October 23, 2017

It Is Well With My Soil...?

I bought this sign about a month ago and put it up in our living room.
A few weeks later, my husband pulled me aside.

What does that say??
(Ha! I was cracking up!)

Can you tell what it says? 

* * * * *
It is ALSO well with my soil.
Just so you know.

Remember this?
Getting better all the time. :)

October 20, 2017

Sandhill Cranes in the Back Fields

Over the summer, we kept hearing a bird call that I had never heard before.
It was loud, especially in the evening.
Then we walked down to very end of the gravel road close by.
Here's what we saw in the field:

This picture is terrible, I know.
My camera does not do well with distances and this was as close as I could get, due to electric fences.

Very large birds, long skinny necks, long skinny legs.
I've been looking them up.
At first I thought they were herons.

Then I found this awesome website, from the Cornell Lab of Orinthology:

They have their calls recorded!
Listening to the herons vs. the cranes, it was immediately obvious that we had the cranes.
The heron's call is more like a croak--not what we had been hearing all summer.
The crane's call is described as a bugle call.
That's more like it!
Check it out!

They have migrated south now, but when they return, now I'll know what they are.

October 19, 2017

3 Read-Alouds

Reading aloud to my children is constantly evolving. Right now, as my oldest two have become avid readers on their own (yay!) I don't read out loud to them as much. Instead, we tend to do more parallel reading, where we both read the same book then talk about it. Or trading-off reading, where I read some of a story out loud, then they take the book and read it on their own for awhile, then I pick up from where they left off to read more out loud, and so on.

My read-aloud time with my 5 year old son is probably the closest to the traditional way. Since the beginning of the school year, we have read several chapter books together and stacks of picture books. What really warms my heart is when one of my older children will pull out a book and read to their younger sibling/s.

Here are some of our read-alouds from the past few months:

The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl
Illustrations by Quentin Blake

3 stars: Satisfying.

The little girl who lives next to the Gregg's simply cannot stand their hunting. They shoot birds all the time, just for the thrill of it. One day she becomes very, very angry and turns her Magic Finger on them. The Greggs turn into birds. Will the lesson in empathy work? Will the Greggs ever become human again?

* * * * *
This was a short read-aloud. My kids enjoyed it. The premise was simple, but well executed. It was quite easy to imagine the whole thing happening. As with all Roald Dahl books, there was a slightly off-kilter sense of humor at work, such as when the Greggs attempted to make a nest.

It was quite gratifying to see how it all worked out in the end. The illustrations by Blake added quite a bit to the appeal of the story.

(Finished reading Aug. 15)

Pollyanna (Great Illustrated Classics version), adapted by Marian Leighton
Original story by Eleanor H. Porter

3 stars: I thought it was just okay, but my daughter liked it.

Polly is a rather severe woman, who takes no nonsense from her servants or anyone else. When her brother dies, she very grudgingly takes in her only niece, named Pollyanna. Even though Aunt Polly does her best to raise the girl with strictness and no affection, Pollyanna's positive attitude in every situation soon has the staff of the house jumping to her every need.

She makes friends everywhere she goes with her "Glad Game," from the invalid neighbor she goes to see regularly, to the grumpy man on the street whom she greets cheerfully every day. You see, her father always taught her that there was something to be glad about in almost every situation--sometimes you just had to look harder for it than others. Living with Aunt Polly would suck the joy right out of life for most people, but dear little Pollyanna even finds gladness there.

Pollyanna will need all of her friends and all of her optimism when tragedy strikes.

* * * * *
Did you ever see this movie? I did, a long time ago. I vaguely remembered it. That was my only experience with this story. I read this one with my 7-year-old daughter. I would read some chapters, then she would take it to her room and read more on her own as she had time. We finished it together.

The 3 star rating is the middle ground between our opinions. Here's what I had a problem with: the characters were all fairly 2-dimensional. They were mean (Aunt Polly), or loyal and sweet (servant girl), or glad (Pollyanna), and that was about it. There may have been other sides to their personalities, but we really didn't see them.

Also, I felt like the Moral of the Story was beating me about the face as I read it. Nearly every interaction between the characters seemed primarily a construct for showing one more example of how a positive attitude could make any situation better. Okay, okay! Enough already!

It did make me wonder how the full length book would be different than this abridged version.

Has anyone read the original? What did you think about it?

(Finished reading Sept. 4)

The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde

5 stars: Witty and satisfying.

Rumpelstiltskin is a rather odd tale, if you stop to think about it. Vande Velde obviously has thought about it. Her conclusions led to this delightful collection of 6 short revisions of the classic tale.

I knew I was in for a treat when I laughed all the way through the prologue. 

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, Feb. 2011).

Sept. 16, 2017 update:

I found a copy of this one at the thrift store and snatched it right up! I was excited to introduce it to my daughter. First I re-read it myself. I still really liked it, though I think I would give it 4 stars rather than 5 were I to review it today.  Then I took it up to my daughter and read her the Prologue. After that, I left it with her to read the rest on her own. The stories themselves weren't all funny, but all were clever and came up with at least somewhat plausible reasons for the events of the story. We had fun discussing it after she was done.

* * * * *

How has reading aloud to your children changed as they have gotten older? (Or has it?)

October 18, 2017

And Then There Were 12

Yesterday morning around 10am, I looked out our back window to see the lid of one of the nesting boxes on the ground next to the coop.
What in the world?
This could not be good. 
Those lids were held closed with carabiners.
The carabiner and the latch were still there, but something had torn the lid right off its hinges.

There was no blood, no feathers.
No chicken wandering the yard or neighbor's fields.
After propping the lid back in place so no chickens jumped out, I started counting.
There should have been 13.
I counted 12.
(I counted 3 times to make sure I hadn't just missed one.)

When my kids got home from school, they helped investigate.
They found a small pile of feathers I had missed.
We still weren't sure what could have done it.

My husband cracked the case:
he noticed bite marks on the lid and signs of digging close to the coop.
(Thank goodness for buried wire mesh all around the coop!)
It had to have been a dog.
There are 2 or 3 that we have seen running around our street in the last week.
They are either strays or get out a lot.
He and my oldest son boarded up a hole in our back fence, closed all the gates to the backyard, and securely screwed the lid back in place. (He reinforced the one on the other side as well.)

We are looking into different coop options.
This one has always been pretty flimsy--it was a build-it-yourself kit, and all the wood pieces are very thin. We may have to just get some plans and build one out of stronger materials.
I'm sure this will not be the last time an animal tries to kill our chickens.
I just hope it's the last successful attempt. 

Last week we had a hawk swoop down right in front of us and try to snatch one.
We were all in the backyard at the time.
It must not have noticed the wire mesh all around the coop and run.
It beat its wings against the mesh a couple of times, then took off when my son started shouting and running toward it.

Sheesh! Leave our chickens alone!

p.s. How do free-range chickens survive?

October 17, 2017

October Bloom Day

Hello and welcome to my late Bloom Day post!

I am in northern Utah, USA, zone 5b.
We have had hard frosts nearly every night for 2 weeks now, though most afternoons are warming back up into the 50's or 60's. 

My blooms are just about done, but I do have a couple pansies still hanging on.
There are many reasons to love pansies.
Cold tolerance is near the top of the list this time of year.

I do have this as well: it's a leaf lily, created by my daughter. :)
Hey, I'll take whatever I can get at this point!

In the meantime, look what arrived last Friday!

A treasure box, full of BULBS!
I'm so excited!
Next spring is going to be so beautiful.

560 bulbs to get in the ground before winter weather comes to stay.
So far I have planted around 150.

Goodbye--I've got to get back outside while the sun is shining!

For other blooms in other gardens, visit May Dreams Garden.
Happy fall, friends!

October 16, 2017

3 Adult Fiction Reviews

Yes, STILL working on reviews from last summer. I'm getting closer to being caught up, though! This round of books includes adult fiction from 3 different genres.

Adult Historical Fiction

Rebekah (Women of Genesis #2), by Orson Scott Card

3 stars: An interesting take on the Bible stories and characters.

Rebekah, an Israelite woman raised by her father, has run the household since her mother's death. She is used to being in charge, making decisions, and settling disputes amongst servants. When a man comes to their camp with an offer of marriage to Isaac, a devout man of God, she decides to take the offer. She has never met him in person, but her faith is very important to her and she feels that this marriage will be an answer to her prayers. After all, it would be very hard to stay faithful if she were to marry an unbeliever.

As she gets to know her husband and his family better, she realizes that her take-charge personality is not as appreciated in her husband's circle as it was in her childhood home. She particularly tends to clash with Isaac's father, the patriarch and prophet Abraham. Then there is the trouble of her infertility. How can Isaac be the son of the promise, if she is unable to bear children?

* * * * *
I appreciated the way Card brought these characters to life, giving them very real family tensions and backstories. It wasn't as I have imagined them to be, which probably accounts for my somewhat cool reaction to the story, but it was still enlightening.

Card built up a conflict between Ishamel and Isaac that felt authentic, with Isaac portrayed as the more studious, spiritual brother, and Ishmael as the more physically strong, outgoing one. In this version of the story, Isaac's less forceful personality led to utter lack of approval from his father throughout his life, which led to deep self-doubt even once he had become the prophet himself.

Anyway, like I said. Interesting.

(Finished reading June 2.)

Adult Fantasy/Jane Austen Retelling

Heartstone, by Elle Katherine White

4.5 stars: Pride and Prejudice with dragons? Count me in!

Aliza Bentaine's little sister was slain by a gryphon. Though their resources are few, the village and her family have pooled together enough money to hire Riders to come hunt the vicious beasts that have made everyone afraid to leave the safety of the Manor. Aliza is relieved and happy that this serious threat will be taken care of. She is not so happy that Alastair Daired, one of the dragonriders, is rude, arrogant, and seems to think he is far too good for their reduced circumstances.

Meanwhile, one of the other dragonriders hits it off with her sister Anjey, Aliza overhears a clandestine meeting between one of the dragonriders and a mysterious stranger, and her mother does her level best to arrange matches for her daughters.

* * * * *
This was so much fun! I enjoy retellings anyway, but haven't found many retellings of Jane Austen that I've enjoyed. Here we had Pride and Prejudice as the backbone of the story, but then there were all these other great additions--dragons, yes, and wyverns and hobgoblins and other fantastical creatures. A bit of magic here and there.

White didn't stick strictly to the plot sequence that Austen used. Some of the storylines differed by necessity to fit into her new world, but there were enough similarities there for touchstones along the way. I knew what had to be coming next, but seeing how she executed it within her own framework was a treat. Plus, I enjoyed getting to know her characters in their own right.

I was excited to find out she has more coming out in the next 2 years. I will definitely read them!

Content: Clean.

(Finished reading July 23.)

Adult Magical Realism

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin, by Stephanie Knipper

3 stars: Slower; character-driven. A good one for book club.

Antoinette is an unusual little girl. At 10, she is nonverbal and autistic. However, that's not what's really different about her. You see, she has a gift of healing. She can hear melodies from things and people, melodies that no-one else can hear. She can hear when something is wrong--the notes clash or don't sound right. Then somehow, she can make it right again, though not without cost to herself.

Her mother Rose is gravely ill and Antoinette can hear the bad music coming from her mother. She is desperate to heal her, but Rose--who has figured out her daughter's abilities and knows how taxing it would be for her--refuses to allow Antoinette to heal her. Rose runs the family's flower farm, with the help of a longtime friend and neighbor, Seth. She knows that she doesn't have very much time left and she's sick with worry about what will become of Antoinette and the farm when she's gone.

Lily is Rose's sister and former best friend. Also, Seth's ex-girlfriend. When Antoinette came along, the relationship between the two sisters broke apart and has never been repaired. Until now. Lily is home again; ready to face up to past mistakes and misunderstandings, and try again. For all of their sakes. Interestingly enough, her neighbor Will has followed her home. He knows she needs support and though she consistently rejects any romantic advances from him, he decides to be there for her anyway.

* * * * *
I had to smile at the setting--a flower farm? Okay. I'll settle in for awhile with this book. The story was told from alternating viewpoints, including Antoinette's. Her chapters were some of the best, actually.

The plot was pretty slow moving, with most of the focus on the characters: their pasts, their ways of dealing with Antoinette, their attempts at rebuilding relationships now, and so on. I appreciated the perspective on raising an autistic child, with which the author has personal experience. In the midst of the difficulties there were moments of great beauty.

Then there was the love triangle that wasn't. Lily never encouraged Will and in fact told him straight out that it wasn't going to happen between them. Yet he stuck around...why? It took awhile, but his motivations were eventually revealed--and it wasn't just to add some much-needed levity to the storyline. Seth was the brooding, "wounded hero" type. He seemed too good to be true, but heaven knows, those sisters needed all the help they could get.

As mentioned, I do think this would be a good one for book club. Now if I can only find a book club to join here...

Content: Clean, from what I can remember.

(Finished reading July 22.)

* * * * *
Read any good adult fiction lately?

October 13, 2017

Mini Theme: The Perils of Greed

Somehow this round of adult nonfiction has almost all had the same undercurrent: greed run amok. What happens when people put money--whether making it or saving it--above everything else? Well, these books give 3 compelling answers to that question.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

3 stars: Absolutely fascinating.

Hamilton was rising in the skiing world, when a serious accident changed his course. He became a professional biker. Eventually he worked his way up to the team fielded by the U.S. Postal Service. The team's manager was obsessed with winning. He pushed them to begin competing (and living/training) in Europe, which they did, devoting their lives to the sport year-round. Hamilton was a teammate to Lance Armstrong and talks quite a bit about the evolution of their friendship and rivalry.

He also describes his personal life to some extent, including his marriage (and later divorce). His tolerance for pain was legendary. In 2003 he came in 4th place in the Tour de France, even though he broke his collarbone in one of the earlier stages.

Hamilton describes how he got started doping and taking drugs. First it was a way to simply keep up. It was just a little red pill to take (testosterone) to help him recover more quickly from the brutal training runs and races. It was administered to him by the team doctor. Then he noticed how certain select team members received white paper bags before races, and that invariably, they were the ones who came in first on the team. He felt he had to prove himself and get into that inner circle.

Once he did and found out just what was in those bags, he had a choice to make. It wasn't merely a choice between taking it or saying "no thanks," and remaining in the middle of the pack. It was essentially a choice between taking the drugs or choosing another career. In this era of professional biking, if you didn't take performance-enhancing drugs or blood dope, you had zero chance of winning.

In fact, Hamilton said for most of them it took roughly 1000 days to cave to the peer pressure and start doping. Essentially, 3 years of grueling workouts for little to no reward on the race course. Though he always felt guilty about it, particularly about the lies and deception required on a constant basis to keep the news out of the media, Hamilton admits that when he hit that 1000-day mark, the choice wasn't hard to make. He had already invested so much in the sport and sacrificed so much, that it seemed like the only option was to do it.

* * * *
Hamilton tells a compelling story. This was an eye-opener for me. It's hard to imagine feeling so much pressure to win that pretty much anything can be justified.

After leaving the U.S. Postal Service team, Hamilton joined another team in Italy. He quotes his trainer as saying:

To win the race, you have to be:
1) Very, very fit
2) Very, very skinny
[3) Dope--Not said right out, but understood.]

In a very telling afterwords, Hamilton notes that the winner of the Tour de France in 2011 would have gotten 40th place back in 2001, when he was riding in it.

Content: Obviously, there's a lot of talk about drugs and descriptions of taking them. I knocked off one star due to the sheer amount of bad language. Be forewarned--it's a lot; mostly in dialogue.

(Finished reading Sept. 7)

Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation, by Dan Fagin
Pulitzer Prize Winner for General Nonfiction, 2014

The title link goes to the separate review I did of this one a month ago. For this context though, let me just point out that every decision made by Ceiba-Geigy to avoid proper disposal of their toxic industrial waste was centered on greed. It would have cost millions of dollars to deal with their waste and they did not want to pay that much. They put making money over the human costs of long-term and terminal illnesses for many of their workers and those in the township. Pretty sad.

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century, by Claire Prentice

3.5 stars: Compelling and readable account of a crooked man and his human exhibit business.

In 1905, Truman Hunt brought a band of Philippine villagers of the Igorrote tribe to New York, to be part of a human exhibit at Coney Island. Hunt had lived among the Igorrote's for some time before coming up with the scheme. Truman had an interpreter named Julio to act as a middleman when needed. Julio was half Igorrote and spoke the language.

The villagers that accompanied him across the ocean were there under contract for one year. They were supposed to be earning $15 per month each, plus tips and any money they made from selling handicrafts. It sounded like a grand adventure for most; a chance to get rich and provide for their families for many years to come for others.

Well, someone got rich, but it certainly wasn't the Philippinos. After arriving on the West Coast, Truman booked them for shows all the way across the country, eventually setting up in Luna Park. The tribespeople were headhunters and ate dog, two facts that were soon blazened across every newspaper headline.

They built a village, of sorts, within the confines of the park. They performed native dances and ate a lot of dog. In fact, they complained to Hunt several times that the steady diet of dog was not good for them--back home it had been just on special occasions. Their main diet was sweet potatoes, rice, and other plants. Hunt ignored them--the dog feasts were good for business. One of many requests from his charges that he ignored.

In fact, millions of people came to see the Igorrotes, making piles of money for Hunt and for the owners of Luna Park. They were the top attraction for several months. Then the owner of the other main park on Coney Island offered Hunt a better deal. Contract notwithstanding, he moved the Igorrotes to their new home in the dead of night and set up shop at the competitor's park. Conditions for the Igorrotes just got worse from there.

* * * * *
Truman Hunt was a piece of work. He started off as a friend to the tribespeople. When he lived in the Philippines with them, he doctored them and treated them well. Then, it seems that he was utterly corrupted by greed. At some point along the way, the Igorrotes stopped being human beings who deserved humane and fair treatment, and became to him simply a commodity. Whatever he needed to do--or get them to do--to bring in more money, he would do it. He staged fake weddings; he made up wild stories about them. In the end, he failed to even provide adequate housing and food for them.

It was all to get publicity and make more money. For himself. Do you think they saw one dime of what he promised to pay them? No. He told anyone that asked that they were such a simple people they couldn't be trusted with their money, and he was "saving it for them" to give to them all in one lump sum at the end. Yeah right.

It was interesting to read the backstory on what was a huge phenomenon back in its time. I didn't know anything about it going into the book, but this really opened my eyes. Now we look on a human exhibit with revulsion, but apparently back then it was completely accepted. Particularly if those being exhibited were considered to be inferior to Western humans in some ways. Hence the headhunting, dog-eating Igorrotes.

This story made me sad and it made me angry. Hunt was so dishonest and greedy. I liked how it asked--who were the true savages in this story? It certainly wasn't the tribespeople, with all their customs.

(Finished reading Sept. 16)

* * * * *
Okay, it's a good thing I've moved on to more uplifting reading since I read these--it was becoming a bit depressing reading on this Mini Theme. Have you read any lately that would fit into this theme?