June 6, 2021

Series Spotlight: Wesley Mackey Trilogy, by K.L. Fogg

 We have had this series sitting on our shelves for at least 3 years. We've moved it twice now! I had never read it and neither had any of the kids. It was given to us as a gift from grandparents. Finally, I gave my oldest daughter the task of reading that series for us all, so we could either decide to keep it or get rid of it! They are thick books and take up quite a bit of bookshelf space, so I had been giving them the side eye for quite some time. 

She took on the challenge and actually really liked them! She suggested that I read them as well, which I finally did--6 months later. So here we are! When I started reading them this past week, she decided to re-read them at the same time, so we had a few negotiations over who got priority to read. Ha! 

So, these were a lot of fun. Full of action--lots of kidnapping, daring escapes and rescues, bombs, fires, secret identities, diamonds, and also poisonous animals. They were clean, minus the action-related violence. I would say geared for ages 10 and up. Just for reference, my daughter is 11 and she handled them just fine. I think 3 years ago when we got them, however, they would have been a bit too intense for her.

Now for a bit about each book individually...

Serpent Tide (Wesley Mackey #1), by K.L. Fogg

4 stars: A search for identity, with lots of action!

Wesley Vandergrift is the son of one of the richest women in the United States--maybe even the world. Everyone at school envies him and also give him a rough time because of it.

What they don't know is that Wesley feels trapped. He can hardly do anything, ever. The only times he gets to do normal kid stuff, it's because the head housekeeper, Maria, aids and abets him--and doesn't tell his mom. He and his mom think so differently on every topic that he doesn't see how they could even be related.

By some chance, he is allowed to go to a horse-riding camp for a couple of days. When he meets the owners of the ranch, and their family, they all seem strangely familiar to him. Then he sees some pictures in their family room, and wheels in his head start turning. Could it be possible that this is his true family? 

So many questions, so few answers. 

* * * * *

One thing you have to know about these books is that there are several coincidences that are a bit far-fetched. You just have to roll with it, all right? That's probably me as an adult reader talking--I don't know if my daughter noticed or even was bothered by it. If you can get past the "it just so happens..." aspects of the story, it's an exciting plot, with a good bit of humor thrown in. Imogene Vandegrift, Wesley's "mom" is enough of a villian to keep things moving right along, and the supporting characters have plenty of endearing quirks. 

I think most kids will relate to the search for an identity and a sense of belonging. Well done. As soon as I was done with this one I had to go get the next!


Widow's Revenge (Wesley Mackey #2), by K.L. Fogg

4 stars: Hang on to your seat, it's an exciting ride!

Wesley finally gets to live with his Dad and stepmom, and is enjoying some of the perks of a normal (not super wealthy) life. Too bad school can't be as great. He is tired of being bullied at school, particularly by Dylan. So he finally does something about it. Unfortunately, that "something" gets him suspended from school for the rest of the year. 

His Dad finds him a tutor, who turns out to be this ultra-geeky guy named Harrison. He's all right, though. The real problem is that Wesley's grandma, after some digging into Dylan's background, has decided to give Welsey's tormentor a chance to change his life. That's right. Dylan's coming to live at the ranch. Grandma! C'mon!

Meanwhile, terrible news on the Imogene front: she survived the storm at sea and is lying in wait for her chance to reclaim Wesley, while wreaking revenge upon all who claim to be his true family.

It's going to be hard to know who to trust and even harder to come out of all this in one piece.

* * * * *

A strong second installment! Wesley and Co. have their work cut out for them for this time. As the cover would suggest, a certain black widow spider named Black Betty plays an important role in this story and yes, there quite a large forest fire as well. That's not even the half of it. There are adorable twins, more kidnapping, a senile old lady... What are you waiting for? Find this book and dive in!


Diamondback Cave (Wesley Mackey #3), by K.L. Fogg

4 stars: Diamonds and rattlers! 

 Some people just can't stop! Imogene Vandegrift is one of those people. She has a plan forever. Plans within plans. None of her evil plans include going to prison. They all include a certain stash of diamonds that she has hidden in a secret underground vault.

Well, you know that Wesley is going to get mixed up in all of this. He has to, because his friend Amanda's soon-to-be-stepdad is missing, and the grown-ups aren't doing anything about it. He and Amanda and Teddy the dog set out to find the missing man (I don't want to say his name because it would be a spoiler if you haven't read the other 2.)

Their search takes them into the depths of Diamondback Cave. Are there diamonds in there? Maybe. Are there snakes in there? Most definitely. Will they succeed in making it out alive? Well....that remains to be seen.

* * * * *

This premise is one that made me cringe as a parent--2 kids going off by themselves to search for the missing/kidnapped person. Of course it's a big secret, of course they run into trouble. Just--turn down the helicopter blades for a moment or two and get into the story!

In addition to the main plot, this one had a couple of side plots that added interest. There was an exploration of judging people by what you see, rather than who they really are, and some relationship stuff between Wesley's Dad and stepmom that were interesting to me. I don't know how my daughter felt about those parts! 

Satisfying character growth, and even a bit of a twist at the end. Good ending to the trilogy.


Have you read this trilogy? What did you think? 

May 26, 2021

Flower Arranging Class

I was asked to teach a flower arranging class to the young women of our church.
I was delighted! My oldest daughter helped every step of the way.
We were planning for 15: 12 girls and 3 leaders. My budget was $130, of which I spent $107. Yeah!

We bought flowers from Costco and Safeway for this one.
Costco provided us with mini carnations, mixed mums, and large spider mums.
From Safeway, we got lilies, roses, some bigger carnations, and snapdragons.

We cut a whole bucket of vetch from the dunes, and some other greenery just from around our yard for that, so we didn't spend any money on the greenery.

Each girl made an arrangement in a pint jar. I provided flower food, and a laminated "recipe card," along with clippers, and a large vase or pitcher at each place to put their flowers in while they were working. (Some of the supplies were brought by the leaders as well.)

After we bought the flowers, we got them home and prepped them all--removed plastic sleeves and lower leaves, re-cut stems and put back into water.

It was great having buckets of flowers in my garage and car again!



We had a lot of fun at the class itself.
I think the girls enjoyed it as well.

I will add in the recipe we came up with, once I track it down. I can't find where we saved it at the moment. We had laminated cards for them and everything!


May 20, 2021

Flowers for Friends

 Sometimes it's fun to pretend that I'm still in the farmer florist business. 
Coming out of a rough week, I needed some flower therapy!
My husband took the kids--school, swimming, other fun stuff--and I had a flower day!

My older daughter and I went out first thing in the morning and cut wildflowers on the dunes: lupine and vetch. It was cool and misty--perfect flower cutting weather! 
Not sure if that's actually allowed, but no-one stopped us.

Then I bought flowers from a couple different stores.
I came home, processed them, and put them all into 5 bouquets--just wrapped with paper.
It seems that it's easier to give flowers away if they're not all fancy in a vase.
Or I should say--it seems like it's easier for other people to accept a gift of flowers if it's not done up all fancy, for whatever reason. So, paper-wrapped. Check.

Filled up 2 buckets with my bouquets. 
It made me really happy to have buckets full of flowers again!

This time I didn't really find a bigger flower to be my focal, so I went with the green hydrangea, filled in around the sides with alstromeria, mums, mini carnations, tulips, and snapdragons. Then I put the lupines and the vetch around the outside; I really liked the little bit of wildness that they added.
I was so happy with the way they turned out!

Top view.



I took them to 5 different ladies that I'm becoming friends with, or hoping to become friends with. :) 
I had the time to stay and chat, so I did at a couple of the stops.
It was such a good day.
Flowers + friendly connections = healing for my soul.

My husband and kids were home before me. They had a good day too.
Swimming, a new 3-D movie at the museum, and lunch from the taco truck.

May 16, 2021

Garden Update

 I haven't taken very many pictures of our community garden plots, because so far they are still full of tiny seedlings and weeds, which don't make for very good pictures. I'll get some the next time we go over and add them to this post.

I'm happy to report that our gardens are coming along! 

We have been asking around as to when is the best time to plant warm-weather stuff, like tomatoes and peppers. Everyone has said around Mother's Day, which--as you know--was last week.

So even though the weather has been almost identical every day since the first of May (60 during the day, 48 at night), we waited until this past week to go get our plants. Truthfully, we've been busy with other things too, otherwise we would have just gotten them in earlier!

We put in 4 varieties of tomatoes: Sweet 100, Oregon Spring, Black Krim, and Roma. I still want to look for Sungold, as those are my favorite. Another tip from the locals: the tomatoes that do the best here are the smaller, earlier varieties, because it just doesn't get very hot during the summer. 

They put marigolds between the tomatoes. We didn't get any peppers, which was an oversight, so we may be going back this week and looking for peppers to plant.

Meanwhile, the yard-long cucumbers are finally start to sprout some true leaves, and the cantaloupe, gourds, and mini pumpkins are trending in that direction, as well.

You get two pictures of the carrot patch.
This is what we're sorting through to find the actual carrot seedlings!

I think we've finally figured out which seedlings were carrots, too, which is a big breakthrough. We've had so many weeds coming up, many of them "gifts" from neighboring garden boxes that let their plants go to seed over the winter, that we've had an interesting time figuring what's what. 

In amongst the carrots that we planted, we also have had volunteer fennel, cilantro, swiss chard, and lettuce coming up. Plus all the ones we know for sure are weeds. Oh, and something bright pink that we think might be either a type of spinach or possibly kale. 

The kids transplanted all the cilantro into one little patch, to give our carrots some more room.

Adam's spinach patch is looking good, too, and starting to produce some edible leaves.
He's reluctant to thin it, however, so not sure how big they'll get.

The peas are getting tall and sort of climbing up the trellis.

Over in the flower box, my bachelor's buttons are doing fantastic.
I've thinned them a couple of times, but now I'm just letting them grow a bit crowded.

I was excited to find 'Madame Butterfly' snapdragons for sale at the nursery, so I bought three 6-packs, and planted them out in a block right next to my bachelor's buttons. This is the type of snaps I had last year, and I loved their frilly, open faces. They're a mix of colors.
 
Here you go--I found a picture of last year's.

The snapdragons were all about 10 inches tall, and I gave them the chop--cut them off to just above the lowest sets of leaves. It will set them back by a couple of weeks for bloom time, but instead of one main stalk, I'll get 4 or 5 per plant. It's hard to pinch them when they're doing so well, but it will be worth it!

I've got cosmos coming up next to that, and I'm still waiting on zinnias to pop up. 
I'm not sure it's been warm enough for the zinnias to come up yet. In warm weather they will sometimes pop up in 3 days--it's been 10 so far and no sign of them yet. They're sulking.
So in the picture are all volunteers: potato plant, swiss chard, lettuce, and something else.

 
Oh, and I bought 6 dahlia tubers from a roadside stand and put them in on the end of the box (behind the parsley there in the middle.) 
I'm actually really excited for those! 
They haven't come up yet either.

If I have any extra room, or things don't come up, I'm going to fill it in with sunflowers. 
I'm looking forward to having a box full of color and beautiful flowers!

May 11, 2021

Beautiful Rhododendrons

The rhododendrons in our backyard have been slowly opening up, and they are just gorgeous!
I'm usually not a big fan of the lipstick pink, but what can I say--this tree/shrub is rocking it!
So, so beautiful. 
They don't have scent, which is probably just as well. It would be overwhelming!

Just starting to open.


Peeking out from the side yard.







May 1, 2021

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat


All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat 

* 2021 Newberry Honor
* 2021 Robert F. Sibert Honor

5 stars: Excellent writing, on this incredibly high-interest topic. Very well done.

I remember when we first read the news articles about the Thai boys' soccer team that was trapped in a flooded cave. We were riveted, and horrified. From then on, we searched out any articles we could find and eagerly read the latest news and attempts to rescue them. We prayed for them as a family, every day. We were so worried about them. When we heard about the successful rescue, we were so happy and thankful. 

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew we needed to get it. I was not disappointed! I read it first, in one sitting. Then my oldest two children took turns reading it. This had all the answers to the questions we had asked each other those long months ago. It filled in the details that the news story didn't know or didn't share. It had pictures and background information on the boys, their coach, the rescuers, and other pivotal people involved. We learned how the cave flooded so quickly and why they couldn't just wait until the water drained away. We learned how they survived, physically and mentally, for so long. We learned about the rescuers, including the Thai Navy Seal who lost his life in the cave.

The sheer number of people involved in the operation was incredible to read about, especially all those who took it upon themselves to help in any way they could, with no thought of reward. And the way they finally came up with to bring them out, sedated. It was truly a miracle that it worked.

It was everything I could have hoped for in a book about this incident. We are going to buy this book for our own library. 

* * * * *

Were you as invested as we were in this story? Have you read the book? If so, what were your thoughts? 

April 2, 2021

Companion Reads: Longitude, and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

 We read two books back to back in our morning reading time (for homeschool), which proved to be great companion reads. They both had to do with sailing and in particular, navigation at sea. Longitude, by Dava Sobel, was nonfiction, while Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham, was historical fiction. We understood the troubles of Nat Bowditch so much better, having just read an entire book about finding "lunars" vs. other means of calculating longitude, and even knew some of the technical terms.

If you have access to both of these books, give it a try and let me know if you liked it too!

 

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Kind, by Dava Sobel

3.5 stars: Thorough and meaty. 

This one has been on my shelf for at least 5 years. I finally decided to read it to my kids as a way to make it first priority for me as well. Ha! It worked! We made it our way through it, a little each day.

For hundreds of years, the "longitude problem" was the bane of every sailor and captain's existence. It was easy enough to determine which latitude your ship was at, while at sea, but longitude was a whole different beast. Many, many ships sunk and thousands of lives were lost over the centuries due to mistakes in calculating longitude.

Finally the British throne came up with a competition, complete with a hefty award for whomever could solve this problem in a satisfactory way. There was a board overseeing the competition, which ended up going on for a couple of decades. The board members not only received the entries, but they were in charge of testing their accuracy and viability, and perhaps most importantly--doling out the prize money.

For a very long time, prevailing opinion was that the longitude problem would be solved by astronomy. Calculating "lunars" and/or the positions of certain stars became the basis of that school of thought. Then there was another idea completely: using a clock. It would have to be a clock like no other, however. It would have to keep nearly perfect time at sea, despite the constant motion of the ship, and have to be impervious to moisture and salty air.

As far away from astronomy as the workbench from the observatory, this idea was looked down upon by the Board as being almost too practical. Longitude was the realm of mathematicians and scholars, not something that could be solved with raw materials and rough hands--no matter how intricate the arrangement of gears and springs. It took the clockmaker in question--John Harrison--most of his life to perfect his creation and receive his just rewards.

* * * * *

This was actually a good read aloud for school mornings. I mean, I definitely felt smarter after reading it each day! Ha! Truly, though, it gave us some great fodder for discussion. We took it in smaller chunks, and although my kids weren't necessarily clamoring to keep reading each day, it got our minds working first thing in the morning, which was a good thing. That being said, this is definitely geared towards adults. I am fairly certain none of my kids would have picked it up to read on their own--or stuck with it, for that matter. It's well written, but it's got a lot packed in there.

Fascinating subject, really. There's so much that we take for granted about our modern life. GPS systems, anyone? Amazing how one person can make such a difference. One person approaching a problem differently, seeing a unique solution to the problem, then using his skills toward the solution, persisting through setback after setback. 

That was the biggest takeaway for me: do what you do best, persist through failure, and you will make a difference. It may not be solving the biggest problem of your time, but then again, maybe it will be. 

Now we want to take a field trip to go visit the sea clocks! 

   

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham

* Newberry Medal winner in 1956

3.5 stars: Great way to visualize and bring to life the history we read about it Longitude.

Nat Bowditch grows up in a family that has fallen on hard times. His father, Habbukuk, used to be a sea captain until his ship was dashed into pieces. Since then he has become a cooper, but has never gotten past his failure at sea. There are many children and only just enough food and clothing to go around. He learns early (from his big brother Hab) to pretend like he doesn't feel the cold in the winter when he doesn't have a coat to wear.

Nat loves mathematics, which makes him unique in his family and at his school. His mind just takes to it, and he can understand and work out complicated problems from a young age. He has dreams of going to Harvard after school. Then his father indentures him to the ship chandlery in town for 9 years. Nine years! His life is over!  Or so he thinks. He doesn't realize it is the start of a lifetime of learning and opportunities. Also, he finally gets enough to eat and warm clothes to wear.

* * * * *

We read this book right after Longitude. It was a great tie-in to all the history we learned about in that book. The problem of finding longitude is one of the central themes of the book. Apparently this was the time period when chronometers (sea clocks) were available, but still very expensive, so most ships still used lunars--which involved taking the position of the moon in relation to certain stars and calculating longitude based on that. Nat's mathematical skill enables him to work "lunars" with extraordinary accuracy, and he even ends up teaching all the men he's sailing with how to work them as well. We highly appreciated the digs at Nevil Maskelyne, who was the rival and enemy of the clockmaker in our nonfiction book. So that part was fantastic.

I feel like the book was probably as accurate as historical fiction can be, so it was good to get a feel for what it would have been like to live back then, in a sailing town.

Here's the thing: so many people died! At first, it was a bit of a blow as we read along. By the end, my kids were taking bets on who was going to go next. It was so bad! I will not name names, but I will just say--do not get overly attached to any of the characters, particularly those who are closest to Nat. Since it was the story of a good portion of his life, the deaths are mentioned in a rather abrupt or cursory manner, then after a paragraph or two we're moving on.

Edited to add: We are not as heartless as we may seem. None of us realized as we read that Mr. Bowditch was a real person. That poor man! Wow. He overcame a lot of suffering. I can't imagine the author would have included all of those deaths if they hadn't really happened. It makes his accomplishments that much more incredible.

Favorite sayings: 

"sailing by ash breeze" --this comes up throughout the book, but it's explained early on. When a ship is becalmed, the only way to move forward is by "ash breeze," meaning--get out the oars and row! The oars were usually made of ash wood. Nat spends most of his life sailing by ash breeze, finding his own chances for learning, and studying on his own--everything he can get his hands on--as his hopes and dreams take a very long time to realize.

"she has eyes in the back of her heart" 

"I'm just like a chair you stumble over in the dark," Elizabeth said. "It isn't the chair's fault, but you kick it anyhow." ... "Your brain. It's too fast. So you stumble on other people's dumbness. And--you want to kick something."