January 31, 2017

End of January: Robins (and snow)

The trees have been full of robins lately.

There were probably 30 of them flying around together.
I think they stopped here to polish off the remaining apples and crabapples on my neighbor's trees.

I was hoping to find a good collective noun for a group of robins.
Alas, nothing but a "flock," although one site suggested a "round."  

Meanwhile, the garden beds and yard are still full of snow.
These pictures were taken a few weeks ago.
I am going the lazy way and not taking new ones, because frankly, it all still looks the same.
(Okay, plus the 4 more inches of snow we got today.)

Back bed.

Ornamental plum.

I think there's some garden terraces under there.....maybe. 
Picture's a bit blue--guess I should have waited for more sunlight!

Raspberry patch and shed bed.
Plus the soccer goal that got left out. Oops.

Apple tree covered up to its lowest branches.

Front yard.
There are some bushes somewhere under there on the left, but they've disappeared.

On the plus side, I recently learned another recipe for snow ice cream.
(Some other versions found here.)

Snow Ice Cream

10 C. fresh, clean snow
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
Chocolate sauce, candy, sprinkles, or other toppings as desired.

Mix all together and enjoy!

* * * * *

Nothing like some snow ice cream to cool down your spring fever!
At least, that's what I keep telling myself...

Other End of the Month views can be found at The Patient Gardener.

January 30, 2017

Annapurna, The Lost German Slave Girl, and The Medical Detectives

Three adult nonfiction titles for you today. I've really been on a nonfiction kick lately. For some reason, this month it has been hard for me to focus on fiction longer than middle grade--just a lot going on, I guess. True stories like these are usually easier for me to read in smaller pieces, with less of an attention span required to get back into the narrative.  I'm still working on Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I have the feeling that beast is going to take awhile to get through.

Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog

4 stars: Extreme mountain climbing pre-Everest.

In 1950, no-one had ever climbed a mountain higher than 8,000 meters. (Everest had not yet been conquered.) Herzog led a team of French climbers, plus a surgeon, into Nepal with hopes of setting a new record. Annapurna was one of two peaks under consideration for the assault. Neither had ever even been explored, let alone climbed. The team was under a time constraint, as well, because the monsoon season started in 2 months and they had to be out of the mountains by then, for safety reasons.

After setting up Base Camp at a small village in the foothills, they started by sending smaller groups up on exploration and acclimatizing runs, testing if a climb to the peak of either mountain was even possible. That took a month or more. Finally they had done all the exploring they could do. The one peak--Dhaulagiri--was deemed impossible from any angle. Annapurna would not be easy, but they thought it would be possible. Now they had to begin setting up camps higher up. The final decision wouldn't be made until they actually began the assault.

At this point they had approximately 3 weeks until monsoon season hit. Despite the risks, inherent and unforeseen, they decided to go for it.

* * * * *
I really want to just keep going and tell you the entire story, but then I guess you wouldn't need to read the book! I think I may have mentioned before that I am not very adventurous. At all. For instance, I do not have least bit of desire to climb a very tall mountain. "Climb Mt. Everest" will never be an item on my Bucket List (assuming I make one someday--ha!)

I will say though, I enjoy Armchair Adventuring as much as anybody! This one definitely fit the bill for that. It was a good time of year to read it, too, with the wind and snow outside my window. Made it all the more real. Boy, was I ever glad to be cuddled up on my comfortable couch, rather than at 20,000 feet, stumbling around in a blizzard with only the hope of a cold tent to come back to (assuming one could even find the tent....) As perhaps you can tell, reading this book did not change my mind about my life's ambitions.

Content: The descent and its aftermath include some vivid descriptions of frostbite and gangrene. Not for those with a weak stomach.

(Finished reading Jan. 20.)

The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans, by John Bailey

4 stars: Fascinating. A side of history that I didn't know much about.

I first came across the history of the German immigrants known as Redemptioners when I read the fictional novel Escape to Zion, by Jean Holbrook Matthews. While I didn't love that book particularly, I was interested in the historical aspects of it. Matthews actually mentioned this trial in her story and went on to explain further in a note at the end of the book. So when I saw this title, I was eager to learn more.

This story starts in Germany, with a group of families and friends who all decide to emigrate to America together. In particular, there are 2 brothers--one a shoemaker and one a blacksmith--who decide to take their families and go. Last name of Muller.

They run into terrible trouble. After having sold everything they own to pay for boat tickets, a dishonest man in Amsterdam sells them fake tickets, and absconds with the money. After several months of destitute street-living, they finally get a place on another ship headed to America. Crammed to the gills, no sanitation to speak of, and what's more--because they don't have money to buy tickets--each adult is made to sign a paper giving the ship's owner the right to sell them and their children into indentured servitude once the boat reaches America. Slavery with a time limit (supposedly.)

Fast forward to New Orleans. Hundreds of people have died during the ocean crossing, including several of this group from Germany. The rest are being split up dockside to go work for their new masters. One of the Muller brothers, along with his 3 children, (his wife Dorothea didn't survive the voyage) are sold upriver and by all accounts, never heard from again.

Until...one day in 1843 (several years later), one of the other German villagers from that terrible voyage, goes on a walk and just about has a heart attack when she recognizes her long-lost friend Dorothea over a fence. Then she realizes that of course, it can't be Dorothea. This must be one of the daughters. As she talks with this young woman, however, she realizes that the girl is currently a slave. A slave! The daughter of her friend from Germany! She becomes determined to rescue this girl from slavery and restore her to her rightful place in society.

Thus begins the legal battle.

* * * * *
This was so very interesting to me. Bailey was a law student when he began researching this trial. His background definitely came through in the book, as several times he sidetracked from the main narrative to tell what current laws were at the time, or judicial history that related to slavery in general and the Sally Miller case in particular. There was also history related to New Orleans itself: how it became a city and the various cultures and influences that shaped it. I found it all compelling. Rather than merely interrupting the story, these asides added to the narrative and my understanding of what was happening. 

He kept me guessing throughout the whole book. Was this lady really the lost German girl, or not? There were several factors in favor of that opinion, but there were some pretty big holes in the evidence as well. Then, even after all was said and done in court, more evidence kept coming to light--for both sides!

Worth your time, if you're interested in this time period or subject at all.

(Finished reading Jan. 19.)

The Medical Detectives, by Berton Roueche

3 stars: Stories you'll want to tell someone else about! (Though maybe not over dinner...)

A compilation of 25 different unusual medical cases. A handful are presented as the doctor trying to figure out what could be causing certain symptoms, but with most, the disease is known and it's up to epidemiologists to track down the specific cause along with who else might be affected--or infected, as the case may be.

* * * * *

Somewhat uneven writing between chapters, with some very slow and tedious to get through (particularly the chapter about aspirin) and others high interest to the end. Since they span decades, I suppose it was to be expected. I ended up retelling many of the stories to my kids. They clamored for more! In fact, my 8-year-old picked it up to read on his own, but got bogged down a chapter or two in. I guess you can tell there's a strong medical influence in our home!

Also, always wash new clothes before you wear them. Just...do it. Please. Thank you.

(Finished reading Jan. 5.)

* * * * *

Let me know if you read any of these! Half the fun of reading these true stories is discussing them with other people afterword. My kids have already heard all of my opinions! :)

January 27, 2017

17 Pictures Books About Quilts to Cuddle Up With

At least half of these books were a Christmas present from my mother-in-law. She found them all at the same garage sale! :)

There's a common thread running through this whole set of books: every patchwork quilt tells a story, and it usually a family story, passed down through generations. One thing I loved, putting this list together, was seeing how many different cultures and traditions were included among the stories. Perhaps quilting can bring together people from vastly different backgrounds, as much as it brings together families.

The Dream Quilt, by Celeste Ryan
Illustrated by Mary Haverfield

Michael often has bad dreams, until his mother gets out a special quilt from when she was a little girl, and teaches him the game that goes along with it. Each night she sends him off to dreamland with a kiss for a stamp. When Granny Rose sees the quilt, however, she notices it needs some repairs and takes it back home with her. Will the bad dreams come back?

Michael's mom teaches him that while a quilt cannot really protect us, God can and will.

* * * * *
As the shortest one on the list, this one would work great for preschoolers. Cheerful illustrations take us to dreamland with Michael, and back to his cozy warm house again each morning.

The Keeping Quilt, by Patricia Polacco

Polacco tells the story of her family's special quilt, made from her great-grandmother's dress, babushka, and scraps of other family member's clothing. The new Jewish immigrants make it to help them remember their home in Russia.

Over time, the quilt is used for a Sabbath tablecloth, wedding huppas, receiving blanket for each new baby, a tent, a picnic blanket, a cape, even a last covering as grandparents pass on.  Each generation passed on the stories and traditions, along with the quilt. Eventually, the quilt is remade and the original donated to a museum.

* * * * *
Polacco's signature drawings enliven the story of a special family heirloom. In the illustrations, everything is in black-and-white, except for the quilt, the bright patch of color weaving together the stories as the generations pass on.

The Name Quilt, by Phyllis Root
Illustrated by Margot Apple

Every summer Sadie looks forward to being tucked in under the name quilt. Each patch has a family member's name sewn on it. In place of a book, she chooses a name and her grandma tell her the stories about that person.

When the precious quilt blows away in a windstorm, however, Sadie is sure her favorite tradition has come to and end. Luckily for her, Grandma remembers the names and the stories to go with them. By summer's end, they have a new name quilt, made by the two of them together. It even has Sadie's name on it.

* * * * *
Family stories come to life with the quilt as a background. I liked the idea that just because the quilt went away, it didn't mean the memories were lost.

Quilt of Dreams, by Mindy Dwyer

Katy finds one square of a quilt in her grandmother's sewing basket, with a label pinned to it: "Kate's Quilt." She is determined to finish it! Together she and her mother painstakingly cut the fabric into triangles and sew them together, all the while remembering Gram, learning about traditions, and building a bond together.

* * * * *
Watercolor illustrations, many with softened or blurred edges, add to the sweet story for a warm-hearted read about families and quilting.

The Quilt Story, by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

A pioneer girl's favorite quilt is stashed in the attic, where it is later found by various animals, and then another little girl, who also loves it.

* * * * *
One of the shorter stories on the list; this one would fit the attention span of most preschoolers. DePaola's distinctive illustrations in muted colors bring the story to life.  

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau
Illustrated by Gail de Marcken

The story of a quiltmaker who lived in the mountains and sewed her beautiful creations to give to the poor and homeless down below. At the same time there lived a greedy king. All he wanted was presents from everyone. More, more, more! When he heard about the quiltmaker, he came to her and insisted that she give him a quilt. She would on one condition: when he gave away everything he owned, she would make him a quilt. As you might imagine, the king was not happy with the condition!

* * * * *
A modern fable all about greed and generosity. The story was inspiring, but the illustrations were what really won my heart. Each page packed with detail, inset pictures (like blocks on a quilt), bright colors, and whimsy.

Each page also includes a quilt block that has to do with the part of the story on that page. The endpapers show all the blocks with their names, to match up. My copy also has a puzzle poster printed on the back of the dust jacket. So fun!

The Rag Coat, by Lauren Mills

Minna wants to go to school more than anything, but she doesn't have a coat to wear, and with Papa's recent passing, they can't afford to buy one. Then Mama's quilting friends--Minna calls them the Quilting Mothers--come up with a solution. If they all contribute some scraps, they can make Minna patchwork coat, with feed sacks for the lining. That's just what they do.

When Minna gets teased at school about the coat, though, it will take some courage to face the other kids and tell them how special it really is.

* * * * *
Set in the mountains of Appalachia. I enjoyed this story about a girl overcoming her challenges with pluck, determination, the memory of her Papa, and the support of her Mama and the Quilting Mothers. Each 2-page spread includes one page of text and a picture on the facing page. This one is longer, but one that a lot of elementary-aged kids will relate to.

Reuben and the Quilt, by Merle Good
Illustrated by P. Buckley Moss

Reuben's family works together on a beautiful quilt for auction. The money is going to go to his friends' grandfather, who needs to go to the hospital but doesn't have the money. When their quilt is stolen off the porch, after all that hard work, the family will have to decide how best to respond.

* * * * *
A gentle story of an Amish community coming together to help one in need, with a bonus helping of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. The illustrations echo the quilt, colors interspersed with black clothing of the characters.

Sebastian and the Balloon, by Philip C. Stead

Sebastian has decided there is nothing at all to see on his street. So he prepares for a voyage to somewhere else. He packs "all the things he would ever need" and sets off in a balloon made from Grandma's quilts and afghans. Before his voyage is through, he meets up with several interesting creatures, 3 old lady sisters who knit, and even repairs a roller coaster.

* * * * *
This story is so random! Loveably quirky and imaginative. It doesn't have a tidy ending, but perhaps that is so kids can continue the adventure themselves. In fact, it sort of reminded me of one of my kids telling me their dream. The quilt connection is only with the balloon, so more of a sidenote in this story, for sure.

Show Way, by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Hudson Talbott
Newberry Honor, 2006

The story of a family, starting out in slavery. The seven year old daughter sold off without her family, but with some cloth, needles, and thread. How each generation of girls learned to sew and make quilts: a Show Way that pointed a path to freedom for escaping slaves. All the way down through the years to freedom, to mothers who could read, to little girls who marched to end segregation, to the author and her daughter. Each generation passing down the stories that came before, to always remember and to be courageous.

* * * * *
This beautiful book brought tears to my eyes. Our library had it in the "picture books geared for older kids" section, I guess because of the little girls who got sold away from their families. It was a bit longer than many picture books, also. I would feel comfortable reading it to my 4 year old, though, and in fact, plan to do so this week! My favorite refrain was about the families, repeated through each generation: "Loved that baby up so. Yes, they loved that baby up."

Jacqueline Woodson is one of my favorite authors. This is another winner.

The Tortilla Quilt, by Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli

Maria lives with her grandmother Lupita on the Olson family ranch in California. Her grandmother is the cook. Maria helps where she can, but she often has time to play with Sarah Olson. Sarah and her mother are making a quilt together in the evenings, and Maria wishes very much that she could make one too, but knows that the cloth would be too expensive. Then her grandmother remembers the stack of empty flour sacks in the kitchen, and Maria begins piecing her quilt from the cut up flour sacks. With the help of the Olsons and her grandmother, Maria's quilt takes shape.

* * * * *
Written in English, with 3-4 Spanish words per page written underneath their English counterparts. Large text and shorter paragraphs make this a good one for preschoolers. Also includes a recipe for homemade tortillas, as well as the Tortilla Quilt pattern.

Wrapped in Memories, by Nan Slaughter
Illustrated by Lori Lambson

Lyndsey happens upon a quilt made by  her great-grandmother, with a message stitched into one of the squares:

Wrap up in this when you are cold,
The story of my life it will unfold.
It has warmed my heart, but now I'm old,
This I leave you--it's worth more than gold.

She soon finds out that the riches the poem talk about are not money, but family stories. She and her Grandma repair the quilt together and Lyndsey learns about her ancestors. When she decides to stitch "Families are Forever" onto one patch, her Grandma heartily approves.

* * * * *
As with many of the other books on this list, a treasured quilt provides a link between generations. This one could have used a little tighter editing. Lyndsey's name is spelled differently on at least one of the pages.


Eight Hands Round: A Patchwork Alphabet, by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by Jeanette Winter

Patchwork patterns from Anvil to Zigzag. Each one is drawn up close, then in a quilt, with a third illustration for the history of the pattern.

* * * * *
Interesting, including patterns I wasn't familiar with. The histories were quite general--more explaining the name of the pattern and how people used to live than the specific history of that patchwork piece. Perhaps those details are lost to time.

My Grandmother's Patchwork Quilt: A Book and Pocketful of Patchwork Pieces, by Janet Bolton

The story of a special doll's quilt made by the author's grandmother. At the bottom of the page is an outline of the quilt. Then as each block is featured, it's added to the outline. The left-hand page talks about the mechanics of making each block, while the right-hand page is more like a journal entry featuring the animals or people on the block.

Includes 10 quilt squares in a pocket on the back inside cover, with the scenes from the book traced onto them. They are ready to be made into a pattern, cut out of scrap fabric, and sewn back onto the square to make your very own doll-sized patchwork quilt.

Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts, by Anna Grossnickle Hines

As the title suggests, the author designed and made quilts to go illustrate her poems--or perhaps it was the other way around! In any case, each poem has a quilt reproduced to fill the entire page.

The quilts are beautiful and must have taken hours and hours! In fact, in the back, she talks a little bit about her process making them. Most of the squares she worked with were 1-1/8".

The poems take you throughout the year, though not strictly month-by-month. Instead, they go by seasons.

One of my favorite poems was the very first:

Slow motion,
crow lands
on a cedar branch.
Branch bounces.
Crow dances.

Other favorites were "Good Heavens," "To Each His Own," and "Pageantry."

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace, by Anna Grossnickle Hines

As with her other book, this book explores a theme through poetry, with quilts as the illustrations.

I liked how the poems covered many different aspects of peace, from letting go of angry feelings, to playing with someone alone on the playground. Other poems consider coming to peace with a sibling, peace between different races, and the interconnectedness of all of us.

These poems are deeper than those in her first book, and would be great discussion starters in a classroom or homeschool setting.

The Quilting Bee, by Gail Gibbons

Includes a brief history of quilting, definitions of quilting terms, and several different quilt blocks by name. A good introduction to the basics, with plenty of illustrations.

January 26, 2017

Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy

I was going to combine this review with a couple of others, but it turned out I had more to say than I realized!

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, by Brian Tracy

3 stars: Mostly geared toward increasing productivity in the workplace. As such, I skimmed most of it, but I did pull out a few gems.

I often tend to procrastinate, so I was hoping for some solid tips to get me out of that rut. I found a few principles I could apply to my life as a stay-at-home mom, but much of it did not. Hence the skimming. His whole premise is that you should tackle the hardest, most disagreeable job first, whether that's first thing in the morning or first on your list of myriads of other to-do's. Also, the idea that you can train yourself to do this--with sufficient amounts of determination and self-discipline.

Okay, I can see how that applies to me. My shower would be a lot cleaner on a consistent basis if I cleaned it first thing every week. The timing would have to be modified though, to be at my first available moment. Life at home is not about big projects or deadlines, but all about taking care of the needs that come up every single day. So maybe if I made a point to tackle whatever task I was putting off that day... Something to think about.

I appreciated what he had to say about how time management is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: specifically, so that you have more time to do the things you really want to do. I liked that he included this rule (particularly in a book geared toward people working out of the home):

Rule: It is the quality of time at work that counts and the quantity of time at home that matters.

I also liked what he had to say about "Launching toward Your Dreams." Basically, don't let fear hold you back. I've been thinking about this in relation to some of my bigger life goals.

"Once you have completed your preparations, it is essential that you launch immediately toward your goals. Get started. Do the first thing, whatever it is.
My personal rule is "Get it 80 percent right and then correct it later." Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Don't expect perfection the first time or even the first few times. Be prepared to fail over and over before you get it right.
The biggest enemies we have to overcome on the road to success are not lack of ability and a lack of opportunity but fears of failure and rejection and the doubts that they trigger. The only way to overcome your fears is to "do the thing you fear," as Emerson wrote, "and the death of fear is certain."

Another chapter goes into figuring out your key tasks; or in other words, what you do that contributes most to the success of the business/workplace. Once you've identified your top 3 key tasks, then you find out a way to delegate, assign, or let go of all the rest, so you can put all your effort and focus where it will make the biggest difference.

Again, translating that into my world as a homemaker, I think one of my "key tasks" is making dinner---with all that entails. Everybody has to eat, and as the only adult home at dinner-making time (usually), it's my job to make sure it gets done. It is also a task that I tend to procrastinate on.

So after reading this, I am determined to spend more time making a success of this key task...which means I probably will get back to making a menu in advance, rather than filling it in as I go along! Ha! As I've thought more about this, my plan is to look at the menu in the morning and get started on whatever I can--whether that's preparing side dishes or taking meat out to defrost, so that I avoid the 5:00 p.m. panic.

Then there was the chapter on how you should carve out long blocks of uninterrupted time to work on your key tasks. HA HA HA HA! Man, what would that be like? My life as a mother is filled to the brim with interruptions--welcome to raising kids! Trying to make dinner (a "key task") without interruptions? Forget it!

For a long time I had this idea that if I could just get one long afternoon to myself, I would get so much done! Guess what? I've come to grips with the fact that "the long afternoon" is a myth. At least in my life right now. It doesn't exist. Instead, what I've found to be most helpful in getting things done at home is simply PERSISTENCE. No matter how many times I'm interrupted, if I just keep coming back to the task it will eventually get done. (In a manner of speaking. We all know dishes and laundry are never truly done.)

Finally, I liked what he had to say about developing a positive mental attitude, particularly the 4 defining behaviors of optimists.
"First, optimists look for the good in every situation. No matter what goes wrong, they always look for something good or beneficial. And not surprisingly, they always seem to find it.
Second, optimists always seek the valuable lesson in every setback or difficulty. They believe that "difficulties come not to obstruct but to instruct." They believe that each setback or obstacle contains a valuable lesson they can learn and grow from, and they are determined to find it.
Third, optimists always looks for the solution to every problem. Instead of blaming or complaining when things go wrong, they become action oriented. They ask questions like "What's the solution? What can we do now? What the next step?"
Fourth, optimists think and talk continually about their goals. They think about what they want and how to get it. They think and talk about the future and where they are going rather than the past and where they came from. They are always looking forward rather than backward."
(Tracy took this list from Martin Seligman's book Learned Optimism.)
I feel that my faith has helped me become more optimistic in these four ways, particularly #2. Since we Mormons believe we are here on this earth to be tested and gain experience, it follows that every experience has some value or something you can learn from. Sometimes finding that nugget of wisdom only happens in hindsight, but it is always there.

Overall, there's not much that was new. It's basically a compilation of all the "best practice" time management information that he's come across throughout his career. A quick read, with some valuable points to be learned.

p.s. It drives me crazy that there are no page numbers in my ebooks. When I quote from the book I want to put in the page number!!

(Finished reading Jan. 19)

What time management tips do you have for me? Are you an optimist?

January 25, 2017

Reading Traditions: Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White

One of our family's reading traditions is that I read Charlotte's Web with each child the year before they start kindergarten.

I don't know if anyone but me would even recognize this as a tradition, to be honest. It's one that I treasure, but we sort of fell into it. I have always loved the story of Charlotte's Web and wanted to share it with my oldest son. It just so happened to be around 6 months before he started kindergarten. It also just so happened that while the book was right at his 4 1/2 year old attention span, his younger sister was not nearly as interested, being only 2 at the time.

That was okay, though, because it provided the two of us with some special bonding time sharing this classic book. Well, I couldn't let my daughter miss out! So when she was getting ready for kindergarten, I read it with her, too. Big brother was already in school all day, so he wasn't around for a second dose, and little brother was still just a baby. Once again, we had a great experience reading it and talking about it together, just the two of us.

Just recently it was little brother's turn. (I can hardly believe it!) I pulled it out a few weeks ago for us to read while the older two were in school. It was so enjoyable to share his delight with Wilbur's antics and the other animals in the barn. He was quite worried when we stopped on the chapter where Wilbur finds out what the humans have in store for him. I kept reassuring him that Charlotte would find a way to save Wilbur, but he was anxious to get back to the story to learn how she would do it.

This is my boy who more often than not, checks out board books from the library instead of picture books. (Boy, will he be excited when the new baby comes and I get down our very own box of board books!) We read picture books together too, but he's never requested a chapter book until we started reading this one together. Once we started, he wanted to read it every day.

At times when I've read it, Wilbur has come across as whiny and self-centered. This time, he reminded me of a young child: eager to please, readily admitting when he didn't know something, while at the same time needing constant reassurance. Charlotte was definitely the "adult" in the friendship. (p.s. As much as I enjoy this book, my general views on bacon and spiders have not changed.)

My little guy didn't have much to say about the ending. However, as soon as we finished, he asked if we could read it again. I don't remember the other two doing that!

* * * * *
What reading traditions do you have in your family?

January 23, 2017

Plant File: Geum (Avens)

I have been looking back through my flower photos this month and these bright geums really popped out at me. I planted them on a whim a couple of years ago--one of those nursery trips where I needed something in bloom and these fit the bill--and I have been so happy with them ever since.

Scientific Name: Geum (pictured here is 'Totally Tangerine')
Common Names: Avens or Grecian Rose *
Cold Hardiness: USDA zones 4-8
24-36" tall and wide
Full sun, but appreciates shade in the hottest part of the afternoon.
Wildlife: Bees and butterflies love these flowers!
Floral Design: Great for adding airy pop of color to arrangements, as each main stem cut has several blossoms at the top.

Related to strawberries (I just found out.) 
--Now that I know that, I can really see the similarity with the blossoms and the leaves. 
Blooms May-June, right during that lull between tulips and roses.
Flowers come in shades of red, orange, peach, and yellow, depending on the variety.
Once it's done blooming, you can cut it back close to the ground and it will grow new foliage.
I usually wait to do that until early spring, with the rest of my garden cleanup, though.

Mine haven't had any trouble with diseases or pests.
This one clump in my back flowerbed grew big enough that I successfully divided it in half a couple years ago.

These are such a bright spot in my flowerbeds in late spring!
I just adore them!

* I've always just called it "geum" since that's what it said on the nursery tag!
"Grecian Rose" has a nice ring to it, though.

* * * * *
I've also got a different variety to talk about briefly.

Scientific Name: Geum triflorum 
Common names: Prairie Smoke, Purple avens, Old Man's Whiskers,
USDA zones: 3-6
12-18" tall and wide

Native to the prairies of the United States.  
After the bell-shaped flowers are done, the seedheads stream up in fine, feathery pink seedheads--hence the nicknames.
Blooms May-June.
Drought tolerant--likes a hot, dry spot. 
Deer resistant (according to the websites selling them.)

I don't have any pictures of the seedheads; mine have never gotten to that point.
(Perhaps a relocation is in order!)
Look them up, though. Those seedheads are really spectacular!
Also, the seedheads last through midsummer, which would add at least another month to your enjoyment of this plant.
It makes me want to work on finding a better spot for mine this year!

January 19, 2017

Reading Goals for 2017

Shiny and new! Hot off the presses!

This year I've got 4 goals instead of 3. I know, going wild over here!

When I make these goals I have to leave myself time for other books too. At least half of what I read comes from browsing the shelves at my library (and increasingly, the deals on Kindle), and bringing home a stack of things that look good. Ninety percent of the time, those books aren't on my "to-read" list or part of a reading goal. So, I don't want to get so locked into my goals that I feel guilty for simply reading other books I may come across.

On the other hand, it is fun to push myself to seek out books that I otherwise would not, or to read toward a certain purpose. So, we'll see how it goes with my 4 goals this year.

1. Read what I've got! Or in other words, review my bookshelf.

I was almost going to make this one my one and only goal, with the idea of writing a review for every book in our home library. That proved too overwhelming, though I may do it by sections at some point. However, there are several books on my shelves (both paper and virtual) that I haven't read yet! Whether they were gifts, thrift store finds, or great deals, they have landed on my shelves and sat there.

For some reason, once I own a book, the urgency to read it usually tends to subside. Part of that is because I get so many from the library. After all, I should read the ones that have to be back in 3 weeks first, right? There's no pressure on the home library books. The only problem with that mentality is that these others continually get pushed to the bottom of the stack.

So this year, my goal is to read all of the books I own but have never gotten around to yet. Then decide if they're worth keeping or not. (I can't send them away unread!) I may have to set a specific number if I survey my shelves and find there are a whole lot more than I realized.

2. Fill-in my Newberry reading with winners and honor books from the past 5 years.

I have already read several of these, but including Honor books, that still leaves me 14 to track down. This would be more daunting, except that they're all middle grade. Also, the fact that they're award winners makes it likely that my library will have all or most of them. Totally do-able.

3. Read something new by a favorite author.

There are some of L.M. Montgomery's that I've never read, or I may dip into Lloyd Alexander's more obscure works. Other possibilities include Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, or any one of my favorite contemporary authors. You notice I can't seem to pin myself down to an author yet. Part of the fun will be choosing which one.

4. Complete a series.

There are a few series that I've read the first one or two books, then somehow never gotten around to the rest. I'd like to fix that this year--at least for one series!

The first to come to mind are The Montmaray Journals, by Michele Cooper. Ever since I read the first one, I've been meaning to read the rest and have never done it. I'm sure there are others. Time to choose one and get 'er done!

* * * * *
Have you set any goals for your reading this year? Do you buy books only to let them sit on your shelves for ages? Tell me everything!

January 17, 2017

Last of the 2016 Reviews: a Garden Book, a Regency Romance, and a Memoir

The last few days of the year I suddenly had brain space and time to read again! (The first trimester fog was clearing. It was a good feeling!) I managed to squeeze in a few more before the New Year rolled around, none of them related to each other at all, actually. Here they are:

In and Out of the Garden, by Sara Midda

2.5 stars: I didn't love this one as much as I had hoped to.

Full of illustrations, hand-drawn text, and garden-related lore. Many of the pictures were as charming as the cover. I enjoyed the illustrated quotations. Part of my problem stemmed from how small the text was in most of the book. Beautiful calligraphy, but I kept feeling like I needed to pull out a magnifier of some sort to read it without pulling it right up to my face. (I know! I am definitely middle-aged, but don't generally need that type of assistance, thank you!)

Anyway, I liked it, but I wanted to savor it. My lower rating accounts for this disparity in my expectations.

(Finished reading Dec. 28.)

Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career, by Carla Kelly

3 stars: Forbidden essays, clandestine love affair, oh my.

Ellen Grimsley is a sensible girl who longs for higher education, living in a family filled with drama. Her younger brother Paul is her one consolation, but he is enough younger (only 12) that she knows she will have to leave him behind someday soon. When she gets the chance to attend a girl's school in London, she can hardly believe it.

Her head fills with hopes of geometry and Latin. Instead, she gets a highly sanitized bookshelf (only works deemed suitable for young ladies, which apparently is very few of them), interminable embroidery classes, and little to no chance to challenge her intellect. It's grossly unfair that her brother Gordon is squandering away his time at Oxford--a place forbidden to women--when she would give anything to be in his place.

Then, along comes a chance to both challenge her intellect and dip her toes into the pool of knowledge at Oxford. Her brother pleads with her to write an essay for him in a comparative literature class. Though she knows she shouldn't, she does. The first time, it involves dressing as a man and attending his lecture (he was too hungover to go himself). She has to do just a bit of research at the library as well.

Unfortunately, a handsome young man she met on her way to London happens to recognize her in the library. Uh-oh. Game's up. Or is it? Miss Grimsley may have just found an accomplice to her schemes. On the other hand, if her father ever finds out, her life will basically be over. So, she'll have to work around that.

* * * * *
I liked this one and appreciated that it was clean. I didn't love it. There were a couple of plot points in particular that bothered me, making it hard to suspend my disbelief long enough to get into the story. For instance, there were several scenes where she spent one-on-one time with James, including an entire afternoon (just chatting) in his rooms at school, and no-one batted an eye. Including her! I thought basically any time alone between an unmarried man and woman was scandalous back then and caused reputations to suffer. So, not sure what was going on with that. Also, I don't think she could have gotten away with all her long absences from the girl's school for as long as she did.

Alas, by the end I wanted to shake our dear Miss Grimsley several times over and tell her to get over herself and marry the guy already!

Ms. Kelly has written many others, I may give another one a try at some point, and see if I like it any better.

(Finished reading Dec. 30.)

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes

3.5 stars: Fun and interesting backstory from one of my favorite movies.

Elwes first goes into his own casting as Wesley in The Princess Bride, along with most of the other major roles, then goes on to talk about production of the film. Probably the most fun to read, though, were the parts describing some of the background for several of the scenes. I learned things I never knew that will make my next viewing of the movie that much better! Speaking of which, it made me want to see the movie again!

I could have done with a bit less gushing.

(Finished reading Dec. 31.)

* * * * *

All right, let's get on with 2017!

January 16, 2017

January Bloom Day: Worth Every Penny

A cheap grocery store bouquet.
The brightest I could find.
To remind me what flowers look like
And also the sun.

I think I will buy another next week.
Six dollars doesn't seem like much
For a glimpse of summer
When all the world is white.

I'm linking up with Carol at May Dreams Gardens today.
Head over there for some outside blooms--southern gardeners, don't fail us now!

January 13, 2017

What I Didn't Do in December...and What I'll Be Doing Next Fall

I've mentioned a couple of times that December was sort of a lost month for me, in many ways. So just in case you were dying to know the extent of the damage, here you go! I've been kind of curious myself, because I keep thinking of things to add to the list! (Hoo boy.)

Things I Didn't Do In December

1. Fill up Advent calendars for the kids.

Oh, I hung them up at the end of the hallway...and that's as far as it got. In past years I've had fun activities to do or leftover Halloween candy, or a mix of both. This year? Nothing. Finally around Dec. 12 my kiddos asked if I was ever going to put something in them. Um....no. I guess not. I handed over the bags of candy saved for this very purpose and told them it was their job to fill them up this year.

2. Put up outside Christmas lights.

This is usually my job and one that I enjoy--at least the results. I don't go too crazy, but generally at least the front porch, railing, and doorframe get done. After a week of tripping over the box, I put it back downstairs in the storage room. Sorry kids. Not this year.

3. Baking or treat making. At all.

[This was last year's Bake-a-Palooza. Fun times.]

Nothing for in-town friends or neighbors. Heck, nothing for us to munch on in the name of holiday indulgences. Nada.

4. Fill up my bird feeders. Poor birds.

5. Wrap presents.

You think I'm kidding. I wrapped the bare minimum for stockings on Christmas Eve, and didn't get the rest done until the night we came back. Literally last minute. (We had 2nd Christmas the next morning, since we didn't bring any presents with us on our trip.)

6. Exercise. Just didn't happen.

7. Blog...much. I put in some effort, but it wasn't much.

8. Volunteer at my kids' schools.  Supposed to happen weekly. Didn't happen at all in December.

9. READ.

You've got to know something's going on, when I could not even make myself sit down and read a book. I did manage to read Christmas picture books to the kids. One saving grace! But for myself--in the 3 weeks before Christmas I read ONE middle grade novel, and it was 3rd in a series that I was already interested in (post on that next month!) The last 2 books in the series were only available on e-audio from the library. Actually, that worked out well. I couldn't bring myself to pay attention to a book, (!) but lying in bed in the dark while someone else read to me? That was about my speed for December.

10. Go grocery shopping.

My husband went instead--bless him!--and I was so grateful I almost cried. Okay, I totally cried. A little.

11. Cook...much.

I managed to keep my people fed, with the help of frozen pizza, cold cereal, and lots of sandwiches. Thanksgiving leftovers helped a lot. My husband and kids helped where they could, too.

With everything that didn't happen this year, there is one very important thing that I managed to do in December--and I'm not talking about getting my Christmas cards sent out (though I am proud of that, considering.)

I survived the 1st trimester of my 4th pregnancy!!

Survived would be a good word for it. That was the most morning sickness I've had so far.
(Still not debilitating, mind you. Thank goodness.)

Which brings me to...

Part 2: What I Will Be Doing Next Fall

Ever since school started this year, I've been thinking about what I will do to fill my time next fall. You see, my youngest will be starting kindergarten and around here it's full-day. I've thought about everything from getting a part-time job, to writing a novel, to planning out my flower farm, to sitting on my couch and reading the day away. Well friends, I guess now I know what I'll be doing!

Actually, it sounds quite heavenly. Snuggling with a new baby in a quiet house? Yes, please! In some ways it will be like having my first again, except this time I will be able to completely enjoy it, without all the first-time mom fears getting in the way.

So, baby #4 will be joining our family at the very end of June. We can hardly wait!

(p.s. The kids are super excited, too!)

January 11, 2017

Winterizing Your Mind, courtesy of Vivian Swift

I'm going to admit it straight out: January is my least favorite month. The excitement of Christmas is over, and the sudden stillness left in its wake feels deafening. It always feels to me like the year picks up speed from the start of the school year on through to Christmas, then it just stops. I am mostly an introvert, and you would think I would find it peaceful to have some downtime after all the hoopla. I do...for a couple of days. I take down all the Christmas decorations and feel like I can breathe in my living room again. Clear surfaces! Space!

Then I start drumming my fingers. I look outside. Same as before: deep snow and building tops. I read [another] book. I send my children to school and pick them up again. Only 5 1/2 more months to go before school gets out. I usually love school--when I was in it, and now that my kids are in it. Except in January. It just feels like a long, long, road from here to summer, is all I'm saying.

(For some reason, in Fall Semester it seems that we hardly ever have a full month of school, what with all the breaks. In comparison, Spring Semester is just relentless. It's 2 months longer to begin with, and you get very few breaks. Oh sure, there's a 3-day weekend here and there, but other than that, get that nose to the grindstone and good luck.)

I make my resolutions and goals, I put on multiple sweaters, I make soup. I put laminated snowflakes up on all the windows, just to give us all (me) something pretty and interesting to look at. Somehow I get through it every year, but not very gracefully. More like stoically.

So when I encountered this idea of "winterizing your mind" in Vivian Swift's book, I latched on to it. THIS is what I need in January! I'm going to try it. I may even report back at the end of the month. (Scroll down if you don't want to hear about the book first!) It's from her book: When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put.

It was one of my Christmas presents, and I was so happy to see it! This is one that has been on my list ever since I happened upon another of hers: Gardens of Awe and Folly.  Like that one, it is all hand-lettered words, with sketches, watercolor paintings, and asides throughout.

So this one--as the title suggests--reads like a journal. It's divided up into months. Each month's section has a timeline page, of sorts, listing various weather events or outings. Then each one also includes little tidbits here and there about enjoying the month you're in, random asides about clothing or neighbors or cats, memories from her travels, important keepsakes, etc. It's just a lot of fun. I sat right down on Second Christmas afternoon and read it cover to cover.

[Um...Second Christmas? Let me sum up: we went to Utah and Idaho for Christmas this year, but we only brought along stockings, because trying to bring everything else would have made us all (okay, mostly my husband and I) crazy. Plus, no room in the van. That meant the day after we got back home again was Second Christmas! Ho ho ho! Opened all the presents and had a "proper breakfast," per my daughter's requirement, although she agreed cereal and scrambled eggs qualified.]

It's quirky, and probably not everybody's cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So for all of us enduring January rather than enjoying it, I quote from page 5:

How To Winterize Your Mind:

One: See the sun rise and set every day.
The average night is 13 1/2 hours long. We spend most of January in the dark. Don't miss a minute of daylight.

Two: Learn how to draw a tree.
Now is the best time to see what a tree REALLY looks like. Draw one a day.

Three: Put something beautiful in your room so that it's the first thing that you see when you wake up. (She has a list of possibilities. I'm thinking of my own.)

Four: Mend something with your hands.
Sew it, glue it, nail it, FIX IT.

Five: Seahorses, ladybugs, wooly bear caterpillars, and dragonflies do it--HIBERNATE.
Life is but a winter dream.

Today's sunset was worth a very cold moment on the porch with the camera.

What do you do to get through January?

January 10, 2017

2 Potential Read-Alouds: Nancy & Plum, and The Magic Half

I read both of these as a preview to reading them out loud to my kids. Then December happened, the books became due (despite multiple renewals), and back they went before we ever sat down and read them together.

At least now I know what they're all about. There's always next time!

Nancy and Plum, by Betty MacDonald

3 stars: Two orphaned sisters take matters into their own hands.

Nancy and Plum are two orphans who live at Mrs. Monday's Boarding School. Life is not rosy for these sisters, as they are Mrs. Monday's favorite scapegoats whenever anything goes wrong. They live by their wits most of the time, with a bit of sass thrown in. They're definitely not afraid to tell Mrs. Monday what's what, which as you can imagine, does not do much to further her good graces. They do have an under-the-radar champion: Old Tom, Mrs. Monday's brother, the resident handyman and animal caretaker.

One fateful day they discover that they haven't been as forgotten by their extended family as they had supposed. They find an empty doll box addressed to them, the contents of which they have recently seen in the arms of Mrs. Monday's niece Marybell. That is the last straw. They decide they simply MUST get away from The Boarding School. So begins their adventure.

* * * * *
I think my kids would really enjoy this one. Nancy and Plum are a good balance for each other: Plum being the more impulsive, reckless (or brave, depending on your point of view) one, and Nancy a bit more timid but still willing to jump into any scheme.

The ending is warm and happy, but with enough obstacles along the way to cast into doubt a time or two.

(Finished reading Nov. 18.)

The Magic Half, by Annie Barrows

3 stars: A time-travel friendship, twins, and trouble.

Miri is unique. Well, her whole family is unique. There are 2 sets of twins with her in the middle: brothers older, sisters younger. The only sibling without a built-in partner, Miri often feels unnoticed, left out, or unimportant. When the family moves to an old farmhouse she gets her own room, for better or worse.

One day she discovers a way to travel back in time to 1935. Same house. There she finds another girl her same age named Molly. Molly's life is much worse than Miri's. Molly has an abusive adoptive family to put up with. Her older brother, in particular, is cruel and takes delight in terrorizing Molly. Miri wants to help Molly, but can't figure out how to make the magic work the way she wants it to. Before anything gets resolved, Miri finds herself back in her own time, but now she has a purpose: finding out more about Molly and trying to figure out how to save her.

* * * * *
Another one by Annie Barrows! I enjoyed this one, but I don't think I'm going to read it out loud to my kids. I think it would be too much for my daughter and youngest son, for sure. From what I can remember, Molly's physical abuse happens offscreen, but Miri overhears verbal abuse. Molly has bruises to show for her brother's treatment of her and truly fears for her life (with good reason, as it turns out.)

The resolution to Molly's perilous situation was well-done and satisfying, and the ending for both girls was truly magical. I just don't know that all the ending stuff would overcome the creeping anxiety from the middle part of the book. At least not for my younger two, and I don't know that my oldest son would be interested.

I will keep it in my for later on down the road, though. I found out on Amazon just now there is a sequel to this one as well, titled Magic in the Mix.

(Finished reading Nov. 25.)

* * * * *
What potential read-alouds have you come across lately?

January 9, 2017

2 LDS Fiction Titles: A Heart Revealed & Lord Fenton's Folly, by Josi Kilpack

Every so often I enjoy dipping into the world of Regency romances, particularly when I've got a lot going on in real life demanding thought, careful planning, or loads of time. They're totally candy reads, and at times, they are exactly what I want.

Incidentally, though these two are sold through the LDS (Mormon) market, they don't have any mention or hint of Mormonism in them. (That would be very awkward and unlikely, anyway, given the time period and setting, but thought I would mention it in case you were curious.) What I like about reading romances through LDS publishers is that I can pick them up, knowing they will be clean.

There was a handful of overlapping characters between the two.

A Heart Revealed, by Josi S. Kilpack

3 stars: Unique plot.

In a society where what matters most is physical beauty, Amber is on top and means to stay there. She has her pick of men at the balls and is almost set to make a very advantageous match. Then she experiences a devastating event--for some reason, her hair begins to fall out and thin. It's not long before her prospects follow suit, and one devastating ball crushes all her hopes.

Instead of earning her mother's approval (finally), she is now officially the family embarrassment, and gets packed off to a tiny cottage far from the reaches of society and any further chances to ruin her parent's reputation. All of a sudden, she must find out if there is more to herself than what was on the outside.

* * * * *
This was fascinating to me on a medical level. I've read one other book about a child's experience with alopecia areata--an autoimmune diseasing where your body destroys your own hair follicles, causing patchy or overall hair loss--but this was the first featuring an adult protagonist. Then to set it in the Regency era, with its intense focus on outer image made it all the more interesting. I thought Kilpack did a good job imagining how such a thing would be received--or not--back then.

I was lukewarm about Amber herself, although I suppose to show significant growth she had to start pretty low. Likewise, the romance didn't draw me in very much. Amber's maid was the true heroine of the story: honest, loyal, and self-sacrificing.

(Finished reading Nov. 19)

Lord Fenton's Folly, by Josi S. Kilpack

3 stars: A mismatch that may over time become true love.

Lord Fenton lives to get under his father's skin, which means the more outrageously he dresses, flirts, and spends money, the better. What he doesn't expect is a comeuppance. After all, Father still holds the reins. Unless he wants to be disinherited completely, Lord Fenton must clean up his act and begin behaving responsibly. As much as it galls him, he decides to do it for the sake of his mother. Unfortunately, there is one other condition to his reprieve: he must get married. It's an item on an infuriating checklist, and he takes his mother's first suggestion without batting an eye.

Meanwhile, Alice has known Lord Fenton since he was boy, and has always had a crush on him. When he proposes, she can hardly believe it! However, as time goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that his heart is not in their relationship. As in, he is actively avoiding her. When she discovers the truth--that he proposed simply to fulfill a requirement--her heart is broken, but her resolve is not. She will not be made the fool of, even if means packing away her fondest hopes and trading them for a marriage of convenience and insults.

* * * * *
Lord Fenton's complete lack of respect for his father translates into lack of respect for himself and others, unfortunately. Not until his engagement to Alice does he begin to see beyond himself and his issues a bit, but it takes quite some time. In fact, it doesn't happen at all in London--it takes removal to one of the family's country estates, where shocking family secrets come to light.

As you might infer here, I didn't like the leading man all that much. He was selfish and immature through most of the book. Alice was slightly better. At least her bitterness and resulting actions were covering up a genuinely broken heart. It was satisfying to see them both make some needed changes and growth towards the end.

(Finished reading Nov. 22)

* * * * *
Almost caught up with last year's books! More reviews coming soon!