December 19, 2017

Notes from a Blue Bike, by Tsh Oxenreider

"Living with intention" has been getting a lot of buzz lately, especially going into the holidays. I think it's a reaction to our culture of rushing around all the time, more is more, go go go. It is stressful, and it tends to wreak havoc on a family, not to mention on me as an individual.

So what does that look like, though, to be intentional about your life? Everything on your schedule is a choice you've made, to some extent, right? So how do you go about modifying those choices to allow room for peace, and for the things that are most important to you?

Tsh Oxenreider has a few ideas.

Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, by Tsh Oxenreider

3.5 stars: Gave me a lot to think about.

Having lived overseas and travelled extensively, Tsh offers insight into how an American family can slow down and live more simply.

She makes the point that our society here in America is productivity based, rather than relationship based. So we tend to place much higher value on "getting things done" than on getting to know people or caring for them. We go at race pace until we're exhausted, without stepping back to figure out what is really most important to us as individuals or families. We use up resources--our own and the world's--at an alarming rate, with hardly a look around to see how everyone else is faring.

She has put a lot of thought into what is most important for her family, and how best to go about incorporating these values into everyday life. Things like making organic food from scratch, taking their young children with them on trips abroad, creating a healthy balance between work and leisure time, being open to change when it comes to how best to education each child each year, and mindfully choosing what they would be entertained by (rather than just turning on the TV afterschool every day.) 

* * * * *
I went into this one thinking I would agree on nearly every point. While there was a lot I took away from it, I found myself pushing back on some things, which surprised me. 

First let's talk about some of our points of agreement. Her discussion on choosing family entertainment in a mindful was spot on for me. I am anti-TV. It's not that I don't enjoy watching it either, it's that I enjoy it a bit too much. I can sit down to an episode of some home makeover show and 3 or 6 episodes later look around, wondering where the time has gone. We don't have a TV in our home at all. Yes, we're some of those people.

The kids get 20 minutes of screen time every day, once they've finished their chores and music practicing. They can watch some shows from PBS kids, or play games on my Kindle. However, since we've moved, there have been many days where they don't get any screen time, because we've been too busy doing other things. I am totally okay with that, and they haven't complained about missing it, so there you go.

Her take on travelling with kids was great. I would love to do more of that. We have really enjoyed our trips, though they haven't been abroad, and seem to create the fondest memories when we're all together, away from our normal routines. I also really like the idea of spending money on experiences rather than things.

As much as civil unrest and long plane rides worry me, I think it would be awesome to experience more of the world, together. I think she's right when she says you just have to go. Don't wait for the perfect time, because there's no such thing. Have faith in your ability to handle whatever may come up, plan the best you can, and jump in. I want to do this!

I also agree with her point that American culture centers around productivity, rather than relationships. I recognize this in myself. I feel much better about my day and how I've spent my time when I've gotten a lot done--tasks that could be checked off a list, were I to write one down.

However, this one area that I found myself thinking, "Hold up." What's so bad about productivity? I believe in hard work, I believe in setting goals and working towards them. I also don't think those things necessarily shut out building relationships with people. 

I'm trying to teach my kids to value hard work and showing them how good it can feel to accomplish a hard task. How do I do that? Well, by example--I hope. Words too, but their dad and I make it a point to include them in any big family task, whether that's taking down a garden shed, or canning fruit. They're part of the family, so they're expected to help. At the same time, there's a lot of relationship building time as you do those tasks together. 

So I guess that part was a bit muddy for me. The idea I got was that when she lived in Turkey, spending a whole afternoon taking tea at a friend's home was considered a valuable way to spend time. I'm not saying it wasn't. I just don't think that's the only way to build relationships. You can build friendships one book club night a month, or in 1 hour increments, chatting away on the sidelines while your child participates in team sports. Phone calls, texts, emails, and written cards build relationships also, and can even be part of the "getting things done" for the day checklist. 

Maybe what she was trying to say is that productivity is a means, not the end itself. Packing your schedule just so that you can have more to check off and feel important about is setting yourself up for burnout and discouragement. On the other hand, mindfully choosing what your big picture end goals are, then completing tasks that get you closer to those goals should leave you recharged and fulfilled at the end of the day. 

As far as the bit about education, I appreciated her honesty about how hard her year of homeschooling her daughter was for them all. I am fine with having my kids in public school; I am open to homeschooling if a need presents itself, or if we feel that would be best at some point. Right now, though, the kids are adjusting and happy--for the most part--so we're sticking with that. I will admit that I haven't sat down and given it serious thought at the beginning of each school year like she does.

* * * * *
What are your thoughts on intentional living? Anything to add? 

December 15, 2017

The Norvelt Duo, by Jack Gantos

I have been slowly working my way through the Newberry Award winners from the past 5 years, per my Reading Goal. More slowly than I had anticipated, but hey--it happens.

This time around, I had already read (and reviewed) the actual award winner--Dead End in Norvelt--then discovered there was a book continuing the story. I found the second and didn't like it nearly as much as the first. So if you want my advice--which of course you do, right?--read the first and take a pass on the second. You won't miss much.

Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos
2012 Newberry Winner
2012 Scott O' Dell Award

4 stars

Maybe I'm getting jaded, or maybe I just don't read very humorous books, but it has been a long time since I have laughed out loud while reading. An occasional chuckle perhaps, but that's about it. This one had me laughing multiple times, causing my husband to give me the "are you okay over there" look and my kids to beg me to explain what was so funny. Guess you just had to be there.

As far as giving it the Newberry--I don't know that it had the depth to really deserve that award, but maybe they just wanted a book to win that would really appeal to boys...and their moms. I guess. In any case, I enjoyed it.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, July 2012)

From Norvelt to Nowhere, by Jack Gantos

2 stars: This one was a bit off.

Jack somehow gets swept along on a crazy road trip, with his old-lady neighbor Ms. Volker. She's after a murderer, or so she says, and apparently there's a few people after her too. Also, Ms. Volker has a gun. Jack isn't sure what to think, except that he should stop anybody from killing anybody else. If he can.

* * * * *
I really liked Dead End in Norvelt, and my oldest son liked it too, when he read it a couple of months ago. This one....I steered him away from it. Not that there's content issues, per se, but there's kind of a weird vibe going on between Jack and Ms. Volker. In some places he's coming on to her and in other situations she's coming on to him. I mean, she's old enough to be his grandma. It was unsettling and just strange.

Pretty much the whole time Jack is certain that Ms. Volker has lost her mind. She certainly acts like it. Is it all an act? Maybe Gantos did too good a job of convincing me along the way, because when she makes a turn-around, that's when I stopped believing. Maybe she just started taking her meds or something, I don't know.

Then there's the whole issue of the trip in the first place. So, Jack's parents were okay with him escorting her on her trip.  Okay, I guess. I'll go along with that--it was a train ride to Grand Central Station. Not much could go wrong there, right? However, when it turned into several-thousand-mile road trip and they were still just fine with it all?, not so much. "Have fun stormin' the castle, Jack, and be sure to buckle up since you're still TOO YOUNG TO DRIVE!" Just no.

I didn't find it nearly as funny as the first. More like disjointed, a bit manic, and strange.

* * * * *
What books have you read where the sequel is as good as the first in the series? I keep thinking it must be hard to write a sequel, because there are so many that fall flat.

December 14, 2017

True Confessions: Reading Edition

If you are on Goodreads you probably know that the Goodreads Choice Awards were announced a few weeks ago. These are the best books in many different genres, as voted on by the reading community of Goodreads. They have to have been published within this year.

I have a confession to make. Just skimming through the awards, I hadn't read a single one. Not even in some of my favorite categories, like middle grade fiction, or memoirs/biographies. Several are on my "to-read" list, but I just haven't gotten to them yet. (I added a few more to my list as I went through, though!)

Why would that be the case?

Maybe it's because most of my reading choices come from recommendations of others. Not just any others though; others whom I trust. It can be fraught, at times. Suzanne from Such Stuff, and Amy from Sunlit Pages did a Book Blab episode on this very topic. Check it out if you haven't yet. It's good stuff!

Part of it could also be the Big Life Events we had going on this year: move, new baby, and now fire. I have gravitated toward tried and true comfort fare, more so than untested new books. It's okay. I can own it. I have needed an escape at times. Thank you, reading.

Only being able to check out 5 books at a time for the first 3 months we lived here played a big part, as well.

I think another part of it has to do with a contrary streak I have that tends to manifest itself when a thousand people are all talking about the same book. I never have read The Lovely Bones, but I remember when it was the hot new book that everyone was talking about. I even picked it up more than once and read the blurb, but it just wasn't a subject matter I wanted to dive into. No regrets here. (Sidenote: I have never seen the movie Titanic, either. Three hours of my life that I can spend on other things, thank you.)

Is this a big deal? I'm trying to decide how much I care. The truth is, mostly I don't, except the librarian part of me that feels like I should be keeping up with the new releases. I most definitely am not doing that. I have read some books published this year, just not any on any of those award lists. I prefer to think that I'm offering a different perspective than the mainstream, but that could be all in my mind!

As I'm thinking about Reading Goals for next year, perhaps this would be fertile ground.

What about you? Do you seek out new releases? Stick to highly recommended options? Or a mix of both?

Of all the new releases from 2017, which should I be sure to catch sooner rather than later?

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 30, 2017

End of November: Waiting for Winter

Welcome to my blog! 
I garden in Northern Utah, tucked away in a beautiful little valley, zone 5a.

This time around for End of Month Views, I decided to take the long views.
Usually I favor closeups, so this will be interesting.

From the back fence line, looking toward the house:

This patch right in front is gravel, which we want to turn into a fire pit area.
(We already have the fire pit, just need to get it moved.)

Same corner, looking more towards the east.
Shadows in the ditch.

Moving up closer to the house:

Our wood pile.
My husband and oldest son spent some time the other day chopping wood, and this is the result.
We had several pieces of wood in the scrap pile suitable for chopping.
The round bowl in the background is the aforementioned fire pit.
It may take a tractor to move it--it's solid iron and heavy as all get out.

Waiting for a shed to be delivered:

All summer long our back deck has doubled as a "garden shed."
My husband was going to build one, but with winter coming on quickly, and his time at home already stretched thin, we decided to purchase one this time.
It will be a good day when that shed is delivered, let me tell you.

Front view:

About the same as it's been.

Awkward angle on this picture, sorry.
We did get some rocks put down in the flowerbeds.
We found them just along the fence.
I think someone must have paid money for them, because all the rocks I dig up are rounded and smooth. This was the biggest one.
I am REALLY hoping we didn't plunk it down on top of some of the bulbs I planted. I don't think I put any right there in particular, but even though I tried to make notes, I can't remember.
Guess we'll see in the spring if this bed has a clump missing to match the others.
The other rocks are small enough to move around if I see green shoots poking up from the base.
This one was extra heavy, so it's probably staying put.

An early spring project, in the making:

Ever since the leaves have dropped off this lilac bush, I have been itching to prune it back.
Well, all summer, actually.
Now it's just easier to see what exactly I should be sawing off.
I will wait until early spring. 
Doesn't do a bit of good to do it now.
I know that, but I still want to grab the loppers and get started.
There's something very therapeutic about pruning, isn't there? 

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season in December!

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.





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.

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

First Snowfall

Snow that stayed!
My kids were thrilled.
It was pretty, a fitting first real snowfall of the year.
Big, soft flakes floating quietly down.

I think it's kind of neat how the mountains disappear in the midst of a storm.

Chickens...were not so impressed.
They even have a roof over their run, but apparently that wasn't quite enough protection from the strange whiteness falling from the sky.

Mountains are back, covered with a blanket of snow.
Are we ready for this?
Neighbors and old-timers here all say to expect loads and loads of snow.
Here we go.

November 13, 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.


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!)