September 30, 2017

End of September: Planting While I Can!

Welcome to my blog!
I garden in northern Utah, USA, zone 5b.
With our first hard frost of the year earlier this week, the growing season is definitely winding up.
The vegetable garden is done and I've got a tray full of green tomatoes ripening in my laundry room.

Thanks to my parents, we have several of these beauties on the porch, as well.

I have enjoyed living in a farming community since our move.
Our view out back has changed in the last week.

From this:
(Do you see two of my kiddos playing the grass?)

 To this:

(Note the snow on the mountains!)

To this:

It's odd having a clear view of the neighbor's houses back there again.

After several very chilly nights, we've had a little reprieve here towards the end of this week.
I have been using the sunshine to plant like crazy!

I've got the front rose bed starting on a new course.
Further details to come!
This is just the bare bones here, but it's a good start.

It's a good thing I got all the things planted in the rose bed, because I also have peony bushes and a couple hundred bulbs coming in the mail within the next month. Not to mention 10 raspberry starts to put in for the beginnings of our raspberry patch. I have a pretty clear idea of where I want everything to go, it's just a matter of finding the time--and keeping my baby warm and happy while I'm working outside.

My husband has been busy the past few days, too!
New flowerbeds out front. Hooray!
 Yes, I have big plans for these as well.
All in good time, my friends.
All in good time.

What projects have you gotten done this month?

Head on over to Steve's garden to see more End-of-Month Views!

September 28, 2017

Tom's River, by Dan Fagin, and What It Brought to Mind...

A preview for my upcoming Mini Theme: The Perils of Greed. As I was writing up this review, more and more connections to other books came to mind, so in the end I decided it needed its own space. Never fear, though, I will link back to it for the Mini Theme. Sadly enough, greed played a huge role in the pollution problem in Tom's River continuing on and on.

Let's get right to it!

First off, I really like this cover. The river, plus the water tower in the background--some nice foreshadowing going on there.

Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation, by Dan Fagin
Pulitzer Prize Winner for General Nonfiction, 2014

3 stars: A lot of good information to process here.

When the industrial resins and dye-making company, Ciba-Geigy, first set up their factories in Tom's River, no-one really cared what they did with the waste. Local families were happy for the jobs the company provided, which paid some of the best wages in the area. There was a lot of waste to dispose of, much of it highly toxic, but their operations were surrounded by acres of land. They dug big pits for dumping solid waste, (some of it in barrels, some not) and poured the liquid waste right onto the ground. The sandy soil sucked it up very quickly. Problem solved.  Some of it was also put directly into the river, and some was put through a pipeline into the ocean.

Over the years, the pollution got into the groundwater and even was pumped into the public water system at one point in the 1980's. Ciba-Geigy and Tom's River Water decided together that the public didn't need to know. After all, it was for a relatively short period of time.

Meanwhile, cancer kept cropping up in the area, particularly in children. One mother, whose son had been diagnosed as an infant and who still lived against all odds, even began putting pushpins on a map every time she heard of a new case. She organized a support group for parents of children with cancer, called Oceans of Love.  Parents pushed for a government study to prove that there was a cancer cluster happening in Tom's River, and taking it one step further, that pollution from Ciba-Geigy was the culprit. However, it wasn't until a pediatric oncology nurse noticed a strangely large proportion of her patients were from Tom's River, that the wheels started slowly turning for a study. She happened to tell someone who happened to know who go to, and so on.

Unfortunately, it would be harder to prove than anyone could have guessed.

* * * * *
This one took me quite some time to read. It was quite dense. I was saddened and disgusted by the way those with the power in the manufacturing company consistently put profit margin over health and safety concerns. Also, by the government officials who continually looked the other way, and allowed Ciba-Geigy to police itself in environmental matters, effectively continuing the problem for decades.

There were many side forays into various topics, all of which were enlightening, except perhaps the part about statistics. That was just aggravating--as it was for all involved with it at the time, apparently. The evidence of their eyes and experience were pointing to one thing, but it was nearly impossible to get the numbers to "prove" it one way or the other. Yes, deeply frustrating. I will never be a statistician. I can feel my blood pressure going up just thinking about that part of the book again.

One other note before moving on: using the word "salvation" in the title was a bit misleading. I'm not certain who Fagin thought were saved. Certainly not the families of Tom's River, unless he was referring to all the activist efforts that eventually got the plant shut down. That area will be dealing with the ramifications of all the toxic waste for years to come.

(Finished reading Sept. 12.)

One thing I enjoy about reading this book was that it kept bringing up connections in my mind to other books I've read. So let's talk about those for a moment.

Fagin talked quite a bit about cancer, mostly from a historical perspective. He discussed some newer advances and some of the biology behind it as well.

If that part was fascinating to you, you will love The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Follow the title link for my review of this book, read in June of 2016.

Another rabbit trail to follow is the one on epidemiology, or finding the source and cause of infectious diseases in large populations. With cancer this can be particularly difficult (and it doesn't exactly fall under the umbrella of epidemiology anyway as it isn't infectious), but it's roughly the same idea, particularly when it comes to cancers caused by environmental triggers. Interviewing those affected, trying to find similarities, etc. Fagin discussed the basics of the field.

If you wanted more examples and case studies, give The Medical Detectives, by Burton Roueche, a try. (Title links to my review from January 2017.) It is all about epidemiologists working out what caused certain clustered bouts of illness. If only those working on the Tom's River cancer cluster case could have found definitive links like in this book.

Along those lines, Fagin told the story of London's cholera epidemic and the work of those responsible for figuring out the source and cause. That reminded me of a book I had read exclusively on that topic, read 9 years ago:

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson.

4 stars: This is one our book club read and discussed. I highly recommend it.

This is the story of London's deadly cholera epidemic of 1854, where more than 700 people died within 2 weeks. But more than that, it is the story of a doctor with an unfailing commitment to figuring out the cause of the outbreak--even though what he finds goes against the prevailing opinions of his time--and a local priest who teams up to help prove it. Johnson then adds an additional layer, weaving the outbreak, and the people involved into a broader historical context.

Informative, with lots to think about and discuss.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, August 2008)

Finally, Fagin mentioned in passing the HeLa cells and how they furthered science. Well, it just so happens that I've read a book about that, too!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

4 stars

In the late 1940's a black woman with cancer went to John Hopkins for treatment. Without her knowledge or consent (not at all uncommon at the time) they took a sample of her cancerous cells and attempted to grow them in a test tube. Unlike every other attempt at growing human cells, hers kept growing and multiplying, producing a new generation every 24 hours. 

Henrietta did not survive her cancer. Her cells, however, didn't just survive--they thrived. Enough so that they were sent all over the world for research and a factory was built simply to produce and ship more HeLa cells to scientists and researchers all over the world. Her family didn't even find out about their mother's cells or their many uses in research for several more years.

Skloot spent years researching this book, including the history of the Lacks family, and the nuances of the ethics of cell research. Who has ownership of your cells/blood/tissue samples? If money is involved (and it usually is) who does it belong to? How does all this effect research?

Full of interesting questions, clear writing, and a warm look at this family and the way they've struggled with their mother's immortality.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, October 2011)

* * * * * *
Okay, I think that was all the connections. A whole list of good reading to do here, if you're interested! If you do read any of these, let me know! I would love to chat with you about them.

September 27, 2017

Jane of Lantern Hill and Along the Shore, by L.M. Montgomery

If you couldn't tell, L.M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors. I read a few of hers this summer--one with my daughter, and one just for fun. I've read both of them multiple other times.

By the way--do you re-read books? My husband hardly ever does and can't quite understand why I do it. For me, not knowing what's going to happen is only part of the enjoyment of a book. In fact, some of these I enjoy more as times goes on--having read them so many times I'm able to pick out details or nuances I might have missed the first time around. It feels like a visit with an old friend.

I would recommend both of these if you're looking to expand your L.M. Montgomery reading beyond the Anne books.

Jane of Lantern Hill, by L.M. Montgomery

3 stars: Enjoyable, comfort read.

One of the few L.M. Montgomery books I hadn't read. It was good, if somewhat predictable. Downtrodden, imaginative, feisty girl escapes from under her grandmother's thumb to good old Prince Edward Island, to spend a summer with her (until-then) deadbeat father. She finds him to be everything a father should be. She blossoms under the influence of Dad's trust, warm friends, and lovely scenery. Returns home to stand up to grandmother.

My husband can always tell when I've been reading Montgomery, because I start to say things like "mustn't". Maybe someday I will visit PEI, though in some ways I'm afraid to, since I'm pretty sure it's not the unspoiled landscape from these books.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, January 2014)

Update from July 2017:

Read aloud with my daughter. Well, we read some parts of it aloud together, then she would read some on her own. This time around, I was a bit more frustrated with Jane's mother, and thoroughly enjoyed Jane's friends.

Along the Shore: Tales by the Sea, by L.M. Montgomery
Edited by Rea Wilhurst

3 stars: Lovely diversion for short chunks of time.

One of L.M. Montgomery's short story collections, taken from stories published in various magazines. The stories run the gamut from playful to heart-wrenching to haunting--mirroring the moods of the sea, perhaps.

Quite a few involve romance, unrequited or otherwise: "Fair Exchange and No Robbery" was a bit predictable, but fun. "A Sandshore Wooing" was likewise light-hearted, while "A Strayed Allegience," and "Mackereling Out in the Gulf" had more serious undertones. "The Waking of Helen" was tragic.

This one also includes a few that she later rewrote for her novels, but it was interesting to see them in their original form. "The Lifebook of Uncle Jesse" was hardly changed at all when she later used it in Anne's House of Dreams; and Paul Irving with his rock people show up in another, though the short story version has a different ending and flavor to it than the Anne version.

Montgomery's love for the sea shines through all of these stories. Perhaps "The Magical Bond of the Sea," about the shore girl who has a deeper connection to the shore than even she realizes was somewhat autobiographical.

In any case, this is one I enjoyed. Some of our most fun family vacations have been to the coast. This made me want to go back!

(Finished reading July 9.)

* * * * *
Which of the non-Anne books by Montgomery are your favorites? There's a whole stack of these short story collections. Have you read any of the others?

September 26, 2017

All Good Things Begin With Dirt

*****************Breaking News!***************
We had our first frost last night.
I guess it's a good thing we picked every last tomato yesterday and brought them inside to finish ripening! Now it's really time to get a move on with planting projects outside!
That was all.
As you were!

We went exploring a few weekends ago, and found a local farm that sells compost, topsoil, manure and so on. DIRT! I was glad to find it, especially since they were fairly close to our town and they also deliver. Fast forward to last Thursday.

Two quick phone calls and about an hour later, we had all the dirt our little hearts could desire...for now. Let's see, it was 6 yards of "aged manure" to spread over the vegetable garden, 3 yards of topsoil to fill up the new flowerbeds out front, and 2 yards of compost to put on the existing flowerbeds. That's a lot of dirt!

My 5-year-old insisted that dirt wasn't exciting.
He must not have caught the gardening bug yet!
On the other hand, I was very happy to see all that dirt!

You see, I have ordered quite a few shrubs and bulbs, and plan to buy some more in person.
It's helpful in such cases to have the place where you're going to plant things all ready to go when they arrive. Otherwise, you get plants languishing in their pots for a long time, or possibly dying (ask me how I know this) while you're still getting the flowerbed ready.

The driver was nice enough to dump some in the garden, then come back up front to dump the topsoil, then take the manure back to the garden.

I guess it's a good thing we haven't planted grass back there yet.
This wouldn't be happening if we had!
As it was, it was very convenient to have him just back right up to the garden.

So. Now we will get all this lovely dirt/compost/manure put where we want it, till 'er in, and as soon as those plants start coming, I can start putting them right where I want them.
You know you're a gardener if a great big truckload of dirt makes you happy!

September 25, 2017

Containers on the Porch

As we are getting ever closer to the first frost here, when these containers will be done for the year, I guess I had better document what I did this time around!

First, I have to say, these wouldn't have happened at all without the help of my in-laws.
My mother-in-law, especially, knows how much I love flowers.
She set aside time for me to go shopping while we were visiting them back in June (when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant), then later came up and helped get everything planted. She's wonderful!
Overall, I have been pleased with them.

I did it very differently this year than in year's past.
This time around I decided to have foliage be the star of the show, rather than flowers.
Part of that decision is that my porch is shaded, so most of my usual choices wouldn't work.
The other part of it was the hope that they would stay alive longer with less coddling.
It has worked, for the most part!

They're all almost the same.
A big purple-leaved coleus as the centerpiece, with purple fountain grass on the side.
Some have the trailing vine shown above and below (the name escapes me at the moment); one pot has a sweet potato vine.
I filled in the gaps with purple petunias and lobelia, all of which have died by now.

I bought pansies last week to replace the dead flowers, but at this point, I think I will just plant the pansies in the flowerbed instead. Once a true frost hits, the coleus will be history, and I plan to replant the purple fountain grass in the flowerbeds anyway.

I'm going to remember this for next year, though.
I think I may be onto something with the focus on foliage.
Every year it seems the flowers either stop blooming very early on, or die off like these did, so I haven't been very happy with my containers.
These have managed to look good and provide color on my porch for 3 months now, with only intermittent watering.
Plus, the coleus have gotten huge! They make a dramatic statement they're so big.
Mark my words--next year may be a variation on this theme!
Note to my future self: the container on the end actually got quite a bit of sun, as it turned out. 

September 22, 2017

Applesauce, Tomato Sauce, & Carrots

I've gotten a few more things processed these past few weeks.

Started off with applesauce, though not much of it.

We had one box of Honey Crisp apples that were getting soft, so the kids and I got that done.
It yielded 4 quarts of a chunky yellow applesauce.
I usually mix the types of apples in applesauce, but this time I didn't.
It was pretty good on its own--all I did was add 1/2 C. real maple syrup to it--or maybe it was 3/4 C.
Anyway, a bit of maple syrup, and then into the jars. 
It was quite a bit of work for just those 4 jars!
I remembered why we generally do a whole bunch at a time--the work and cleanup aren't all that much different for a few jars vs. 30 or 40.
We'll enjoy them, anyway.
I think I counted 16 left from last year, so that puts us up to 20 jars.
Probably not enough to last us through the year, so I may be doing more later, if I can find some cheap fruit.

This week a generous neighbor brought over a box with a bunch of tomatoes and carrots in it.
So I made more of my Roasted Garden Tomato Sauce.
I ended up with 8 quart-sized freezer bags, each about half full.

We got the carrots processed, as well.
Sliced them up in the food processor (that's the most fun part--it took about 3 minutes to do all of these), blanched them for 2 minutes, cooled them in ice water, then put them in the bags to freeze.

I find it so satisfying to do this type of work.
As my 9-year-old has said--"This is FUN work!" (Love that boy!)

Are you getting anything put away for the winter? 
Do tell!

September 21, 2017

3 Adult Mysteries from August

I just so happened to read 3 mysteries in a row in August. Funny how that goes sometimes. They were all very different in tone. First up was Agatha Christie's cozy mystery, mostly based around characterization, with quite witty dialogue and observations. Next was Mills' book, which was a historical thriller--lots of chasing, bloody confrontations, near misses, twisty plot. Finally was Stone's Fall, much more a literary work, with a mystery at the heart of it, but all sorts of side plots going on at the same time.

So depending on what you like best, maybe you can find something here to read.

4:50 From Paddington (Miss Marple #8), by Agatha Christie

3 stars: A great read for a long afternoon.

Mrs. McGillicuddy, a solid matronly woman, is on the train for home just watching the countryside go by. Then a train passes going the other direction. She is quite startled to see a man strangle a woman to death in one of the compartments as it goes by. She is deeply disturbed by what she saw and immediately reports it, but no-one really believes her.

She watches the news but the murder never makes a headline. No-one is reported missing; no body is reported as having been found. She knows what she saw. She is not one given to hysterics or flights of fancy--morbid or otherwise. She also knows who can get to the bottom of it: her friend Miss Marple.

Miss Marple is indeed fascinated when she hears her friend's story and comes up with a plan. There's a certain estate, owned by a reclusive and grouchy old man, that borders much of the track right about where Mrs. McGillicuddy saw the murder occur. All that remains is to get someone onto that estate, and Miss Marple, in turn, knows just the perfect person: Lucy Eyelesbarrow.

Ms. Eyelesbarrow is a very intelligent woman who long ago decided to put her prodigious talents to use as an interim housekeeper. Seems a bit far-fetched at first glance, but really it makes a sort of sense. She doesn't mind hard work, and often manages the affairs of her temporary employers much better than they can do it themselves. She is booked solid and can pretty much name her price.

Miss Marple manages to convince the much in-demand Ms. Eyelesbarrow to take on this unusual job. She will do all the poking around on the estate and report her findings back to Miss Marple, who is masquerading as an elderly relation that must be visited regularly.

Well, a body is found. All that remains is to figure out who she is, how she got there, and of course, who put her there in the first place.

* * * * *
Miss Marple is such an interesting character. The idea that her knowledge of human behavior allows her to make connections that the police miss--do all people run so true to type? I guess in her world they do, because she is almost immediately able to figure out hidden motives based on her observations of a few minutes here and there.

Realistic or not, it makes for an entertaining read. Ms. Lucy Eyelesbarrow was a great character. So efficient! She can get the meals made, the dishes washed up, cleaning and errands taken care of, and be off poking around in other people's business in no time at all.

I was surprised by the ending, which is always a plus with a mystery novel.

Content: The murder is briefly described, as seen by Mrs. McGillicuddy.

(Finished reading Aug. 16)

Where Dead Men Meet, by Mark Mills

3.5 stars: A whirlwind ride.

"Yet meet we shall, and part, and meet again 
Where dead men meet, on lips of living men."
--Samuel Butler

Luke Hamilton grew up as an orphan, and now works as a junior air intelligence officer in the British Embassy. It's 1937, and tensions are heating up in Europe. One night the nun who raised him is brutally murdered. Luke is on the way to her funeral when someone tries to kill him. It must be a mistake--of course that's what he thinks at first. He's never been involved in anything that would cause a hit to go out on him.

He's about to go back to business as usual, but Borodin, the would-be hit man, sets him straight. Borodin tells him he had better run--NOW and fast. He gives him money and a destination to meet up at in a few weeks' time. Although Luke doesn't know why he should trust Borodin, further circumstances make it clear that the men who want him dead are not going to go away. So he does what Borodin suggests.

Never completely sure who to trust, Luke has to come up with his own plan of survival. It all seems to have something to do with his parentage, which is crazy, because even the nun who first took him in knew nothing about it. Meanwhile, there are wheels set in motion in various underworld circles that put Luke right in the center. Unfortunately, it seems to be the center of a target.

* * * * *
This book covered a lot of ground, from gang wars, to spies and hit men for hire, to Jewish refugees fleeing pre-Nazi Germany. Luke is chased all around Europe, covering ground physically as well, finally ending up in Venice. The motivations of various characters were complex as were their decisions in light of those motivations. Borodin was probably the most fascinating character. It was worth it reading this for his story arc. Strong ending.

I liked it--I wasn't on the edge of my seat to find out what was going to happen, but it kept my interest. The very fact that it was completely plausible was a bit depressing--so much evil goes on in the world.

(Finished reading Aug. 19)

Stone's Fall, by Iaian Pears

2 stars: Tedious towards the end, and the big reveal wasn't worth it.

John Stone is supremely wealthy and powerful in the business world of England and Europe. One night he falls out his window, dying on impact with the road below. His grieving widow hires a young, brash journalist--not to find out the circumstances of her husband's death, though there are several suspicious factors--but to discover a child mentioned in his will that she never knew about. You see, 250,000 pounds have been allocated to this child, so it's pretty important to find out who he or she is.

It immediately becomes clear that the journalist is in way over his head. Who are these people, anyway? Well stick around, because sections 2 and 3 answer that question in plenty of detail.

* * * * *
Written in 3 sections, each preceeding the last in time and from a different character's point of view. In many ways it was like peeling an onion: each successive layer brought added insights into what you already knew from before. After the first 3rd was over, I was quite pleased with the book. I would have given it at least 3 stars--maybe four. Sure, there were some loose ends, but I was satisfied.

Then we started the story again, only earlier on and from the POV of a character closer to Stone and his wife. More things were revealed. More connection between the characters made. Still not very much closer to finding out what really happened that night at the window. Starting to drag a bit, but I kept at it.

Finally, the third time around, we got the story from Stone himself. His disastrous love affair in Venice and all that ensued. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to that point, I was losing interest in the whole thing. I was close to putting it down, but by that point I was already several hundred pages in. There were more connections and revelations, but half the time I couldn't remember who they referred back to and I had no desire to page back through and find them.

All three of the main characters' voices sounded remarkably the same to me, which added to the monotony. Then we FINALLY got to the big ending moment where all was revealed, and my main thoughts were: 1) disbelief--I mean, there are coincidences, but this was a bit too much of a coincidence to be believed, and 2) Ick.

So there you have it. Glad that one's behind me. Moving on...

Content: Violence and murders, somewhat graphic love affair, some language. For adults.

(Finished reading Aug. 28)

* * * * *

Do you enjoy mysteries? Have a favorite author I should try out?

September 20, 2017

The Girls Are Outside!

Hardware cloth installed, food and water moved, pine shavings put down.
Check, check, check.
Or should I say cluck, cluck, cluck?

Welcome to your new home, chickens!

They were pretty tentative at first, and the kids took it up on themselves to "train" them how to get up the ramp into the actual coop. The slat that fell out of the ramp didn't help much.
(We'll have to replace that.)
They seemed to enjoy having more space to practice flying.
Several of them flew the length of the coop.
It seems we'll probably have to clip their wings when they get bigger.

I ended up moving their food to the other side of the ramp.
I had it down at the far end of the run, but they were all huddled up over there, and it was like they forgot the water bucket existed until I came out and used a stick to make some water come out.
Then they all came running!
After I moved the food closer to the water, they were eating and drinking, rather than just one or the other. More like what they were used to, I guess.
Chickens are funny.

Let's talk about the weather for a bit.
See how it looks sunny and calm in this picture?
It wasn't. It was SUPER windy that day.
Poor little chickens probably were wondering what just happened to them!

I didn't want to wait to get them outside, though, because Monday was the supposed to be the warmest day all week.
I really want them to get acclimatized to being outside soon.
After all, it's just going to keep getting colder.
I don't think we're doing them any favors leaving them in here where it's warm.
They're a cold hardy breed, but apparently they grow feathers appropriate to the temperatures they are in. So unless we want 13 hens in our house all winter, they have to get out there and get used to it!
Plus, they were stinky (we were changing out the bedding material every 2-3 days) and they had grown big enough to be crowded in the tin tub.

So, after a warm but windy afternoon, Monday night we had a wild and windy rainstorm!
At least before it started we had already gotten them all safely into the coop and closed the door, and my husband figured out how to rig up the heat lamp for them overnight.
(We'll probably have the lamp on for them at night for another week or so.)
It was just pouring out there, though, and the wind was blowing the rain sideways.

Welcome to living outside, ladies!
I felt a little bad for them, but on the other hand--see above.
It was time to get them out there.
What a first day and night to be outside, though!

September 18, 2017

September Bloom Day

Hello, and welcome to my Utah, USA garden!
I am in zone 5b, tucked away in a beautiful little valley.
After a full summer of hot dry days, we are finally getting some rain this week!

I knew I didn't have much blooming this month.
We just moved here in June, and I am finally getting flowerbeds marked out.
Next September should be a different story entirely!

When I went looking for blooms, other than the blossoms on my pumpkin plants, here's all I found:

Yes. One lonely petunia in a flowerpot on my porch, surrounded by dead plants.
Oh dear. That would just not do at all.
It was time to remedy that situation.
I had been wanting to visit a nursery that's just at the mouth of the canyon, so I packed up my youngest 2 kids (the older 2 were in school) and away we went.

Let me tell you, I did not buy nearly as much as I wanted to!
Just a few things to get me started.

 Pansies to replace the dead flowers in my flowerpots.

Pale yellow coreopsis 'Moonbeam' and deep purple bachelor's buttons.

I will confess, however, that was a week ago and none of them have been planted yet.
Life intervened.
At least they're getting watered with all the rain!
I'm fairly certain I know just what I want in this rose-filled flowerbed, but first I've got to dig up all or most of the roses to put elsewhere, amend the soil, weed, and also buy a few more things.
The last bit will be the most fun! :)
I've got my work cut out for me!

I'm linking up--rather late--to Carol's monthly post over at May Dreams Gardens.
To see more gardens, head on over there!

September 13, 2017

Series Spotlight: Latter-day Spies, by Michele Ashman Bell

My oldest son has read this series several times and I finally made time to read it as well. It was fun discussing each one together, or having him ask me where I was in the book as I was reading it. Shared bookish experiences strengthen not only your bond as parent/child, but also their love of reading.

This series is definitely geared toward the older end of the middle graders. I would put the age range at 8-12. The main characters are 11 years old, but I think even young teens might enjoy them. For more sensitive readers I would hold off until 10 or older. There are some intense scenes in each book. In fact, my son said if he starts reading one of them at night, he has to read all the way to the end, otherwise it gives him nightmares. (He is 9 years old.) So take that into consideration.

As the name of the series implies, the main characters are Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. It doesn't come up very much or in detail. However, in all 3 books, the kids talk about prayer and answers to prayer, which I appreciated. They pray for help in the frightening situations they find themselves in. I thought the religious element was woven in well, without sticking out or giving the feeling that you were being preached at.

Spyhunt (Latter-day Spies #1), by Michele Ashman Bell

4 stars: A thriller for kids.

Seth and Sadie Fletcher, 11 year old twins, live in Frankfurt, Germany with their parents. Their dad is an U.S. Ambassador there. Their favorite game is called Spyhunt. They play it all over town. One team is the spies and the other is the hunters. They pick a landmark and try to reach it without the other team catching them.

Their summer is going swell, though a bit curtailed due to their parents' overprotectiveness, when they find out that the son of one of their friends is coming to live with them for awhile. His name is Fami, and he is blind. His dad was killed by lightning--the same strike that caused Fami's blindness--and his mother has something else going on and needs a safe place for him to stay. The twins are not too excited by this news, but rather grudgingly make room in their plans for Fami.

When he comes, they're surprised by how normal and cool he is. However, several things don't really add up. For one thing, the story his mom told their parents is much different the story she told Fami about why he was going to the Fletchers'. Also, a menacing man with piercing black eyes has started showing up more and more, almost like he's following them.

When things take a turn for the worse, they 3 kids are going to have to rely on each other, and the power of prayer to get them through.

* * * * *
The relationship between the twins was well-done and realistic. They loved each other and had each other's back when the chips are down, but day-to-day they also teased and annoyed each other. Fami and his mystical rat helped keep things lively and gave a refreshingly different perspective on the events going on.

Some heart-pounding moments were mixed well with lighter fare to keep things exciting but not too terrifying.

Content: Some violence, some intense scenes, as noted above.

(Finished reading July 24)

Dragon's Jaw (Latter-day Spies #2), by Michele Ashman Bell

4 stars: Strong sequel brings back our favorite characters and some of the villains too.

After the events of the first book, Fami, Seth, and Sadie are happy to be taking a trip back to the United States to get away from it all for awhile. Their cook is even coming with them, even though she is terrified of airplanes. They are thrilled when they find out that in New York they have an entire floor for just their family--for security purposes. They start playing hide and seek, but after a frightening experience in the hotel elevator, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher decide their hotel is not as safe as they thought.

The kids are sent to Fami's grandfather's cabin in the mountains of Utah. Meanwhile, Fami keeps having dreams about his dad trying to tell him some kind of message before his death. Before long it becomes apparent that their location may have been compromised even there, so they all go into an even more remote place to camp.

Then things really get interesting.

* * * * *
If your kids liked the first, they will probably like this one too. The twins' friendship with Fami continued to develop, and this one had an added element of mystery surrounding a cave and the message from Fami's dream.

Content: Again, some violence, some intense situations.

(Finished reading July 26)

Rescue (Latter-day Spies #3), by Michele Ashman Bell

3 stars: Still good, but I liked the first 2 better.

Now the kids are back in London, at an official spy training school--since they seem to need it. Soon after that is complete, they are sent off to Brazil. Maybe it's the training, but it seems like they're seeing suspicious characters all over the place!

Once they arrive, they find out that tensions are running high between the villagers they're staying with and some land developers. The kids get the feeling that no-one is telling the full story, but they're not sure who to trust. As things come to a head, the kids will have to use all the skills they have learned. Their survival, and the survival of their new friends depends on it!

p.s. Be ready for some surprises!

* * * * *
This one veered away from the "kids getting chased by bad guys" formula that was quite successful in the first two. Helping the villagers prevail against the avaricious land developers was good, but not nearly as exciting to read about as the others.

Content: I would say this one had the fewest intense scenes.

(Finished reading July 27)

* * * * *

If you and or your kids pick these up, I would love to hear your thoughts! They're a bit older, so they might be hard to find. Amazon has them in its used book store, or just $1.99 for Kindle. Ours were courtesy of a garage sale.

September 12, 2017

The Backyard Chicken Bible, by Eric Lofgren

My husband gave me this book for Christmas--I think it was 2 years ago. In any case, it was long before we had the room or the inclination to raise our own chickens. Ever since we moved here, though, I knew chickens would be coming soon. Not only did we have quite a bit more space out back, we are in much more of a farming community here. Plus, we eat a lot of eggs! Not to mention, it would be a good experience for the kids to raise some animals, and we he had heard that chickens were good for beginner farmers (i.e. city slickers) like us.

Well, it has been a good thing I've had this book to fall back on, because we really knew nothing going in. I mean basics, yeah--give them food and water--but details? Not so much.

The Backyard Chicken Bible: The Complete Guide to Raising Chickens, by Eric Lofgren

4 stars: So far so good!

This book had been my go-to information source so far. Lofgren starts by defining terms, then he goes into what you need in order to prepare to keep chickens, from choosing a breed to building a coop, avoiding predators, and so on. Chapter 3 goes into more depth on starting out with chicks (where my bookmark is currently!), life stages of chickens, and taking care of the eggs--including incubating and hatching your own if wanted. The following chapters talk about maintaining the flock, and caring for diseases and ailments.

Lofgren's conversational tone and anecdotes make it all seem well within reach. His overall message seems to be one of reassurance: chickens are resilient; most likely, it will be okay. It's like an experienced neighbor is leaning over the fence and telling you everything he knows. He has a dry sense of humor, as well, that makes it enjoyable to read beyond just gathering information.

* * * * *
As for us, I am happy to report that 2 1/2 weeks in, our chicks are all still alive! The kids are still taking their turns as "chicken helper" willingly. For whatever reason, they have even decided it's fun to change out the wood shavings, so hey, I guess we're doing good on that score!

We are now turning their heat lamp off during the day and back on at night, though they are still in the house at this point. We are looking to get them moved outside in the next week--we just need to get the hardware cloth installed around the bottom edge of the coop to stop digging predators from getting in. They are not the cute little balls of fuzz they were at first, but it has been fun to see their feathers start to grow in on their wings and tails.

I need to get back to my book to figure out at what point you can tell if you really got all hens or if some are roosters. I mean, I'm sure it will become obvious if or when some start to crow, but it might be nice to know before that point. We've already told the kids that any roosters will be eaten. (The book calls it sending them to Freezer Camp. Ha!) They were okay with that.

September 11, 2017

Peaches & Nectarines

Peaches are probably my favorite home-canned fruit.
Applesauce comes pretty close, but most of the time, if I had to choose it would be peaches.
My in-laws live next to a fruit stand that has great prices on seconds (good fruit with some flaws.)
They not only brought up fruit for us, they stuck around to help can it!
This is the easiest canning I have ever done!

The first canning day was peaches and nectarines--about 2/3 box of each.
Peaches are scalded and peeled first, nectarines just put in with skins on.

Here's the crew!
My youngest was such a great helper both days!
Since he's in afternoon kindergarten, he was around for the projects.
They washed peaches, peeled them, cut them up, and filled jars.
I did the sugar syrup, sealing the jars, and the hot-water bath.

17 jars: 9 peaches, 8 nectarines
(One jar of nectarines broke in the canner. I hate it when that happens!)

Day 2: 4 boxes of peaches

Same helpers, this time twice the fruit.
We got 50 jars done! 

Let me just tell you--it is amazing canning with so much help!
This much fruit would have taken me all day by myself.
As it was, we were done by lunch time.
I could hardly believe it!

I am thrilled to have so many jars of peaches in my pantry.
This should see us through until next fall!

September 8, 2017

Adult Nonfiction Update

It seems I have been swinging between two extremes this summer when it comes to reading. Either it's fantasy and fluffy romance, or it's adult nonfiction. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, but I can only take so much before I need a little reality to get me grounded again. I could say the same for the romances I've been reading!

As I recently bought more nonfiction ebooks that looked really good (and were also on sale for $1.99), I had probably better get these reviews done from earlier in the summer!

The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption, by Monty and Sarah Don

4 stars: Inside look at their careers and marriage.

Anyone who has watched BBC's Gardener's World will know Monty Don. He hosts the show, and at least a couple of the segments each time are filmed at his home, in his gardens. He is warm and personable; laid-back, but very knowledgeable. He makes the show, in my opinion. Anyway, after I had been watching for awhile, I managed to get a friend hooked on it as well.  She gave me this book for my birthday (and another of his on gardening--review still to come.) I was so excited!

I basically knew nothing about Monty's personal life before reading this book. Apparently he and his wife used to be super successful jewelry makers--as in, they sold their jewelry in very high-end stores, and to all sorts of celebrities. Then their business, which had such meteoric success, came crashing down around them. Gardening, and writing about gardening, is what pulled them back from the abyss. Eventually that became a career for Monty.

On the show, he often talks about his Jewel Garden. I never knew it had such a history behind it!

I ate it up! If you haven't ever heard of Monty Don, I would recommend watching an episode of Gardener's World prior to reading this book. You'll enjoy it a lot more.

(Finished reading May 27)

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, by Qanta A. Ahmed

3 stars: So interesting.

Qanta describes her time working as a surgeon at a Saudi hospital, recruited there after residency, when her visa to remain in New York City was denied. Though raised Muslim (in England), she finds herself unprepared for the strictures of veiling, and the accepted sexism--even at her hospital, which was considered progressive.

During her time in Saudi Arabia, she finds friends amongst the women, and marvels at how different they are once the veils are removed--in the complete privacy of their homes, surrounded only by other women. Just as often, she finds herself an outsider.

She struggles with how to define herself when her entire being is enveloped in black cloth--by law.

* * * * *
Filled with Ahmed's keen observations of the culture and people around her, this book was fascinating and heart-wrenching. She pointed out early in the book that although she was licensed to do surgery there, she could never be licensed to drive a car. That was something only men were allowed to do. Every law oppressing women came with a severe penalty for breaking that law.

Before going over to Saudi Arabia, Ahmed hadn't been overly worried about it. After all, she was Muslim. Once she arrived, however, she found that she was entering into another realm entirely, with very little in common to what she was brought up with.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was her description of her journey of faith to Mecca, and the rekindling of her connection with Allah.

Other reviewers have brought up the mediocre quality of writing. I don't remember that standing out to me. My interest in the topic must have overcome those objections.

Content: Some descriptions of abuse.

(Finished reading June 17)

Forgiven: The Amish School Shooting, A Mother's Love, and a Story of Remarkable Grace, by Terri Roberts, with Jeanette Windle

4 stars: Brought me to tears more than once.

Terri Roberts is the mother of the Amish school shooter. Not Amish themselves, she and her husband had lived amongst the Amish for many years before the horrifying events of October 2, 2006 unfolded. Their family relationships were close, including with her son, who was the gunman.

Terri talks about her life up to the point of that life-changing day. The challenges she had faced already and how she had overcome them with her faith in God.

She describes the day of the shooting as tsunami, completely and forever changing the lives of all involved. And she describes how even that very first day, one of their Amish neighbors came over and did what he could to comfort them. She and her husband were so devastated; they felt like the least they could do was move away. Their community surrounded them and supported them just as much as it did the victims and their families.

As any mother would, I think, she also describes her son's life; searching for signs she might have missed, anything.

* * * * *
Like most people, I knew the reported version of this tragedy, but none of the back story. I heard about the remarkable way the Amish community forgave this family in a talk by a church leader. So when I saw this ebook for sale, I knew it was one I needed to purchase.

I'm glad I did. It was profoundly moving. It got me thinking about how I'm doing at forgiving others.

(Finished reading July 19)

* * * * *
Have you read any good nonfiction lately? If so, let me know and I'll add it to my list!

September 6, 2017

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

I read these at the beginning of the summer (yes, still behind on my reviews!) If you like heist movies or books, the first one should be right up your alley. This is a dark world, without a lot of goodness or hope. Perhaps that is so the friendship and loyalty between the characters shines more brightly.

Of the two, I liked the first one better.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1), by Leigh Bardugo

3.5 stars: A team of underdogs takes on the impossible. 

Kaz Brekker has a lot of secrets and knows a lot of things. One thing he knows is that money talks. He needs money to pull off his ultimate plan of revenge. Ever since he and his older brother were swindled as country boys and thrust onto the streets of Ketterdam City, he has lived to pay back the crook that did it to them. Not the momentary type of revenge, either. The type that will leave his enemy utterly ruined.

Kaz, now known as Dirtyhands, has come far since those naïve, trusting days. Now he trusts no-one. He basically runs the Crow Club, where he used to crash as a lowly new kid on the totem pole. He is always 3 steps ahead of his foes, prepared for every contingency in every underhanded deal. He is ruthless. Whatever soft spots or weaknesses he may have, he keeps them well hidden. Make no mistake about it, his bad leg and that deadly cane don't factor in as weaknesses.

So when he gets the opportunity to make more money than he has ever seen, he has to take it. Even though the job is basically impossible. He will have to "liberate" an important prisoner from the Ice Court. This political prisoner has created a substance that greatly enhances any magical powers of its users, though the effect is temporary, while also being highly addictive.

He won't be able to do it alone. He chooses his crew from amongst the underworld that he inhabits. Though they all have skills and a few even have magical powers, none would be what you might call influential. More like misfits. But Kaz would trust them with his life--and he's going to have to.

* * * * *
Kaz defines anti-hero. He has gotten to where he is by his intelligence and fearlessness, sure, but also through his callousness and brutality--at times. Through flashbacks and his memories, we get to understand what has made him the way he is, but it was rather difficult to cheer him on. Pity him, but not root for him. (It would probably make him furious to be pitied.)

The interactions of the gang added some lightness to what otherwise was a gritty, rather grim tale. Two of the characters are gay and begin to develop a relationship.

Content: Overall tone of this one is pretty dark, so keep that in mind. Violence, innuendo, gang wars, talk of prostitution, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting. Older teens and adults.

(Finished reading June 10)

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2), by Leigh Bardugo

3 stars: Kaz and Co. are going to get their due, no matter what.

After being cheated out of his reward money, Kaz is ready to set his ultimate plan for revenge into motion. Of course, every plan has unforeseen difficulties. Kaz prides himself on preparing for those difficulties and throwing in a few of his own for the opposition. However, he never could have guessed that Inej, the Wraith, would meet her match.

Now Inej has been kidnapped. Kaz and the gang are going to have to get her out. Revenge and rescue. It will take a master planner with a cold eye toward emotion. Sounds like Kaz is the man for the job, all right. 

This time it's all or nothing. Kaz and his friends are either going to the top or the bottom. Or technically, the top of the bottom, as The Dregs are not what your average person would aspire to.

* * * * *
The characters continued to be developed, including a painfully awkward, stop-and-start attempt at romance between Kaz and Inej. Kaz seemed a little more human in this one, which almost made his choices more disturbing. In fact, it was a bit hard to tell who was the villain. In allowing himself to become consumed by revenge, Kaz had become at least as bad as the man he wanted to bring down this whole time.

I thought the characters were well done. I was interested in the plot and wanted to find out what was going to happen. The magical element was woven in well. Even with all of that, I still liked the first better. The heist added the element of a mental puzzle--here was a seemingly impossible task; how would they achieve it? This one was missing that element and we were left with--well, The Dregs.

Content: Much the same as the first: violence, innuendo, criminal behavior, and so on. As far as I can remember the romances stayed clean (hazards of waiting 3 months to review it!) Again, for older teens and adults.

(Finished reading June 12.)

* * * * *
Have you read either of these? What was your take on them?

September 4, 2017

A New Adventure

Happy Labor Day!

We have officially entered new territory!

Here's a hint:

(No, not a playhouse for the children, as our neighbor suggested.)

Almost finished.

Surely you have guessed it by now!

That's right.
Currently residing in our laundry room.

We picked up 13 Golden Sex-Link chicks from the Tractor Supply store, for 25 cents each.
Neither my husband nor I have ever raised chickens.

We were quite worried the first night, since we didn't see any of them drinking the water.
So my husband caught several of them and tapped their beaks against the metal nipple.
It was a bit hard to tell which ones he had already done, since they all look very much alike at this stage. I guess they figured it out somehow, because they made it through the night!

This was a week ago; kids are still thrilled!
I am happy to report that so far they have all survived.

Their wings have started to grow out now and they are getting a little more feisty when the kids pick them up, but still all kinds of fun.
We have one more week of keeping them indoors.
It hasn't been too bad, to be honest.
The laundry room is on the one end of the house, and bedroom are upstairs, so we haven't heard them chirping all night or anything.
My 3 little helpers have been good about changing out food and water, and wood shavings, too.

They should be grown up enough to start laying eggs by spring.
At least, that's what the books say. What do we know?

So, don't hold out on me!
Give me all your chicken advice!