April 30, 2016

April End-of-Month Views

I garden in Eastern Washington state, USA, zone 5b.

I have to start with the weather. Our spring has been extra warm--temps in the 70's!, but then it will drop back down to normal spring weather like we've had this week, in the 50's.
As you'll be able to tell by the pictures, we've gotten some rain this week, which always makes me happy AFTER I get my spring veggies planted!

Spring keeps rolling right along, and although the daffodils have pretty much had their day, I do still have some tulips going strong! There also many plants with buds or flowers on them for more good things to come!

This post is linked up with others over at The Patient Gardener
I enjoy this linkup, partly because it gets me outside to see what's happening.

Let's start out front this time.

Behold, the front porch bed.

I was going to get some closeups--I have an oakleaf hydrangea and bleeding heart both looking fabulous right now--but I had a very sad little boy (my youngest) who needed some attention.
So, squint! Or zoom in!

Moving on to the front terraced beds:

Up top, this snowball bush is oh-so-close to being in full bloom.
All these little flowerheads will expand a bit more and turn white, probably in the next few weeks.
The elderberries have buds on them, as well.

Here's the view from the driveway, looking up the hill.

Quick close-up for these delicate English laurel blooms, bottom terrace.

The middle terrace is really where it's at right now:

Lots of green, growing things, with some brilliant pink tulips!

These are more hot pink than I thought they would be when I purchased them, but I've gotten used to the color. They almost seem to glow, especially on a rainy day!
The peony right next to them has several buds on it.

Moving down, the candytuft is about to take over there, with a few tamer tulips and some creeping phlox (the purple).

Going around the corner:

I really love the sorbaria there; however, it continues to spread.
So, I'm thinking about moving a few things further away to give it some room.
There's some space to spare.

Now we're coming up the east side of the house.

Here's where my lilacs are blooming, though you can't see them very well against the mulch in this picture. I just finished planting the far end of this bed (which was my cutting garden last year), so I will do a separate post on that soon.

Now we're in the backyard, checking in on the vegetable garden.

Bottom terrace: onions looking great, oregano also healthy and growing.

My peas are about 6 inches high now.
Just past the pea sticks, beets, carrots, and spinach are coming along rather slowly.

Moving up one terrace to my kids' gardens:

The front stuff is my daughter's, and then about half-way down to the little walkway is my oldest son's. They've both got lettuce growing well, peas, and even some carrots.

This is my youngest son's garden.
Can you see all the feathery little cosmos popping up?
I had cosmos here last summer, and they self-seeded all over the place!
I'm happy, but I also need to weed them out of the rest of the garden!

Finally, up top in the vegetable garden:

strawberry patch overview

Blooming! Hooray!

I get so excited to see flower buds and blooms on fruit and vegetables.
That promise of things to come just thrills me!

Okay, now for the back flowerbed:


I still have some tulips back here, but they're getting close to being done.

Rose bud with peony bud in the background.

Moving on to the little shed bed:
A couple of the perennials we planted this fall didn't make it through the winter.
I need to turn my attention here soon and fill in a few bare spots.

Last but not least, the fruit on the west-side:

Raspberries are in bud!

Here's the raspberry patch overview.
The half that is very short was just planted last fall.

Plus, cherries!
My friend told me they hang cd's from their cherry tree branches and it has really helped keep the birds away. I guess I'd better round up some cd's in the next month!

Well, if you stuck with me through this entire post, good for you!
(And thank you!)

What's happening in your garden this month?

April 29, 2016

Featured Author: Jessica Day George

Today I'm featuring another one of my favorite authors! Jessica Day George primarily writes fantasy for teens and kids. She also has written some fairy-tale retellings. I have read and liked almost all of her books; a fact I realized after finishing one of her newest.

She also a fellow BYU alum, so that makes me proud!

Most of her work is in a series or at least a trilogy, though she does have a couple stand-alone titles. For the series, I will review the first book, then give an overview of the others.

Silver in the Blood

3.5 stars: Dark secrets and a fight against evil.

Dacia and Lou are American cousins, travelling to Romania for the first time to meet their mothers' side of the family. There are big secrets that they will find out about soon, but so far anyone who could tell them what's going on is either hostile or terrified. Not a great beginning.

Eventually, they discover their "heritage" and have to come to grips with who and what they really are. In the meantime, they have a chance to save the rightful King and Queen of Romania--though it will come at great personal risk for both of them.

Also, there are some guys that they like, who happen to factor in to the grand scheme of things.

* * * * * *
I'm wavering a bit on the stars--hence the 3.5 rating. There was a lot I liked about it. The delving into various legends--such as werewolves and vampires was well-done, and added to the story without making it into Twilight 2.0. I also enjoyed seeing the way Dacia and Lou grow up and change throughout the story. Showing believable growth takes some talent and it happened here.

Drawbacks: I wasn't crazy about the letters back and forth; they slowed down the plot. The diary entries were a bit better, mostly because they were shorter. I would have liked even more background about the girls' mother and the way they were raised, but as it is listed as a trilogy, perhaps that information will be forthcoming.

Content: This was George's most adult book so far, content-wise. There was some nudity having to do with shapeshifting, an attempted rape, and some violence and death during battle.

(Finished reading April 23.)

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

4 stars: Enchanting.
Polar bears, trolls, mysterious carvings, and a girl without a name.
A retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale.

(Review from March 2013.)

Castle Glower Series

Tuesdays at the Castle

4 stars: Fun and imaginative.

Castle Glower is no ordinary fortress. It has a mind and will of its own, adding new rooms and corridors at will (though usually on Tuesdays), removing those not in use, even shutting people in a room together who ought to marry (that would be the King and Queen, in their younger days, of course.) Of the 3 royal children, it has always been obvious that Princess Celia, the youngest, is the Castle's favorite. She has pages of maps that she has drawn of the ever-changing terrain, and just feels a kinship with the castle.

When the King and Queen are attacked and presumed dead on their way to see their oldest son, things suddenly get very dark and uncertain for the 3 royal orphans. Neighboring kingdoms immediately send over envoys, who seem to be planning to stay for a long time. Like, maybe forever. Princess Celia will do anything to prevent a takeover, or worse, an assasination of Rolf, the heir. Good thing the castle's on her side.

(Review from September 2013.)

Other Books in the Series:

#2: Wednesdays in the Tower--the Castle appears to be in trouble, and Celie finds a mysterious egg. My Goodreads review.
#3: Thursdays with the Crown--Celie & siblings are transported to another land, where they try to figure out how to heal the Castle, and also how to get back home again. My Goodreads review.
#4: Fridays with the Wizards & #5: Saturdays at Sea--haven't read these two yet.

Overall: So far I liked the first book the best in this series, but the other two kept my interest. I want to read the rest to see what happens, if nothing else. The Castle itself was very intriguing to me and as the series progresses you learn more about the rhyme and reason behind its changeable nature. These are geared for about the same audience as the Dragon Slippers books--right in the 10-12 year-old range. Could go younger, if you had a child who enjoys fantasy.  Content: clean.

Dragon Slippers Trilogy

Dragon Slippers

3 stars: Fun read; not as much depth as the Midnight Ball.

Creel doesn't have much, except for skill with a needle and some courage. When her aunt drops her off at a dragon's cave in hopes of a rescue by a wealthy knight, (the marriage afterword goes without saying), Creel finds that she not only can handle the rather awkward situation herself, she can do it with aplomb. Before she knows it, she's off to the big city to work in a dressmaker's shop, with a really comfortable pair of slippers on. If only someone would have told her a little more about those marvelous slippers--such as the powers associated with them--things would have turned out much differently, for Creel and for the kingdom. But as Creel proves time and again, dealing with extraordinary and perilous times may be just what she does best.

I liked how the dragons had different personalities, as shown by their respective hoards.

(Review from April 2010)

Other Books in the Trilogy:

#2: Dragon Flight--actually skipped this one unintentionally and have never gotten back to it.--oops!
#3: Dragon Spear--Nothing like a dragon kidnapping to delay Creel's upcoming wedding.
My Goodreads review.

Overall: This was a light-hearted series. All 3 were quick reads, with some action, a little romance, and a generous dose of humor. They are geared more for the younger teen/tween, but could be enjoyed by any age. Content: clean.

Princesses of Westfalin Trilogy

Princess of the Midnight Ball

I actually posted my review of this one earlier this month, as part of the He Said/She Said list, which can be found here:

It's the 4th one down, so you will have to scroll a little bit.

Other books in the series:

#2: Princess of Glass--a retelling of the Cinderella tale, with a bit of a twist. My Goodreads review.

#3: Princess of the Silver Woods--Petunia (the youngest of the 12 sisters) gets abducted by the notorious Wolves of Westfalin. A mashup of Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. My Goodreads review.

Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy. The stories are a bit deeper than her other 2 trilogies and are more geared for teens. I especially like the way she fleshed out these well-known fairytales, while still keeping fairly true to the storylines. My star ratings reflect accurately how much I liked each one: #1 received 5 stars, #2 received 3 stars, and #3 received 4 stars. Content: there a couple of swear words in #3, otherwise clean.

April 27, 2016

Let There Be Lilacs

I have planted lilacs at every house I've lived in.
This is the first time they have actually bloomed for me!!

The two blooming have been in the ground 1 year.
They are both Syringa vulgaris 'Ludwig Spaethe.'
I just adore that deep pink of the buds.

Then look what the blossoms are like.
So pretty!

There is one more in the middle of the other two, a Syringa vulgaris 'My Favorite.'  It is looking healthier than it ever has before, but it so far doesn't have any buds or blooms on it.
I transplanted it last spring from the back slope, where it had languished for 4 years--surprise, surprise. I'm just happy that it looks like it's growing!

My plan is that when they're all full grown, it will be a lilac corridor on that side of the house.
Don't you think that will be heavenly?

YAY! Lilacs!

April 25, 2016

20 Scrumptious Books about Cake!

In celebration of my birthday coming up soon, this month's list is all about cake! There are some fun ones here--some new to us that we loved, like Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake, and some old favorites, like The Seven Silly Eaters. Enjoy!

Picture Books

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake, by Michael A. Kaplan
Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

Betty Bunny loves chocolate cake so much, she wants to marry it, despite what her older siblings tell her. She does NOT want to eat a healthy dinner first. Tantrums ensue, followed by consequences. Patience is hard, but chocolate cake is yummy.

Betty Bunny must be 3 years old. Even when she is naughty, she's also kind of adorable. The watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations are expressive and full of life. Her single-minded devotion to chocolate cake makes for a funny, delightful story. We couldn't help giggling all the way through it!

A Birthday Cake is no Ordinary Cake, by Debra Frasier

Making a birthday cake takes 1 whole year, so you’d better start early! You’ll need to collect each sunrise, hot winds, sounds, shadows, and shapes from each season. 

Exuberant, brightly-colored illustrations. My 4-year-old wanted to trace every spiral.

Bunny Cakes, by Rosemary Wells

Grandma’s birthday is coming, and Max and Ruby both make her a birthday cake. Max insists on helping, much to Ruby’s chagrin. Thanks to his “help” he keeps having to make trips to the grocery store for more ingredients. He tries and tries to add Red Hot Marshmallow Squirters to the list, for his earthworm cake, but the grocer can’t understand his writing. Finally Max figures out a way to get his Squirters and Ruby figures out a way to keep Max out of the kitchen until she’s done. 

The give and take between Max and Ruby is so classic. Filled with wry humor.  My kids love this one!

Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Rooster is tired of eating grain! Then he remembers his great-granny, the Little Red Hen. He is sure there must be an old cookbook of hers around somewhere. He finds it, and sets out to make strawberry shortcake. Dog, Cat, and Goose have not changed their ways at all since great-granny’s time, but turtle, iguana, and pot-bellied pig want to help. Turtle reads the recipe, Iguana is the gatherer, and Pig is the taster. 

Another illustrated recipe, but the Little Red Hen connection adds some depth, and Iguana adds some Amelia Bedelia-esque humor to each step. Lively illustrations also add to the fun. Each page has a sidebar with more information about everything from sifting flour to cracking eggs. Recipe is included at the end.

Ella Takes the Cake, by Carmela & Steven D'Amico

Ella's a little elephant who badly want to help out in her mother's bakery, but she's already done her usual chores, and everything else is unsuitable for a little elephant (too hot! too sharp!). When the deliveryman forgets a cake that needs to be delivered, Ella figures out a new way to help, which her mother actually agrees to. Off she goes on her bike, cake in tow.

This story is a bit different than the usual. Ella's given a big responsibility and runs into some real obstacles along the way to carrying it out; in particular, a less-than-helpful friend, a steep hill, and a broken tow rope. Through it all, Ella is resourceful, kind, and so responsible! She even politely declines an offer of help at the last minute, saying she would like to finish what she's started. If ever there was an elephant for kids to emulate...

The Fairy Tale Cake, by Mark Sperring
Decorated by Jonathan Langley

A host of fairytale characters make a cake and deliver it to a special birthday boy and girl.

The story in this one is incidental to finding all the nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters in each picture. We had fun pointing them out, following them through the book, and of course, saying the rhymes.

Five Little Monkeys Bake a Cake, by Eileen Christelow

It’s Mama’s birthday and the 5 little monkeys have decided to make a cake for her, but they have to be quiet! She’s still sleeping! With so many helpers, the cake gets all kinds of extra cups and spoonfuls of things. Oh no! Is everything ruined?

Like several others on the list, this one involves mishaps with baking powder, with the constant refrain of “Shh! Don’t wake up Mama!” All is right in the end, with an extra little funny twist when they finally do wake up Mama.

Froggy Bakes a Cake, by Jonathan London
Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

Froggy is making mud pies when his father reminds him that it’s his mother’s birthday. They need to make a cake. Froggy insists on doing it all by himself—a whole box of baking powder ought to be enough. Uh-oh! 

This is one of our favorite Froggy books. We like Froggy’s baking song, the chocolate-covered flies, and of course, the many sound effects as Froggy makes a huge mess of the kitchen.

Harvey the Baker, by Lars Klinting
It’s Harvey the beaver’s birthday, and his little friend Chip comes over to help him bake a cake. Together they gather all the ingredients and get the cake made—just in time to share with friends.

A simple story, more like an illustrated recipe. Includes the actual recipe at the end.

A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham

Mouse has baked a delicious cake for Little Bird's birthday, but on the way to deliver it, he lets himself be talked out of it piece by piece, in exchange for other things of dubious usefulness. Then Little Bird shows him how to turn this back around again.

Little Bird is the true hero of this tale, which takes an unexpected turn for the delightful right about the middle. 

Rude Cakes, by Rowboat Watkins

Rude cakes never say please or thank you, and they never share or say they’re sorry. One little rude cake learns his lesson from some very polite giant cyclopses, who think he’s a hat.

So silly it can’t help but be funny! 

The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Each of the Peters' children will only eat one special thing. Their mama does her best to meet all their requests, until finally a sweet compromise is made.

This one is a lot of fun! The illustrations are lively and authentic; a perfect match to the delightful story.

Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco

Grandma helps her little granddaughter overcome a fear of thunderstorms by baking a Thunder Cake

I loved the interaction between Grandma and the girl in this one. Grandma gently insists that the girl help with each task of gathering the ingredients, in the midst of the crashing thunder, while reminding her each time that Grandma's right here, nothing will hurt you. I love even more that it was based on a true story from Polacco's childhood. Includes the recipe with special ingredient.

Who Made This Cake? By Chihiro Nakagawa
Illustrated by Junji Koyose

Mother puts in a call to the construction crew for one cake. “Make it a good one!” she says. They immediately get to work, using all kinds of trucks, tractors, and machines to get the job done.

A very simple story, with 1 sentence per page. The fun is in the illustrations. Little ones who love tractors will love seeing how the crew gets each ingredient mixed into the cake.

The Whopper Cake, by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Will Hillendbrand

Today is Grandma's birthday,
and Granddad has an itchin'
to bake a whopper chocolate cake
and traumatize the kitchen!

As Grandma heads off for some birthday shopping, Granddad starts in to mixing, soon leaving behind the kitchen utensils and regular-sized bowls, and moving right along to the truck bed with an oar for a mixing spoon.

This quirky story has the feel of a folktale--or should I say, a tall tale? Everything grows to huge proportions, and with the help of friends and neighbors, the whopper cake is not only ready for Grandma, but eaten down to the last crumb. The exuberant, slapdash illustrations fit right in with the rhyming text.  I'll have to admit, I cringed as the cake was mixed in the truck bed (just remembering what we've hauled in our truck...), but the kids had no such grown-up qualms. They enjoyed it!

Juvenile: Easy Readers

Cake, by Dana Meachen Rau

Each 2-page spread includes one page with one or two very simple sentences about cake, including one picture to stand in for a word. The opposite page is a photograph illustrating the sentence. Great for building confidence in beginning readers!

Fancy Nancy and the Delectable Cupcakes, by Jane O' Connor
pictures based on the art of Robin Preiss Glasser

Nancy's school is having a bake sale, and she is very happy to make extra-fancy cupcakes to sell. She just has to improve her listening skills a bit more!

Okay, so this one was more about being a better listener than making cupcakes, but your resident Fancy Nancy fan probably won't care that there's a not-so-subtle message delivered along with the goods.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake, by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Arthur Howard

Mr. Putter wants to do something nice for his neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, for Christmas. He decides to bake a cake. He does not have all the right ingredients or pans. His first few attempts are rather disastrous, but he perseveres!

If you're unfamiliar with this series, each book about an elderly gentleman and his cat, is full of gentle humor. It's kind of surprising to me, really, how much my kiddos like this series with the unlikely protagonist, but they do.

Juvenile: Middle Grade

Baking Bliss! Baked Desserts to Make and Devour, by Jen Besel
J 641.8

For the ambitious junior baker, these recipes include lots of WOW! factor recipes, like a checkerboard cake (when you cut into it!) with roses piped on the outside, and surprise present cookies. Almost every recipe includes multiple steps, including freezer time, and careful cutting. Most of the recipes call for a store-bought mix as the base, though there are a few unusual ingredients as well--banana extract, anyone?

In other words, most of these would not work for the beginner, but if your child already knows their way around the kitchen and wants to challenge themselves, hand them this book! Or some of these could be fun to do together.

Piece of Cake! Decorating Awesome Cakes, by Dana Meachen Rau
J 641.86

This book assumes you have already baked the cakes you will need for each recipe--it includes the size and number of cakes you'll need in the ingredients list. These are also impressive-looking cakes, including a "pool party" cake with blue gelatin in the middle, and a peacock cake with a frosted rice-crispy head. Most require candy as embellishments. She includes recipes for 3 different types of frosting, including "Edge Icing" and "Flood Icing."

As with the first book, these cakes will take a pretty high level of patience and skill, so keep that in mind. You may need to help your kid keep a sense of humor about the whole thing, otherwise I could see it getting very frustrating if/when theirs doesn't turn out like the picture.

By the way, I just realized this is by the same author that wrote the Easy Reader cake book. Nice!

J Series that include a cake book:

Cam Jansen and the Wedding Cake Mystery(#30), by David A. Adler
Cherry the Cake Fairy AND Nina the Birthday Cake Fairy, both by Daisy Meadows
Horrible Harry Takes the Cake, by Suzy Kline

* * * * *

So go forth and eat some cake this week! Or at least read about it.

Are you a baker? Have you made any amazing cakes in your life time? My cakes usually look much better from a distance...preferably in low lighting.

I am linking up with Literary Musings Mondays.  Hop over there for some more great books!

April 22, 2016

Fearless, by Eric Blehm

Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown, by Eric Blehm

5 stars: Deeply touching and inspirational.

Adam Brown was a man with a lot to overcome. He had been a hard-charging go-getter ever since he was a kid, with a very high tolerance for pain, and a penchant for keeping his promises. After high school, however, he got into drugs and was pretty much circling the drain. His family did all they could for him, but it wasn't until he found God that things began to turn around.

He still had a hard road ahead, though. He got married, and his wife spent a good deal of her time in those early years either wondering where he was, or tracking him down in crack houses. Then a glimmer of hope--a chance to train for and become a Navy SEAL. Adam knew this was probably his last chance to make something of himself. So he took the chance, going on to become one of the very elite in an already elite profession.

This one was recommended by my husband. It gave us a lot to talk about together.  If you know someone who struggles or has struggled with addiction, you will recognize them in these pages. If you know someone who is fiercely patriotic and loyal, someone who would do anything to protect those he loved, you'll see them here too.

There are people I love and care about struggling with addiction right now. This hit home in so many ways for me. No-one decides to be an addict when they grow up. It can be as simple as one "friend" opening that door. Of course, most people think they can stop at any time...until they try to do it. 

Adam's struggles were not sugar-coated. I think that's partly what makes this book so moving. You see how low he went and what it took to climb back out of that pit. His faith in God, and that of his parents, became the bedrock of a new life. Then, if that weren't enough, his injuries started piling up, yet he never let that stop him from giving it everything he had, and reaching his goals.  Plus, I have to say, he never would have made it without his wife. She was the backbone of his success.

Content: There's some language in it, there are scenes of war and intense situations described. There's the drug-related content, as well. This is not a book for kids. However, I would feel comfortable handing it to an older teenager. In fact, it's one I intend to hand to my kids when they're old enough.

April 21, 2016

Plant Files: Dwarf Flowering Almond, Prunus glandulosa

This little shrub is putting on quite a show this year!

For those interested, here's a bit more information on it:

Scientific name: Prunus glandulosa 'Rosea plena' 
Common names: dwarf flowering almond, Chinese bush cherry, and Korean cherry.
Cold hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Native to China and Japan; it's said to come from mountain slopes and rocky soil.
So far it's doing fine in my regular flowerbed soil.

It stays small, growing to a mature height of 4-5' tall and 3-4' wide.
(The non-dwarf variety Prunus triloba is more the size of a small tree, up to 12' tall and wide.)
Supposedly, it grows red fruit which is mildly poisonous and should not be eaten.
Perhaps you need more than one for that, because mine has never produced fruit.

It needs a spot in full sun (6-8 hours per day) and it can tolerate some drought.
Several of the online sources say that it is highly susceptible to all kinds of diseases and insect problems. For what it's worth, so far mine has not had any problems with either.
I planted it about 4 years ago.

It is gorgeous in April during bloom, then kind of just fades into the background the rest of the year, so I wouldn't necessarily put it where you need a star attraction all year long.
It's great, though, for mixed borders or smaller spaces.
I really want to start using it in flower arrangements, but it needs to grow awhile longer before I feel like there's enough for that. I don't want to leave a big gaping hole! 
Or maybe I should just plant a few more!

Do you have any experience with this plant?
Any tips?