April 19, 2018

Chicken Helper(s)

We have been letting the chickens out almost every day, now that the weather has warmed up, to roam around the yard--pardon me, to free range.
They are quite docile and so far have rarely even ventured to the other side of the yard, let alone attempted to fly over the fence. That is good, because we haven't clipped their wings.

So what happens when the gardener decides to do some weeding while the chickens are out?

No fewer than 6 chickens come running straight over!
They park themselves right in front of where I'm working and get busy looking for worms, scratching the dirt, jumping into my weed bucket, and eating weeds out of my hands.
Also, pecking at my gloves.

Yes you. Hello.

It's a little hard to get anything done, but it's quite entertaining, so I go with it.

Every now and then I push them aside so I can dig up a few more weeds.
They come right back over as soon as they see me turning over the dirt.
If one gets a worm and another sees it, the first one takes off running, with 3 of 4 chasing after her.
It's so funny! 

When it's time to let them out, they can hardly wait and all come crowding out at once.
Once they've been out for an hour or two, they're much more content to stay in the coop once we put them back. They've had their exercise, I guess, and are ready to go back.

We're still averaging nearly a dozen eggs per day.
We will probably never make back in eggs the money we've spent on feed and equipment, but I have to say entertainment value is pretty high on the list as well.
My kids pick them up and carry them around all the time.
So that's something.

No names. They all look so much alike we can't tell them apart anyway.
We've decided our next batch of chicks (whenever that comes along) will be a different breed, so we can at least tell apart the older ones from the younger. 

April 14, 2018

Spring Blooms and Deer Problems

Well, until today I had several groups of tulips growing out front.
They have all been munched back to the ground. Grrr!
Deer are the flower nemesis around here.

I chopped up cloves of garlic and put a juicy bit in the leaves of each tulip--or at least what remained of the leaves. I guess now I'll find out if they manage to grow back.

Look how pretty these tulip leaves are/were?
Edged in pink. I've never seen that before.
If they make it through this season I will be digging them up to grow undercover next year.
It looks like a deer fence will have to be in our future.
Can't fence the front beds, though.

These daffodils are blooming now, along with several others in front.
At least the deer haven't eaten them yet.

Meanwhile, I have several patches of violas that have been cheering me up for a couple of months.
I was so surprised to see that they survived the winter, but I'm not complaining!

The bulbs coming up in the background there are alliums.
Also seem to be deer-proof. Must be the onion smell/taste.

Violas are some of my favorites!

Back in Washington we had to worry about rabbits eating our stuff, but that was about it.

Give me all your tips for keeping the deer away!
Or what to plant that they don't like.

April 13, 2018

Mini Theme: Survival

Let's talk about survival for a moment, shall we? It's always amazing how some people survive dire situations while many others don't. What makes that crucial difference? It's especially fascinating to me how it's usually smaller decisions that are the turning point, the key between life and death. The book I've read most recently on this topic delves into all of these issues.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why, by Amanda Ripley

5 stars: Let's talk about it!

When disaster strikes, people act in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Some people respond by freezing up, some immediately take action (for better or worse), and some dither and can't decide what to do until impending events take away all choice. Worse still, no-one can be sure how they personally will respond, until they have been in a situation like that.

Ripley has studied people's responses to all sorts of big disasters; from the 9/11, to hostage situations, to the plane that went down in the Hudson river. She has also interviewed many experts from a variety of fields on not only what people do in times of crisis, but how to increase any one person's chance for survival.

She found that we all go through 3 stages, when faced with a disaster: denial, deliberation, and the decisive moment. Those are the three parts of the book. The chapters within each part delve further into each stage of our response, from delay and procrastination (Denial) to groupthink (Deliberation) to heroism (the Decisive Moment.) There's more; that's just a sampling.

* * * * *
This book was fascinating. I have talked it over with several other people since reading it. The topics lead to great discussions naturally. How do we assess risk, and are our assessment tools accurate? (Hint: watching the news doesn't help on this one!) How can we shorten the amount of time we spend in denial and deliberation, so that we move straight to action and keep ourselves alive? How do you think you would react in any of these situations?

It was chock-full of stories from survivors of disastrous events, as well as some stories of those who didn't make it. Though it may seem like a depressing or anxiety-producing book to read, I found that it was actually the opposite. Reading this helped put some of my personal risk in perspective, as well as gave me tools to prepare myself for these types of events.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was from her section on risk. You can't live your life in fear. So you take a rational, clear-eyed look at what disasters you are most likely to experience, then you prepare for those things. In my area, it's probably wildfires and earthquakes. Possibly flooding from the river. A distant fourth would be flooding from the dam breaking up at the reservoir. Okay; knowing that, would do I need to do to prepare my family for those things? You make a plan and you practice it. Even if every detail of your plan doesn't work out--which it probably won't--you stand a much better chance at surviving than those with no plan at all, who have never even considered the possibility.

On a very personal note, I actually read this one the weekend before we had the fire in our home. I stayed awake half the night thinking about what I would do if our home caught on fire. How would we get the kids out? What if it happened at night while we were all asleep on the 2nd floor of our home? I remember thinking--it's the middle of winter; we would need to somehow grab shoes and coats if we could.

It's a good thing I did, since just 3 days later I had a chance to use the planning and deliberating I had done. The wall behind our boiler caught fire when it was just me home with the kids. (Full story here.) Thankfully, we were not asleep and not trapped upstairs. As I picked up the baby and called 911, I remember grabbing jackets on my way out and making sure the kids had shoes on. It was 15 degrees that night.

I want to read this one with a book club so I can discuss it more. So many more interesting things I could tell you, but this review is already getting lengthy.

* * * * *

Apparently I'm drawn to this type of story, because I pulled up numerous examples from my reading past to share with you today.

Of course, there's this one about the Donner Party expedition, that I reviewed at the end of February.

Here are a few others to whet your appetite for survival stories:

Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic, by Jennifer Niven

4 stars

So Ada was part of an explorer team sent to Wrangell Island (north of Siberia) in the early part of the 1900's. She was hired on to the team in Nome, Alaska, to be seamstress and cook for the expedition. The other members of the expedition were 4 men, most in their 20's, who were going to live on Wrangell Island for at least a year and prepare it for colonization. Also, they claimed the island for Great Britain, which caused an international scandal (Russia believed itself the owner.)

They had good times and bad, but eventually, times went from bad to miserable. After a year in, the supply ship sent to relieve them couldn't make it due to ice blockage. Game was scarce. Their food supply about the same. 3 of the men headed off across the ice pack, hoping to reach Siberia and eventually Alaska, to get help. The 4th man was too sick to travel. Ada stayed behind with him and eventually was left alone on the island. This is the whole story, starting from the beginnings of the expedition to the end and the aftermath.

Niven's portrayal of Ada was even-handed, not glossing over the less savory parts of her story, while still showing her resilience and courage in the face of great adversity.

I don't know if I'm getting less adventurous as I go, or if I'm just seeing my true self more clearly as time goes on. In any case, when it comes to Wrangell Island, I'm more than happy to be simply an armchair traveler.

(March 2015)

Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival, by Velma Wallis 

4 stars

It was a time of starvation and the two old women ate more than they were able to contribute. So the tribe left them behind and moved on. They didn't count on the will to survive and the latent knowledge that the two old women possessed between them. Though old bones creaked and old muscles tired quickly, the women made their way to a place where game could be found, and somehow...survived.

Based on an Athabascan legend. This story fascinated me. I loved reading the details of Arctic survival, and how the old women refused to let each other give up, until they made it. The account of the reconciliation with the tribe was also meaningful. A quick read, but well worth your time.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

5 stars

Louie Zamperini was at the peak of his form as a runner when the war began. Many predicted he would be the man to break the 4-minute mile. But instead of training for the next Olympics, he began training to be a bombadier in the belly of a B-24 fighter plane. As his flying group completed missions, more and more of his friends didn't come back. Then one day it was him going down into the unforgiving Pacific.
His story of surviving the plane crash and subsequent raft journey on the ocean is riveting. Then he and the pilot are finally rescued, but delivered to a worse fate: POW camp. They come to miss the days on the raft.
This story follows Zamperini and a few others all the way through the horrors and hardship of POW camps, into later life and how their experiences affected them.

I have been wanting to read this one for some time, but when I finally got the chance I had already moved on from my "war books" phase, so it was with reluctance that I went back. It was well worth my time. Hillenbrand keeps the narrative flowing, adding in pieces of information as needed to fill in the gaps. Highly recommended.


* * * * *
Do you have what it takes to survive a crisis situation? Maybe you should read some of these books and try to find out!

April 9, 2018

Inspiring Women, First Quarter Report

One of my book-related goals this year has been to read about inspiring women and report back on it once per quarter. Well, since this is April, it is high time for the first quarter report!

Inspiring Women: First Quarter Report

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, by Eleanor Roosevelt

5 stars: So much to take away from this one!

Each of the eleven keys mentioned in the title gets its own chapter, including "Uses of Time," "The Difficult Art of Maturity," "How to Get the Best Out of People," and "How Everyone Can Take Part in Politics." The very first paragraph of the first chapter sums up her underlying philosophy of life: "What I have done is to live every experience to the utmost." This first chapter is titled "Learning to Learn" and it is all about this deeply present way of experiencing life.

If I go by how many passages I highlighted, this books has been one of my favorites! She has so many practical suggestions and sound ideas. She is a strong believer in the power of self-discipline, and in being open to new experiences or viewpoints. I really appreciated her emphasis on home and family being the most important thing. Even with all of her public roles and responsibilities, she organized her time so that she was able to be there for her children and husband when they needed her.

As I am starting my business, I have thought a lot lately about my role as a mother and how this new venture will effect that role. I feel so alive and excited when I'm working on my business plans, or thinking about it, or planting the seeds, etc. I am enjoying the process immensely. At the same time, I am very aware that as I move forward with this, I will not have as much "free time" or as much time for my children, perhaps. I certainly don't want to neglect them or their needs. Along those lines, this quote from the book really spoke to me:

"It has always seemed important to me that women should try to develop some interests in which their whole family can share. This is valuable all around. It intensifies family solidarity. It provides the children with a nucleus of things with which they have a certain familiarity when they go out to new surroundings. And it enables the women whose children have grown up to draw on already established fields of activity when they find themselves with more time and freedom." (p. 56)

That's what I'm hoping for with my flower farm! I want to draw my children into it with me. Teach them how to grow beautiful plants and even how to make beautiful arrangements from the flowers that we grow. I'm hoping we can learn the business side of it together: marketing, sales, planning, and so on. I'll let you know how it goes!

Another one I highlighted from the chapter "Learning to Be Useful:"

"Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. After a short time, a very short time, there would be little that one really enjoyed. For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people." (p. 95)

As I was looking back through the book for this review, I found even more passages to highlight. This is one I definitely want to re-read from time to time, in hopes of absorbing more of her wisdom!


Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, by Sy Montgomery

4 stars: A down-to-earth portrait of a unique lady.

Temple Grandin was always different--from her siblings; from her peers. Though she always had lots of friends in elementary school, she never quite fit in. Back then autism was still a new diagnosis,  so while her parents knew she had some trouble they didn't know quite what to do to help her. Her later schooling didn't go so well, but she rallied and eventually went on to college.

She had a brilliant mind that processed everything in pictures and yet, she couldn't understand how to hold a "normal" conversation or read social cues. She often felt frustrated and misunderstood. One place that she always felt calm and at home, though, was in the cow pen. She understood cows--what made them frightened or angry, and what made them feel calm and happy.

As she got older, she used her skill at inventing machines and drawing up plans to began to make a difference for these big animals she loved. She visited feedlots and slaughterhouses, big and small farms. Many times, once the men in charge let her in, she could see at once what would be causing the problem. They often would lead her around to the most awful and disgusting parts of the operation, hoping to make her go away. It didn't work. It made her more determined to do what she could to fix the problem.

So she invented cattle chutes that were circular, with high walls so the cows couldn't see things that would make them antsy. She invented systems for slaughterhouses that would allow the cows to not be afraid or treated badly before they were killed. My favorite was her invention for the dip vat. Cows were getting scabies, caused by mites burrowing under their skin and laying eggs. The only treatment available required the cow to be completely submerged in a vat of the medicine mixed with water. Farmers were having terrible trouble trying to give this medicine to their cows. The cows were so afraid that they were drowning in the vat. They turned to Temple Grandin in desperation.

Temple took the task in hand and designed a large tank, with a gently sloping, nonslip ramp down into the medicated water. At the very end of the ramp, it steepened dramatically, which caused the cows to dip under the water. Then they would pop back up, swim to the other side, and walk up another ramp to get back out again. No fear. No more dead or injured cows. No more scabies. Triple win!

She continues to work and advocate for the humane treatment of animals, particularly farm animals.

* * * * *
Sy Montgomery once again has done a top-notch job bringing her subject to life. This book is geared toward a middle grade audience. It is full of photographs, many of them full-page. There are pages inserted here and there talking more in-depth about autism, giving statistics about farming, and other relevant information.

My almost-10 year old picked this one up on his own and read it, when I had it laying out. I was inwardly delighted and outwardly cool and casual. I want to read it to his siblings at some point, as well.

I am inspired by the way Grandin has made a place for herself in the world, doing what she loves and cares about, despite what many would regard as a disability. I especially appreciate the message of this book--that it's okay to be different from everyone else. You have something to contribute!

Now I want to learn more about her. She has written books and there is a movie about her life, too.

A worthy addition to the list!


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, by Karen Swallow Prior

3.5 stars: Why have I never heard of her before now?

Hannah More loved to write from the time she was a little girl. She asked for paper for any gift, because her parents weren't very well-off, and paper was expensive. As she grew up, she and her older sisters opened up and ran a very successful school for young ladies. Hannah was first a student at the school, then later on became one of the instructors.

Her writing earned her much acclaim throughout her life and great influence, as well. One of the things she was most passionate about was abolition. At the time, Great Britain depended heavily on the slave trade. More was a contemporary of William Wilberforce, portrayed in the excellent movie "Amazing Grace." While Wilberforce used his influence in Parliament to push for stopping the slave trade, More used her pen. Her work was widely read by both high born and commoners.

When she realized that salacious tracts, nicknamed "Penny Dreadfuls," were some of the only literature available for poor and lower-class families, she undertook to write some of her own. They were written in story form, each with a strong moral and self-improvement tips sprinkled throughout. While today we may think it a bit presumptuous or heavy-handed, they were immensely popular at the time and sold out as fast as they could be printed.

More's passion in life was advocating for those who did not have a voice of their own and she was remarkably successful at it.

* * * * *
Hannah More was very popular with all levels of society in her own time. It's a shame that she has been so forgotten in our time. (Or has she? Did you know who she was?) She was a woman not afraid to express her opinion, and use her way with words to influence others for the greater good. I'm glad I got to know some about her.

Interestingly enough, More never married. She was a courted by a man for several years who kept backing out on marriage at the last minute, until she final had enough and severed ties.

A quote I particularly liked: "The 'mischief,' she wrote, 'arises not from our living in the world, but from the world living in us; occupying out hearts, and monopolizing our affections.'" (p. 206)
Well said, Ms. More, well said.

I thought Prior did a good job portraying Hannah without idolizing her. She didn't gloss over or justify More's faults, but instead showed us a real portrait of a compassionate woman, moved to action on behalf of others.


* * * * *

Okay, who should I read about next? If you have a real-life heroine, let's hear about her!

April 3, 2018

A Flower Farm in the Making

I am moving toward getting my flower farm up and growing!

In some ways, it's a crazy time to do this.
We're still not back in our house, I have a 9-month old baby and her 3 active siblings to care for, and it's not like I have nothing else to do in my life.
However, I do have significantly more garden space than I ever have, my older kids are old enough to help, and I'm in a community that doesn't have ready access to fresh flowers.
In short, I decided that there's never going to be a perfect, ideal time to do it, so it might as well be now. Also, my husband is a wonderful provider, so I don't have to feed our family with what I make. That gives me the luxury that many don't have: I can build up the business over time, learning as I go.

I am so excited! 

The name is (drumroll please):

Bluebird Flower Farm

I love that the bluebird is a symbol of happiness.
Flowers spread happiness by their very existence.
The two belong together!
(More prosaically, the name and web domain were available.)

"Hot Mama"
Speaking of names, I just can't seem to help naming my bouquets.
I've stopped trying to fight it.

Yes, "farm" is a bit optimistic at this point, since at this point it will all be flowers from my garden and yard. I prefer to think of it as a name I can grow into. :)
In addition to the shrubs and bulbs, I'm going to grow flowers from seed to fill out the bouquets.

"Big and Little"

The paperwork has taken much longer than I thought it would.
When I first picked up the business license applications from the city, I thought,
"Oh, I'll fill this out and get it turned in by the end of the week." 
Well, that turned into a month.

There were unforeseen issues and potential issues, as well as decisions about things I knew nothing about. For example, did I want this to be a "Sole Proprietor" business, or an LLC?
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of either?

Another small example: I am doing this as a  "home occupation," but the stated laws for home occupations in our city are that you can't have anything outside, or say--run your business out of your garden shed. Um...problematic for a flower growing business! 
Fortunately, the ladies at the city licensing office seem to be just as excited about my flower farm as I am, and were eager to figure out how this would work with the stipulations.

"Vivid Lady"

I've been working through the issues one at a time, with the (FREE!) help of some great people at our Small Business Resource Center.  
And...now I'm waiting to hear back from the city.
I turned in my application 2 weeks ago.

In the meantime, I'm working on a business plan, pricing supplies, getting ready to start seeds in the next week or two, and keeping a close eye on my spring bulbs that are coming up.
Flower purchases from here on out will be a tax write-off for my business! I'm so excited!!
In related news, my husband has hidden the credit cards.
Ha! Just kidding.
I don't want to get a startup loan, so I am watching the budget, while simultaneously feeling no guilt at all for said flower-related purchases. :)

I'm going to rent a vendor space from a local store and plan to do a lot of direct sales.
I've got a former college roommate, who is an amazing artist, working on a logo for me.

My goal at this point is to open up for business officially May 1.
More details (and pictures) to come as I get them nailed down.

Friends, this is going to be great!

March 21, 2018

Weeding For Other People

Why is it that having someone else do your weeding for you causes such guilt? It's weird.

Since we've moved here, I have had a couple of experiences with this. The first one was with my next-door neighbor. Sweetest lady. I noticed her one flowerbed next to the house could use some love. She's a grandma; so I offered to take care of it. I guess that was my first mistake.

She very sweetly but firmly turned me down flat. I tried to explain that I enjoy gardening, I would be out doing my own anyway, it would be no problem, etc. etc. She would have none of it! She went on to say how hard she found it to keep up with the yard since the passing of her husband. I put out the idea that maybe that was one reason we became neighbors, so that she would have some help with her yard--me!

I was just going to go ahead and do it anyway, when she said the one thing that truly stopped me. She said, "Please don't. If I saw you out there weeding my flowerbed, and you just had a baby and all your little kids, I would feel so guilty." Well, darn it! What am I supposed to say to that?

I still may carry out a covert weeding mission some day when she's not home and just see if she notices, but should I? I've been debating with myself ever since. Is it more important to me than to her? I mean, I don't want to force it on her or make a big issue of it. However, from the way she talked when I offered, it seemed like it is something she would like to have done. It's not like her weeds bother me--just that I noticed them, along with the thought that this was something I was well equipped to take care of. See, I probably should have just done it rather than offering in the first place.

* * * * *

Then today, it was a gorgeous spring day. Perfect for digging grass out of the flowerbeds at this house where we're staying. This time I was wiser and just got out my stuff and got to work. Then the lady we're staying with came outside. She saw me and said, "What are you doing?" I denied everything. "Who me? Nothing," I replied. She said, "You shouldn't be doing that! Stop that!" Such is our friendship at this point that I politely said, "No." Then she jokingly (mostly, I think) said, "Get out of my yard!" I just smiled and kept going.

Then we chatted for a minute about how she used to love gardening, but it was so hard on the knees. I kept weeding as we talked. She left it at that, though I probably haven't heard the end of it! I fully intend to finish the flowerbed and clean up her dead perennials as well. I mean, it's the least I can do. She has been so kind and generous letting us stay in her basement indefinitely. I may even talk her into letting me plant some low-maintenance perennials to crowd out the grass.

[On a related note: weed fabric is useless! All of the grass I was digging up was growing on top of the weed fabric, in the layer of dirt formed as the mulch has broken down. Most of the roots pierced the cloth, so I couldn't get them completely dug up. I strongly dislike weed fabric. Ok. As you were.]

By the way, it seems to go a lot better if you see someone weeding and jump in to help. That was the case last week with a different neighbor.

* * * * *

Talk to me! Would you feel guilty if someone offered to dig up your weeds? (Or just did it.) If so, why? What piece to this puzzle am I missing here? Mowing lawns and shoveling snow don't encounter nearly the same resistance. Same with raking leaves. What's the difference?

While I don't love weeding, I do find it satisfying. It's something many older people are not able to do anymore themselves, but I still have young knees. Ok. I have middle-aged knees, but they aren't giving me any trouble yet! I dare say I'm quite good at it. I'm thorough and I can almost guarantee I won't dig up the wrong thing! Yet none of these "qualifications" seem to bear weight with those I'm trying to help.

So what gives?

Also, any ideas to fine-tune my approach?

March 19, 2018

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

By the way, I do have more gardening posts coming. I've been dying to get out and do more work outside, but we've had crazy weather over the past week! It has snowed several times and been clear and cold the other days. Hey, on the one nice day last week, I did help a friend weed her flowerbed. It was good for the soul, I tell you!

So. This book. After putting it off for a long time, I finally sat down and read this one! I knew it would not be an easy read and I was right. This is one that begs for discussion. In fact, I think discussion should be mandatory for any kids reading it, just to help them process what happens.

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk
2017 Newberry Honor

4 stars: Deeply piercing.

Annabelle's life is just kind of going along, as the oldest of 3. Her little brothers, Henry and James, pretty much do their own thing, though she watches out for them in the schoolyard. Their neighborhood has its share of people who are different. Among them, is a man named Toby, who lives by himself in a shack in the woods. He's a WWI vet and isn't quite right in the head. At least, that's the general consensus. Though he doesn't say much ever, and is out in all weathers on his own, Anabelle's family has given him food from time to time and he has never harmed anyone. In fact, they discovered that he had a gift for photography and since then their family's camera has been on permanent loan to him.

Then Betty Glengarry comes to town. She immediately singles out Annabelle as the object of her bullying. At first, it's nothing too bad--threats to hurt Annabelle if she doesn't bring Betty something. Annabelle smashes her piggy bank, but decides that she's not giving any more than the few precious coins inside.

However, when Annabelle stands up to her, Betty gives her a bruise "the size of a cucumber" on her upper thigh, beating her with a stick. Then Betty falls in with an older student named Andy, who has always been a troublemaker. The two of them skip school or spend the whole time whispering together.

Things start to get out of hand when Betty begins to threaten Annabelle by saying she will hurt Henry and James if Annabelle doesn't give her what she wants. The kids all walk home from the one-room schoolhouse, leaving ample opportunity for such threats to be carried out. It's a constant worry for Annabelle, but she's not sure what it will take to stop Betty.

Then there's the day of the rock. Ruth, one of Annabelle's close friends and classmates is hit by a rock--possibly intended for the German fruit seller who has pulled up to the school. In any case, Ruth is seriously injured. No-one knows who threw the rock.

Betty starts rumors going around that it was Toby. She offers convincing evidence--she says she saw him to do it from the belfry of the school, where she was skipping class with Andy. Her accusations stir up a hornet's nest of trouble in the small community. Then Betty goes missing. So does Toby. This does not look good for anyone.

Annabelle, who may know more than anyone else about the truth of things, is the only one who's going to be able to put things right again. What can she do, though? She's just a kid.

* * * * *
A story about bullying and kindness; about insiders and outsiders; about good and evil. I think every kid who reads this book will relate on some level. We have all been bullied to various degrees. We have all seen others be picked on. Senseless acts of violence have affected us all, directly or indirectly. On the other side, we have all given or received kindness as well. We have seen those who needed our kindness, whether or not we've stepped up to give it.

There was a growing tension in the story, as the violence escalated, and as Annabelle saw the path before her would require courage and probably some sacrifice of her own well-being.

You know, I didn't know what to make of Betty. We never really got her backstory. I wish we had. Rather, she was painted as this one-dimensional Bringer of All the Bad Things to Annabelle's peaceful life. And the thing this kid does--I mean really, a sharpened wire? How is she still roaming around in free society?

I was glad Annabelle did talk to her parents eventually and that they were all a part of the solutions--the temporary and the attempt at more permanent ones. It's the kind of story I read with a pit in my stomach the entire time, as I wondered what other awfulness was coming around the bend.

Annabelle's friendship with Toby was a bright spot. The way she got him to open up a little and participate in some things brought a ray of hope to a dark time. She was very mature for 12. At one point as Toby was telling her some things about the war, she listened, but realized she had no way to process it all yet, so sort of packed it away in her mind until she could truly understand it and deal with it at some point.

The ending was tragic but true to life, unfortunately. Wolk did a masterful job portraying Annabelle's mixed emotions when she realized where Betty must be. Did Betty deserve what happened to her because of her previous actions? Do any of us deserve what we get, good or bad?

I'm having a hard time pinning down the age for this one. The ages of the characters would make it seem to be written for middle graders, but the themes and situations are better suited to teens or even adults. This is one that would be a good one for an adult book club. A quick read, but depths and layers to explore.

Content: Intense situations; bullying.