many, many times:

The S’Mores Concoction served in this little mason jar with caramel sauce in a tiny glass flask.

We came to Pennsylvania to see our local baseball team compete in the Little League World Series (where they wound up 3rd in the United States: Awesome job, Eastlake!), but we found so much more to enjoy in this lusciously green state. Even though I figured it was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, the thought that keeps popping up in my mind these days is that we will be going back…someday.

 

 

HERSHEY, PA: COMING HOME

August 26, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

If you know me, you know I love chocolate. Given that, I’m sure it’s no surprise that a visit to Hershey, PA has long been on my bucket list. When we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to travel to Williamsport, PA to cheer on our team in the Little League World Series, a side trip to Hershey was pretty much a done deal.

We stayed on site at the Hershey Lodge, where we were all given a Hershey chocolate bar just for checking in, and it wasn’t a miniature size either. I had finally come home.

We began with Hersheypark, an amusement park/water park. The roller coasters were insane: big, scary, long, and fast. I used to love coasters as a kid, and gamely jumped on to our first one called the Comet. I promptly discovered that my body has changed in some inexplicable way, rendering the long drops and fast corners that used to thrill me  into vehicles of fear that threatened to unleash the contents of my stomach. Hmm. Considering we were in a park that was made up almost exclusively of roller coasters, this was going to be a problem.

Luckily, we ran into a height issue. Some of the coasters my oldest sons wanted to do were off limits for my youngest son. I, as a good mom, sacrificed my own roller coaster experience to accompany my youngest son on some tamer rides—thank goodness!

The water park was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Tidal Force, a ride that simply went up and then down, ended up looking like this:

The calm before the storm…

The tip of the iceberg…

The reason it is called Tidal Force…

The water playground was spectacular in its genius. Not only was water issuing from every nook and cranny, but some were kid-directed, which meant you could be minding your own business when some devious child from across the park would aim his water spout at you, drenching you soundly.

Some features were intermittent, so you had to time yourself across the park if you were hoping to stay dry (good luck with that). And then there was this bucket at the very top:

Innocent…

Not so innocent.

Our next stop was Hershey’s Chocolate World…hooray! We went on a chocolate tasting adventure, a tour of a chocolate factory, and we made our own candy bars. First, we designed our chocolate bar by selecting our inclusions (mine had chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pretzels), then we followed it along the conveyor belt as the machinery loaded in our inclusions, enrobed our bars in chocolate, and packaged them in a wrapper that we got to design ourselves. What a great way to impart the process of how a factory works!

What is a visit to Hershey without a trip to the gift shop? Never in my life have I seen a gift shop quite like this. They had everything and lots of it. Just when I thought we reached the end, the store opened up into a virtual warehouse of candy selections in all shapes and sizes. I’m no stranger to gift shops, but this one left me overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to buy, which is not usually my problem.

Now that I’ve been to Hershey, instead of being able to cross it off my list, I want to go back. We were only there for one day—we barely scratched the surface! There are more coasters to ride, more chocolate to eat, and I could really use a second perusal of that gift shop.

Thank you, Hershey, for a fabulous day!

WILLIAMSPORT, PA: A TRIP OF A LIFETIME

August 22, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Tales of Inspiration

I am a planner. I love spending hours on the couch with my iPad planning trips months in advance, searching for things to do and places to stay. I contemplate the benefits of a tour vs exploring an area on our own, the number of active events we can possibly do and still find time to eat and sleep, and whether it’s better to tackle an entire area or just plant ourselves at one locale.

So no one was more surprised than I was when, after our hometown team won the Regional Championship and punched their ticket to the Little League World Series, I told my kids we were heading to Williamsport, PA in three days.

I’m still not quite sure how I pulled it off. The flights to Williamsport were nearly booked, leaving us a red-eye with 2 stops as the only option for arriving in time for their first game. Their second game would be played either Saturday or Sunday, which meant we’d need something to do in the meantime, but for how long and where we wouldn’t know until Thursday night. I booked hotel rooms all over the Pennsylvania area for multiple nights and we boarded the plane in an almost heady burst of freedom: we’re going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip and apart from Williamsport, we have no idea what we’re going to do!

I owe my dad for this one. After spending a month living day-to-day while he lay dying in his home, I learned that it is possible to pack up and go at a moment’s notice, not knowing when you were going to come back, and that the journey was always worth it. And if you didn’t go when you had the chance, you wouldn’t be able to go at all.

Going to Williamsport was a phenomenal experience. The first people we saw in the parking lot were wearing Perth, Australia shirts. “You didn’t come all the way from Australia, did you?” I asked. Even better, they had been to Perth once and loved it, and were there simply to support a team from a city that held wonderful memories for them. Australia deserved their support, for when Tennessee arrived in Williamsport without their luggage, Australia was the team that loaned them their own mitts to practice with.

The stadiums were buzzing with an energy I don’t think I’ve ever felt at any other sporting event. Families were there with young kids, brought to watch Little League players who would become their heroes, and older kids, wishing they were the ones who were playing in the spotlight. Some traveled from far away, like us, to watch their home team; others made the trek every year. The nice dad of a player from Michigan took my youngest son under his wing for the trek through the men’s restroom, and two Connecticut parents and I almost fell over ourselves complimenting each other’s teams in the Connecticut/Sammamish match-up that resulted in an amazing Sammamish comeback but an ultimate Connecticut win.

Good sportsmanship and camaraderie abounded among the fans, the players, and the coaches. There was no booing in the stands, only cheering for our kids, or the kids strangers had adopted as their own, and applauding a job well done by the opposing team.

Which is not to say that this wasn’t the most stressful experience I’ve ever had as a fan! The stakes are high in Williamsport, and our team rose to the challenge, usually at the last minute, which caused us undue trauma.

But it was worth it. Sammamish continues on tonight at 5:00pm PST against Connecticut for a spot in the Championships for the US pool. Go Eastlake!

AMAZON PRIME: A THING OF BEAUTY OR A DANGEROUS ADDICTION?

August 19, 2013 in Random Thoughts

I learned about Amazon Prime from my dad. Oh sure, I’d heard of it. I do my fair share of online shopping through Amazon.com, but I never thought I did enough to warrant the membership fee (which was an exercise in denial on my part).

While my dad was confined to his hospice bed in the last weeks of his life, I did his Amazon.com shopping for him. His time was short, so I was skeptical about the wisdom of ordering items to be delivered by mail. But then I learned something amazing: Amazon Prime members get free 2 day shipping with no minimum order! Every time, for every order? Well, now. That’s something to consider.

Shortly after my dad passed away, I became an Amazon Prime member for a mere $79.00 per year. If you are more technologically savvy than I am, you might be interested to know that Amazon Prime membership also entitles you to unlimited instant streaming of movies and TV shows with Prime Instant Video and a Kindle book to borrow every month. For me, the free two-day shipping with no minimum order was enough to get me jazzed.

At first, I was tentative. I ordered like I usually do: thoughtfully saving up must-have titles for one purchase order and preparing to wait for delivery. But the books came in two days! I got bolder, ordering only two books at a time. But there’s no minimum order! I loved Amazon Prime!

Until the day I read a review about a book that sounded interesting, so I ordered it on Amazon. That same day, I read another review about a different book in a different magazine, and I ordered it. And then I remembered another book that I needed to add to my collection, so I ordered that too.

Three books, in three separate orders, all in one day? I had crossed over to the dark side.

Amazon makes it so easy! My credit card is already stored, so ordering a book has become a two-mouse-clicks operation. Shipping is free, so I’m saving money (am I?), and the books arrive so darn fast it’s practically instant gratification. But I think I have bought more books in the past several months than I have in the past two years.

I am keeping my Amazon Prime membership—I do love getting a book I want so quickly!—but I have reined myself in. I am still allowed to order a few books, but I have also gently reminded myself of another wonderful institution: our local public library. There may be a wait for the book I want, but the fees are always $0 (unless, of course, the book is overdue).

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOME TOWN PRIDE: EASTLAKE GOES TO WILLIAMSPORT!

August 15, 2013 in Tales of Inspiration

On Saturday, we watched our Little League Eastlake All Star team play on a large AV screen at our local teen center with the rest of our small town. We cheered as our team beat their opponent and punched their ticket to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA as the Northwest Regional Champions. This is huge for our state of Washington, and even more so for our hometown. But for my oldest son, this is even bigger than that: this is personal.

12 of the 13 boys on the All Star team go to the same middle school as my son. 5 of them have been his teammates on baseball teams from past seasons, 3 others are friends from school, and still another is a neighbor that lives right around the corner. One of the assistant coaches for the All Stars was my son’s assistant baseball coach last year. The head coach, Rob Chandler, has been my son’s baseball coach for three years, beginning with T-ball years ago, where everyone referred to him as the “bubble gum coach,” and ending with this season’s Yankees, where Chandler led my son and his team to a Championship. These are not just kids that live in our hometown: these are my son’s peeps.

Everyone here in our community can say the same about this group of boys: that’s my neighbor, my teammate, my friend. I volunteer at the school with his mom, golf with his dad, have that kid over for sleepovers with my son. We have all watched them grow up and grow into exceptional baseball players, and now, when their moment has come to shine, we are delighted to band together as a community to support them all the way.

What they have accomplished so far is nothing less than spectacular. We will all be watching as they walk onto the big stage on Thursday in Williamsport, PA, onto the baseball field of the Little League World Series to take on Southwest Regional. Our community will cheer from their living rooms, with friends, or at local restaurants broadcasting the game on ESPN.

As for my son and our family, we will be cheering Eastlake on from the bleachers in Williamsport. Because this is more than just a group of people who live in the same town as we do: this is family.

ESPN: Thursday, August 15 at 3:00pm EST

GO EASTLAKE/NORTHWEST REGIONAL!!

HOW TO ATTEND YOUR FIRST WRITERS CONFERENCE

August 12, 2013 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

I attended my first ever Writers Conference this year. I had no idea what to expect, so I went there with the intention of soaking everything in and learning as much as I could…which I did. If you’ve never attended a Writers Conference but think you might someday, here are some tips I learned that might make your first conference experience go more smoothly.

DO bring your glasses.

On Day 1 of the conference, I had to make a stop at the hotel gift shop for some Tylenol before it dawned on me that the cause of my pounding headache was my poor, strained eyes trying to read the white board at the front of the room. If you happen to be in your 40s and your eyesight is slowly drifting away like mine, I strongly recommend bringing some backup help for your eyes.

DON’T wear uncomfortable shoes.

Even if they’re cute and stylish and look awesome with your outfit. The conference days are long, especially if you attend the evening activities as well, and you will suffer. The ideal shoe for such an event is a cushioned, supportive athletic one. If you’re a screenwriter, you can get away with that…and magenta hair too. (Basically, you can wear whatever you want if you’re a screenwriter.) But if you’re a writer, opt for stylish, comfortable flats with your business casual attire.

If you’re an introvert, DO make a deal with yourself to actually talk to people while you’re there.

Don’t worry: you are not alone. Writers are notorious for being introverts, preferring to spill their innermost thoughts and feelings on a series of blank pages in the privacy of their own home. But this is supposed to be a time to network with your fellow writers (whatever that means), so talking with other people is part of the conference experience. See if you can make a friend (I did!), or have a pleasant conversation with complete strangers at breakfast. Even if you make a complete fool of yourself (yep…I did that too), at least you can congratulate yourself for stepping out of your box.

If you’re an extrovert, DON’T talk about yourself the entire time.

I joined a table for lunch one day that consisted of 4 other women: one who talked about herself the entire time, one who egged her on, and two others who were silent. I joined the silent women, chewing my food with my eyes cast down on my plate, wishing I would have sat at any other table, or even better, taken my plate up to my hotel room so I could watch TV for a bit. Then something happened that turned my lunch around…those two women left! The rest of us proceeded to have a wonderful conversation in which we all participated equally. And they were nice! So extroverts, remember that other people have interesting things to say too, if you just give them the space to join in.

DO be nice to everyone.

Even to the kooky woman in the back of one of your workshops who keeps interrupting the instructor with off-the-topic observations. As it turned out, she was a published author who taught the workshop I took on the last day of the conference. No one was more surprised than I was when that kooky lady took center stage with the microphone, or when the cute grandmotherly type I exchanged pleasantries with in the lunch line turned out to be my instructor later that afternoon, or when the supremely sweet leader of a workshop I had just taken on Voice asked me what I thought of her workshop in the ladies room. (I liked hers quite a bit!) Writers—and agents—are everywhere and they don’t go around advertising it with a giant sandwich board strapped to their chest. Do yourself a favor and be nice to everyone…just in case.

DO bring money.

There are books for sale at Writers Conferences! They had great books on story structure, writing genre, and any kind of writing craft you could imagine, plus fiction books by authors at the conference who would sign them for you. They also had a Silent Auction and a couple of raffles, one of which was for a 200 DVD collection of Emmy-nominated TV shows donated by an actual Emmy voter. I’m still a bit bitter that I didn’t win that. I could have been watching exceptional TV for months!

DO plan on attending again.

When it was all said and done, I had a great time at my first writers conference. I met some interesting people, I was blown away by the creativity some of these writers showed with their story ideas, and I learned more than I could have imagined from talented, dynamic instructors whose autographed books now grace my shelves. I now feel inspired to write, write, and write! If only my pile of laundry would respect that and fold itself…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A RANDOM DAY IN PORTLAND: DESSERT STYLE

August 8, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

Read about what else I did in Portland here.

VOODOO DOUGHNUTS

Everyone said I just had to visit VooDoo Doughnuts while I was in town. Usually I am the first in line for any kind of touristy, trendy experience, especially one that serves desserts! But I’m not a huge doughnut fan. They are like cotton candy to me: yes, they taste good, but they are all sugar and fat and I wind up feeling nauseous afterwards. But hey, I was in Portland, so why not?

This long line nearly derailed me, but I stuck it out.

I’m not going to lie: the décor in VooDoo Doughnuts is odd. You can buy a coffin full of doughnuts—literally—and one is prominently displayed in the window. Some of the doughnut flavors were odd too, and I don’t mean the maple bacon. I mean the voodoo doll doughnut and the…well, I can’t really write it here. Plus, there’s not a lot of time to decide what to order. The first time you have an opportunity to see the menu and the doughnut selection spinning around behind the glass doors is when they call you forward to take your order. With a whole line of people waiting outside, I definitely felt rushed. I can’t say that I did the best job ordering. I got a Mexican Hot Chocolate doughnut that was rolled in cinnamon, sugar, and cayenne pepper. I have never eaten a doughnut with a kick before. I’m still not sure how I feel about that. The cookies and cream doughnut was divine, but predictably, I felt nauseous afterwards.

All in all, I’m glad I went. I am now in touch with the current doughnut zeitgeist, and I can continue my life doughnut free for a long while.

Advice to future visitors: check out the menu online before you go so you know what you want, and bring cash because that’s all they take!

 

BLUEBIRD BAKERS GOURMET COOKIES

I heard about Bluebird Bakers on one of my favorite food blogs Two Peas and Their Pod. Maria raved so highly about this cookie bar that I knew it was going to be first on my list of stops. It’s not too far from downtown Portland proper, tucked away in a quaint little neighborhood that is home to a bagel store, an adorable coffee shop, and an organic grocery store. I was the only one in the bakery, and that is a shame because these cookies are heavenly.

 

There were six different varieties of cookies available on the day I was there, plus a couple gluten free options, and every item had a plate with tiny cookie pieces to sample…which I did. I bought one of each cookie and let me just say that these are exactly how cookies should taste. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, packed so full of flavor that every bite literally takes over your mouth in a wonderfully pleasant way. There was a traditional chocolate chip cookie elevated to something special with the addition of sea salt, an oatmeal cookie with I’m going to guess browned butter from the taste, a dark chocolate salted caramel cookie that was decadently rich, a snickerdoodle that had the perfect amount of airiness, a luscious peanut butter cookie, and my favorite, a molasses cookie with fresh ginger that had me swooning.

Advice to future visitors: If you’re a cookie lover, make the time for a side trip to Bluebird Bakery. You can thank me later. I take payment in the form of their molasses cookies.

A RANDOM DAY IN PORTLAND: POWELL’S BOOKS

August 5, 2013 in Book Reviews, Reflections on Pop Culture

I recently drove to Portland, OR on a big adventure: attending my first ever writers conference. I had no idea what to expect, but according to the brochure, my days looked to be jam packed with workshops and speakers, so I drove down a day early to explore downtown Portland before hitting the conference.

I didn’t have a full day: I had to be back at the hotel by 3:30pm for some pre-conference activities and the traffic in Portland sucked up more time that I had anticipated, but I still managed to squeeze in a few stops.

The most amazing site I visited was Powell’s Books. A bookstore with four levels taking up an entire city block? I can only say Wow.

I began in the Green Room where the cashiers and New Arrivals were. In every bookstore I’ve been to, the New Arrivals section is limited primarily to fiction in a single area of shelves. Here, there were multiple shelves dedicated to New Arrivals in Fiction and Non-Fiction, with the Non-Fiction section further subdivided by subject. In other words, it was a whole room of New Arrivals in practically every genre and subject you could imagine.

Clearly, I needed a purchasing plan. There was no need to go crazy, right? I passed by a woman who was apparently having the same thought: “I have to limit myself to three books today,” she told her friend. Considering I was a visitor and wouldn’t be back anytime soon, I decided I could select one book from every room, which would equal 9 books. That seemed reasonable, especially when you consider that shelved within the new books were used books of the same title that were significantly cheaper. Nine books, then, and absolutely no more.

I began in the Rose Room, which consisted of floor to ceiling YA and Children’s books. I was completely overwhelmed. The number of picture books alone astounded me. I browsed slowly, trying to figure out a plan of attack, but there wasn’t one. “I’ll return to this room later,” I told myself, backing away slowly with wide eyes.

Next up was the Gold Room: Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror, and most importantly, Mystery/Thriller. Strolling along shelves filled with books by Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, and Harlan Coben was like coming home to old friends. I knew these authors, and somehow, the grandness of the bookstore became more manageable. I bought several books here (some didn’t count towards my limit because they were used and therefore practically free) with the rationale that I would forgo my pick from the Rose Room with a book here instead. My picks:

 

 

I’m afraid I lost my mind in the Blue Room. Here was a roomful of my first and greatest loves: Literature. Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Khaled Hosseini, a cute mug adorned with great first lines from famous novels…heaven. My ultimate pick:

 (The mug wasn’t a book, so that didn’t count, and Jane Eyre and Perks of Being a Wallflower were used, so practically…free.)

After a brief detour back to the Mystery section for a couple more Dennis Lehane novels (used!), I opted to forgo selecting any books from the Purple (History, Military, Philosophy), Orange (Crafts, Cooking, Business), and Coffee (Romance, Graphic Novels) Rooms so that I could spend them in the Red Room. No one could be more surprised than I was at the treasures I found in the Red Room. I’m still not sure what section I was in, but I stayed there for a long time, commandeering a small stool to sit on while I browsed. I came away with these:

(If perchance a few more books found their way into my shopping basket from this section, I’m not telling.)

Back in the Green Room where the cashiers were, I picked up one last book—autographed!

I completely missed the Pearl Room. How could I have left without visiting the Art, Photography, Film/TV section? Although after seeing my grand total on my receipt, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

I did not stick to my plan of one book per section, nor did I limit myself to nine books total. But I had a fantastic time at Powell’s Books, and I’ll remember that every time I open one of the great books I purchased there. And when it was all said and done, it was cheaper than Disneyland and just as much fun.

Stay tuned for what else I did in Portland!

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

August 1, 2013 in Book Reviews

I have loved escape plots and heists ever since I was a young girl. I got my start with The Doberman Gang (I didn’t know it then, but the dogs were named after famous bank robbers, some of whom served time at Alcatraz.) and then graduated to movies like Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Tower Heist.

So you can imagine my thought process as we passed by the infamous Alcatraz prison on a bay cruise in San Fransisco this summer: how could I have missed something so obvious?

Escaping from Alcatraz was the nearly unattainable crown for a prisoner sentenced to this last chance prison. Rigid screening procedures, numerous prisoner counts, and alert guards armed in towers surrounding the prison made escape virtually impossible. Even if someone could escape, how would they get off the island when you consider the vicious currents and the frigid water temperatures?

Had anyone ever made a successful attempt? I didn’t know, but I was determined to find out. While still on the cruise, I placed a hold on J. Campbell Bruce’s Escape from Alcatraz at my library, and it was waiting for me when I got home from vacation.

This book was a fascinating read into the brutal prison life for such famous criminals as Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly at Alcatraz. The rules were strict: even talking except for a whispered “Please pass the salt.” at mealtimes was cause for being sent to solitary. Al Capone, a big talker, spent a lot of time in the Dark Hole: nineteen days at a time in a small, dark cell with no light. There was no bed, only a single blanket to cover himself while sleeping on the concrete floor, and a meal came every three days, with bread and water in between. He was eventually led off The Rock by reason of insanity.

The monotony and the silence slowly ate away at these hardened criminals, so much so that the prisoners would deliberately break a rule or provoke a fight to be sent to solitary simply to change up their routine. Suicides and suicide attempts were commonplace.

I could imagine how in dire circumstances such as these, a prisoner’s thoughts would turn to escape.

In its history, there were fourteen escape attempts off the island of Alcatraz. Eight men died and five more are missing, presumed drowned. One prisoner escaped the prison walls and hid in a cave saturated with freezing water from the bay. After three days of no food and soaked to the bone, he snuck back into his prison cell undetected.

J. Campbell Bruce covers them all in great detail, including one ingenious escape that became the basis for the Clint Eastwood Escape from Alcatraz movie, which is now at the top of my Netflix queue.

Being granted access to the internal side of the bars through J. Campbell Bruce’s descriptions, it is hard not to secretly root for these convicts. Conditions were merciless and the impossibility of escaping made it all the more enticing to see if someone could achieve it. But then, I had to remember exactly what kind of men these prisoners were. Henri Young, already serving a 20-year sentence at Alcatraz for bank robbery, taking hostages, and murder, was on trial again after a prison altercation. He was determined to take Alcatraz itself down with him, saying his defense was mental insanity brought about by its cruel conditions. He brought the horrific treatment of the prisoners into broad daylight during his trial, saying “You wonder how human beings could do that to humans.” This from a man on trial for murdering a fellow prisoner/escape-attempt cohort in cold blood and saying as they led him away from his victim: “I hope I killed the #@!*.”

Escape from Alcatraz is a riveting read about our country’s most notorious prison, the famous criminals it held, and the ingeniously clever escape attempts, some of which may have led to success? We may never know.