December 11, 2017

It Has Been a Long Week

So, a week ago our house caught on fire.

I'll give you the short version.
First of all, we are all okay.
It was just the kids and I home at the time. My husband was still at work. 
My oldest son is the hero for coming to get me in the kitchen when he smelled smoke in the front living room, before any smoke detectors had even gone off. Together we went looking for the source, which turned out to be in the utility closet upstairs (it's in the master bathroom for some reason.)
The wall behind the boiler was in flames and thick gray smoke came pouring out.
I called 911 and got us all out of the house and to the neighbors.
I also let my husband know what was going on.
He came right home, but it is a 30 minute drive, so he missed some of the action.

This is the living room ceiling, underneath where the boiler was burning.

Fire trucks came within 5-10 minutes, and the fire was out within about an hour.
The fire chief said it was going down into the wall when they got there.

The good news is that we are all alive and we still have a house.
Also, we have good home insurance.
The bad news is that we can't live in our house for the next 1-3 months while it is repaired and our things cleaned from the smoke.

Some kind friends are letting us stay in their basement for the duration.
So, life goes on.

Meanwhile, I have ideas for posts and things to say, but also, my life is a bit chaotic at the moment.
If we can get our computer moved over to where we're staying, then I'll be back in business.
(It was in the dining room, which had little to no damage.)
Thank goodness for our library card, since all of our books are smoky and off-limits!

Here's to this week being better than last.

November 24, 2017

5 Adult Nonfiction Reviews

Hello and welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a great day at my parent's. Plus, pie for breakfast (Harper family tradition.) Loving it!


These past few months I have been reading mostly nonfiction, with a break for light and fluffy (fantasy or Regency romance) every so often. It has been enjoyable, and I always like learning something from what I'm reading. My kids often get to hear me talk about the current book I'm reading as well, particularly the nonfiction. I enjoy discussing the various topics and viewpoints with them.



Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, by Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd

3 stars: Entertaining and informative.

Interesting setup, with each chapter offering perspectives from Kidder and from his editor, Richard Todd, who has become a good friend over the years. I was particularly interested in how much the two have collaborated on many of the projects. I tend to think of writing as a solitary activity, which is then marked up in red pencil by an editor, then back to more solitary rewriting. Perhaps that is more in the world of fiction writing?

On many of his books, Kidder and his editor worked together from the idea/outline stage all the way through to the end. It was a collaboration that worked. Kidder won a Pulitzer prize for his first novel, The Soul of a New Machine. They continue to work together, including on this book.

They divided it up into 3 distinct types of nonfiction: narratives, memoirs, and essays. They also delve into some of the sticky situation the nonfiction writer runs up against: how to portray true events in a factual manner; which details to leave in or out; the ethics of writing from real life. They also have a section on style, including a handful of writing styles that they particularly take exception to.

I liked it and appreciated the insights. However, 2 months later now, I don't remember many specifics. I guess it's a good thing I have the ebook copy!


(Finished reading Sept. 19.)



A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas

3 stars: What would you do in her shoes?


Abigail Thomas was enjoying her life and her marriage to Rich, when an accident changed it all. Rich was hit by a car (as a pedestrian) and suffered severe brain damage. After he healed from the immediate trauma, he could still function, but he was not the same man she married. Where some or perhaps even most would walk away at that point, Abigail was not going to do that. Somewhere in there was the kind, generous, fun-loving man she had married. It was for him that she continued to stick it out.

She tried everything to help Rich. At one point, Abigail even brought her husband home to live. That attempt ended in disaster. He was too violent, too forgetful, too hard for one person to deal with on her own--even someone who loved him as much as she did. To some extent, she was able to let him go at that point. At least, let go of some of her ideas of what she should be doing for him, and some of the guilt for not being able to cope. He went back to live in a skilled nursing facility--permanently this time.

* * * * *
This is a rather remarkable story of the way one woman coped with the unthinkable. She never divorced her husband Rich, despite his completely different personality and many medical needs. At the same time, she was able to finally move on with her life to some extent. She got a job she enjoyed, she sold her apartment in the city and bought a small home in the same town as her husband. She had her husband home for visits with her on a regular basis, but always took him back to the facility where he lived at the end of the night. She collected 3 dogs that helped fill the void of loneliness in her life, and she kept on. One day at a time.

One of those books that made me really think about what I would do in her shoes. How would I handle this? I hope I could do it with the grace and acceptance that she has shown.

Content: It seems like there was some language, but I honestly can't remember for sure.

(Finished reading Sept. 28)




Start Something That Matters, by Blake Mycoskie

4 stars: Inspiring.


Mr. Mycoskie  is the founder of TOMS shoes. He started his company based on a revolutionary concept: rather than run a nonprofit, he was going to use the profits made in a one-to-one correlation for making a difference in the world. So for every pair of shoes sold, his company gives away one pair of shoes to someone in need.

His idea for this company started on a trip to Argentina, mingling with the poverty-stricken people in some of the towns and villages there. His idea, to create a company that would reward purchases with charitable giving, was a huge success. Less than 5 years later, his company had given away 1 million pairs of shoes, received all kinds of publicity, and generated all kinds of profit along the way.

Along with the TOMS story, the chapters topics include:
Find Your Story
Face Your Fears
Be Resourceful without Resources
Keep it Simple
Build Trust
Giving is Good Business
The Final Step

Each chapter had some advice, interlaced with anecdotes and lessons learned from the companies Mycoskie has been involved with.

* * * * *
I love this concept!

As I have thought about venturing into a business of my own, this book gave me valuable insight into how I could use what I'm passionate about to not only make money, but to make life better for other people at the same time. I think his biggest message is that giving doesn't have to be separate from business, and in fact, including a charitable component to your business can actually generate more profits, which you then use to do more good, and so on in an upward spiral of goodness.

I'm sure I will go back and read it again as I go along.

(Finished reading Oct. 4)




The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollen

3 stars: Much to think about here.

Pollan sets out to discover the provenance of each part of 3 very different meals: one made completely from processed foods, an all-organic meal, and an all hunted/foraged meal.

I learned quite a bit along the way, including how much CORN we all eat. I shared with my family the way has corn has entered nearly every part of our diet and some of what I had learned about how it came to be that way. A few days later, my husband said, "I think we're eating more corn now that you read that book." Actually, I believe we're just noticing it more.

In fact, I shared most parts of it with my family and it generated some good discussions. What does it mean when foods are labeled "organic"? I have always been a bit skeptical of that label, and this section showed me that was probably the correct reaction. Not that all organic food labels are misrepresenting reality, but many are.

Should you have to kill an animal yourself in order to eat it? The farm run by Joel Salatin, with everything co-dependent on everything else sounded so ideal. We talked about that quite a bit, as well. Having the chickens follow the cows from pasture to pasture, etc.

I also appreciated his discussion on the morality of killing animals for food. It helped me clear up my own viewpoint on that subject.

* * * * *
This one was long! It took me about 3 weeks of regularly coming back to it to finish it.

Even though it was published 11 years ago now, I was glad I read it. It made me that much more determined to a) grow what I can of my own produce and b) find local sustainable sources for meat and dairy products.

I thought the information was presented in a fair and balanced way. He admits that everyone growing their food is simply not feasible and not going to happen in this day and age. However, there is much room for change in how we handle our food--plants and animals alike. He makes a strong point that as consumers, if we insist on change, and use our dollars to show what's important to us, that change is possible.


(Finished reading Oct. 31)




Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities, by Richard Baer

3 stars: Hard to get through, but fascinating.

After waking up post C-section and not recognizing anyone around her, including the man claiming to be her husband, Karen started spiraling into depression. She looked for cues to see who she was supposed to know and their relationship with her, all the while feeling like she had done this before. She finally became suicidal, and as a final plea for help, went secretly to see a psychiatrist (Dr. Baer.)

Over time, he realized that she was suffering from Mutiple Personality Disorder. The first breakthrough came when one of the child personalities within Karen, a little girl named Clare, wrote a note to Dr. Baer asking him to help them. Through many years and significant changes in his own life (new jobs/divorce/etc.), Dr. Baer treated Karen and all her personalities. Coming from a horrific past of abuse and torture at the hands of her father, grandfather, and other men, Karen finally was able to remember and process everything she had experienced, and eventually was able to become whole again.

* * * * *
To be clear, it was Karen's harrowing story, not the doctor's, although no doubt it was hard to hear about everything that Karen had gone through. The process of re-integrating all the personalities back into one was fascinating. It was directed by Holdon, the adult male personality. He laid it all out for Dr. Baer--what order to go in and everything. The parts where Dr. Baer interacted with the each of the personalities, with Karen under hypnosis, was the most interesting to me. Each alter had a specific job to do in Karen's inner world, to protect her from the pain she experienced. New alters were created each time a bad situation came up that the current ones couldn't handle (there were 17 all together, which should tell you something about her childhood right there.)

I had to start skipping the sections talking about her abuse. It was really bad. Even just reading about it was making me angry and sad and sick to my stomach. The way the adult women of the family just let it go on was infuriating too. It's hard to believe she even survived.

It ended on a hopeful note, as Karen was making her way in the world as a whole person. I thought it was interesting that after she had integrated all the alters into herself, Karen had a hard time handling some of the everyday setbacks that came up, because she was used to one of her other personalities coming out to handle the hard stuff.


Content: Vivid descriptions (often in first-person, as quoting Karen) of sexual and physical abuse. Not recommended for sensitive readers. For adults.

(Finished reading Nov. 3)



* * * * * 
What have you been reading lately? I'm all ears!


November 22, 2017

Compost Bin Finished!

Yet another garden project that my husband has built for me. Yay!
A compost bin.
He started it during the summer.

This is what it looked like for quite some time.
[By the way, I can't get over how pretty it is here.]

Now here it is!
The boards in front are fitted into slots on either side, so you can pull them out.
The big compartment is to fill up first, then as we stir and turn the pile, eventually we'll move it to the next 2 bins--I think.


Sides and back are mesh for airflow.

We immediately put it to good use.
We still have the black ones that spin, too, but this holds so much more!


November 21, 2017

Amazing Sunsets

I've been saving up these pictures, but you know I can only hold off for so long! 

These are just a few of the many gorgeous sunsets we've had since we moved here.

August




September





October





November





Take a deep breath and let it out.
The sky is pretty.
Life is good.


November 20, 2017

Series Spotlight: As the Ward Turns, by Joni Hilton

Today's series is a throwback to the early 90's. In other words, I have had these books for a long time! I don't remember when I bought them, but I'm pretty sure it was pre-marriage. I have re-read them many times. This last time around, though, it had probably been years since I last cracked them open.
Even though I knew what was going to happen, the turns of phrase, and the zany situations had me laughing all over again!

If you can't tell from the titles, this whole series is very Mormon-centric. A "ward" is the Mormon word for a congregation. Those unfamiliar with Latter-day Saint terms and culture may not think it's funny at all. Some of it is a little bit dated--for instance, "Homemaking night" is now just called a Relief Society Activity. ("Relief Society" is the women's organization within the church.) If you have never heard of either of those terms, you may need to find a Mormon friend to interpret for you as you read these!

Last thing you should know before diving in--there's some straight-up preaching in all of these books. Spoken through the mouths of the main characters, but really, spelling it out as though you are sitting in a Sunday School lesson. That's not my favorite style of delivery for such things--I much prefer a more subtle approach--but it was fine. For me, the humor more than made up for "hammer the point home" sections.


As the Ward Turns (As the Ward Turns #1), by Joni Hilton

4 stars: Let the hilarity begin!

Andy Taylor has an unfortunate new perm and also a new calling: Ward Relief Society President. A busy mother of 3, she feels a bit overwhelmed, but determined to do a good job. She needs someone to be her Homemaking night coordinator, and she's heard there's a sister (not currently active in the church) who has built her entire house using only particle board and a hot glue gun. Perfect!

When she meets Edith Horvitz in person, however, she realizes she may have just made a huge mistake. Edith is very enthusiastic about her new calling, and in fact, has invited a local reality show to film Andy's visit to explain her new responsibilities. Edith, if not certifiably crazy, is pretty doggone close. Perhaps the glued house should have been the first clue? In any case, Homemaking night will probably never be the same again!

And that's just the beginning...

* * * * *
Good thing Andy has a sense of humor--she's really going to need it! A few blue-ribbon apologies wouldn't hurt either, as she always seems to be sticking her foot in her mouth. At least her heart is in the right place.

Even having read these many times before, I found myself chuckling once again at Andy's embarrassing predicaments and Edith's antics. Perhaps being easily embarrassed myself, and prone to get into such situations, made it all the more funny.

(Finished reading Sept. 17)




Around the Ward in 80 Days (As the Ward Turns #2), by Joni Hilton

3 stars: Bad guys, missed flights, and some powerful glue.

As an extremely generous thank-you gift for putting up with him all these years, Andy's brother Nick is taking her and her entire family to England on vacation. She is thrilled! A little less thrilling is the reality of her offer to hold onto Nick and Zan's wedding gifts while they're on their honeymoon. Particularly the macaw (from Edith--who else?) that cusses a blue streak and imitates household noises.

Then Andy is hit by a sudden attack of stomach flu in the airport, and misses the flight (everyone else has already boarded.) If that weren't bad enough, upon returning home, she finds a couple of burglars--or something--in her house. Before long, she is on her own [almost] private flight to England, along with her kidnappers and Edith--who was just stopping by and insists on coming along. She is supposed to lead them to her brother (his shadowy past catching up with him), but there are plenty of things that could go wrong in the meantime. She hopes.

* * * * *
I like the beginning and the ending of this one the best. The middle is good for a smile here and there, but yeah. Get your laughs in at the beginning, then stick it out to the surprise ending.

(Finished reading Sept. 17)



Scrambled Home Evenings (As the Ward Turns #3), by Joni Hilton

4 stars: I laughed until I cried!

Andy manages to deliver 3 healthy little boys, but apparently some of her brain cells have been shed in the process. At least, her unfortunate habit of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person seems to go into warp drive. Is it possible for one person to actually die of embarrassment? If so, Andy is a definite contender, followed by her young teenage daughter Erica--who suffers from second-hand embarrassment due to all of her mother's embarrassing episodes. [How many times can I use the word "embarrass" in one review? Let's count.]

Andy knows her life has turned completely upside down, though, when Brian loses his job and receives an offer from Edith--crazy glue lady. Yep, she is as eccentric as ever, but now somehow she's famous for it. Also rich (from the glue.) Sometimes it seems to Andy that Edith may even be the saner of the two of them. Probably not the best sign. If her husband accepts the job offer, their lives will no doubt jump a few levels from normal, but hey--at least they'll have a roof over their heads. A Day-Glo mansion roof, to be precise.

* * * * *
I thought the second book wasn't as funny as the first, but this one was right back up there. I don't even remember now which part it was that set me off, but I have not laughed that hard in a long time.

Her portrayal of the kids was spot-on, and it was fun to see Edith's transformation from neighborhood curiosity (remember the particle board/glue gun house?) to wealthy tycoon. Andy, I was laughing with you, friend, not at you. Okay, maybe a little bit at you, but mostly with. Good times.


Content: Some of the humor relates to nursing mom issues.


(Finished reading Sept. 24)



Stop the Ward I Want to Get Off! (As the Ward Turns #4), by Joni Hilton

2 stars: I was hoping for more.

Andy, Brian, and their 6 children still live with Edith in the mansion, only now there's an added attraction--Edith Land! So, remember the airport llamas? That didn't work out so well, so Edith had to figure out what to do with all those llamas--oh, and the birds that were supposed to train the llamas (by repeating phrases over and over.) Naturally, a petting zoo was the perfect answer. Edith Land just kept growing from there, much to the chagrin of the Taylors.

Meanwhile, Andy continues to try to keep her sanity in a house of craziness, NOT say embarrassing things in front of large groups of people, and put up with children, husband, and Edith. It's a full-time job.

* * * * *
You guys! How did I not know there were 4 of these?! I went to look them up and this one popped up. I ordered it the same day and read it soon after it arrived.

Later...
Perhaps my expectations were too great. It was just okay. Some of the incidents were amusing, but it started to feel a bit forced at times.

So, unless you have to get every book in a series to feel closure in your life, you could do without this last one. I did for all these years.

Content: One of the embarrassing moments here is a misunderstanding where Andy shouts, "No more secs!" to a child, which everyone else hears as "No more sex!" The joke doesn't die for at least a chapter.

(Finished reading Nov. 12)


* * * * *

Have you read these? What did you think? 



November 17, 2017

Back Corner Flowerbed


June 2017
I started planting this corner flowerbed, as well.
This one will have a red/yellow/white color scheme.
It is really branching out for me.
We'll have to see if I can stop the purple from creeping in there!

I was excited to have a little real estate next to the chain link fence.
So for climbers, I planted a 'Sweet Tea' honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum 'Inov71').
Average size 5-6' tall, 18-30" wide.
The tag said the flowers were yellow, pink and white.
They looked red to me!
If they really are pink, they may clash with everything else.
I guess time will tell.

Since this one will only take up some of the room on the fence, I want to plant a Sweet Autumn Clematis next to it, and train it to go the other direction on the fence.


Nov. 2017

I put the bird bath almost directly in the middle.
Then in a semi-circle curving around behind the bird bath, I did:
a red rose transplanted from the Oval Garden
Peony 'Charles Burgess' (Japanese; burgundy-red w/ gold in center)
Peony 'Jan van Leeuwen' (Japanese; white w/ yellow center)
Peony 'Festiva maxima' (double; white w/ crimson flecks)
Peony 'Red Charm' (double; deep red)
another rose from the Oval Garden (not sure on bloom color)

I planted some daffodils behind the peonies, along with the tulips dug out of the front bed.
There's a clump of Asiatic daylilies, also from the front corner bed, next to the rose on the right.

So, like with the others, I'll wait until spring to put in the summer bloomers.
I'm thinking possibly bee balm (monarda), black-eyed Susans (rudbeckia), and hollyhocks. 



November 16, 2017

Greenhouse in Progress

Guess what?
I'm going to have a greenhouse!
I'm so excited!

My husband is building it for me.
He figured out when he took down the shed that he could re-use most of the frame (including the trusses) to make a greenhouse.


Foundation dug out: Aug. 8, 2017


Partially framed in: Aug. 30, 2017


Roof trusses up: Nov. 2, 2017
These have been done for awhile, actually.
I loved how the birds were perching on each one!



Benches/shelves done; everything stained/waterproofed: Nov. 15, 2017.
My two older kids helped their dad with the staining.
This may be how we leave it until spring.
My husband would still like to get the new chicken coop built before winter settles in to stay, and as long as we get the polycarbonate up by March/April, I should be able to use it this year.

I can hardly wait to start using this space!
It's going to be especially nice for lengthening out my growing season on either end.

Oh, the things I will grow!





November 9, 2017

2 Regency Romances

Every so often I dip into the world of regency romances. They're a nice break from some of the heavier fare I read. Jennifer Moore is one of my go-to authors for this genre. I generally like her characters and very much appreciate her keeping the romances light and clean.


Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince, by Jennifer Moore

3 stars: A bit predictable, but I enjoyed it.


Meg is an American girl in London for a Season--sponsored by her distant cousin. The hope of her parents rests on her finding some rich man to marry. Her lack of experience in this type of social setting is immediately obvious to the other young ladies of the Ton, and they don't let her forget it. When Meg meets Carlo, a stable-hand, she finds a kindred spirit in whom to confide.

If only she knew the truth! "Carlo" is actually Prince Rodrigo de Talavera--from Spain. His family has been forced into exile for their own safety, after the abduction of his mother and father. He doesn't know where they are or if they're even still alive, but he's determined to find out. His sadness and desperation are lightened by his growing friendship with Meg--she mistook him for a stable hand upon their first meeting and he has never corrected that impression. He plans to tell her the truth at the Masquerade Ball. In the meantime, her playfulness and fresh outlook have given him some hope that happiness and goodness remain in the world.

* * * * *
While the basic plotline was nothing new, Moore's able execution of it was enjoyable. I particularly liked the way Meg and Carlo developed a sincere friendship before falling in love. Meg's growing awareness of the way "Carlo's" position might be compromised by their relationship (obviously, believing him to truly be a servant) was also well done. There was a great ironic sub-plot going on, with the juxtaposition of her quest to marry a rich man and the penniless prince that she falls in love with.


Content: Clean. Thank you, Jennifer Moore!


(Finished reading Aug. 10)



A Timeless Romance Anthology: All Regency Collection
Authors: Anna Elliot, Sarah M. Eden, Carla Kelly, Josi S. Kilpack, Annette Lyon, and Heather B. Moore


3 stars: Short and sweet.

A collection of six novellas, by some of my favorite authors (plus a few new ones.) These were quick reads, ranging in subject from Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy post-marriage, to the rekindling of romance within a marriage.

There wasn't any certain one of the six that stood out to me for better or worse. They were all enjoyable in their own right.


Content: Clean.

(Finished reading Aug. 12)


These were finally the last of my summer reviews! Now that it's getting colder I may have more time to read, so I guess I had better get on top of the rest!

What have you been reading lately?

November 6, 2017

Front Corner Beds--Prep Work & Planting

These 2 beds existed when we bought the home.
They are cut out of the 2 front corners of the lawn.
As such, they each now share a border with the flowerbeds in front of the fence.
While I wanted them to go with the color scheme in the front beds, I didn't want them to be exactly the same. So the color scheme for them includes darker versions of the pastels up front.

June 2017

For instance, in the bed closest to the driveway, I planted a 'Coral Sunset' peony.
Then I put in some tulips--Jaap Groot (Giant Darwin hybrid; mid-April; melon yellow with ivory edges) and Merlot (lily-flowering; May; merlot red).
Instead of the daffodil mix, I did a patch of Narcissus 'Hawera.'
I also planted one of the roses I removed from the Oval Garden.
Oh yes, and I put in a patch Allium Sphaerocephalon (drumstick alliums), which will bloom in July.
I really hope this giant rock (below) is not covering the alliums, since I can't exactly remember where I put them! 

Nov. 2017

Before I could do any of that, though, I had a lot of prep work to do.
I moved the birdbath to the back corner flowerbed.
Weeded, raked back old mulch, picked out rocks.
My oldest son helped me haul compost up and spread it out.
Then, since the water line ran through there, I dug it over by hand.
There were so many roots and rocks in there! I got out as many as I could.
Raked it smooth, breaking up clumps, picking out more rocks.
Phew! THEN I planted all the stuff.
Then my husband and kids spread mulch on it.
Done until spring!

There's actually still quite a bit of room in there for summer bloomers.


June 2017

In the corner bed with the purple tree/bush in it, we had a different challenge.
I wanted the barrel out of there.
As we tried to tip it over to empty the dirt out, it fell apart completely.
So then we had to dig up and pull out all the metal bands and wooden slats.
There were also some bulbs already planted in this bed, including Asiatic daylilies and tulips.
So after weeding and spreading compost, I dug this one out by hand as well.
There will probably be a few I missed, but I dug out as many bulbs as I could find.
If I remember right, they were all red, orange, and yellow--so I'm going to put them in the back corner bed, where those colors will be more welcome.

Meanwhile, underneath where the barrel sat, there was a very large piece of buried concrete that had a pipe sticking out of it. There was also a hose running through the bottom of it. We cut the hose on both sides. Yes, it was probably sprinkler hose, but we left the ends sticking out of the ground so we'll remember to fix them before we turn the sprinklers back on next year!
Then with pick-axe, shovel, and a lot of muscles, my husband and son dug that concrete out of there. It went down about 3 feet deep, with about 18" diameter.
So finally after all that was taken care of, I could start planting!

Nov. 2017

On this side, I put the last rose from the Oval Garden into that nice big hole left by the concrete.
Then I planted a peony 'Bowl of Beauty' in the far corner.
One patch each of tulips, daffodils, and allium--same as the other side.
There is a bit more room here, as well, but I need to see how much shade there will be with the bush there before I add anything else.

It feels good to get these beds prepared and some planting done.
By next spring they will be all ready for putting in summer blooming perennials!

November 3, 2017

New Front Flowerbeds--Construction & Planting

I was going to jump right in with what I had planted in these beds; then I realized that I hadn't even really mentioned them on the blog yet!

So, my husband built these for me last month.
(He knows the way to my heart!)
They are right in front of our front fence.

First he had to dig them out, because it was pretty much straight gravel right there.
Then he set the blocks in for the border.

Getting blocks laid out.

Filled them up with topsoil.


Finished!

Much of what I purchased this fall was to go in these beds.
I'm planting them in 3 sections, based on spaces between fence posts, with each section containing basically the same things. My color scheme here will be pastels--pale pink, purple, and blue, with occasional splashes of darker purples.
The shorter end sections--at the far end and by the mailbox--will be a little different than the main ones, but still have some shared elements.

I've got 3 English roses, variety 'A Shropshire Lad', coming next March, that will climb over the fence. I've also got several peonies; not all the same variety, but all fitting the colors. The tulips are between where the roses will be and the peonies, and I put in daffodils around the back and sides of every fence post. 

I want to add an ornamental grass of some sort to each end of the beds, as well.

* * * * *
Once I started planting the peonies, I decided to spread them out a bit further than my original plans. So I put them in about one per fence post.
Starting at the far end, these are the peonies in each section, left to right:

Far End: 'Lady Alexandra Duff' (double; blush pink) 

Section 1: 'Raspberry Sunday' (double; light pink ringed in gold)

Section 2: 'Eden's Perfume' (double; medium pink)
'Do Tell' (Japanese; orchid pink outer petals with rose, pink, & white inner)

Section 3 (between mailbox and driveway):
'Do Tell' (same as above)
'Vivid Rose' (double; light pink)

The mix of tulips I did was the same for each section as well.
'Sweet 16' (Emperor; ballerina pink; mid-April)
'Happy Family' (Multi-Flowering; rose pink; May)
'Green Wave' (Parrot; pale mauve pink w/ green flames; late May)
Layered on top of the tulips were Muscari 'Valerie Finnis' (pale blue; April/May).

For a touch of blue in June, I put Allium 'Caesium' in the end section by the mailbox, and in section 3, across the sidewalk. I want to get a few more so I can put them in the far end section as well.
(See?! Never enough bulbs!) At this point, though, I will wait until next year to see how it looks.

I've got 'Festival Pink' hyacinths in there as well, but I can't for the life of me remember where precisely I put them. Guess we'll find out next spring!

For summer bloomers, I'm thinking about putting in nepeta (catmint), salvia, and possibly scabiosa (pincushion flowers) or pink chives. There are many different options, though, so I'll have to just browse at the nursery next spring and see what catches my eye.

One of my favorite past-times is planning out flowerbeds.
I looking forward to seeing how it turns out next year.
(I'm sure there will be things that need adjusting--that's part of the fun as well!)

November 1, 2017

Temple Square Gardening, by Christena Gates and others

Remember this amazing landscaping?



We visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah last spring when we were looking for houses. No matter the time of year, there is always something beautiful happening on the temple grounds. That time was no exception.

I was pretty excited when my mother-in-law brought me a copy of this book! I was ready for all the wisdom from some top-notch, award-winning landscape artists.


Temple Square Gardening, by Christena Gates, Diane Erickson, Shelly Zollinger, and Larry Sagers

4 stars: Despite our overall goals being different, I learned some things.


This book starts off with a short history of Gardening on Temple Square, then goes into chapters on Gardening Basics, Planning a Garden, and Designing a Garden. After that, there are chapters on some of the main plants used, Tricks of the Trade, and Managing Pests and Diseases. Finally, there are extensive lists of favorite plants.

Bright, color photos fill the book, illustrating the various concepts. The lists of favorites at the end also features color photographs of each specimen.

* * * * *
It was interesting learning about the gardening philosophy for Temple Square's gorgeous garden designs. I mentioned our goals being different. The biggest difference is that their gardens are designed to look show-stopping every season, every month of the year. So for instance, they dig up all the spring-blooming bulbs every year after the flowers have faded, so that the beds aren't filled with dying foliage for half the summer. That's a lot of work (and opposite of my approach--I want those bulbs to perennialize!)! It also means they pack entire beds full of spring bulbs, where I add patches here and there throughout my beds.

Another difference is that they rely heavily on annuals for high-impact blooming, that can then be replaced seasonally. They have a small army of volunteers who carry out the garden chores, including replacing all those plants. I am only one person with a family to take care of--gardening is not my full-time job (yet!) That means I put in perennials and low-maintenance plants where I can. I expect my plants to perform without much intervention from me, beyond regular watering and somewhat regular weeding. No divas here, thank you! (Hybrid tea roses need not apply.)  

What I found most useful was in the section on design. They talk about 4 design principles they use to create the gardens on Temple Square: skeleton, tendon, flesh, and sparkle. This is something I want to try implementing in some of my home flowerbeds.

So the skeleton would be the dominant plants--whether in color, height, form or texture. They choose which form of dominance they want to emphasize, then draw a curve in the soil. The "skeletal flowers" go along the curve in groups of 3, forming triangles in relation to each other.

Next are the "tendons," flowers that connect and blend with the skeleton plants. So they might have a lighter shade of color, or similarities in form, etc. These flowers are placed along the curve, also in groups of 3, their triangles interlocking with those of the dominant plants.

Then you place the "flesh" plants. These are plants with less dominant flowers or shapes, and are placed throughout the bed, filling in all around the curved shape. They estimated 60-80% of all the plants in a given bed would be the flesh plants. Nothing here that would stand out on its own, but all that look good together and soften hard edges.

Finally, you add the "sparkle" plants. These are flowers that have high levels of contrast to the surrounding color scheme--usually in shades of orange, white, or yellow. Just a few of these are planted in odd-numbered groups here and there to add a splash of vivid color.

A useful addition to my library of gardening books.

(Finished reading July 6.)

October 30, 2017

Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Happy Halloween tomorrow, everyone!
I hope you have yummy treats without the tricks this year.

* * * * *
This was a perfect book to read this time of year. A little spooky--but not too bad (for me--not going to hand it to my kids!) If you want a quick, seasonal read, give this one a try!



Doll Bones, by Holly Black
2014 Newberry Honor

3 stars: Imaginative and creepy.

Zach is 12 and still plays make-believe games with Poppy and Alice, even though most people would say he's too old. "Most people" meaning his dad, any kid at middle school, and Poppy's older brothers, to name a few. Their complex made-up world is populated by action figure and doll characters. The doll they've dubbed the Queen is a bone china doll inside Poppy's house, locked in a cabinet. Apparently, the doll is worth a lot of money and must not be removed on pain of death. Not that they've ever really wanted to take her out. She's kind of creepy.

So when Poppy comes to get Zach (with Alice) in the middle of the night on an urgent mission, he's not sure what to think. Poppy has the doll with her and claims that not only is it filled with human ashes, she dreamed about the girl whose ashes they are. The girl wants to be buried properly [or else!] The problem is that the graveyard [she says] she belongs in is in East Lancaster, Ohio. It's attainable--by bus--but of course none of the parental figures would be pleased to let the kids go. An adventure begins.

* * * * *
There's a lot going on in this book. Each of the 3 friends has less than ideal family situations that they're dealing with. Poppy's older siblings are basically the town hooligans and her parents have given up on them and the house. Alice lives with her grandmother who is extra strict. Zach has both parents at home, but his dad has only been back for a few months, after walking out 3 years before. So there's a lot of built-up resentment and challenges there.

Black did a good job making the adventure seem plausible. The town they're trying to get to was close enough to be possible, but far enough to make it difficult. The troubles they ran into also seemed realistic. A couple of their solutions...well, were a bit of a stretch, but still within the realm of possibility.

She also did a good job building up the ghost story side of it. Details here and there--the doll moving from where they put it last, dreams from the dead girl's perspective, various minor characters talking like she's real and right there with them, etc. Yep, this book would have freaked me out had I read it as a kid. On that note, I don't plan to give it to any of my children either. They're a lot like me in that regard.

I can see why it won a Newberry Honor. It was very well written. I have never liked ghost stories very much, so 3 stars was about all I could give it.

As far as scare factor, I would say it was about on par with The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier.

Content: One super creepy doll and all that follows. Middle grade level--not recommended for sensitive or easily scared readers.

(Finished reading Oct. 4.)


* * * * *
Have you read this one? Does this cover give you the shivers? It does me. I'm glad I just borrowed it from the library--this is not one I would want on my home bookshelf!

If you're looking for some not-so-scary books to read this month, I recommend this list from last year: Mini Theme: Halloween-ish Books.


October 27, 2017

Raspberry Patch

I got our raspberry patch started!
It's in the far back corner of the orchard; down by the compost bin, close to the fence.

It doesn't look like much right now, but I'm hoping it will thrive!
(I'm also hoping the deer don't eat the plants!)

If you squint you can see a few leaves poking up here and there.

I put in 2 different types of raspberries, 5 of each kind.

'Caroline' 
Everbearing; large, very flavorful fruit; it is very vigorous and disease resistant.

'Heritage'
Everbearing; large, firm, sweet, dark red berry; superior quality all purpose raspberry.
Harvest June & October.

I'm already looking forward to a harvest in October!
Usually by then I'm done canning the other fruit, so that would be a perfect time for some jam-making. Also, I'm hoping with everbearing raspberries there will be enough to keep my little foragers satisfied and even bring some inside too!

So, apparently there are 2 different methods for pruning everbearing raspberries.

1) You can simply cut all canes down to the ground in the spring.
Easy enough, but then you won't get the July crop.

2) Top off the 1-year old floricanes (green), which will produce your July crop.
Cut all 2-year-old canes (brown) down to the ground.
The new primocanes growing up will produce your fall harvest.
Also easy. Raspberries are nice to color-code themselves that way!

I will probably go with the second method, particularly as I enjoy pruning raspberries.
10 plants does not seem like much right now, but raspberries generally fill in fairly quickly.
We haven't put up any supports yet, but there's still time.
 

October 26, 2017

Bulbs in the Oval Garden

As I mentioned in my October Bloom Day post, I ordered a lot of bulbs this fall!
Since I was essentially starting from scratch, with 6 new flowerbeds (depending on how you count them), I knew I would need quite a few.

That ended up being 560!
It helped that I pretty much knew right where I wanted most of them, and also that most of the beds were ready for planting already.

I took quite a few pictures as I went, mostly to remind myself where I put things.

Overall, I bought muscari (grape hyacinths), alliums, 'Festival Pink' hyacinths, Dutch irises, tulips, and daffodils. There were others I wanted to get, but you know--only so much time and money!

All the tulips.
For most of the tulips I got 10 of each variety.
The two exceptions to that were 'Bleu Aimable' (20), and 'Sweet 16' (30).

After talking with a friend who lives up the street, now I must invest in some cayenne pepper, in hopes of stopping the deer from eating the tulip bulbs. Or maybe get a dog.
I actually think the first thing I will try is shallowly planting individual cloves of garlic on top of all tulip patches. Deer tend to leave onions/garlic alone. Maybe that would stop them from digging deeper for the tulip bulbs. I can hope.  
In fact, I just saw a deer today around lunchtime, bounding through the now-empty cornfield that borders the back of our yard. It did not enter our yard--this time--but it jumped right over the 5-foot tall fence into the neighbor's backyard like it was nothing. Oh deer.

With those unsettling thoughts, let's start in the Oval Garden.

When I was planting the shrubs and pie cherry tree, I left pockets of space in the middle of the bed for spring bulbs. My plan is to put the summer bloomers more around the edges. That way, the bulb foliage will not be right on the front lines as it dies back. Also, I'm thinking many of these will bloom before the other stuff has leafed out.

Tulips

I made 2 separate mixes, one for early bloomers and one for May bloomers.
I planted a patch of each type on each end of the bed.
The picture above shows the early blooming mixture I did.

These (above) should bloom in mid-late April.
'Blue Spectacle' (peony-flowering; violet purple) 
'Sunny Prince' (single; lemon yellow)
'Margarita' (double; magenta-purple).


The second mix were my May bloomers:
Tulip 'Big Smile' (single; lemon yellow)
Tulips 'Bleu Aimable' (single; deep lilac)

(Can you see the snow on the ground up in that picture? Motivation to get this done!)


In this section next to the cherry tree, as you can see, I did 3 groups of Allium aflatunense 'Purple Sensation.' They are a violet-purple color and should bloom in May/June.

On top of those, I layered 25 of the Dutch iris 'Rainbox Mix.'
These should bloom about the same time as the alliums and provide a good counterpoint in form and color. They are supposed to be a mix of yellow, blue, purple, and white irises.

Finally, I added in 2 patches of daffodils and muscari.
I put them in on the opposite side of the cherry tree from the alliums.

I have decided with daffodils that I really enjoy variety the most, rather than all one kind.
So I bought 50 of John Scheeper's Gold Medal Mixture, and 100 of their Mini Mix.
Along with the daffodils, I layered in Muscari 'Dark Eyes'--a grape hyacinth that is a darker blue on bottom with a little fluff of sky blue at the top.

The last thing I put in was a peony 'Koningin Wilhelmina.'
It's on the end of the bed closest to the street.
It's supposed to be fuschia, with paler edges on the petals.

As you can tell, I'm still going for a color scheme of dark purple and light yellow in this bed.
It will be interesting to see how all these various shades of purple and yellow look together.
Beautiful, I hope!

I was going to list out all the bulbs and where I planted them in this post, but it's already getting a bit long, so I will break it up by flowerbeds.
You're welcome.

October 25, 2017

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

So, let's talk for a minute about my goal of reading all the Newberry award winners from the past 5 years. It's looking like I'm not going to make it by the end of the year. My original plan was to post each year, complete with reviews, once I had read them. However, it's taking me quite a bit longer to read them then I thought it would. Between the move and our new library's 5-item limit for new patrons, I haven't checked out very many hard copies of library books this year. (Just a couple of weeks ago I was able to get my card switched over to a regular patron card, which comes with a 30-item limit. Finally!) I have not purchased them either, because what if I don't like them?

So. What I'm going to do instead is post the individual reviews as I go. Several of the years I have read most of the books and already posted reviews on Goodreads. Once I get a complete year done, I will do a new post listing all of the books and linking to reviews if need be. I know you are on the edge of your seats for that to come!

* * * * *
So let's talk about this book!




The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
2013 Newberry Award

3 stars: Liked it; didn't love it.

Ivan the gorilla lives in a mall right off the freeway, where folks come and see him. There's also an old circus elephant named Stella who does a few tricks, and a few other animals. Bob the dog is a stray, but sleeps on Ivan's stomach most nights.

Ivan is not the fearsome animal his billboard makes him out to be. In fact, he is an artist. His owner, Mack, sells his paintings for $20 in the gift shop ($25 framed). Ivan is resigned to his life, with the short beginning and endless middle, until baby elephant Ruby joins the menagerie. Stella makes Ivan promise to protect Ruby and take care of her, once she is gone, and Ivan agrees.

As time goes on, things go badly for Mack. Numbers are dwindling, and Mack is getting desperate. None of the animals are being treated right, but especially baby Ruby is suffering. Ivan must figure out how to keep his promise and get Ruby out of there. If only the humans could understand his art. One special little girl named Julia may be just the person to make the connection.

* * * * *
I didn't love this as much as most other people. I don't know if I could even tell you why. It has some good messages in it, and the characters are each distinct and well-written. I guess I was having a hard time suspending my disbelief. It's strange, because that's usually not a problem for me. I read books with talking, thinking animals in them quite often, but for some reason, I didn't really get into it this time.

I just found out that it was based on a real gorilla named Ivan who lived in a mall, then eventually got moved to the Atlanta Zoo. (Yes, if you've read it, you probably already knew that.) That makes me like it more.

(Finished reading Aug. 21)

October 24, 2017

Victorio strainer vs. Kitchenaid food mill (+ 8 quarts applesauce)

I almost forgot--I got 8 more quarts of applesauce canned this month, with the help of my in-laws.
This time I used a Victorio strainer, and I really liked it.

In the past I've just used the applesauce/food mill attachments on our KitchenAid Mixer.

3 things stood out to me using the Victorio strainer:

1. It was not as high off the counter. That meant I could scoop apples into it standing on the ground, vs. standing on a stool. My kids still would have had to be on a stool, but they wouldn't have had to reach so high. When you're dealing with hot cooked apples, shorter reaches are better.
I did have to put a casserole pan underneath to catch the applesauce rather than a bowl, since it was so near to the counter, but that worked out okay.

2. The hopper, where you put all the apples to be squished, and the actual strainer part were much bigger on the Victorio strainer. I could put half the saucepan of cooked apples in there at a time.
That was nice and made the job go much quicker.
These 8 quarts worth took maybe 2 1/2 hours all together, including cutting them in quarters, cooking them, squishing, and canning.

3. I didn't mind cranking by hand. 
With the mixer, you turn it on low and it churns away, so I wondered how it would compare having to do it by hand. It wasn't bad at all. Not hard; kind of relaxing, in a way.
I'm a little sad I did it while my kids were at school, actually, because I think they would have really enjoyed it.

* * * * *
They both were about the same to clean out at the end--kind of a pain.

The apple waste coming out the end of the strainer attachment did not look like poop, unlike the Kitchenaid waste. My kids would say that's a negative!

I like that I have a non-electric option for easily making applesauce.
I felt a real connection to my grandmother ancestors cranking away.
Going back to the good old days and the good old ways!

Also, I was intrigued by the other uses mentioned for it: making seedless jams and jellies, making purees and baby food, straining squash and pumpkin for smooth stringless pies, etc...
I want to explore these further!

I'm sure we'll still use the food mill attachment on the KitchenAid for some things, but I'm glad I have the option now of using the Victorio strainer.

* * * * *
Have you used both? Which do you prefer?