March 31, 2016

The Promise of Spring: End of March View

If you're new here, welcome!

I'm going to start in my back flowerbed, next to the house.
Right now it's all about the daffodils and hyacinths back there, and I couldn't be happier!
This bed faces south, so it's at least 2-3 weeks ahead of my flowers out front.

Overview, looking towards the back deck.
Quite a few empty spots--I moved some things around last fall, so I'm not surprised.
I'm going to wait and see how my perennials fill in before adding anything else.

Daffodils peeking through my 'Abraham Darby' English rose foliage.
This will be the second summer for this rose--I'm hoping it really takes off!

Mostly, I love this view for all the varieties of daffodils represented here.
I have found that I especially like the white daffodils, and the minis.
Here we have a sampling of at least 5 different kinds.
The more the merrier!

I'm not sure what type this one on the left is (or where it came from, actually), but I love it!

Raspberry bed--not much happening here yet.
Some of the smaller stems are starting leaf out.

Going on around the house, to the west-side cherry trees:

Cherry blossom time is on the horizon!

In my front porch bed:

Bleeding heart coming back for round 2 this year!
Everything about this plant is so beautiful--including those red stems.
The euonymous is looking healthy, too.

Front terraced beds also are showing some signs of life:

Those red peony shoots look sort of like an alien life-form, don't they?
On the left is a fall transplant: 'Prairie Smoke' geum, with buds forming.
In the back, of course, are tulips growing up.

This year's first grape hyacinths.

This is in the bottom terrace, right by the driveway.
Those purple primroses in back are doing great, despite my low expectations when I planted them last year. I just bought these sunny yellow ones a couple of days ago.
Now I just have to remember to plant them!
I've been working out back in the vegetable garden lately, and I have forgotten about this poor plant that needs to get in the ground--until I walk out to the car, that is.
Oh yeah.
Tomorrow will be the day, for sure!

Now we're coming around the corner over to the east-side terraces.
(It's all terraces, I tell you. It wasn't called "The Never-Ending Wall Project" for nothing!)

My sorbaria there in the back has such pretty new leaves.
There are also fat buds on my ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Lady in Red'), and even my lilac bushes are about to burst into leaf.

Let's not forget the ornamental plum!
Soon, my friends, soon.
All these promises of loveliness to come will be fulfilled!

Now we're back to the backyard again!

Last but not least, my vegetable garden.
I just got the pea trellises up yesterday.
The pea packets almost all said they shouldn't need staking.
LIES! They always need staking!
I used the suckers pruned off my ornamental plum for the stakes, along with some twine for the cross-pieces. Bring on the pea sticks!
Yes, I have 3 separate pea-patches (actually 4): 1 for the family, and 1 in each child's plot.
You can never have too many peas, I think.
At least, we have yet to have enough make it into the house for a meal.
We just planted 2 1/2 packets, though, so maybe this will be the year!

I also got my onions in yesterday (3/30); a mix of yellow and white.
I need to water it all tomorrow, I think.
After weeks (and weeks) of rain, we've actually hit a dry spell.
Not that I'm complaining!

This post is linked up with Helen's over at The Patient Gardener for End of Month Views. Head over there to see some other lovely gardens.

What's growing in your garden right now?

A Way to Garden, and Better Than Before

A couple of nonfiction books for you, as promised in my last post!

First up:

A Way to Garden: A Hands-on Primer for Every Season,
by Margaret Roach

3 stars: Some good basic info, plus I learned a few things!

Roach has divided the books up into seasons, but not spring-fall-summer-winter like most gardening books might do. Instead, she compares annual seasons in the garden to seasons of life. So the season during January & February is Conception. Birth is March & April, Youth--May & June, and so on. It was an interesting way to look at things.

One thing I really appreciated was that she and I are in the same USDA horticultural zone (find yours here!): zone 5. So most of her advice I could directly apply to my own gardening efforts.

As I mentioned, most of the information is geared for the beginning gardener, with sections on everything from buying and planting seeds to pruning to forcing bulbs. That being said, I did learn a few things from it.

1: My peas MUST go in early, and my potatoes need to wait longer before planting!
This was the kickstart I needed to get my spring stuff planted last Saturday. Also, now that I know that potatoes should wait until 1-2 weeks before last frost date, I've noticed more things that say the same things--the wildflower mix I want to plant, for example. Perfect! So now I think--oh, those need to go in at the same time as the potatoes. 

2: Easy way to plant peas is dig a shallow trench (about 2" deep) and about 8" wide, then scatter them in there, and cover them back up. I tried it out this year and it was SO much faster! Nice!

3: Peppers are like tomatoes and will root along their stem--so you can plant them deep enough that only the top couple of leaves are showing.

So, a few tips here and there. Hey--I'll take all the help I can get! Also, I wished there were more photos. The ones she had were beautiful, but I would have liked more.

Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin

4 stars: Packed with useful information for getting to know yourself better and from there, how best to go about making good habits and dropping bad ones.

I have been on the waiting list for this one approximately forever. I finally got to check out an ebook copy. Yes!

This was great! It really gave me a lot to think about. She divides everyone up into 4 different kinds of people: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, and Rebels. Each type either meets or resists outer and inner expectations. So without going into too much detail, I think I must be an Obliger, with a tendency to Uphold. :)  Obligers tend to resist inner expectations, but meet outer expectations. Upholders meet both inner and outer expectations.

So what that means, in terms of habit formation for me, is that I do better with some sort of external accountability to keep up my habits. That could be deadlines or late fees, or it could be a friend that would be disappointed if I didn't show up to exercise. I can definitely see that in myself.  I do tend to struggle if the habit is only something that effects me. (Although once I get going, I'm good at persisting at it, even all alone.)

I also thought her discussion of being a night owl or a lark was very interesting. I have always been a night owl, and have tried to change that on many occasions, with no success. She pretty much says--work with your natural tendencies on that one, don't beat yourself up trying to change it. Meanwhile, make sure you're getting enough sleep!

I have decided to try for moderation with my sleep schedule. So my aim is to start getting ready for bed by around 10:00pm and have lights out by 10:30pm. While I was reading, I had an epiphany about getting up earlier, also. I would like to get in the habit of getting up by 6:30am, 35 minutes earlier than I do now. To that end, I am actually leaving my alarm set for 7:05am.

I get really grumpy when I feel like I have to get up earlier than usual, due to the alarm going off. Also, my husband gets really grumpy when I ignore the early alarm and just go back to sleep. So this way, when I wake up earlier--thanks to going to bed on time--I can just get up. But if I don't, or I fall back asleep because I'm too tired, I still have my alarm on as a backup. I know, probably way too much info that you don't care about, but it has actually really helped me get up earlier!

Another part I liked was the discussion about scheduling. One thing I knew I needed to work on was spending too much time on the computer. I enjoy working on my blog, and many other daily tasks require me to be on the computer, but lately I feel like I've been on it all day long. So to help that, I have scheduled a time to work on my blog every night after the kids are in bed. I don't waste time checking email or doing other things during that time, because that's the only time I'm allowing myself to work on it. I've already noticed a difference in my day--and I still get to do my fun blog work!

Finally, I've started thinking about going off sugar. I think to do that, I would have to go off it completely. I try to pretend I can eat it in moderation, but I really can't. If it's there, I eat it. Haven't committed yet, but it's under consideration.

Anyway, it has given me a lot to think about. As you can gather, I've made a few changes already, with possibly more to come!

If you read this, I'll be interested here what you are and what you want to change!

March 29, 2016

Of Peas and Potatoes

Spring veggies are (mostly) in!
Saturday was gorgeous, sunny and in the 50's, and the kids and I got out there and got it done.
[Ever since it has been hailing, raining, or snowing.]
[I feel smug and contented, knowing that it's all just watering my seeds for me now!]

I read a book by Margaret Roach called A Way to Garden, and I had one of those Lightning Bolt moments that Gretchin Rubin talks about in her book Better Than Before (reviews coming soon!) 

I have been planting my peas too late and my potatoes too early!
Zap! Habits changed!

So, let's chat about what you can plant in the spring.
Mostly, it needs to be things that don't mind the snow, frost, or wet conditions.
Some veggies actually prefer cooler weather, as do some flowers.

Let's start off with violas, because violas make my heart happy!

They are a smaller cousin of the pansy, which also do well in spring weather.
They are tough little beauties, and if you're lucky, they'll reseed themselves around.

Peas come next, because garden-fresh peas are simply delicious.

The last couple of years I have gotten lazy, and it has rained so much, and I've been lazy, that I haven't gotten peas planted until the end of April/beginning of May.
Friends, that is too late!
Last year I really paid the price, because our summer got really hot, really early.
By the end of June, when my peas were supposed to be going strong, they were withered and puny.
We got maybe 2 handfuls, total.

Not so this year! They are in the ground as we speak! YES!

I planted half 'Sugar Daddy,' a sugar snap cultivar, and half shelling peas: some 'Green Arrow' (leftover from last year) and some 'Dark Seeded Early Perfection.'

Another thing I learned from Roach's book was to plant peas the quick way, make a shallow trench (about 2" deep), scatter them in it, and replace the dirt. Done!
Here I've been poking individual holes all these years.
Always learning.


The only tricky thing with carrots is that they need to be kept consistently moist to germinate, and it can take awhile--3 weeks or longer.
If you want a continuous harvest, plant another patch every 2-3 weeks through mid-July.

This year I put in some 'Danvers Half Long' and some 'Nantes.'
Don't be afraid to thin them once they get about as big around as a pencil.
Your kids will love the "baby carrots!"


Believe it or not, spinach is one of my favorite spring crops.
It is so much more versatile than lettuce!
Yes, you can eat it for salad, but you can also put it in smoothies, freeze it, add it to soups or casseroles, saute it, etc.
Plus, it's so darn good for you!
And it's ready to harvest in about 6 weeks! That's practically overnight in gardening terms.
Do yourself a favor. Plant some spinach.

This year the variety I put in was 'Big Ruffles Hybrid.'

We like beets and we like beet greens.
I can't honestly say that we love them, but we're finding more and more recipes we like them in.
Roasted beets with goat cheese is pretty yummy.

Here's what I learned last year about onions:
if you want big slicers, give them plenty of room!
I'm talking at least 6 inches apart, if not 8.

I had given up on growing them, because I was so annoyed with the small ones I would get, until last year. Now I'm back on board! Yay onions!

I didn't get these in Saturday, but I will get them planted later this week. (DONE! 3/30)

Last but not least, potatoes
 So, I learned that you should wait to put these in until 1-2 weeks before your last frost date. I've had 2-3 hills completely rotted out every year, and now I know why. I was planting them too early and they got frozen.

My two favorite varieties are 'Yukon Gold' and 'Viking Purple.'
I've already bought the seed potatoes, so now I just need to wait awhile.
In a month or so, I'll put them out on my sunny windowsill so the eyes can start growing out into roots (this is called "chitting" the potato.)
Then I will dig a deep hole and plant one per hole.
I did it that way last year and was satisfied with results.
It seemed that we got fewer potatoes, but they were bigger.
You can also cut them up, with 3-4 good eyes on each piece, and put 4-5 pieces per hole.

Other veggies you can plant in spring:
broccoli & cauliflower

Are you planting spring veggies this year?

March 28, 2016

First Quarter Memoirs & Biographies

I have been enjoying my memoirs and biographies so far this year! I've actually read more than my goal of 1 per month so far, though I don't promise to keep that up! ;)  I've been touched by the personal experiences of the people I've read about, and even learned a few things along the way. Always a plus.

Here's what I've read so far, starting with most recent:


If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates," by Richard Sanders

4 stars: A pirate's life, in living color.

This was a fascinating account of the career of Bartholomew Roberts, the pirate. A shrewd man, who pulled off several bold plunderings right under the noses of British and French Navy warships, and got away with it. He didn't drink rum, and banned gambling and women on his ships. Not that he was a saint, by any stretch, but the author points out that he and his crew rarely killed anyone from the ships they robbed. (The one massacre that happened was against his orders.)

I learned a lot about piracy as it was back then. What enticed men into it? Many of the sailors at that time had been forced into joining the ships they were currently on, for low or no wages, and little food. A pirate's life offered plentiful food, an equal share of the loot, and lots of free time to drink rum punch, fight, and carouse. For a man like Roberts, it was probably the power and notoriety that seduced him as much as anything: at one point he commanded upwards of 200 men and his name was known in fear throughout the Caribbean and coasts of Africa--neither of which would have ever happened coming from his lowly station in life.

It seems there was an awful lot of private agreements between merchant ships and pirates then, as well. Roberts would cut deals with the captains he liked and sometimes even leave them most of their cargo. Meanwhile, the Navies' attempts to reign him in were pretty pathetic until right at the end.

* * * * *
Well-written and carefully researched. Sanders did a good job at giving enough details and information for understanding what was happening, without bogging down the narrative. As you might expect, there was quite a bit of excitement, in the way of chases, narrow escapes, and revenge. Several times Sanders pointed out places where the legends were probably incorrect, based on his research, which I appreciated.

As a sidenote: I couldn't help thinking--"The Dread Pirate Roberts was a real person?!" Any Princess Bride fans out there? Ha! Shows how much I knew about pirates. (Though he did not retire in comfort and pass the name down. He died in battle.)

Content: Several brief descriptions of torture, beatings, etc., not to mention ships burned and so on. A little bit of language.

(Finished reading March 22, 2016)

[Yes, I'm aware of the irony of my 2 choices this month! A pirate and an Apostle. Their lives couldn't have been more different.]

The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, by Parley P. Pratt

5 stars: Inspiring and testimony-building account of a modern-day Apostle--who happens to be one of my ancestors!

This one has been sitting on my shelf for years! I'm a descendant of Parley's, three greats back I believe. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young man and was called as an Apostle not too long after that. He spend much of his life on missions for the church, preaching, writing tracts and books, and defending the gospel at every turn.

He was also a polygamist and had 12 wives and 25 children, many of whom had high praise for him. He loved his family deeply and did his best to care for them all. He died at age 50, murdered by his last wife's abusive ex-husband. (I didn't know that was how he died. At all.)

He was an eloquent and descriptive writer, with many poignant insights into what the early Saints went through. He himself was falsely imprisoned and spent many long months in a jail in Missouri, before escaping and making his way back to his family. His responsibilities on a mission usually included editing and writing a newspaper for the Saints in that area.

* * * * * *
One thing I was impressed by was Parley's dedication to the Lord. Time and time again, he built a home, cleared ground and cultivated a farm, only to leave it behind. The first few times he did it willingly, feeling called to preach in another location. Other times he was forced out by mobs, the homes, outbuildings, and all improvements a loss. He just kept going and starting over again...and again. Throughout all the trials and hard things, he stayed faithful to the very end.

Another thing that struck me was his humility. At least a couple of times he talked about being "severely chastened" by Brigham Young.  Both times he said he was in the wrong, this correction would make him a better man, and he was thankful for it. Wow. Talk about humble. It says he was fast friends with President Young and they often stayed in touch through letters while he was away.

Lastly, his testimony came shining through in every chapter, sure and bright. He participated in and witnessed many miracles throughout the course of his ministry, and brought many hundreds--if not thousands--of people into the church, through his preaching and writings.

My one quibble with the book--I wish there had been more about his home life. 12 wives! There must have been a lot going on there! Every so often there was a letter to one of them, but other than that, there was not much mentioned beyond how much he missed them in his travels, and how dear his little ones were to him.

It was a long book, more than 500 pages, which is probably why it took me so long to pick it up! I read it before bed at night, off and on, over about a month.  If you're interested in early Mormon history, and have some time on your hands, I would recommend it.

Content: clean

(Finished reading March 21, 2016)


Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, by Misty Copeland

4 stars

The story of Misty Copeland's life: coming from a struggling impoverished family, to discovering dance, then her amazing rise to the top of her profession.

This was well-written and easy to read. She didn't shy away from the hard or potentially embarrassing parts of her story, which must have been hard. It felt very honest, and I appreciated her candor. I also thought she did a good job explaining her thoughts of certain situations at the time they happened, then giving her more mature perspective now--particularly in regards to her relationship with her mother.

It helped open my eyes to the world of ballet, which is a world I've never really explored much.

Content: clean
(Reviewed February 14, 2016)


Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy's Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard, by Mawi Asgedom

5 stars: Lucky find in the juvenile section!

Inspiring true story of one boy and one family's triumph in a new land. I especially loved the message that hard work plus treating people right makes for success in any endeavor. Short chapters and engaging storytelling make it right on target for the elementary to middle school set.

Content: clean
There was nothing described in a way that made it inappropriate for a middle grade audience, but keep in mind his life experiences--fleeing soldiers, refugee camp life, and so on--as you decide whether to share it with your kids.

(Reviewed January 12, 2016)

Life With Father, by Clarence Day

4 stars

Clarence's father was a singular man, who viewed any type of disorder, illness, or irregularity as weakness of character. His wife and family were a constant puzzle and trial to him. But he soldiered on--loudly.

Had me chuckling at several points. I want to see the movie now!

Content: clean
(Reviewed January 5, 2016)

March 25, 2016

Growing Up & Dealing with Change

I've read a couple of books in the last week that have focused on children growing up and dealing with important changes in their lives: in particular, changes with parents.  Both feature an older brother and younger sister with close friendships.

The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose and Me, by Sara Nickerson

4 stars: Heart-warming and genuine.

Missy's parents have gotten divorced. Even though it's been about a year now, she and her older brother Patrick are still having a hard time with it. Then her dad tells them about his engagement and Missy loses it. She is so angry that she decides to sabotage the wedding any way that she can.

Meanwhile, she and Patrick see an ad in the newspaper for a summer job: a local blueberry farm is hiring kids to pick berries. They really want to do it. It takes some convincing for them mom to let them go, but eventually she agrees--as long as they stick together and watch out for each other.

Missy really loves the fields, the blueberry plants, and even picking. Patrick seems to like it too, at first. Then he meets a girl and pretty soon he's more interested in goofing off with the her [and the other kids] than staying in the row with his sister and picking blueberries. With her 2 best friends off at camp, her best-friend brother missing in action, and her dad getting re-married, Missy doesn't know who to turn to anymore.

Before long, her dedication and hard work catches the eye of the owners, and she is allowed to help pick in a special field that none of the others ever see. There's a mysterious feud between the 2 brothers who own the fields, and she's determined to get to the bottom of it. It's a summer for growing up, and learning to handle all the changes in her life, as hard and wonderful as that can be sometimes.

* * * * * *
This book had a lot of heart. It covered things that many kids experience: divorce, changing friendships--inside and outside the family--and learning to rely on yourself and do what you know is right, despite what choices other people are making. The blueberry fields made for a unique setting, but there were still a lot of elements that were familiar--family time, playing at the lake, etc.

I especially liked how even though there were rifts or fights in almost every important relationship in Missy's life, they were all resolved one way or another. Just like in real life things didn't stay the same, necessarily, but they were able to work through their differences. The blood feud between the blueberry farm brothers was a stark contrast to this idea (which was probably why it was in the book), but I didn't feel like it was hammered in or anything. It was presented as another path that conflicts can take sometimes--but certainly not a happy one for those involved.

Also, Missy's parents handled being divorced in probably the most ideal way. They were not pitting the children against each other; they talked about and agreed on what was best for the kids; they communicated amicably as needed. I know that's not the usual case, but it never hurts to have an example of what it could be like.

Due to its length, I would say this one is probably for the higher range of middle grade readers, so maybe 10+, but content would be appropriate for younger as well.

Content: clean

One Square Inch, by Claudia Mills

4 stars: This is an important book for children dealing with a family member's (un-medicated) mental illness. Well-written and emotional.

Cooper and his little sister Carly are visiting Gran-Dan with their mother when he gives them deeds to square inches of land in the Yukon, leftover from when he was young. Their mother sleeps almost all the time, but they get along okay.

Once they get home, their mom can hardly even get out of bed at all, it seems. They watch out for each other the best they can. She does manage to get out of bed to take them to school on the first day.

Then Cooper notices a doctor's appointment on the calendar, and some pills. After awhile, he starts to notice a difference. His mom is up and around, and actually seems to have energy to make food and care for them.

Cooper and Carly make up an imaginary world called Inchland, based on the old deeds from their grandfather. Carly's the storyteller and Cooper draws maps, house plans, and scenes from the countryside.

As the fall wears on, however, Cooper's mom begins acting more and more erratic. She buys bags and bags of fabric for a quilt that never gets made. She doesn't pay the bills or clean the house, yet she signs up to make the scenery for Carly's class play....then just lets the unfinished scenery sit and sit. She's up all hours of the night, listening to music, and organizing the cereal. It wouldn't be so bad, perhaps, if they had a dad around to take over, but it's just them and their mom.

Cooper senses something is off with his mom, but he doesn't know how to even talk about it to any of the grownups in his life. Gran-Dan is so critical that Cooper can't open up to him over the phone, and he just can't seem to find the words to tell either of his favorite teachers. Cooper does his best to cope, but the problem is quickly growing beyond him....until one day it all comes to a head.

* * * * *
This was a slim volume, but the story packed a punch. My heart ached for Cooper; trying to take care of his sister, trying to deal with his own challenges, and then to have his mom's mental illness on top of everything else. I don't have very much experience with bipolar disease, but the portrayal rang true. I was so glad that Cooper was finally able to confide in the mom of one of his best friends, so that his family could get the help they all needed.

This is one I'm not planning to read with my kids. If one of them picked it up on their own, I wouldn't stop them from reading it, but I would definitely make it a shared experience. I would say it's aimed at a small but important audience; primarily, children who have experienced a parent or close family member with mental illness, though it would also be valuable for anyone who works with children.  

It's not an easy story to read. There were some very raw, strong emotions in the book, particularly when Cooper's mom failed to follow through on all the things she had promised. Gran-Dan's strained relationship with Cooper was pretty hard for me to take, as well. Mills did a good job of transmitting to the reader that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone who you're supposed to be able to depend on is not dependable at all. Although the ending wasn't wrapped up in a neat bow, it did leave me with some hope--that things would get better, and that Cooper wouldn't have to try and deal with it all on his own anymore.

I'm glad I know about it. If you have experience in this area, I would be interested to hear your take on it.

Recommended for 3rd grade and up, with a grownup to talk it over with.

Content: clean

March 23, 2016

Juniper Madness

There is a sickness in my town.
I daresay, even an epidemic.
"Juniper Madness," I believe is the official term.
Sort of like Mad Cow Disease, but without the cows...or the prions.
Okay, actually not like that at all.
Just people crazy about junipers for no explainable reason!

[Don't get too close! They cause a skin reaction in many people.]

It spreads very quietly, starting at one house, then two.
Before you know it the entire street is covered in juniper bushes!
You can scarcely see the houses anymore!
The sidewalks become nearly impassible!
Run for your LIVES!

[Every photo was taken within a 5-minute walk of my house.]

Phew! Glad I got that out of my system.
Now I can [probably] talk calmly and sensibly about this mysterious illness.

No-one really knows how it started, really.
Was there a stupendous sale going on 20 years ago?
Or perhaps the builders all got together and said, "Look, guys. We gots to do the junipers, man. You stick 'em in the ground and dat's it, man."

Whatever it was, sale or groupthink or brain-altering prion (wait--no), my town is covered in junipers. Blanketed...if the blanket was itchy and full of spiders.
Approximately every other house sports an unsightly hedge of them.
(I was going to say "healthy" but that would just be misleading, wouldn't it?)

[Is there a house behind those shrubs?]
[There could be anything behind those shrubs!]
[Good point.]

Of all the manifestations of this disease around, there is one that tops them all.
Literally just down the street from where I live is a very large church.
(By the way, I have nothing against the good folks that belong to that church.)
Even after 5 years, I continue to be amazed and confused at their landscaping choices.

[Before I knew the real name, I mentally referred to them as "The Juniper Church."]

It's tier upon tier of nothing but junipers, separating various levels of parking lot.
Apparently, all planted on purpose.
I really can't fathom it.

We narrowly escaped the disease ourselves.
When we first bought our house, here's what our front "yard" looked like:

[They didn't stop in front, either--they went ALL the way around the side.]

So, funny story.
We were supposed to take possession of the house on a Friday, but when we showed up, the previous owners weren't quite out yet.
No big deal, really.
They wanted to show us around before they left.
They were the original owners and built the house 25 years ago, so that's cool.
Great! Show us around (while we tried to gently shoo them out.)

They were all but ready to pull out of the driveway, when the wife suddenly jumped up and said, "Oh, those juniper bushes are getting into the driveway! I meant to trim them back, but never got around it. Here, I'll just do it really fast." She then ran and got some hedge trimmers and began clipping branches industriously. My husband and I just looked at each other, with one of those couple mind-reading moments.

As they (finally!) pulled away, we said it--
"We'll take care of those. Don't worry." 
"We're going to get a backhoe in here....and I can guarantee there will not be any junipers bushes in the driveway EVER AGAIN!"

Maybe you had to be there.
It was pretty funny at the time.

[Approximately 2 months later.]
[This was a good day.]

Because I can't bear to leave you with that image in your mind, here's what our front yard looks like now:

[Please note: nary a juniper to be seen.]

There is a chance that juniper bushes would be able to withstand the rigors of our Back Slope--aka "The Hill of Death." However, that is a chance that I am just not willing to take.
To spend actual money on a juniper bush?
I think prions would have to infect my brain first.

* * * * *
All right, all you juniper lovers!
(I know you're out there. I mean--obviously!--judging by these pictures.)
I'm willing to concede the possibility that I'm missing some vital component of juniper understanding.
Please! Enlighten me!

March 21, 2016

Clouds are Amazing! Books for Kids

[Today was a good cloud day.]

I have been strangely obsessed with clouds lately. I know! It's weird. Clouds are clouds, right? But for some reason, I keep noticing how beautiful they are. I never used to notice them at all, really. I mean, sunsets--sure, but just everyday clouds? Nah.

All that has changed. Every day is "Cloud Appreciation Day" around here--at least for me. I think my family might be getting tired of me exclaiming--"Those clouds are so pretty!" almost every time I go outside.

It's the worst when I'm driving, because I want to look at the clouds instead of watching the road. Head in the clouds? Yeah. Literally. With all the rain we've had for the last several weeks, I've had lots of chances to admire them in many varieties.

[I actually found a place to park so I could get this picture!]

I figured while I was at it, I may as well find some books about clouds to read with my kids, because nothing feeds an obsession like reading more about it. Yes! Also, it might be nice to go beyond: "Oooh, look at the pretty clouds," to actually knowing what types they are and stuff.

Picture Books:

The Cloud Book, by Tomie de Paola

(No, that is not Big Anthony on the cover.) De Paola discusses the 10 most common types of clouds, with cleverly drawn illustrations to make his point. He also mentions various cloud-related legends, and weather/cloud related sayings.

This one was checked out when I went to gather my books, but it looked so good from the description that I decided to wait for it to come back. I'm glad I did! Informative, with humorous pictures, and even a short & silly cloud story at the very end.  This is one I could see owning.

Cloudette, by Tom Lichtenheld

Cloudette is a very small cloud. She really likes it, most of the time, except when all the big clouds rush off to do something important. She wants to help too, but there's no job just right for a cloud her size. Then one day she gets blown out of her usual neighborhood, and finds a frog that could really use her help.

The best part of this one was all the side comments on every page. Expressive illustrations, and a little cloud with big dreams. Loved it!

It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles G. Shaw

What can those shapes be? "It looked like a bird, but it wasn't a bird..."
A classic; with a refrain on almost every page that makes it great for early readers.

Little Cloud, by Eric Carle

Little Cloud changes into lots of different shapes, before joining the big clouds and raining.

This one is a lot like It Looked Like Spilt Milk, but it's not set up as a guessing game. Simple text, with Carle's signature painted/cut-paper illustrations.

Olga the Cloud, by Nicoletta Costa

Olga is another little cloud, who just wants to rain on something! Everyone chases her away, until finally Gino the bird shows her just where to go to make some rain.

Quirky and charming.

Sector 7, by David Weisner

Wordless story of a boy who makes friends with a cloud and gets a ride to the cloud factory. So many details on every page! A book to savor.

Magical and fun! This was actually my first exposure to this Caldecott Honor winner. I can tell I need to seek out more of these wordless picture books--my kids didn't really know what to do with it when I brought it home.

Thirsty Thursday, by Phyllis Root
Illustrated by Helen Craig

Every person, animal, and plant on Bonnie Bumble's farm is suffering for a drink. Just when they think they can't take it anymore, a little cloud comes along. Bonnie knows just what to do to tickle that cloud into raining.

Clever wordplay with a very satisfying conclusion. This one's a winner!

[Yes, I will be inflicting more cloud pictures upon you in the future!]

Juvenile Nonfiction:

Look under J 551.57 at your local library

Easy Reader:

Clouds, by Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by Frane Lessac

Very simple text, with paintings of the different types of clouds. It goes into the 3 layers of clouds, highest to lowest. After a brief overview of that layer, each type of cloud then gets a paragraph-long explanation with further details, including what type of weather to expect when you see those particular clouds.

Great basic introduction to clouds and weather.

Clouds: A Compare and Contrast Book, by Katherine Hall

One full sentence per 4 pages, in large type, with gorgeous full-color photo spreads at every page turn. The back of the book has lesson-extending material, such as science experiments, a matching game, and a page about predicting the weather.

With its brevity, this one could even be used with preschool-aged children.

Middle Grade:

The Kids' Book of Clouds & Sky, by Frank Staub

Written in a question-answer format, this one would be perfect for a child giving a report, or to pick and choose questions of most interest. Answers are given over 1-2 pages, with at least 1 color photo accompanying them to illustrate. Many whole pages are filled with captioned photographs.

Questions cover everything from "Where does the wind come from?" to "Why is the moon white, and why does it look so big?" So while it does cover clouds, it also ranges much further than the other books. Answers are written in accessible, conversational style. Several pages also include experiments to do at home.

The book also includes a Table of Contents listing every question, plus a Glossary and an Index in the back.

I'm fascinated (surprise, surprise)! Just paging through, I stopped to read several of the questions and answers. In case you aren't already impressed by Staub, he took all the photos for the book himself. [He wins the Awesome prize!] I plan to let my kiddos take turns choosing a question, then reading the answer together. This would be another great one to own, just for when curiosity strikes. birthday is coming up!

Peterson First Guide to Clouds and Weather, by John A. Day and Vincent J. Schaefer

One of the strengths of this book is its size: at just 6x3 inches (tall/wide), it is just right for slipping into a backpack for a hike. After the introduction, each type of cloud gets a 2-page spread, with 1-3 paragraphs of information about it and captioned color photos. It also covers Unusual Clouds, Color in the Sky, Precipitation & the Water Cycle, Weather Forecasting, and more.

This one would probably be most helpful for grades 4 and up, based on vocabulary and length of text. The photos could be enjoyed or used by a wider range of ages trying to pick out what type of cloud is up there.

[Don't even get me started on sunsets. Wow!]

Do you have any favorite books about clouds? Or pretty cloud photos you want to share with me? I will be a very appreciate audience, pinky promise! 

This post is linked up with Literacy Musing Mondays. Stop by there for some more reading-related inspiration!