January 29, 2016

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

1.5 stars: There were parts I found interesting and thought-provoking, but I had a hard time wading through all the sex scenes and bad language.

I picked this one up, mostly because I had heard so many people rave happily about the Broadway musical. I should have read reviews for the book! All I can say is, the play must not be anything like the book if so many people like it.

As the cover says, this is the whole Oz story from the point of view of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. She is born to a morally loose mother and a religious fanatic father. 

From the time she is a tiny baby, her skin is green, and as a squalling newborn she bites off the finger of one of the midwives from the village. (Her second set of teeth are a bit more normal.)

Time goes on; Elphaba grows up and goes to school. She ends up rooming with a pretty, popular girl named Glinda, who--though ashamed to admit it--actually takes an interest in Elphaba. The two become friends...of a sort. Elphaba is highly intelligent, and constantly questioning status quo. However, she is also quite shy, largely due to growing up looking so different, and all the issues surrounding that.

Eventually, Elphaba's armless (due to a birth defect) younger sister, Nessarose, also comes to the boarding school, and Elphaba has to take care of her as well. Meanwhile, all is not well in Oz. Oz himself is a ruthless dictator who rules with the help of many soldiers and a merciless team of assassins known as the Gale force. He suppresses rights for the Animals (sentient, speaking animals), until they are rounded up and put back on farms like their non-sentient cousins.

After a disastrous trip to speak with Oz, Elphaba drops out of school and joins up with a rebel group of dubious intent. She has an affair with a married former classmate. Things go very badly in all aspects of her life, and she ends up in a kind of nunnery for several years, finally making her way to the family of her lover in order to attempt some amends. She brings along a boy who may or may not be her son, Liir, and hopes for the best.

It keeps going. Suffice it to say, Dorothy enters the story toward the end, almost as an afterthought. It's Elphaba's sister, Nessarose aka "the Wicked Witch of the East," who dies with Dorothy's landing in Oz. And then there's the shoes. Elphaba REALLY wants those shoes! Glinda had no right to give them away to Dorothy! (After everything else we've been led to believe about Elphaba, this seemed very out-of-character.) Elphaba meets her end much like she does in the original, but this time we see the misunderstandings that led up to that point.

I'm usually onboard with fairy tale retellings. I was intrigued to get the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire does a good job of making her a mostly sympathetic character. The world of Oz that Maguire creates matches up closely enough with Baum's vision that it works, though this is obviously a much darker, grittier world.

The religious aspect of the book was quite complex and well-done. Several of the main characters held very different religious beliefs, from the pleasure religion to some that worshipped the fairy Lurlene, and others. I think there's a lot of people today who believe in the "pleasure religion," whether they acknowledge it openly or not.

Also, there is a very interesting discussion in the middle about the nature or evil. What makes someone evil? Is it fate, ends, means to those ends, green skin, bad parentage?  If I could take only that part out of the book and use it for a book club discussion, I would do it.

However. I could not in good conscience recommend this book to my book club--or to anyone, really. Content-wise, it's a bust. Quite a bit of language, plus many sexual encounters--Elphaba's mom, Elphaba's affair, and others. If you decide to read it despite this review, skip over the entire section when the friends go to the Philosopher's Club. I wish I had. Yuck.

Yes, I do find it ironic, after my last post, that this is the book I had to review next. It was perilously close to being a "lake of mud" book, with too many content issues to finish. What kept me reading on this one?
1. I wanted to find out what happened to Elphaba, and get to the bottom of how it would all tie-in with Baum's original.
2. The philosophical questions it raised kept me thinking.

To be honest, though, I'm not sure it was worth it.

Have you seen the play? Do you recommend it?

January 27, 2016

On Books with Questionable Content


This is can be a sticky topic, but it’s one that needs addressing early on in this blog. Namely, what is my stance regarding books with mature content: bad language, sexual situations, violence, abuse, and so on?

If you know me well, you probably know that I’m a Mormon. I believe that the Holy Spirit can be with each one of us to help guide us, protect us, and comfort us every day. That is, unless we choose to do things (or listen to, watch, or read) things that drive Him away. That would include my whole list of “mature” content there above. 

However, I don’t believe that means we are only supposed to read our scriptures. In fact, in our book of scripture called the Doctrine & Covenants (often abbreviated to “D&C”), there is a verse that applies to this very issue. It says, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)  To me this is saying that I’m expected to seek learning and wisdom out of the best books I can find.

I don’t think the verse is only referring to knowledge of a spiritual nature. There are so many cultures, situations, and world views that I know very little about. I want to expand my knowledge of those people, and their lives. I also feel a pull to learn about the hard situations others go through, so that I can relate at least a little bit to their troubles.

photo from morguefile.com
 
On the other hand, I really want to be right before God. I don’t want my mind filled up with disturbing thoughts and images that will interrupt my sleep and affect my daily life. It’s a balancing act.  

Some people, whom I love and respect very much, will not read any book that has even a little objectionable content in it. If they run across a cussword, for instance, they shut the book and stop reading. I…don’t do that.  When I was a librarian, there were many books that I felt like I had to read—current award winners, and such, just to stay relevant on the job. Now I don’t have that expectation to meet anymore, but I do still enjoy a wide range of books, genres, and authors.
It’s an ongoing challenge, though. Nearly every book I pick up from the adult shelves has something objectionable in it, unless I’m strictly reading LDS* fiction—and even some of those thrillers are quite violent. Since it makes me a bit frustrated to put a book down halfway through, I almost always read several reviews of the book online first, particularly looking for reviews that mention content concerns.  I make a list of what I want and bring it with me to the library. I don’t just browse adult fiction much anymore, but when I do, I’ll do the spot-check test: I open up the book to any random page and skim it. If I come across a sex scene, or bad language, I put it back. Or, I’ll look for an author I know I can trust, content-wise.
Once I’m reading the book, my best avoidance methods are skimming and skipping.
photo from morguefile.com
[Not this kind of skipping!]
If there’s not very much bad language, or it’s mostly from one character, I generally skim right over it. When I can tell a sex scene is coming, I skip ahead a few pages. Nothing is foolproof, unfortunately, but that’s how I do it.  

In regards to themes, or more general concerns, I think a lot of it has to do with how it is presented. Is it glorified or romanticized or treated as a joke? Is it the hero doing the bad stuff? How do the other characters respond to the situations? What can be learned from it? Does it have an agenda, or what is the overall message of the book?

photo from morguefile.com
 
Then there are the books that have so much junk in them that I can’t wade through it anymore. It’s like a lake of mud that keeps getting deeper with every step. It’s just not worth it to keep slogging through it. There’s too much to skim or skip over. I’m done.

What does that mean for this blog, and for my reviews in particular? First, you need to realize that my book choices are not all going to be squeaky clean. That being said, my goal is to be completely honest when it comes to content in all my reviews. I will usually include notes about the content at the very end of the review, so you will have some idea what to expect if you decide to pick up the book. (I hate being surprised by stuff like that and figure you probably do too.) I will also put age ranges, if appropriate.

So, talk to me!

What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you ever stopped reading a book due its content? At what point do you put down a book?

*LDS is an abbreviation for “Latter-day Saints,” which is another name for us Mormons.

January 25, 2016

Weeding Your Collection: Nonfiction

Are you ready to dive into some weeding?
Today we are talking about NONFICTION--i.e. true, factual books.
Weed, useful herb, or vibrant wildflower? You decide!
I often find it much easier to be objective about nonfiction, so that’s why I chose it as a starting point. It can be a challenge, though, because nonfiction books crop up in a lot of places outside of the bookshelf. Just stick to one shelf or one area at a time, and don’t get overwhelmed.
 
Take all the books in that section off the shelf and put them on a table or on the floor. Take one book at a time and decide if it’s a keeper or not.

 Questions to ask yourself for nonfiction:

 

1.       Is the information outdated or incorrect?
photo from morguefile.com
 
Space books that list Pluto as a planet come to mind here, as do older dinosaur books, books about technology, geography books or atlases, and books with medical information. Take a good hard look at any nonfiction older than 5 years. Out-of-date info can be harmful or amusing, but it’s rarely helpful.
 
a. Are there other reasons to keep it beyond the actual information?

So sure, that space book may be outdated, but it has amazing Hubble telescope photos. Great, keep it, but just be aware of its limitations. (Your child may not want to base a school report on it.) Or slice out the photos, and get rid of the rest. (GASP! Yes, I just advocated cutting up a book. Does that revoke my librarian license?)

2.       Is this book your best source for the information?
In other words, if you needed to know this information would you just google it, or do you always hunt down the book? Books that fall into this category: old college textbooks, dictionaries, thesauruses, cookbooks, phone books, repair manuals,etc.
 
3.       Is it at the right level for the kids who are reading it?
 
Juvenile nonfiction books especially have quite a range. Some are so long and packed with info that they’re on more of a middle school level and my 2nd grader struggles to get through them, even when he’s interested in the subject matter.
 
4.       Are you (or your child) still interested in the topic, or
photo from morguefile.com

This applies to hobby and crafting-type books, in particular. If your interest has waned, or that particular book doesn’t give you the inspiration you thought it would, send it on its way. There will probably be someone else out there who will appreciate it.

If it came with pieces (Klutz books and others) do you still have them? Or alternately, are you sick and tired of keeping track of them?! [Believe me, I feel your pain!]

5.       Church-related books: lesson manuals, scriptures, etc.

All I have to say here: if you’ve switched to digital, don’t feel guilty about ditching the paper copy! I know a lot of us have formed attachments to our paper scriptures, particularly if we’ve been studying from them for a number of years. That being said, you may not need individual copies for every member of the family any more. 

And that collection of Ensign* magazines you've been hanging onto since college? Honey, they're all online, keyword searchable. As much as it hurts, put them in the recycle bin, close the lid gently, and walk away. It's okay. Really.

6.       Old Encyclopedia sets

Unless you are dearly attached to them for sentimental reasons, or you’re saving them to make that trendy end-table--they’ve got to go! Our library wouldn’t even take donated sets that were more than 5 years old. They cover such a broad range of information, they go out of date fast.

Digital encyclopedias are awesome: they don’t take up an entire shelf on your bookcase, they are updated regularly, they are keyword searchable, and best of all—your friendly public library likely has subscriptions to many of them, which you can access for FREE with your library card. Just a thought.

So, how did you do?
 
Did you run up against some that you were surprisingly reluctant to let go of? What criteria would you add for the decision-making process? Have you ever made furniture out of old books?

Stay tuned: next time we're going to take on the picture books--with suggestions to get help from your kids!
 
 *The Ensign is a monthly magazine for adults, published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

January 22, 2016

A Few Good Shrubs

Since I highlighted one of my favorite books, I guess it's only fair to share a few of my favorite shrubs, as well.  Keep in mind that loving them doesn't always mean successfully growing them....unfortunately.
 
Let's start out with a sentimental favorite from my childhood (way back to pre-Alaska, Idaho days).
The lovely common snowball bush, or Viburnum opulus 'Roseum.'
 
Each large flowerhead is made up of lots of tiny individual blossoms called florets.
One of my few memories from Idaho was our large snowball bush on the one side of the house. I remember making it "snow" in summer, by picking one of the snowballs and shaking it, until all the florets started snowing down.
 
May 2015: loaded with those fun snowball blooms!
 
 I planted this one 2 years ago, in the fall. Even newly planted, it was loaded with blossoms the following spring. It's still small (it can get up to 8' tall & wide), but has probably doubled in size each year so far. I've seen some around town that look like small trees. I hope it gets to be that size!
 
Then, if the blossoms weren't enough to win me over, take a look at this great surprise I got after the frost! It's the red-leaved one in front.
October 2015
Gorgeous!

I have always loved roses.
Not that I see myself every devoting myself to them exclusively, but I usually try to have at least 1 or 2 in every flowerbed scheme.  I don't generally plant the Hybrid Tea Roses with the long straight stems and all that. They take way too much pampering.
I do best with the shrub roses, or at least floribundas.
They've got to be able to mostly take care of themselves if they're going to survive in my flowerbeds!

Fuschia Knockout Rose in Missouri.


Miniature rose in my front flowerbed.
So far I have just this one mini, but I may add others if and when space opens up.


This 'Yellow Topaz' rose smelled amazing and seemed to be very vigorous, until most of it mysteriously died off last summer. There's a slim chance it'll make it through the winter, but I'm not holding my breath.

My newest roses are my most favorite so far.
Have you ever heard of English roses?
Bred for scent, old-fashioned full form, and hardiness, they are awesome!

 Pleased to introduce you to 'William Shakespeare.'
I've got 3 of this variety out front, one on the bottom terrace, and 2 on the middle terrace.
They smell really good and have that deep crimson color that is just fantastic.
 

'Abraham Darby' (ahem, "Abram Dah-by, if you will)
This rose has a citrusy scent that is just divine.
Also, it is gorgeous.
What's not to love?
I'm hoping it grows so much this year that there will be enough to cut and bring inside.
I just have the one and it's in my back flowerbed.
 
 What else? Oh yes, we can't leave out hydrangeas.
In Missouri I had the 'Endless Summer' variety:
So many shades of pink & purple on the same bush. So pretty!
 
I tried planting this type here, on my back slope, but they died right off.
[I find myself typing that a lot in relation to the back slope. Sigh.]
[* cough * Hill of Death *cough*]
 
Not to be deterred, I planted a different type out front:
'Quick Fire' Hardy Hydrangea. 
So far, so good.
The blooms open white, then turn pink as they age.
 
I also managed to put in an Oakleaf Hydrangea in the flowerbed up next to the front porch.
 
 It hasn't bloomed very much yet, but the fall color has been vibrant.

My newest hydrangea acquisition:
'Little Lime' hydrangea
This one is in the new shed flowerbed, and I love it already.
Like 'Quick Fire' this one's blooms turn start out white and turn pink as they age, but in between they turn a lime green color.
I have high hopes for this one!
 
 
A surprise favorite is this elderberry 'Black Beauty.'
 
I would never have chosen it, until I saw it in a friend's garden and couldn't get over the dramatic coloring, and how every color nearby just popped.
Also, check out how the color echoes the coneflower seedheads here!
I actually put in another last summer, which I hope grows tall quickly to match.
 
Oh, and speaking of great leaf color: I have to give a shout-out to the sorbaria,
Sem False Spirea.
 
It has finely-cut leaves in that zingy chartreuse color, with the new growth coming in pink.
It brightens up this whole corner of the flowerbeds out front.
I will say that every so often I find a runner popping up 3-4 feet away, but so far they have been easy to snip off, and shallowly rooted enough to pull right out.
It also blooms in early summer, though the flowers are nothing to write home about.
It's the foliage that takes center stage on this one, anyway!
 
There are more. Yes, always a few more, but I will stop here.
I wish I had lilac pictures to show you.
I love lilacs, and although I have planted them every place we've lived, I have yet to see an actual lilac bloom from my own shrubs.
However, hope springs eternal.
I just put in 3 more last spring. Maybe this year will be the year!
 
Do you play favorites with your plants?
[Sometimes my favorites end up being the ones that don't die.]
[Except for lilacs.]
 
What shrubs can you not live without?
 


January 20, 2016

15 Wintery Picture Books for Snowy Days

Those snowflakes are drifting down (or blowing sideways!) and what you really want to do is snuggle up with your kids and read some stories. There’s something very satisfying about reading snowy-themed books when you are all warm and cozy.

There are so many good ones, old and new! Here are a few to get you started:

Froggy Gets Dressed, by Jonathan London
Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

We love Froggy around here, and this one is a classic. Froggy wakes up in the middle of winter, SO excited to go play in the snow. Of course, first he has to get himself dressed for the cold. So he puts on clothes (each with its own funny sound effect) and flop, flop, flops out into the snow. Then the hilarious call-and-response part: his mom calls “FRRROOGGYY!” “Wha-a-a-a-a-t?” he answers back. “Did you forget to put something on?” He looks down. Um, yes. Oops. So he goes back in, and has to keep taking off some things to put on others, until it all is just too…much…effort.

Froggy’s irrepressible antics, plus all the sounds effects, plus the punch line—which I won’t tell you—all make for a highly interactive storytime experience. My little ones love participating in the story and “reading” the conversations between Froggy and his mother.
 
>> If you’re doing it with a preschool group, it’s a great one to act out, or do as a flannel board story.


The Hat, by Jan Brett
 
We love Jan Brett's books! This one is a favorite. As winter is coming on, Lisa decides to air out her woolens on the clothesline. Her hat blows off the line, and Hedgie the hedgehog gets stuck inside it. One by one, all the barnyard animals tease him for wearing a hat. He finally gets it off, but when Lisa comes out, she finds that her other woolens have also gone missing!
 
As with all of Brett's books, the detailed illustrations tell a story within the story. Finding out what Lisa is doing on each page, along with keeping track of the blown-about woolens, adds much enjoyment to the story. 
 
 
Ice Cream Bear, by Jez Alborough

Bear is lazy and loves ice cream. He would rather eat an icy snack, than fix his broken window pane, for instance. The one day he falls asleep and has a wonderful, awful dream….but was it a dream?

Rollicking, fast-paced rhymes and lively illustrations.
 
>> Make some snow ice cream afterword and call it a day!
(My kids still call snow their “icy snack.”)

 
 
 
 
Let It Snow by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Dynamic rhymes explore the ups and downs of snowy winter days, from snowball fights to frozen toes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Little Polar Bear books, Written and Illustrated by Hans de Beer

Little Polar Bear flies in a balloon, gets caught in a ship’s net and goes on a voyage, teaches a friend to fly, and has lots of other adventures (while always returning safely home) in this charming series. My kids love these and request them throughout the year.

 
 
 
 
 
 
One Mitten, by Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Maggie Smith

All the things you can do with one mitten…then with two! Easy rhymes and cheerful illustrations make this one a winner.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
One Snowy Night, by Nick Butterworth

An import from England, this is the story of Percy the park-keeper, who shares his hut with a whole menagerie of cold animal friends one snowy night.  We especially giggle over the interactions of the animals as Percy’s bed gets more and more stuffed. If your book is hardbound, a little knock on the back cover each time Percy hears the door makes it even more fun.

 
 
The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art & Science of Snowflakes, by Kenneth Libbrecht

This is a beautiful book. Nearly every page has a blown-up photo of a snowflake on it. The information is broken down into simple, accessible text, with just 1-2 paragraphs per page, and lots of drawings and pictures.

Reading it straight through is a bit too much for my 3-year-old, but he enjoys looking at all the pictures, and picking out a page here and there to read. My older two (6 year old and almost 8) page through it on their own, or can listen to it in one sitting.

>> Pair it with Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Martin for a whole snowflake theme!


Sizing Up Winter, by Lizann Flatt
Illustrated by Ashley Barron

What if the natural world knew math like us? Each page explores a beginning math concept with illustrations to match.

I found this one on the Scholastic book order last year and have been very pleased with it.  What I like most is that it can be read straight-through as a story, for the little ones not ready for the math part, or you can stop and do the math activities on each page: counting, measuring, comparing, sequencing, and so on. My children pick and choose, but we have ended up doing most of the activities each time through. The cut-paper illustrations provide another level of interest and detail, as well. Very well done.
 

The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs

A boy makes a snowman, who becomes a real live friend! Also, there is flying.

I can’t even pick this one up without the song from the animated movie going through my head, “We’re walking in the air….” Anyway, there are actually several versions of this one out there, including one with words by Raymond Briggs called The Snowman Storybook. A natural beginning to reading, as most versions are wordless, and your child gets to practice “reading the pictures,” and telling the story.

>> Watch the movie afterword, or talk about what you would do if your snowman came to life!
 

 
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
Illustrated by Susan Jeffers

If you want some absolutely breathtaking artwork, take home this picture book that is Frost’s poem, illustrated. Each line has been given a 2-page spread, done in pencil, pen, and ink, and packed with details and warmth. Look for animals hiding in the woods! Plus, you are introducing your kids to a wonderful poem. Win-win!

 
 
 
Stranger in the Woods, by Carl R. Sams II & Jean Stoick

If you haven’t seen this book yet, you need to go find it at your library ASAP! The illustrations are all photographs of woodland animals, and the story is about a stranger in the woods that they are hesitantly approaching. It has been around for awhile, and it is utterly magical. 

>> This is another great one for a preschool group. After you read it, you can make your own "strangers," or make birdfeeders, or some combination of the two.

 

Especially for Early Readers:


I Am Snow by Jean Marzollo
Illustrated by Judith Moffatt

An early introduction to both reading and science. Love it! Snow is described, first by what it is not: “I am not rain. I do not drip, drip, drip,” then by what it is, and finally, by what you can do in it.
 
The language of this one has entered into our family vocabulary—we often quote those beginning pages when we’re watching some kind of precipitation come down from the sky!

 
>> Also includes instructions for folding and cutting a 6-pointed snowflake, so of course, that’s what comes next!


 
 
Mice on Ice, by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley

Colorful, cut-paper mice pair with very simple 3-4 word sentences on each 2-page spread. Satisfying, with a little twist at the end.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Footprints in the Snow, by Cynthia Benjamin
Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

Combine reading practice with basic biology! Each set of 4 pages highlights a different animal heading home. For example, “Someone runs [page turn] home.” On the first set of pages, you see a realistic picture of a woodland animal including their footprints, and the once you turn the page, you see them “at home.”

The repetitive narrative builds confidence, while building vocabulary with the various verbs used.

 
 
Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite wintery picture books?

January 15, 2016

Weeding Your Collection Series


You knew this was coming, right? Ha ha!

This is the start of a series, all about weeding through your books. We'll take it one section at a time, and go until...I run out of things to say about it!

Challenge: Find the weed in this photo!

Weeding outdoors--you know, REAL weeds--is a neverending job. Never. Ending. It's sort of like dishes and laundry: one eternal round.  However, weeding through your book collection can be done at your pleasure.

In my librarian days, I actually enjoyed weeding the collection. It was so satisfying getting rid of tattered, old books that never got read anyway. The shelves always looked so much better when I was done, and the books that remained would get significantly more use.

It will work that way at home, too. If you think about it, it makes sense. If you have to push past the books you don’t like all that much to get to the good stuff, you may end up doing something else instead. Having 100 books that you read and love is far better than having 300, of which only 100 are read and loved.
 
When is it time to go through your books? Watch for these red flags:

picture from morguefile.com


1.  Your bookshelves are beyond full. This could look like:
  • The books are packed in so tightly, your little ones can't pull out a picture book or put it back without help.
  • When you pull one book out, 3 more cascade down.
  • You have books stacked in front of or on top of other books on the shelf (due to lack of space, not just kid-style cleanup.)
2. You run across books that you didn’t even realize you had.

3. You or your child look at a bookshelf packed with books and complain that there is nothing to read.

4.  There are books on your bookshelf that no-one has read OR books that no-one has read for more than a year.

5.  You have purchased a newer version of it. This includes an electronic copy, if you can't see yourself picking up the print version again!


Okay, so if you don’t enjoy weeding, or are feeling overwhelmed, where is a good place to start?

First narrow it down to one section, whether it’s nonfiction, picture books, early readers, board books, etc.  Like with most organizational tasks, smaller chunks tend to be more successful.
  
picture from morguefile.com
 
Take all the books in that section off the shelf and put them on a table or on the floor.  Go through them one by one and evaluate their worthiness to remain in your collection. We'll talk specifics about weeding each type as this series progresses!

Make a "keeper" pile and a "donation" pile. The great thing about books is that libraries and thrift stories gladly take donations, as long as they're in good shape. If they're not in good enough shape to donate, don't make a pile--throw them right into the recycle bin!

Box up your donations, dust off your shelf, and replace the keepers. Organize or not--your call. Enjoy how easily they all fit onto that shelf. 

Breathe a sigh of relief. Repeat!

Next time we'll chat about weeding your nonfiction: the true, factual books.

Do you like weeding your books? Any hard and fast rules for keeping (or donating)?

January 13, 2016

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery



5 stars: I love this book!

I thought it fitting to kick off my reviews with one of my favorite books of all time: Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Mongtomery.

I even re-read it, just so it would all be fresh in my mind, as it has been a year or two.  It captivated me just as much as ever. I laughed every so often and even admit to a bit of mistiness around the eyes here and there.

Anne brought me through some tough middle school years, when my family lived way up north in Barrow, Alaska. She was so real to me. I just knew for sure we would be kindred spirits, and I longed for her to live next door and be my best friend.

Or preferably, I would live next door to her. It would be several more years before I gained an appreciation of the unique beauty of the tundra surrounding me.  Particularly in the middle of the those dark, frozen winters, I lived off of the evocative descriptions of beautiful Prince Edward Island. Passages like this one:
"Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle." (21)  [Happy sigh.]
The passages about trees particularly fed my soul. Barrow is above the tree line. In fact, someone as a joke had nailed a sign to an old telephone pole that read, "Barrow National Forest." Meanwhile, the world of my imagination was filled with crimson maples, the bloom-filled orchard, the White Way of Delight, the Snow Queen, the ring of birches, even the Haunted Wood; trees are such a part of Anne's existence at Green Gables. While Anne was imagining fairy voyages, I was imagining trees! At least we had the ocean in common...though mine was frozen solid most of the year.

A few snippets about trees. First, from the ever-practical Rachel Lynde:
"Trees aren't much company, though dear knows if they were there'd be enough of them. I'd rather look at people." (4)
And Anne's more imaginative view:
"Maples are such sociable trees," said Anne, "they're always rustling and whispering to you." (127) 
 "Listen to the trees talking in their sleep," she whispered, as he lifted her to the ground. "What nice dreams they must have." (27)
There's a part of me that really wants to visit Prince Edward Island, but another part that doesn't. How can it live up to my expectations more than 100 years after this book was written? Surely there must be a lot more people, and lot less loveliness. What if I go there and it's a disappointment?  Have any of you been? Do you want to go?

Finally, just for fun, as I went through this time I underlined old-fashioned names for flowers that I didn't recognize. Next time through I'll have an even more colorful picture in my head of that gorgeous setting.

Sidenote: I hardly ever write in my books, but this was the paperback copy I've had since the 6th grade (SEE?!) I've been thinking about upgrading for awhile now.

So, for your future reference:
"lady's eardrops" (1) = fuchsia flowers
  
"June bells" (76) = Virginia bluebells? (Mertensia virginica)
photo from www.pd4pic.com

Verdict uncertain on this one.
There was some disagreement about this in Google-land. In addition to bluebells, there were some claims for lily-of-the-valley, and many sites saying it was the creeping bellflower, otherwise known as Campanula rampunculoides.

(These light purple flowers in my pot were bellflowers, though a different variety.)

I have my doubts that creeping bellflower could be the right one, though, as Montgomery describes it as "those shyest and sweetest of woodland blooms." (76) 
From everything I've read, creeping bellflower is a thug that will promptly take over any plot of ground and choke out all other life, spreads by rhizomes and by seeds, and is not one you would ever plant on purpose. To eradicate it from a site you literally have to sift the dirt and remove any piece of threadlike root, plus dig deep enough to remove all of the carroty tuber; otherwise it will grow back. One site called it "cancer of the garden." Well, okay then.

All that to say, my vote is for the bluebells on this one.

  "Bouncing Bets" (103) = soapwort or wild sweet William

photo from www.pd4pic.com
"Adam-and-Eve" (103-104) = putty-root orchid, or Aplectrum hymale
http://goorchids.northamericanorchidcenter.org/species/aplectrum/hyemale/?pile=orchid-monocots
[Includes several pictures and a nice description of its range and characteristics.]
"scarlet lightning" (104) = Jerusalem cross, Maltese cross, or lychnis chalcedonica
photo from pixabay.com

"white musk-flowers" (104) = Musk mallow or malva moschata
photo from pd4pix.com
 Like this one, but white!

Anne Shirley will always hold a special place in my heart. I am already getting excited to introduce my daughter to her. In fact, she saw the book out and was asking about it.
It may be time!
Any other die-hard Anne fans out there? Do you write in your books?
Tell me everything!

January 9, 2016

Garden Under Cover

You may want to peruse the "Garden Tour" page first, if you're new to my gardens, just to give you an idea of what it usually looks like.
 
This winter has been so snowy!
You might recall last year winter was hardly here before it was gone again. Not so this time around.
After weeks of rain, it turned into weeks of snow.
The kids are thrilled.
I am getting the beginning flushes of spring fever, but holding my own in this wintery wonderland.
 
These pictures are from December.
We got dumped on!
 
Out front, just the tops of the shrubs poking up, again.

Did you notice how you can't even see the bottom two terraces here at all?
Or any blocks? Or the laurel bushes down by the mailbox?
It is all one big snowdrift at the moment.

Across the driveway.
 
Moving to the back:
 
Vegetable garden terraces filled up.
In fact, I can't even make out the blueberry bushes on the top terrace.
 
apple tree and birdbath
 
Same area, 2 weeks later.
All you can see of the red dogwood is the tips poking out (behind the birdbath).
 
snow girl, back flowerbed
 
such a pretty sky [happy sigh]
 
 
 
I'm really wondering how my raspberries are doing under there (along the fence).
  
In the 2 weeks since these pictures were taken it has melted off a little bit.
The garden blocks are now visible, but we still have a long way to go until spring thaw.
Hey, more time to read, right?
What has your winter weather been like this year?