June 12, 2018

A Little Magic, and a Bit of Mystery

I have fallen far, far behind on my book reviewing. These two are from last year (!), so it is high time I got them posted and sent out into the world. :)  Not that I've stopped reading--on the contrary. So here's to getting caught up, little by little.



Flecks of Gold, by Alicia Buck

3 stars: Modern teenage girl has adventures and falls in love, in a faraway magical land.

Mary Margaret has always been more responsible than her mother, so when yet another relationship goes bad for her, Mary is the one who gets them moved to a new town for a fresh start. Things are going okay, until Mary meets a mysterious boy named Kelson at school. He seems to make her mind go numb. Though she's never been one to flirt or hang out with the boys much (her mother's relationship choices having a lot to do with that), it's a mighty struggle to say no to Kelson's advances. Then things really get weird.

Kelson kidnaps Mary's mom and takes her...somewhere. They vanish in a big flash of light. So, something else you should know about Mary is that she's always seen flashes of gold in her peripheral vision. Sometimes patterns flash into her mind.. When Kelson and her mom disappear, Mary notices a new, complicated gold pattern flash into her mind. She does her best to reconstruct in her mind, giving it a mental twist at the end as she saw him do.

This bit of magic transports her to the world of Iberloah, and straight into a chicken coop. In a few short hours, she has learned all kinds of new things about herself and this different world she is now on (in?). It won't be enough to rescue her mother, but it's enough to start on her journey in that direction.

Along the way she meets a man who becomes her travelling companion: Breeohan. One or both of them is being targeted by assassins, so that keeps things interesting. Her journey will take her to the heart of the kingdom and surprisingly, solve some of the mysteries of her own past.

* * * * *
There were a lot of things I liked about this one. The pattern magic, with different colors signifying different things, was interesting and consistent. Mary's growing relationship with Breeohan was well done, with lots of teasing and lighter moments to balance some of the action.

The plot lost much of its momentum once she reached the castle. There were meetings and political maneuvering, and even a ball or two. Some development of the love triangle. She eventually got back on the road to find her mother, but here again, the action seemed stuck on slow. She and her little band of supporters would make a small amount of progress, argue about what to do next, do what she wanted in the end, get into trouble, get back out, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I have a hard time with these feisty independent heroines, who make impulsive, stupid decisions--which put themselves and everyone who cares about them in danger. It just bothers me. Why can't we have the independence with some rational planning, rather than "Who cares what you say (even though you know more than me about every aspect of this plan?) I'm going to do what I think is best. See ya!" Arg. It's frustrating. This one was a teenager, so that made me tolerate it a little more.

I liked the ending.

Despite the issues I mentioned, I enjoyed it for the most part. I would read a sequel, if one came out.

Content: clean. Ages 12+.

(12/11/17)




Maids of Misfortune, by M. Louisa Locke

2.5 stars: Okay, but I don't plan to read the rest.

It's 1879, and Annie Fuller is a widow during a time when women don't get much say about anything in their lives. She runs a boardinghouse to make ends meet and also runs a profitable side business as clairvoyant Madam Sibyl. She wears a disguise for her appointments as Madam Sibyl. After all a respectable woman would never be seen associating with someone like that. Her social standing is already precarious enough as it is. She doesn't need to add scandal or rumor to that.

When she receives a threatening letter from one of her late husband's creditors, an odious man who has his eye on the boardinghouse property, she is not sure how she's going to pay him off. Then one of her favorite clients dies--Mr. Matthew Voss. The police are calling it a suicide, but as he was a regular customer and Madam Sibyl was privy to many of his business and private plans, she doesn't believe it. She is fairly certain he was murdered. Why, though, and who would do such a thing?

She aims to look into it. Then Nate Dawson comes along, the Voss family attorney, and he has a few things on his agenda as well. Neither Annie Fuller nor Madam Sibyl were who he expected them to be and yet he finds himself drawn to Mrs. Fuller even as they face-off.

* * * * *
This one was just okay for me, which was a disappointment, because based on the setting I was hoping to really like it. The sparring between Annie and Nate never really captured me. The mystery was fine, but didn't stand out.

(10/11/17)


* * * * *
Onward and upward! Feels good to get those 2 crossed off the list!



June 3, 2018

Experiencing Some Accelerated Learning

I learned something in this business class I've been taking one night a week.
You ready? 
Here you go:

"Successful business owners recognize mistakes as opportunities
 for accelerated learning."

If this is true, then my learning is at warp speed right now!
I'm accelerating it left and right!
Just about every day, as a matter of fact.

I've already posted some of them, in relation to seed starting.
I tell you, it has been a struggle! 
Our vegetables are popping right up, easy as you please, and meanwhile the flowers are coming here a little and there a little. Mostly--a little.
Just got the dahlias planted this past week, all 49 of them, and yesterday I put in a whole row of sunflowers. (Seeds; we'll see how many come up!)
 At least my dahlias are growing, bless their tuberous little hearts!
Still only have about 3 cosmos that have come up. 3! Cosmos are usually unstoppable!

Remember this?
The cosmos jungle from my Washington garden.

If I don't get more coming up in the next few days I'm going to have to reseed.
I have already reseeded the bachelor's buttons that were no-shows = most of the row. Sigh.

In the meantime, the owner of the store where I have my booth has very graciously allowed me to cut her peonies (from her front yard--she is wonderful), and I have purchased some perennials for my flower beds that I will be able to cut from right away. 
I have continued to forage for filler in my back yard/weed patch. 
I do have to say--that has been pretty awesome.
I found a bunch of pennycress (which you can buy seeds for, and plant on purpose and everything!) growing amongst the thigh-high weeds in my unfinished greenhouse.
I've been cutting that for filler.


Peonies with pennycress, ready to go to the booth


Then just today I happened to identify the weed with the pretty little purple flower at the tip as alfalfa. I have no idea how it will do as a cut, but I'm going to try it tomorrow and see how long it lasts! Slightly worried about customers with allergies to alfalfa, but it wouldn't be to the fresh stuff, would it? More like the hay? Anyway...more accelerated learning coming my way!

My youngest brother, who served a mission for our church in the Czech Republic, said that someone told him that it would take a million mistakes to learn to speak Czech fluently.
So he decided that he would make them as fast as he could.
He spoke Czech to anyone and everyone, making many mistakes along the way.
By the end of his 2 years there, he was fluent.

Maybe that's the same with this flower farming stuff.
(Although, I hope the threshold for mistakes vs. competency is much lower than a million!)
I guess as long as I'm LEARNING from my mistakes, then it's all good, right?
Especially since my family doesn't have to depend on this business as our main income at this point.

One thing I have learned as I have struggled with getting my annuals going from seed, is that I need to plant a whole bunch more shrubs and perennials to get me through, just in case. I feel confident growing them--that's what gardening is all about. I can do that! 

However, I have not given up on seed starting and annuals.
I am determined to become really good at it.
It will save me so much money in the end, if I can just get the darn things to grow!
Even growing perennials from seed myself instead of paying expensive nursery prices would be awesome!! I also need to figure out how to harden them off without going crazy or inadvertently killing the hardy few that have survived my ineptitude so far. 
Hardening off is such a pain in the neck!

In 5 years, when all this has become easy and no problem, I will probably look back on this post with a rueful smile and just shake my head. Or maybe not. 
By then I'm sure I will be busy accelerating my learning in other areas.

May 23, 2018

The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel

I read and liked The Life of Pi some years ago. So I've been wanting to read this one for quite some time (same author.)  This one, well, it was different. Let's talk about it. It really needs discussing.


The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel

2 stars: This one was a bit strange.

Told in 3 sections, each with different characters in a different time period. The first is the story of Tomas in 1904. He works at a museum in Lisbon, and has come across an old journal that has him transfixed. It is the journal of a priest who carved an utterly unique crucifix, that he sent to an obscure church in--you guessed it--the high mountains of Portugal. Tomas, who has taken to walking backwards ever since losing his lover, son, and father, is determined to find this crucifix. The only trouble is that to do so he must drive a new invention--the automobile. He'll do whatever it takes, though he has no idea the toll this journey will take on him.

The middle section is about a pathologist, who performs autopsies at a large hospital. It is mid-century by now. The pathologist's wife comes to visit him late one night, with the newest Agatha Christie novel (they are both big fans) and some fascinating conversation. Strangely enough, she is not his only visitor that night. The next is also a woman, but there the similarity ends. For one thing, she has brought along the body of her husband in a suitcase for him to autopsy.

Finally, we get the story of a Canadian senator in the 1980's who has lost his wife, but who makes a connection with a chimpanzee. It is such a strong connection, that he ends up buying the animal. One thing leads to another and he ends up moving to the high mountains of Portugal, with the chimpanzee. He searches for his roots (his ancestors came from this village.) He experiences life without modern technology or schedules, and comes to recognize many things about himself and his life.

* * * * *
I kept reading this one, thinking that it would all be tied together at the end. All of these very different stories would suddenly make sense. There was some of that. The connections, though a bit tenuous, did show up, but not in a linear way.

There are some big overarching themes throughout the three sections, that would make great book club fodder, like loss and grief, the importance of intentions vs. reality, the role technology plays or doesn't play in the lives of the three men. Also, chimpanzees, the Iberian rhinoceros, the making of a religious icon, and so on.

The middle section was magical realism. It was my least favorite of the three. I felt like there were perhaps hidden meanings that were sailing over my head. The way it all happened left me unsettled, particularly the end.

I will say this for it--I thought about things that have never before crossed my mind. So there's that.


Content: Some talk of sex.

(5/03/18)


I truly am eager to discuss this with someone, while at the same time feeling reluctant to recommend it to any of my friends. It's a rather awkward position to be in. Have you read it? Please talk to me!

May 21, 2018

All the Roses: 6+16+2 (+2)

It's going to be a great year for roses!

I started out with 7 from the previous owners. 
I don't know their varieties; most bloomed either orange or yellow.
Also, despite my digging them up and putting them in buckets for a couple of months last summer while I renovated the flowerbeds, it looks like all but 1 survived the winter.
Woohoo!

Now adding to that, I ordered 16 more English roses from David Austen Roses in Texas.
They recommend you order 3 individual shrubs of each kind, then plant them 18 inches apart to make one large shrub, which is what I did for the most part.
(See, it really only amounts to 5 shrubs and an extra!)


They all came in on about a month ago on a Tuesday, 2 days before a predicted snowstorm.
I soaked them all overnight (in my utility sink + a 5 gallon bucket, which was the only place big enough), and worked like crazy the following day to get as many planted as I could.
Well, I still had to prepare the ground where the bigger shrubs were going to go, over between the garden and the chicken coop.
Spent most of the day over there, digging up weeds, spreading compost, and tilling it in.
My 10 year old went back with me after dinner and we worked until it was too dark to see, putting 6 roses in the ground.

[All photos provided by David Austen Roses, and used with permission.]
[Since mine aren't blooming yet!]

'Eglantyne'


Only 10 more to go!

The others, again, waited in the utility sink and bucket for the next break in the weather.
The following Saturday was a beautiful day.
What's more, my sister-in-law and her 2 kids came up to help!
Together we got the other 10 roses planted.

'A Shropshire Lad'

So I did 5 of them individually in the front flowerbeds.
All 3 of 'A Shropshire Lad' roses had their own spots along the fence in front.


'Munstead Wood'

I took one of the 'Munstead Wood' and used it to replace the one rose that had died in the front oval bed. That's my purple and yellow bed, so the deep purple rose should look fantastic there!

'Lark Ascending'

I only bought 1 of the 'Lark Ascending' bushes, with the idea all along of planting it in the corner bed next to the driveway, which we did.

'Desdemona'

"James Galway'
Then in the orchard, we planted 3 each of 'Desdemona,' 'Eglantyne,' and 'James Galway,' plus the remaining 2 'Munstead Wood's. 

THEN my neighbor gave me 2 roses from her yard, which were in too much shade:
a pink knockout, and a floribunda called 'Nearly Wild." 
They went over by the gravel pad, along that fence.


You would think that would be enough roses for now.
(Can there ever be enough roses?)
No, no. I bought 2 more miniature roses, 'Cutie Pie,' to cut as accents and for smaller bouquets.


NOW maybe I'll be done.
For awhile.
I still think I need a pure white--we'll see how white 'Desdemona' turns out to be--and a yellow that's an English rose. Oh yes, and some true red roses. 
I would love to get a trellis and train one to climb over it. Next year, maybe.

You're not really supposed to cut flowers from newly planted roses, to give them a chance to get established and all that, but I figure even if I only cut one from each I would still have enough to sell!
I can hardly wait for these to bloom!

May 19, 2018

Mini Theme: Art Crime

I enjoy reading true crime, as long as it isn't serial killers or murder related. The books in this mini theme all center on art theft, or finding stolen art. This is a crime that happens all the time, with many of the pieces of art never being recovered. Part of the fascination for me with this, as well as other true crime I've read, is to try to figure out why a thief would choose this particular avenue for wealth. In the case of stealing artwork, it's a quandry, because the more well-known the art or artist has been, the more the piece is worth. On the flip side, the fame makes it extremely hard to resell down the line, unless the thief has connections with a private collector or something.

The teen and middle grade fiction books give a more light-hearted perspective to the whole thing.




Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures, by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman

4 stars: Packed with interesting stories.


Wittman founded the FBI's Art Crime team during his tenure there. In our country, stolen art is not nearly as big a deal to the general public as in, say, Italy or France. So it took some doing for Wittman to make this the focus of his FBI career. Though he battled apathy and bureaucracy, he was able to recover some amazing pieces of art.

Some of what he found and returned to their rightful owners were actual big-name paintings. All were important to history, like a battle flag from one of the few African American regiments in the Civil War, and an original copy of the Bill of Rights. Wittman found he had a knack for befriending the bad guys and getting them to deliver up the goods.

Along the way, it also becomes a memoir of sorts, as he talks about his growing up years, a tragic accident that affected his life for years, and his marriage and family. He tells of the successes, but also the times things went wrong--or nearly so. Through the years, he worked with agents from all over the world to recover missing art and artifacts.

* * * * *
I enjoyed this insider's look at the world of art crime and investigation. I couldn't believe a) how expensive some of this art is and b) how poorly guarded. Also, how easy to get these stolen items across borders. Once lost this way, it's anyone's guess who might end up with it--often mafia or mobsters of various stripes--who use the art for a type of currency. Wittman came very close to recovering the artwork stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, but you'll have to read it to find out what happened.

(3/19/18)



The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece, by Edward Dolnick

3.5 stars: An entertaining read.

Tells the story of the theft of Edward Munch's The Scream, from a prominent museum in Norway, right during the Olympic games held in Lillehammer. The Norwegians were deeply embarrassed and rather desperate to get their masterpiece back. Meanwhile, over in London, undercover policeman Charley Hill heard the news and decided he could find it.

Details the story of the search and recovery, but it also delves into Charley Hill himself, as well as Edward Munch, art history in general, and museum security (or lack thereof).

* * * * *
Whereas Priceless spanned a career, The Rescue Artist focused in on this one rescue mission. Charley's unique blend of belligerence, acting skills, and knowledge served him very well on this case. I found the side trails interesting enough, as well. I have never really liked the work of Edward Munch, but I was interested to learn more about him. He had some stuff going on, let me tell you. Most of it mental health related. Did you know he wasn't even well-known in his own time?

Of the two, I liked Priceless, by Robert K. Wittman better.

Content: Quite a bit of bad language.

(4/30/18)


Moxie and the Art of Rule-Breaking, by Erin Dionne

3 stars

So Moxie has a best friend named Ollie, and the two of them have an awesome summer planned out. Then a mysterious and mean redhead shows up at Moxie's door demanding things that Moxie doesn't know anything about. She has a pretty good idea who hid the things, though: her Grandpa. He helped some big-time crooks hide stuff back in the day--though he's been out of that business since she was a baby.

Moxie delves deeper into the mystery, and realizes that the missing items were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and have never been recovered. Also, they are worth millions. Unfortunately, Grandpa is suffering from Alzheimer's and even if he weren't, is not at all likely to give up his hiding places or be okay with Moxie getting involved. However with redhead escalating the threats, both to her personally and to her family, Moxie feels that she has no other choice than to try to find the missing art herself. With Ollie's help.

I liked that this was based on a real unsolved crime, and I thought the hiding places were clever and believable. Geared for teens or tweens. Maybe a step up to offer kids who are fans of Blue Balliet's middle grade mysteries.
 


(Reviewed on Goodreads 10/06/2015.)



Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

4 stars

Theo's grandfather died recently, and with her mother locked in a world of her own, it's up to Theo to take care of them both and the house. As he died, he told her to look "under the egg" for a letter and a treasure. Well, she's searched everywhere egg-related she can think of and hasn't found a thing.

Then she spills some rubbing alcohol onto the painting of an egg that had always hung in her grandfather's art studio. (She had taken it down to look under it.) The paint started coming off, to reveal something else entirely underneath. A different painting. A really old painting. Could this be the treasure he was talking about? Except, if it's an authentic painting by one of the masters of the Renaissance, does that mean it's stolen? By her grandfather?

Theo needs some help, and it's certain that her mother is not going to give it to her. She heads out into the city (NYC, that is), and ends up making some friends along the way to solving the mystery of the painting and the mystery of her grandfather's life.

Somehow I seem to be reading on a theme without planning it: art heists and the surrounding mysteries. I liked this one better than Moxie and the Art of Rule-Breaking, primarily because it had more depth to the backstory. I won't say any more than that, because finding out why her grandfather had this painting is such a big part of the story. 

(Reviewed on Goodreads 10-09-15)


* * * * *
Have you read any of these? What did you think? 



May 15, 2018

Seed Starting: Wins and Losses

Starting a business has been a learning process!
Not that I expected it to be any different.
Not only am I learning business-related things, I still have a lot to learn when it comes to farming.

[p.s. I do have pictures to illustrate, but my Internet connection has been so slow this week that they are not uploading. Will add pics when I can! Everything is better with pictures, right?]

* * * * *

LOSSES or THINGS TO LEARN FROM

On the growing end of things, I am discovering that starting things from seed is trickier than it seems! I bought soil blockers from Johnny's Seeds, as an alternative to using plug trays.
I made up my soil mix, using their special soil that I paid to have shipped to me--mostly because I didn't have time or energy to make my own according to their recipe.
Got the soil blocks made. It was all good.

I planted my seeds in the blocks, put them on a heat mat and covered them.
I had read that they should have enough moisture within the soil blocks themselves to not need watering until the seeds have germinated.
Well, that didn't hold up for mine, and believe me, those soil blocks were plenty wet!
(I think even too wet.)

So after a few weeks, I had dry soil biscuits sitting on my heat mat.
There were always big drops of condensation on the cover/lids all along, so while I checked often for seedlings, I didn't think to check the actual soil blocks for awhile.
When I realized what was happening, I started watering them, but I'm pretty sure it's too late.

Two of the trays I just broke up the soil blocks back into the bag. They turned into dust.
One of them I moved to a tray without drainage holes, gave them a good soaking, then put them back on the heat mat. Even if they germinate now, though, it may be too late to get blooms from them this year. I need to look into that. Also, I need to figure out if I have time to direct seed those flowers into the garden. 

* * * * *

? STILL DECIDING 

Meanwhile, my snapdragons came up really well, 3 weeks ago.
I planted them into a recycled plastic berry tray.
They have stayed the exact same size all this time under the grow lights--about 1/2" tall.
Just yesterday I noticed that some of them are finally getting a set of true leaves.
They are a cool weather crop, though, and in a couple of weeks we will officially be into summer.
I didn't factor in a month of sitting under the lights when I planned out when to start them!
I guess if they survive, I'll get to find out how they do in the heat.
Or, I may have snapdragons in time for Thanksgiving this year.

* * * * *

WINS

On the positive side, the carrots and cherry tomatoes that my kids planted from seed have been doing awesome! We just potted up the cherry tomatoes a few days ago, into 4-inch pots, and they look strong and healthy. They're about 6 inches tall.
Two of my son's peppers have sprouted, as well, and look like they will be big enough to plant out early June, which is when they should be.

Also, I have had several Bells of Ireland sprout for me, which are finally growing some true leaves under the lights. They are still super tiny though, as well.
I planted some seeds directly into the garden last week--I will be very interested to see which do better.

The milk jug winter sowing project that I thought was a complete loss actually had 2 plants growing in it! (This could go under the "Things to Learn From" category as well! I haven't given up on it yet!)
One bachelor's button and one poppy. So I'll have those to plant out into the garden.

Many of the bachelor's buttons that I direct-sowed into the garden have sprouted now and are growing. Yay! 

Out in the vegetable garden, our peas are 6 inches tall and the carrots are up and growing.
My oldest son's lettuce and radishes are looking good, too.
We just planted some tomatoes, peppers, and watermelon purchased from the high school plant sale.
Always a win to support the local students!

* * * * *
CONCLUSION

I need more practice at starting seeds!
Also, until I get really good at starting them indoors, I need to direct seed everything I possibly can.

So far I've got 2 full-length rows in the garden direct seeded.
The first row has orlaya, larkspur, the bachelor's buttons that are coming up, and bells of Ireland.
The second row is almost all cosmos, with a section of Chinese forget-me-nots on the end.
I plan to put in a 3rd row this week. Perhaps I'll plant the zinnias. They don't like the cold weather, but we haven't even been close to freezing for a couple of weeks now. 

For the veggie garden, I plan to start cucumbers seeds and cantaloupe this week.
Possibly pumpkin, as well. 
Still deciding if I should plant them inside or out.
The veggies have done the best so far from seed and I still have a couple of weeks before official last frost date around here. 

* * * * *
Any advice for me on starting seeds? 

May 2, 2018

Buckets of Happiness

Getting ready for my opening day as a vendor in a store here in town!

It was raining when I cut these, but that's okay.
Cooler weather means I didn't have to get up super early to cut them! :)

Daffodils, hyacinths, pincushion flower, a tulip or two

Filler: lilac branches, feathery weed, ornamental plum

More tulips and daffodils

After conditioning in the garage overnight, these were ready to put into some arrangements!
All together, these buckets yielded 1 large arrangement, 2 mixed bouquets (medium sized), 3 "straight bunches," and 4 mini bouquets.
I am interested to see what sells the best. 
I anticipate narrowing down what I offer according to what most people want.