May 18, 2017

To Be A Queen

Quite without meaning to, I've managed to read 2 different books about queens this month. One was historical fiction, based on extensive research, about Queen Katherine of Aragon--King Henry VIII's first wife--and the other was a memoir by Queen Noor, wife of King Hussein of Jordan.

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, by Alison Weir

3 stars: I learned a lot from this.

Catalina was only 16 when she left her home and family in Spain and travelled to England to marry the Arthur, the Prince of Wales, King Henry VII's oldest son. She was warmly received and the marriage itself was very grand. Her husband was quite sickly, however, and in fact died within the year of tuberculosis.

Fairly soon afterward, she was then betrothed to the next son, the future King Henry VIII. However, at 5 years younger than her, their marriage had to wait until he turned 18. During this waiting period, she was pretty much stuck in England. Her future father-in-law refused to finance her living expenses, due to a dowry payment that had never been paid, and she was as much in poverty as a future queen living in a palace could be.

Finally, the long-awaited time arrived and she and Henry were wed. Providing an heir and successor to the throne became Katherine's new role. Unfortunately, pregnancy after pregnancy ended in miscarriage, stillbirth, or babies that died several hours after birth. One little boy lived 52 days before dying, to the devastation of all. Princess Mary was the only child to live to adulthood out of all the pregnancies.

King Henry VIII's determination to have a male heir seems to have greatly contributed to all that went on later in their marriage. His pursuit of a divorce from Katherine, which eventually led to England's break with Rome and Catholicism entirely, his affairs and later marriage to Anne Boleyn, and so on.

The book stayed true to Katherine's perspective throughout, following her into exile over her refusal to yield her position or title, and the indignities and privations at the end of her life.

* * * * *
If you are a student of English history, none of this will be new to you. I have learned some here and there, so the historical characters were passingly familiar to me, but this brought them to life in a whole new way. I didn't know much at all about Queen Katherine going in. As she was portrayed here, I couldn't help but admire her for sticking to her principles, and sympathize with her tragic losses. I'm interested now to learn about this time period from other perspectives.

Though it is historical fiction, the writing style made it feel more like a historical biography with conversations and personal speculations added in here and there. Not that I was bored, but I wasn't swept away either. At just over 600 pages, it was a bit of a time commitment. I read it concurrently with some fiction, which helped break it up a bit.

Content: Some sex scenes, though not graphic.

(Finished reading May 6.)

Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, by Queen Noor

4 stars: Eye-opening account of Middle Eastern politics from the perspective of one who was in the thick of it.

Lisa Halaby was born and raised in the United States, in an Arab-American family. She grew up and graduated from Princeton. She first met King Hussein of Jordan as a young professional, working at an international job. Later on, after the death of Hussein's third wife, they met again. This time, a friendship became courtship and later marriage.

Upon marriage, Lisa renounced her American citizenship, as well as the Christian Science faith that she was raised with. She simultaneously took on a new name (Noor), a new religion, and a new country. She also became stepmother to King Hussein's already large family of 8 children, including 3 little ones still very much in need of a mother. Together she and the King had 4 more children.

In addition to her personal life, this was the story of her husband's reign over the 20 years they were married, until his death from cancer. Queen Noor described the constant conflict and international tensions in the Middle East, including countless frustrating setbacks in the pursuit of peace.

* * * * *
First, just let me say--this one has been on my "to-read" list for ever! I remember checking it out from the library way back when I worked there, but returning it unread. So that would have been in 2005, or thereabouts. I found a copy at the thrift store about a year ago; same story. I finally tackled it and I'm glad I did! (Plus, check off one more book that I've read from my own bookshelf. Woohoo for working on New Year's Rezzies!)

It was fascinating to get a different perspective on all the happenings in the Middle East over the time period of the book. It helped me understand where the Palestinians have been coming from all this time. As the book points out time and again, the U.S. is very pro-Israel, including in our journalism and reporting of events, so I appreciated seeing the other side of things from an insider's point of view.

Queen Noor talked some about family life, though not as much as I would have liked. I can understand, though, how her position in the family and in the country would not tend to a share-all attitude. She mentioned some hard times, but didn't dwell on them.

Content: clean

(Finished reading May 17.)

* * * * *
Reading about these women in positions of power and influence was so interesting. They both made many sacrifices for their kingdom and their husbands, particularly in their private lives. I couldn't help but compare their situations. Let's talk about it!

First wife vs. 4th wife
Both monarchs had other women in their lives. Queen Katherine's entire later life was consumed by her husband's pursuit of Anne Boleyn. In fact, this affair turned questionable marriage dragged all of England into its chaotic wake.

According to this account, Katherine and Henry's best years of marriage were at the beginning. They enjoyed spending time together, he was respectful of her, they mourned the loss of their babies together. However, as time went on, he became more and more estranged, began having affairs, and eventually became very embittered toward her.

On the other hand, Queen Noor was Hussein's 4th wife. She was much younger than he when married, and immediately took on the responsibilities of motherhood, as she raised his children by previous wives. Though their marriage went through some rough patches, they stayed faithful to each other and truly loved each other to the end. Noor stayed by her husband's side at the Mayo clinic all during his chemotherapy treatments the last 2 years of his life, and after 20 years of marriage, they were still deeply in love.

Queen Noor does describe some challenges--not so much with the earlier wives (2 of the 3 were still alive), but with raising her stepchildren. She said there was a period of a couple of years, with several teenagers in the home, that she didn't think she could make it one more day. However, over time, it gradually got better. Older children moved out and started families of their own and tensions eased.

Babies, or Providing an Heir
This was a Big Deal back in Queen Katherine's time. In fact, her entire focus for many years was having a baby boy to be the heir. Pregnancy after pregnancy. She was not successful in that, so on top of dealing with the grief of losing so many babies, she also had enormous guilt that she had failed her husband and her country. (She took all the blame upon herself, according to this book, which was probably accurate for the time.)

In contrast, King Hussein had already named his brother Crown Prince many years before Queen Noor even came on the scene. Just before his death, the King changed it up and gave the title to one of his older sons instead. So that part of it didn't really have anything to do with Queen Noor.

As for babies, she and King Hussein had 4 children together (plus one miscarriage.) Every child was welcomed. She mentioned, though, that they had an initiative going in Jordan to lower the high birth rate, so she felt a bit guilty or wondered what the people would think when she got pregnant with their 4th. Wow, what a difference between those ideas!

The Role of the Queen
Queen Katherine's main role was to provide an heir to the throne. She did dabble in politics for awhile, while her husband was away at war and England was invaded. For awhile, she was appointed Ambassador for Spain and enjoyed the added respect and power that title afforded. However, it didn't last, and she was back to primarily being arm candy for the King, while pregnant. The book indicates that early in their marriage, he discussed everything with her and she felt like she had quite a bit of influence with the King's decisions. Later on, of course, that all changed.

Queen Noor was and is very active politically. Outspoken and intelligent, she travelled all over the world, making speeches and doing everything she could to further Jordan's (and her husband's) causes. Back at home, she started a Foundation to oversee all of her pet projects, including help for refugees, women's rights, and an annual cultural arts festival. She and the King weathered every setback side by side.

* * * * *
There were more comparisons, but I'm going to stop there.

So tell me--would you want to be a real-live Queen? I'm thinking it's not all those princess movies make it out to be!

May 16, 2017

May Bloom Day

Welcome to my Eastern Washington state garden!
This will be my last Bloom Day post from here, as we are moving in 3 weeks.
In fact, that is my excuse for posting late--I didn't have any pictures of the front beds yet, and I knew I would want some to look back on later.

So, here we are!
We have finally gotten some warm days this spring, and occasional breaks from the rain.
We've even had to mow the lawn a couple of times.

Let's start out back!

back bed overview

This back bed is awash with pink right now!
The tulips are in their glory.
I'm really enjoying the golden ninebark (Physocarpus opufolius 'Dart's Gold') there on the right, as well. The foliage color really offsets the pink tulips.

On the other end of the bed, the flowering almond steals the show.
Here's what it looked like about 10 days ago.

Here it is fully blooming today.

Moving around to the front:

Phlox, tulips, and few last grape hyacinths hanging on.

Rose (front right) putting on new growth, but I haven't seen any buds yet!

The peonies in front of the tulips all have buds--I'm hoping I get to see them bloom before we go.

The phlox is finally spilling over the wall!
It has taken a few years to get to that point, but I really like how it looks.
The white on the end is candytuft.

These deep purple columbine with the pink tulips behind them make me happy.

A quick peek at the front porch bed:

Yay for bleeding heart!

This end looks a bit bare, but the hydrangea is starting to leaf out.

Almost done! 
Down around on the East-side terrace:

One lilac blossom.

I had to lean way down for this picture.
The other 2 bushes have buds on them, but haven't opened up yet.

Plus, the pie cherry tree we planted last year is just loaded with blossoms!

I hope the next person enjoys them!
I'm a little sad to miss them, to be honest.
I'll have to plant a pie cherry tree at our new house!

As I look back at these pictures, I'm realizing how pink everything is right now!
I enjoy it, but I'm thinking at our new house I may try a different mid-spring color scheme. :)
Actually, if we were staying here, I would be planning out what to add to give it a little more depth/variety right now.

May 12, 2017

Famous People Talking About Flowers

A few of my favorite flower-related quotations!

Of course, the tagline on my blog ranks up there, as well, but you already know that one.

If I had talents in graphic design, I would make up some free printables for you. Alas, I do not.
However, if you go on etsy, you can find all sorts of versions of most of these.

For here and now, you'll have to make do with photos of flowers from my garden.

"Where flowers bloom, so does hope."
--Lady Bird Johnson

[I first saw this one on a friend's wall, but it was misquoted as Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mum's the word! I'd hate for her to have to replace her lovely sign.]

"I'd rather have flowers on my table than diamonds on my neck." --Emma Goldman

[From what little I have read, I fundamentally disagree with most of what Emma Goldman stood for, but this is a sentiment I can get behind!]

"I must have flowers, always, and always."
--Claude Monet

[My sentiments exactly!]

"My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece."
--Claude Monet

[Not that I'm putting mine on par with his, you understand.]

"Earth laughs in flowers..."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

[Bright, happy geum blossoms remind me of laughter.]

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."
--A.A. Milne

(common dandelion, above; purple vetch, below)

[Ahh...weeds. There are some I think are pretty, in their place. I quite enjoy the vibrant yellow of dandelions on the back slope, and seeing vetch overrun the nearby bike park in the spring doesn't bother me in the slightest. That doesn't mean I never grumble when I'm digging them out of my lawn or flowerbed for the 20th time!]

"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."
--Theodore Roethke

[That's the miracle of spring, isn't it?]

Do you have any more flower quotations for me?
I'm making a collection!

May 10, 2017

Adult Nonfiction I've Read Since March

Unlike the fiction I've been reading, which has tended toward fantasy & steampunk lately, my nonfiction has been all over the board. I crave a good nonfiction read every so often to balance out all the fantastical stuff.

Also, as much as I enjoy making themed lists, I'm falling way behind! So, in the interest of catching up on reviews, here they all are!

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany, by Steven Pressman

4 stars: A testament to the power of determination, persistent, and faith.

Gilbert Kraus was a successful lawyer when Hitler rose to power in Germany. As concerns mounted over the state of the Jews in Europe, a friend approached him with an unusual idea: maybe they could go over there and bring back Jewish children to safety. Virtually as soon as he heard the idea, Gilbert was determined to do it. His wife Eleanor had grave concerns, but she too thought they should pursue a rescue mission.

The problems seemed impossible to overcome. Most notably, obtaining visas for the children to enter the United States. At that time America had very strict anti-immigration laws and there was a lot of anti-Semitic public sentiment, particularly when it came to allowing Jews to come into the country. In addition, the idea of bringing over a group of children unaccompanied by their parents raised all kinds of outcries over the logistics of their care and prospects once they came.

Kraus was relentless, politically savvy, and knew (or learned) immigration law to the letter. He was determined to make this happen. Eleanor worked behind the scenes, filling out reams of paperwork (each child had to have a sponsor, each sponsor had to be extensively vetted). When it finally came time to leave for Berlin and Vienna, the visas still weren't a sure thing. Kraus went anyway.

Despite everything they had overcome, there would be even more obstacles to face once they arrived in Vienna.

* * * * *
Based on Eleanor Kraus' memoir and personal papers, this was a remarkable story. It left me with such hope. A couple who persevered against all odds to save these kids. A great example of what one person, or one couple can do. The percentage of children they saved from certain death was very small in the grand scheme of things, but if more people had stepped up and saved who they could--think of the cumulative effect!

There were many heartbreaking aspects of it, among them: they had to choose just 50 children, out of hundreds; the children were separated from their families, some of which were never reunited; and unbelievably, the Kraus' motives were misunderstood by many and they were publicly maligned for what they did, before and after the mission.

It was also fascinating for me to gain a greater understanding of the politics in America at the time, which Pressman brought forward. The American people were not ignorant of what was going on over in Europe. They knew the Jews were in dire straits. What were the factors that kept this country from throwing open its doors and providing a safe haven for more of them here?

Now I want to see the HBO documentary!

(Finished reading March 30)

The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald

3 stars: Lively storytelling with a few downsides.

MacDonald's memoir of her early marriage, homesteading and building a chicken farm up in the mountains of Western Washington. It was a bestseller when it was first published in 1945.

* * * * *
When I found out that the author of our beloved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books had written books for adults, I was excited to find this one on the library bookshelf. While there were many parts I enjoyed, I didn't love it nearly as much as her kids books.

The good:
She wrote with a keen eye and sharp wit, making the daily events and characters come alive. Her ability to find humor in what must have been very trying circumstances brought a grin to my face several times.

I also quite enjoyed her descriptions of the beautiful scenery and farm life in general. She had a real knack for celebrating the wonderful side of life, while not glossing over the hard parts.

The not-so-good:
I was bothered by her constant denigration of the Native Americans she encountered. She pretty much had nothing good to say about them. I know, I know. It was a different era back then, and even her daughters in the Forward said that if she had written it now she probably would have chosen to portray them differently. So I'm not trying to say she was a terrible person for it, just that for this modern reader it was offensive and hard to get through.

There was also quite a bit of bad language--mostly quoting people--more so than I expected. I suppose because I was coming off her children's books, and didn't expect there to be any. Naïve of me, I know.

So, taking the good with the bad, it evened out to 3 stars.

(Finished reading April 10)

The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars: Raised some great points to ponder.

A English man gets on a bus one afternoon, only to find that he's an accidental passenger from Hell to Heaven. His experiences and conversations while in Heaven prove enlightening.

* * * * *
Like others by C.S. Lewis, I feel like I need to re-read this one a couple of times to really get all that I want to out of it. The allegory itself wasn't my favorite, necessarily. Some parts of it were a bit strange. As a vehicle for bringing out various points of ideology and doctrine, however, it sufficed.

His ideas of why people are or are not suited for heaven--or why they do not allow themselves to become suited for it--were quite instructive. I particularly enjoyed his explanation for why repentance is necessary. I'm still thinking about many of the ideas he brought up.

This would be a great one for book club sometime.

(Finished reading April 12)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba

5 stars: A remarkable story!

William grew up in Malawi, Africa, the son of a farmer. His hardworking parents made great sacrifices to send his older sister to school, and were prepared to do the same for him. Unfortunately, a severe drought caused a nation-wide famine around the end of his 8th grade year. They had to focus on simply surviving for several months, until the new growing season came. When the famine finally ended, there was no money left to send William to secondary school.

A smart boy with a mechanical mind, William was desperate to learn more and attended school as long as he could. Finally, though, he was turned away due to the lack of funds. At that point he undertook his own education, by visiting the village library and checking out some textbooks to read. This proved a turning point for him, when he discovered books on Physics, in particular one called Using Energy.

He had long had questions that no-one could answer about how certain things worked--the headlamp on bicycles powered by pedaling, for example. The books he found answered his questions, with diagrams! Using his newfound knowledge, William built a windmill to provide electricity for his home, using scrap and scavenged parts and pieces.

That was just the beginning.

* * * * *
William's story was so inspirational, on many levels. First, if you ever start to feel sorry for yourself or think your middle class first-world life is hard, read this book. It will bring you back to your senses very quickly.

Second, I was inspired by the way William had a clear vision, used what was available to him (which was not much at all), and made his dream happen. Despite his lack of schooling or any type of mentor as a support, not to mention the mockery of almost everyone around him, he did it! Plus, his dream wasn't just something he did for his own selfish ends. It was to help his family and ease the burdens of his parents.

Read this to be grateful for what you have, then go out and use whatever that may be to do great things!

(Finished reading April 24)

Elena Vanishing, by Elena Dunkle & Clare B. Dunkle

4 stars: Brutally honest, eye-opening, and ultimately, redemptive.

Elena's struggle with anexoria began as a teenager when her family lived in Germany. However, attempts at diagnosis and treatment were scattered and ineffective until several years later, as she was nearing the end of her college career. By that time she was at a critical point, hovering on the brink of the downward spiral toward death. With her parents' constant support and at times, tough love, she entered a residential treatment program, determined to finally win this battle.

* * * * *
Although eating disorders have not touched my life directly, I have long felt compelled to learn more about them and the people who suffer from them. This memoir takes us right into Elena's mind and motivations through her years-long battle with this disease. The perfectionism and harsh self-criticism at any failure--perceived or real, the deceptions and shame, the defiance and despair. It's all there. If that's where it ended, it would be a tough read.

Thankfully, she also lets us in to the slow process of her recovery. As she confronts her demons, old and new, she opens herself up to healing that she didn't even recognize she needed. Her perspective begins to shift and despair recedes just enough to let in some hope.

My heart went out to Elena and her family as I read this book. They all suffered. It's really a story of the journey they all were on to save Elena from herself.

Content: A lot of language, vivid description of a miscarriage, adult situations. For older teens and adults.

(Finished reading April 29)

* * * * *
So, what have you read that has informed or inspired you lately? Do tell!

May 8, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow? 10 Picture Books to Share

May is gardening month for most places! Granted, this year has been a bit different.  With such a wet spring and the upcoming move I haven't gotten much planted. Here in Washington I usually don't plant summer vegetables until Memorial Day weekend, but in the past at least my spring stuff has been up and growing strong by May! Not to mention all the beautiful flowers everywhere.

Yay for May!

Flower Garden, by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

     Garden in a shopping cart
     Doesn't it look great?

     Garden on the checkout stand
     I can hardly wait.

A little girl and her dad put together a window box full of flowers for a sweet surprise.

* * * * *
What a lovely little book this is! Flowers to brighten up a city windowsill, and as an expression of love. What could be better?

With 1-2 simple sentences per page, accompanied by richly colored full-page illustrations, this one would be perfect for the younger crowd. Or their mothers. I'm putting it on my wish list to purchase! :)

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by David Small
(Caldecott Honor 1998)

Lydia Grace goes to stay with her Uncle Jim in the city, during the Depression, until things get better for her parents. She brings seed packets along and a determination to find a place to grow things in the city. Uncle Jim is a baker and he never smiles, but Lydia Grace is determined to change that, too.

During her sojourn in the big city, she learns to work in the bakery, makes friends, and discovers a secret place up on the roof that she fills with flowers.

* * * * *
Written all in letters, each one a glimpse of Lydia Grace's new life. The illustrations are done mostly in muted, sepia tones, with Lydia Grace herself, her flowers, and some of the other characters adding some spots of color.

Now this is a girl after my own heart! She doesn't let bad circumstances get her down, she's not afraid to learn new things, and she is absolutely crazy about flowers!  I love the last 2 lines of her letter to Grandma: "I can't wait to help you in your garden again. We gardeners never retire."

Left me with a smile on my face!

The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough, by Katie Smith Milway
Illustrated by Sylvie Daigneaull

Maria Luz lives with her family in the hill country of Honduras, struggling to get by with poor soil and not enough food to eat from what they've grown. Then a wonderful teacher comes to the village: Don Pedro. He shows his students how to feed the soil by making compost and how to build terraces to keep the good soil from washing down the hillside when it rains. He teaches them about growing cash crops and shows them how to sell directly at the market instead of to the coyote--the middleman who always takes a hefty cut of any profits.

As the new ideas take hold, the villagers begin to have enough: enough food to eat, enough seeds for next year, enough money to buy what they need and build up their homes. Don Pedro must move on at the end of the year, but his influence keeps spreading.

* * * * *
Longer text telling an important story: the power of education, the power of one person to make a difference in many lives, and the good that can happen when families are able to become self-reliant. Many lessons to be learned from here. This is the kind of book that will help expand your child's view of the world, including some of the problems faced by those in poverty.

Another geared more toward middle grade listeners, though younger children could benefit from a simple retelling while looking at the pictures.

Paddington in the Garden, by Michael Bond
Illustrated by R.W. Alley

Paddington quite enjoys living with the Browns. He likes it even better when they decide to set aside a small garden plot for each of the children and him! Jonathan and Judy get right to work with their plans, but Paddington has a harder time deciding what he wants to do with is space.

He even buys a book to get some ideas. When the book suggests taking a look at your garden site from a distance, Paddington knows just the place: the construction zone across the street has some tall ladders he can climb. Oh dear! Some bears just have a nose for trouble!

* * * * *
Paddington fans will enjoy this addition to the stories about the bear from Darkest Peru. The bear in the blue slicker and red hat is always good for some comfortable storytime fun.

My Day in the Garden, by Miela Ford
Illustrated by Anita Lobel

Three friends visit a little girl on a rainy day, and they spend the whole day playing dress up in elaborate garden-related costumes.

* * * * *
Short text in an extra-large font size describes each costume and game, generally with 1 sentence per page: "Berry-picking with the birds."  Looks fun! Perhaps it will inspire some imaginative fun at your house, too.

Plant a Little Seed, by Bonnie Christenson

A neighbor girl and boy plant seeds in their shared backyard space, until they're able to have a feast together with their families in the fall.

* * * * *
The joys of growing a garden and a friendship, illustrated with strong black outlines and what looks like colored pencil.

The text has a lyrical quality to it, though it I have to admit it bothered me a bit. Some of it rhymed and some didn't, and I found myself listening for the rhyme to resolve, then feeling like I had missed something when it didn't come through.

We had fun finding the bunny in all the pictures, which then becomes a family of bunnies (true to life!)

Quiet in the Garden, by Aliki

A little boy sits quietly in the garden. As he does, he notices all the animals and insects eating and imagines their conversations with each other.

* * * * *
A good introduction to the joys of a wildlife garden. Each page starts off with the boy's observation, such as: "The snail ate holes in some leaves." Then another animal or insect asks "Why did you do that?" Each time the answer is some variation of "I was hungry."

Reading through this myself, I thought the repetitive nature of the questions and answers would get tiresome as a read-aloud. I should have known better! Kids love repetition! My 5-year-old stayed interested all the way to the end. I made an attempt to do different voices for all the creatures, but there were a lot!

The very last page gives basic, illustrated instructions for making your own quiet garden.

Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard, by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

A family plants their garden, and a girl watches all the creatures and animals in their interactions throughout the growing season.

* * * * *
I'm surprised this one was in the picture book section of my library, rather than the nonfiction. Almost every page has a pair of chickens sharing facts about various facets of biology. A good, basic introduction to the idea of food chains, as the title suggests, with several different food chains within the garden illustrated and labelled.

I doubt a preschooler would sit through this one without a lot of skipping and summarizing. Definitely more geared toward elementary-aged kids, and those in the lower grades would probably still need it read aloud to them, with the level of  vocabulary presented.

Vegetable Garden, by Douglas Florian

A pair of red-headed siblings and their parents grow and harvest a garden.

* * * * *
This one would work for the toddler crowd. Rhyming text, with just one phrase per page keeps it moving quickly. Illustrations are interesting--pen and ink, plus watercolors. The outlines of the whole page look sort of hazy, like the author painted over the finished picture to purposely smear the hard lines.

A Year in Our New Garden, by Gerda Muller

A family moves into a new house that comes with a large garden spot, but it is overgrown and rundown. They work together throughout a year to plant grass, pull weeds, and grow flowers and vegetables. The boy upstairs offers help and advice, and they enjoy their new garden with friends and family.

* * * * *
Longer text and variety of picture sizes, with a few pullouts illustrating how to make a leaf crown, lemonade, and how some plants--like potatoes and spring bulbs--look above and below ground.

Originally published in German, which makes sense after reading it. It's not sugary. The cycle of life--including death--in the garden is dealt with very matter-of-factly: the children come home from a seaside summer vacation to find their vegetables and flowers shriveled and wilting, and their father tells them it's a natural part of the changing seasons. Later on, they find a dead goldfinch under a bush and bury it at the end of the garden, with a little poem to memorialize it. Then life goes on.

* * * * *

Is your garden up and going this year, or are you still just reading about it like me?

May 3, 2017

Rose Daughter & Chalice, by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. She's done several fairy tale retellings, and some fantasy. Her fantasy worlds tend to be richly detailed and her characters flawed but quick to learn.

As a caveat: Based on the reviews I've read concerning content, I have not read her adult novels.

Both of these would work for teens on up. Content-wise, they would be fine for older middle grade readers, if they were particularly interested.


4 stars: A stand-alone fantasy with intriguing characters and a well-developed world.

I first read this in November of 2011. Here's what I had to say back then:

"Mirasol is Chalice: a job, or calling rather, which means she listens to the land and must bind it to its new master. The trouble is that the new Master was nearly finished with his training as a Fire Priest, which means he is not altogether human anymore. Whether or not he is capable of overseeing the land and winning the hearts of the people remains to be seen.

Before she was chosen to be Chalice, she was a beekeeper, and since the previous Master and Chalice both died under unfortunate circumstances, she has no mentor and no training in her new responsibilities. If she can't figure it out, her beloved land and its people may be overtaken by outside rule, which would mean disaster for all concerned.

Enjoyable, with characters I cared about." 

* * * * *
It stood up to a re-reading. It had been long enough that I remembered the main story but not the details. Perfect!

If you don't like bees, you had best stay away from this book. Mirasol was a beekeeper and her bees, plus their honey, played a large role in the book. I am fascinated with bees and beekeeping, so I really liked that part of it, but it may not be for everyone.

I appreciated the way Mirasol's relationship with the new Master grew slowly, over time. McKinley managed to make even a red-eyed smoke man become an appealing leading man. That's impressive! The ending was fitting, I thought, and redemptive. Lots of bees there too.

Not my favorite of her work overall, but a pleasant world to get lost in for a couple of hours.

Content: clean

p.s. 4 gold stars for the cover!

(Finished reading March 18)

Rose Daughter

3.5 stars: Many elements I quite enjoyed in this one, some I didn't like at all. Overall, I still like Beauty better.

I would venture to guess that most authors do not revisit the same story, once they have written about it. Robin McKinley's Beauty: A Retelling of the Beauty and the Beast ranks up there as one of my favorite fairy tale retellings. In fact, I think the animated Disney movie was largely based on her retelling. So it's intriguing to me that 20 years later, she wrote the story again. Not a sequel, or any relation to the first, other than the fairy tale at the base.

In this version of the tale, Beauty and her sisters must forge a new life for themselves in a tiny village far away from the family catastrophe (their father's bankruptcy and ensuing fallout.) They learn skills they never knew they had, and even come to thrive under the constraints of hard work and small spaces.

Beauty finds great joy in bringing the cottage's garden back to life and is thrilled when the mysterious thorny bush surround the front door actually bursts into glorious bloom. There is not a hedge witch in the area--hasn't been for quite some time, in fact--so her way with plants sets neighbors to talking. Though Beauty herself is certain it can't be magic--just a knack for growing things, is all.

When it comes about that she must go to the Beast's castle, what she finds is that he needs a gardener as much as anything. His roses, inside an enormous greenhouse, are dying. There is really no life of any kind to be found at the castle or around the grounds. As Beauty works to save the roses, her gentle influence welcomes all sorts of critters to make their homes on the grounds. Slowly, she is bringing everything back to life--including the Beast. But will it be enough?

* * * * *
Some things I really liked:

Beauty's family relationships. Though they started out cold and distant, Beauty and her sisters really pulled together during their family crisis (and beyond) to become great friends and confidantes. Her father's gradual recovery was well-written and hopeful.

I appreciated the symbolism of Beauty's talent for bringing life, and how that carried over to her time at the Beast's castle. Her animal visitors at the castle were delightful and brought a very down-to-earth element to the fantastical happenings.

The descriptions of the gardening and tending the roses. I am a gardener, after all. I can see why many reviewers felt like it dragged, though. I think McKinley must really love roses, because the detail and care she took describing this aspect of the story was much more pronounced than in her first version. If you don't care so much about gardening, you might be bored stiff during those parts.

Some things I didn't like so much:

There was quite a lot of ambiguity surrounding the physical reality of the castle and its grounds. I understood that it was magic, and therefore things wouldn't have to remain in the same place, etc., but where it was charming in Beauty, somehow it came across as confusing and pointless in this one.

The unicorns and their poop. Okay, that was just kind of weird.

Beauty's nightmares and final journey to find the Beast. It was all so murky. Why would she have these nightmares from the time she was little? Why must that final journey be so long and drawn out?! Why couldn't hedge witch what's-her-name do a little more to help out?

The ending--not my favorite.

So there you go. Worth your time if Beauty and the Beast is your favorite fairy tale and you want another perspective on it. Or if you really love roses.

Content: Clean.

(Finished reading March 14)

* * * * *

Do you have a favorite Robin McKinley novel? Do tell!

May 1, 2017

End of April Garden Views

If you're new here, welcome!
I currently garden in Eastern Washington state, USA.

It has been awhile since I've done one of these.
They make a great record to look back on, though, so here we go!

We'll start out back in the flowerbed closest to the house:

View from the deck

View from the other end of the bed.

I love all the daffodil varieties back here!
Some are already done, but there are still quite a few blooming.

Geum 'Prairie Smoke' (also in the back bed)

In the shade bed, one of my favorites is blooming right now:

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'
I think our extra wet spring must be good for it--it's looking bigger and bushier than ever!

Coming around the side, I have a few cherry blossoms.

These just opened up recently.
By this time last year there was already fruit forming.
Last year was unusually warm, though.

Out front in the porch bed:

The big empty space will be filled up by the oakleaf hydrangea leaves, once they unfurl.
Right now it looks pretty bare, doesn't it!

My bleeding heart is blooming. Hooray!

The front terraced beds still have some spring blooms:


A few closeups:

We're still enjoying the 'Festival Pink' hyacinths, windflowers there on the left, and even a few early tulips have bloomed!

Primroses and powder blue muscari.
The pink primroses in the middle survived the winter from my daughter's garden plot.
We decided to transplant it up amongst its friends, so we could till the vegetable bed.

In the middle terrace, we've got peonies coming up strong and tulips that should bloom any day now!
I'm betting on the next sunny day--which, with our weather this spring, could be awhile.

 More tulips from the front beds.
The short and tall together made me smile.

Rounding the corner on these front beds we have a few more blooms:

Not sure why there is only 1 yellow--it was supposed to be a mix!

Grape holly, which has really thrived in this shady, narrow end of the bed.

Oh and I almost forgot!

The ornamental plum is beginning its yearly show!

Thanks for visiting my garden today!
See more gardens over at Helen's blog: The Patient Gardener.