October 30, 2017

Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Happy Halloween tomorrow, everyone!
I hope you have yummy treats without the tricks this year.

* * * * *
This was a perfect book to read this time of year. A little spooky--but not too bad (for me--not going to hand it to my kids!) If you want a quick, seasonal read, give this one a try!

Doll Bones, by Holly Black
2014 Newberry Honor

3 stars: Imaginative and creepy.

Zach is 12 and still plays make-believe games with Poppy and Alice, even though most people would say he's too old. "Most people" meaning his dad, any kid at middle school, and Poppy's older brothers, to name a few. Their complex made-up world is populated by action figure and doll characters. The doll they've dubbed the Queen is a bone china doll inside Poppy's house, locked in a cabinet. Apparently, the doll is worth a lot of money and must not be removed on pain of death. Not that they've ever really wanted to take her out. She's kind of creepy.

So when Poppy comes to get Zach (with Alice) in the middle of the night on an urgent mission, he's not sure what to think. Poppy has the doll with her and claims that not only is it filled with human ashes, she dreamed about the girl whose ashes they are. The girl wants to be buried properly [or else!] The problem is that the graveyard [she says] she belongs in is in East Lancaster, Ohio. It's attainable--by bus--but of course none of the parental figures would be pleased to let the kids go. An adventure begins.

* * * * *
There's a lot going on in this book. Each of the 3 friends has less than ideal family situations that they're dealing with. Poppy's older siblings are basically the town hooligans and her parents have given up on them and the house. Alice lives with her grandmother who is extra strict. Zach has both parents at home, but his dad has only been back for a few months, after walking out 3 years before. So there's a lot of built-up resentment and challenges there.

Black did a good job making the adventure seem plausible. The town they're trying to get to was close enough to be possible, but far enough to make it difficult. The troubles they ran into also seemed realistic. A couple of their solutions...well, were a bit of a stretch, but still within the realm of possibility.

She also did a good job building up the ghost story side of it. Details here and there--the doll moving from where they put it last, dreams from the dead girl's perspective, various minor characters talking like she's real and right there with them, etc. Yep, this book would have freaked me out had I read it as a kid. On that note, I don't plan to give it to any of my children either. They're a lot like me in that regard.

I can see why it won a Newberry Honor. It was very well written. I have never liked ghost stories very much, so 3 stars was about all I could give it.

As far as scare factor, I would say it was about on par with The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier.

Content: One super creepy doll and all that follows. Middle grade level--not recommended for sensitive or easily scared readers.

(Finished reading Oct. 4.)

* * * * *
Have you read this one? Does this cover give you the shivers? It does me. I'm glad I just borrowed it from the library--this is not one I would want on my home bookshelf!

If you're looking for some not-so-scary books to read this month, I recommend this list from last year: Mini Theme: Halloween-ish Books.

October 27, 2017

Raspberry Patch

I got our raspberry patch started!
It's in the far back corner of the orchard; down by the compost bin, close to the fence.

It doesn't look like much right now, but I'm hoping it will thrive!
(I'm also hoping the deer don't eat the plants!)

If you squint you can see a few leaves poking up here and there.

I put in 2 different types of raspberries, 5 of each kind.

Everbearing; large, very flavorful fruit; it is very vigorous and disease resistant.

Everbearing; large, firm, sweet, dark red berry; superior quality all purpose raspberry.
Harvest June & October.

I'm already looking forward to a harvest in October!
Usually by then I'm done canning the other fruit, so that would be a perfect time for some jam-making. Also, I'm hoping with everbearing raspberries there will be enough to keep my little foragers satisfied and even bring some inside too!

So, apparently there are 2 different methods for pruning everbearing raspberries.

1) You can simply cut all canes down to the ground in the spring.
Easy enough, but then you won't get the July crop.

2) Top off the 1-year old floricanes (green), which will produce your July crop.
Cut all 2-year-old canes (brown) down to the ground.
The new primocanes growing up will produce your fall harvest.
Also easy. Raspberries are nice to color-code themselves that way!

I will probably go with the second method, particularly as I enjoy pruning raspberries.
10 plants does not seem like much right now, but raspberries generally fill in fairly quickly.
We haven't put up any supports yet, but there's still time.

October 26, 2017

Bulbs in the Oval Garden

As I mentioned in my October Bloom Day post, I ordered a lot of bulbs this fall!
Since I was essentially starting from scratch, with 6 new flowerbeds (depending on how you count them), I knew I would need quite a few.

That ended up being 560!
It helped that I pretty much knew right where I wanted most of them, and also that most of the beds were ready for planting already.

I took quite a few pictures as I went, mostly to remind myself where I put things.

Overall, I bought muscari (grape hyacinths), alliums, 'Festival Pink' hyacinths, Dutch irises, tulips, and daffodils. There were others I wanted to get, but you know--only so much time and money!

All the tulips.
For most of the tulips I got 10 of each variety.
The two exceptions to that were 'Bleu Aimable' (20), and 'Sweet 16' (30).

After talking with a friend who lives up the street, now I must invest in some cayenne pepper, in hopes of stopping the deer from eating the tulip bulbs. Or maybe get a dog.
I actually think the first thing I will try is shallowly planting individual cloves of garlic on top of all tulip patches. Deer tend to leave onions/garlic alone. Maybe that would stop them from digging deeper for the tulip bulbs. I can hope.  
In fact, I just saw a deer today around lunchtime, bounding through the now-empty cornfield that borders the back of our yard. It did not enter our yard--this time--but it jumped right over the 5-foot tall fence into the neighbor's backyard like it was nothing. Oh deer.

With those unsettling thoughts, let's start in the Oval Garden.

When I was planting the shrubs and pie cherry tree, I left pockets of space in the middle of the bed for spring bulbs. My plan is to put the summer bloomers more around the edges. That way, the bulb foliage will not be right on the front lines as it dies back. Also, I'm thinking many of these will bloom before the other stuff has leafed out.


I made 2 separate mixes, one for early bloomers and one for May bloomers.
I planted a patch of each type on each end of the bed.
The picture above shows the early blooming mixture I did.

These (above) should bloom in mid-late April.
'Blue Spectacle' (peony-flowering; violet purple) 
'Sunny Prince' (single; lemon yellow)
'Margarita' (double; magenta-purple).

The second mix were my May bloomers:
Tulip 'Big Smile' (single; lemon yellow)
Tulips 'Bleu Aimable' (single; deep lilac)

(Can you see the snow on the ground up in that picture? Motivation to get this done!)

In this section next to the cherry tree, as you can see, I did 3 groups of Allium aflatunense 'Purple Sensation.' They are a violet-purple color and should bloom in May/June.

On top of those, I layered 25 of the Dutch iris 'Rainbox Mix.'
These should bloom about the same time as the alliums and provide a good counterpoint in form and color. They are supposed to be a mix of yellow, blue, purple, and white irises.

Finally, I added in 2 patches of daffodils and muscari.
I put them in on the opposite side of the cherry tree from the alliums.

I have decided with daffodils that I really enjoy variety the most, rather than all one kind.
So I bought 50 of John Scheeper's Gold Medal Mixture, and 100 of their Mini Mix.
Along with the daffodils, I layered in Muscari 'Dark Eyes'--a grape hyacinth that is a darker blue on bottom with a little fluff of sky blue at the top.

The last thing I put in was a peony 'Koningin Wilhelmina.'
It's on the end of the bed closest to the street.
It's supposed to be fuschia, with paler edges on the petals.

As you can tell, I'm still going for a color scheme of dark purple and light yellow in this bed.
It will be interesting to see how all these various shades of purple and yellow look together.
Beautiful, I hope!

I was going to list out all the bulbs and where I planted them in this post, but it's already getting a bit long, so I will break it up by flowerbeds.
You're welcome.

October 25, 2017

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

So, let's talk for a minute about my goal of reading all the Newberry award winners from the past 5 years. It's looking like I'm not going to make it by the end of the year. My original plan was to post each year, complete with reviews, once I had read them. However, it's taking me quite a bit longer to read them then I thought it would. Between the move and our new library's 5-item limit for new patrons, I haven't checked out very many hard copies of library books this year. (Just a couple of weeks ago I was able to get my card switched over to a regular patron card, which comes with a 30-item limit. Finally!) I have not purchased them either, because what if I don't like them?

So. What I'm going to do instead is post the individual reviews as I go. Several of the years I have read most of the books and already posted reviews on Goodreads. Once I get a complete year done, I will do a new post listing all of the books and linking to reviews if need be. I know you are on the edge of your seats for that to come!

* * * * *
So let's talk about this book!

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
2013 Newberry Award

3 stars: Liked it; didn't love it.

Ivan the gorilla lives in a mall right off the freeway, where folks come and see him. There's also an old circus elephant named Stella who does a few tricks, and a few other animals. Bob the dog is a stray, but sleeps on Ivan's stomach most nights.

Ivan is not the fearsome animal his billboard makes him out to be. In fact, he is an artist. His owner, Mack, sells his paintings for $20 in the gift shop ($25 framed). Ivan is resigned to his life, with the short beginning and endless middle, until baby elephant Ruby joins the menagerie. Stella makes Ivan promise to protect Ruby and take care of her, once she is gone, and Ivan agrees.

As time goes on, things go badly for Mack. Numbers are dwindling, and Mack is getting desperate. None of the animals are being treated right, but especially baby Ruby is suffering. Ivan must figure out how to keep his promise and get Ruby out of there. If only the humans could understand his art. One special little girl named Julia may be just the person to make the connection.

* * * * *
I didn't love this as much as most other people. I don't know if I could even tell you why. It has some good messages in it, and the characters are each distinct and well-written. I guess I was having a hard time suspending my disbelief. It's strange, because that's usually not a problem for me. I read books with talking, thinking animals in them quite often, but for some reason, I didn't really get into it this time.

I just found out that it was based on a real gorilla named Ivan who lived in a mall, then eventually got moved to the Atlanta Zoo. (Yes, if you've read it, you probably already knew that.) That makes me like it more.

(Finished reading Aug. 21)

October 24, 2017

Victorio strainer vs. Kitchenaid food mill (+ 8 quarts applesauce)

I almost forgot--I got 8 more quarts of applesauce canned this month, with the help of my in-laws.
This time I used a Victorio strainer, and I really liked it.

In the past I've just used the applesauce/food mill attachments on our KitchenAid Mixer.

3 things stood out to me using the Victorio strainer:

1. It was not as high off the counter. That meant I could scoop apples into it standing on the ground, vs. standing on a stool. My kids still would have had to be on a stool, but they wouldn't have had to reach so high. When you're dealing with hot cooked apples, shorter reaches are better.
I did have to put a casserole pan underneath to catch the applesauce rather than a bowl, since it was so near to the counter, but that worked out okay.

2. The hopper, where you put all the apples to be squished, and the actual strainer part were much bigger on the Victorio strainer. I could put half the saucepan of cooked apples in there at a time.
That was nice and made the job go much quicker.
These 8 quarts worth took maybe 2 1/2 hours all together, including cutting them in quarters, cooking them, squishing, and canning.

3. I didn't mind cranking by hand. 
With the mixer, you turn it on low and it churns away, so I wondered how it would compare having to do it by hand. It wasn't bad at all. Not hard; kind of relaxing, in a way.
I'm a little sad I did it while my kids were at school, actually, because I think they would have really enjoyed it.

* * * * *
They both were about the same to clean out at the end--kind of a pain.

The apple waste coming out the end of the strainer attachment did not look like poop, unlike the Kitchenaid waste. My kids would say that's a negative!

I like that I have a non-electric option for easily making applesauce.
I felt a real connection to my grandmother ancestors cranking away.
Going back to the good old days and the good old ways!

Also, I was intrigued by the other uses mentioned for it: making seedless jams and jellies, making purees and baby food, straining squash and pumpkin for smooth stringless pies, etc...
I want to explore these further!

I'm sure we'll still use the food mill attachment on the KitchenAid for some things, but I'm glad I have the option now of using the Victorio strainer.

* * * * *
Have you used both? Which do you prefer?

October 23, 2017

It Is Well With My Soil...?

I bought this sign about a month ago and put it up in our living room.
A few weeks later, my husband pulled me aside.

What does that say??
(Ha! I was cracking up!)

Can you tell what it says? 

* * * * *
It is ALSO well with my soil.
Just so you know.

Remember this?
Getting better all the time. :)

October 20, 2017

Sandhill Cranes in the Back Fields

Over the summer, we kept hearing a bird call that I had never heard before.
It was loud, especially in the evening.
Then we walked down to very end of the gravel road close by.
Here's what we saw in the field:

This picture is terrible, I know.
My camera does not do well with distances and this was as close as I could get, due to electric fences.

Very large birds, long skinny necks, long skinny legs.
I've been looking them up.
At first I thought they were herons.

Then I found this awesome website, from the Cornell Lab of Orinthology:

They have their calls recorded!
Listening to the herons vs. the cranes, it was immediately obvious that we had the cranes.
The heron's call is more like a croak--not what we had been hearing all summer.
The crane's call is described as a bugle call.
That's more like it!
Check it out!

They have migrated south now, but when they return, now I'll know what they are.

October 19, 2017

3 Read-Alouds

Reading aloud to my children is constantly evolving. Right now, as my oldest two have become avid readers on their own (yay!) I don't read out loud to them as much. Instead, we tend to do more parallel reading, where we both read the same book then talk about it. Or trading-off reading, where I read some of a story out loud, then they take the book and read it on their own for awhile, then I pick up from where they left off to read more out loud, and so on.

My read-aloud time with my 5 year old son is probably the closest to the traditional way. Since the beginning of the school year, we have read several chapter books together and stacks of picture books. What really warms my heart is when one of my older children will pull out a book and read to their younger sibling/s.

Here are some of our read-alouds from the past few months:

The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl
Illustrations by Quentin Blake

3 stars: Satisfying.

The little girl who lives next to the Gregg's simply cannot stand their hunting. They shoot birds all the time, just for the thrill of it. One day she becomes very, very angry and turns her Magic Finger on them. The Greggs turn into birds. Will the lesson in empathy work? Will the Greggs ever become human again?

* * * * *
This was a short read-aloud. My kids enjoyed it. The premise was simple, but well executed. It was quite easy to imagine the whole thing happening. As with all Roald Dahl books, there was a slightly off-kilter sense of humor at work, such as when the Greggs attempted to make a nest.

It was quite gratifying to see how it all worked out in the end. The illustrations by Blake added quite a bit to the appeal of the story.

(Finished reading Aug. 15)

Pollyanna (Great Illustrated Classics version), adapted by Marian Leighton
Original story by Eleanor H. Porter

3 stars: I thought it was just okay, but my daughter liked it.

Polly is a rather severe woman, who takes no nonsense from her servants or anyone else. When her brother dies, she very grudgingly takes in her only niece, named Pollyanna. Even though Aunt Polly does her best to raise the girl with strictness and no affection, Pollyanna's positive attitude in every situation soon has the staff of the house jumping to her every need.

She makes friends everywhere she goes with her "Glad Game," from the invalid neighbor she goes to see regularly, to the grumpy man on the street whom she greets cheerfully every day. You see, her father always taught her that there was something to be glad about in almost every situation--sometimes you just had to look harder for it than others. Living with Aunt Polly would suck the joy right out of life for most people, but dear little Pollyanna even finds gladness there.

Pollyanna will need all of her friends and all of her optimism when tragedy strikes.

* * * * *
Did you ever see this movie? I did, a long time ago. I vaguely remembered it. That was my only experience with this story. I read this one with my 7-year-old daughter. I would read some chapters, then she would take it to her room and read more on her own as she had time. We finished it together.

The 3 star rating is the middle ground between our opinions. Here's what I had a problem with: the characters were all fairly 2-dimensional. They were mean (Aunt Polly), or loyal and sweet (servant girl), or glad (Pollyanna), and that was about it. There may have been other sides to their personalities, but we really didn't see them.

Also, I felt like the Moral of the Story was beating me about the face as I read it. Nearly every interaction between the characters seemed primarily a construct for showing one more example of how a positive attitude could make any situation better. Okay, okay! Enough already!

It did make me wonder how the full length book would be different than this abridged version.

Has anyone read the original? What did you think about it?

(Finished reading Sept. 4)

The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde

5 stars: Witty and satisfying.

Rumpelstiltskin is a rather odd tale, if you stop to think about it. Vande Velde obviously has thought about it. Her conclusions led to this delightful collection of 6 short revisions of the classic tale.

I knew I was in for a treat when I laughed all the way through the prologue. 

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, Feb. 2011).

Sept. 16, 2017 update:

I found a copy of this one at the thrift store and snatched it right up! I was excited to introduce it to my daughter. First I re-read it myself. I still really liked it, though I think I would give it 4 stars rather than 5 were I to review it today.  Then I took it up to my daughter and read her the Prologue. After that, I left it with her to read the rest on her own. The stories themselves weren't all funny, but all were clever and came up with at least somewhat plausible reasons for the events of the story. We had fun discussing it after she was done.

* * * * *

How has reading aloud to your children changed as they have gotten older? (Or has it?)

October 18, 2017

And Then There Were 12

Yesterday morning around 10am, I looked out our back window to see the lid of one of the nesting boxes on the ground next to the coop.
What in the world?
This could not be good. 
Those lids were held closed with carabiners.
The carabiner and the latch were still there, but something had torn the lid right off its hinges.

There was no blood, no feathers.
No chicken wandering the yard or neighbor's fields.
After propping the lid back in place so no chickens jumped out, I started counting.
There should have been 13.
I counted 12.
(I counted 3 times to make sure I hadn't just missed one.)

When my kids got home from school, they helped investigate.
They found a small pile of feathers I had missed.
We still weren't sure what could have done it.

My husband cracked the case:
he noticed bite marks on the lid and signs of digging close to the coop.
(Thank goodness for buried wire mesh all around the coop!)
It had to have been a dog.
There are 2 or 3 that we have seen running around our street in the last week.
They are either strays or get out a lot.
He and my oldest son boarded up a hole in our back fence, closed all the gates to the backyard, and securely screwed the lid back in place. (He reinforced the one on the other side as well.)

We are looking into different coop options.
This one has always been pretty flimsy--it was a build-it-yourself kit, and all the wood pieces are very thin. We may have to just get some plans and build one out of stronger materials.
I'm sure this will not be the last time an animal tries to kill our chickens.
I just hope it's the last successful attempt. 

Last week we had a hawk swoop down right in front of us and try to snatch one.
We were all in the backyard at the time.
It must not have noticed the wire mesh all around the coop and run.
It beat its wings against the mesh a couple of times, then took off when my son started shouting and running toward it.

Sheesh! Leave our chickens alone!

p.s. How do free-range chickens survive?

October 17, 2017

October Bloom Day

Hello and welcome to my late Bloom Day post!

I am in northern Utah, USA, zone 5b.
We have had hard frosts nearly every night for 2 weeks now, though most afternoons are warming back up into the 50's or 60's. 

My blooms are just about done, but I do have a couple pansies still hanging on.
There are many reasons to love pansies.
Cold tolerance is near the top of the list this time of year.

I do have this as well: it's a leaf lily, created by my daughter. :)
Hey, I'll take whatever I can get at this point!

In the meantime, look what arrived last Friday!

A treasure box, full of BULBS!
I'm so excited!
Next spring is going to be so beautiful.

560 bulbs to get in the ground before winter weather comes to stay.
So far I have planted around 150.

Goodbye--I've got to get back outside while the sun is shining!

For other blooms in other gardens, visit May Dreams Garden.
Happy fall, friends!

October 16, 2017

3 Adult Fiction Reviews

Yes, STILL working on reviews from last summer. I'm getting closer to being caught up, though! This round of books includes adult fiction from 3 different genres.

Adult Historical Fiction

Rebekah (Women of Genesis #2), by Orson Scott Card

3 stars: An interesting take on the Bible stories and characters.

Rebekah, an Israelite woman raised by her father, has run the household since her mother's death. She is used to being in charge, making decisions, and settling disputes amongst servants. When a man comes to their camp with an offer of marriage to Isaac, a devout man of God, she decides to take the offer. She has never met him in person, but her faith is very important to her and she feels that this marriage will be an answer to her prayers. After all, it would be very hard to stay faithful if she were to marry an unbeliever.

As she gets to know her husband and his family better, she realizes that her take-charge personality is not as appreciated in her husband's circle as it was in her childhood home. She particularly tends to clash with Isaac's father, the patriarch and prophet Abraham. Then there is the trouble of her infertility. How can Isaac be the son of the promise, if she is unable to bear children?

* * * * *
I appreciated the way Card brought these characters to life, giving them very real family tensions and backstories. It wasn't as I have imagined them to be, which probably accounts for my somewhat cool reaction to the story, but it was still enlightening.

Card built up a conflict between Ishamel and Isaac that felt authentic, with Isaac portrayed as the more studious, spiritual brother, and Ishmael as the more physically strong, outgoing one. In this version of the story, Isaac's less forceful personality led to utter lack of approval from his father throughout his life, which led to deep self-doubt even once he had become the prophet himself.

Anyway, like I said. Interesting.

(Finished reading June 2.)

Adult Fantasy/Jane Austen Retelling

Heartstone, by Elle Katherine White

4.5 stars: Pride and Prejudice with dragons? Count me in!

Aliza Bentaine's little sister was slain by a gryphon. Though their resources are few, the village and her family have pooled together enough money to hire Riders to come hunt the vicious beasts that have made everyone afraid to leave the safety of the Manor. Aliza is relieved and happy that this serious threat will be taken care of. She is not so happy that Alastair Daired, one of the dragonriders, is rude, arrogant, and seems to think he is far too good for their reduced circumstances.

Meanwhile, one of the other dragonriders hits it off with her sister Anjey, Aliza overhears a clandestine meeting between one of the dragonriders and a mysterious stranger, and her mother does her level best to arrange matches for her daughters.

* * * * *
This was so much fun! I enjoy retellings anyway, but haven't found many retellings of Jane Austen that I've enjoyed. Here we had Pride and Prejudice as the backbone of the story, but then there were all these other great additions--dragons, yes, and wyverns and hobgoblins and other fantastical creatures. A bit of magic here and there.

White didn't stick strictly to the plot sequence that Austen used. Some of the storylines differed by necessity to fit into her new world, but there were enough similarities there for touchstones along the way. I knew what had to be coming next, but seeing how she executed it within her own framework was a treat. Plus, I enjoyed getting to know her characters in their own right.

I was excited to find out she has more coming out in the next 2 years. I will definitely read them!

Content: Clean.

(Finished reading July 23.)

Adult Magical Realism

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin, by Stephanie Knipper

3 stars: Slower; character-driven. A good one for book club.

Antoinette is an unusual little girl. At 10, she is nonverbal and autistic. However, that's not what's really different about her. You see, she has a gift of healing. She can hear melodies from things and people, melodies that no-one else can hear. She can hear when something is wrong--the notes clash or don't sound right. Then somehow, she can make it right again, though not without cost to herself.

Her mother Rose is gravely ill and Antoinette can hear the bad music coming from her mother. She is desperate to heal her, but Rose--who has figured out her daughter's abilities and knows how taxing it would be for her--refuses to allow Antoinette to heal her. Rose runs the family's flower farm, with the help of a longtime friend and neighbor, Seth. She knows that she doesn't have very much time left and she's sick with worry about what will become of Antoinette and the farm when she's gone.

Lily is Rose's sister and former best friend. Also, Seth's ex-girlfriend. When Antoinette came along, the relationship between the two sisters broke apart and has never been repaired. Until now. Lily is home again; ready to face up to past mistakes and misunderstandings, and try again. For all of their sakes. Interestingly enough, her neighbor Will has followed her home. He knows she needs support and though she consistently rejects any romantic advances from him, he decides to be there for her anyway.

* * * * *
I had to smile at the setting--a flower farm? Okay. I'll settle in for awhile with this book. The story was told from alternating viewpoints, including Antoinette's. Her chapters were some of the best, actually.

The plot was pretty slow moving, with most of the focus on the characters: their pasts, their ways of dealing with Antoinette, their attempts at rebuilding relationships now, and so on. I appreciated the perspective on raising an autistic child, with which the author has personal experience. In the midst of the difficulties there were moments of great beauty.

Then there was the love triangle that wasn't. Lily never encouraged Will and in fact told him straight out that it wasn't going to happen between them. Yet he stuck around...why? It took awhile, but his motivations were eventually revealed--and it wasn't just to add some much-needed levity to the storyline. Seth was the brooding, "wounded hero" type. He seemed too good to be true, but heaven knows, those sisters needed all the help they could get.

As mentioned, I do think this would be a good one for book club. Now if I can only find a book club to join here...

Content: Clean, from what I can remember.

(Finished reading July 22.)

* * * * *
Read any good adult fiction lately?

October 13, 2017

Mini Theme: The Perils of Greed

Somehow this round of adult nonfiction has almost all had the same undercurrent: greed run amok. What happens when people put money--whether making it or saving it--above everything else? Well, these books give 3 compelling answers to that question.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

3 stars: Absolutely fascinating.

Hamilton was rising in the skiing world, when a serious accident changed his course. He became a professional biker. Eventually he worked his way up to the team fielded by the U.S. Postal Service. The team's manager was obsessed with winning. He pushed them to begin competing (and living/training) in Europe, which they did, devoting their lives to the sport year-round. Hamilton was a teammate to Lance Armstrong and talks quite a bit about the evolution of their friendship and rivalry.

He also describes his personal life to some extent, including his marriage (and later divorce). His tolerance for pain was legendary. In 2003 he came in 4th place in the Tour de France, even though he broke his collarbone in one of the earlier stages.

Hamilton describes how he got started doping and taking drugs. First it was a way to simply keep up. It was just a little red pill to take (testosterone) to help him recover more quickly from the brutal training runs and races. It was administered to him by the team doctor. Then he noticed how certain select team members received white paper bags before races, and that invariably, they were the ones who came in first on the team. He felt he had to prove himself and get into that inner circle.

Once he did and found out just what was in those bags, he had a choice to make. It wasn't merely a choice between taking it or saying "no thanks," and remaining in the middle of the pack. It was essentially a choice between taking the drugs or choosing another career. In this era of professional biking, if you didn't take performance-enhancing drugs or blood dope, you had zero chance of winning.

In fact, Hamilton said for most of them it took roughly 1000 days to cave to the peer pressure and start doping. Essentially, 3 years of grueling workouts for little to no reward on the race course. Though he always felt guilty about it, particularly about the lies and deception required on a constant basis to keep the news out of the media, Hamilton admits that when he hit that 1000-day mark, the choice wasn't hard to make. He had already invested so much in the sport and sacrificed so much, that it seemed like the only option was to do it.

* * * *
Hamilton tells a compelling story. This was an eye-opener for me. It's hard to imagine feeling so much pressure to win that pretty much anything can be justified.

After leaving the U.S. Postal Service team, Hamilton joined another team in Italy. He quotes his trainer as saying:

To win the race, you have to be:
1) Very, very fit
2) Very, very skinny
[3) Dope--Not said right out, but understood.]

In a very telling afterwords, Hamilton notes that the winner of the Tour de France in 2011 would have gotten 40th place back in 2001, when he was riding in it.

Content: Obviously, there's a lot of talk about drugs and descriptions of taking them. I knocked off one star due to the sheer amount of bad language. Be forewarned--it's a lot; mostly in dialogue.

(Finished reading Sept. 7)

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

The title link goes to the separate review I did of this one a month ago. For this context though, let me just point out that every decision made by Ceiba-Geigy to avoid proper disposal of their toxic industrial waste was centered on greed. It would have cost millions of dollars to deal with their waste and they did not want to pay that much. They put making money over the human costs of long-term and terminal illnesses for many of their workers and those in the township. Pretty sad.

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century, by Claire Prentice

3.5 stars: Compelling and readable account of a crooked man and his human exhibit business.

In 1905, Truman Hunt brought a band of Philippine villagers of the Igorrote tribe to New York, to be part of a human exhibit at Coney Island. Hunt had lived among the Igorrote's for some time before coming up with the scheme. Truman had an interpreter named Julio to act as a middleman when needed. Julio was half Igorrote and spoke the language.

The villagers that accompanied him across the ocean were there under contract for one year. They were supposed to be earning $15 per month each, plus tips and any money they made from selling handicrafts. It sounded like a grand adventure for most; a chance to get rich and provide for their families for many years to come for others.

Well, someone got rich, but it certainly wasn't the Philippinos. After arriving on the West Coast, Truman booked them for shows all the way across the country, eventually setting up in Luna Park. The tribespeople were headhunters and ate dog, two facts that were soon blazened across every newspaper headline.

They built a village, of sorts, within the confines of the park. They performed native dances and ate a lot of dog. In fact, they complained to Hunt several times that the steady diet of dog was not good for them--back home it had been just on special occasions. Their main diet was sweet potatoes, rice, and other plants. Hunt ignored them--the dog feasts were good for business. One of many requests from his charges that he ignored.

In fact, millions of people came to see the Igorrotes, making piles of money for Hunt and for the owners of Luna Park. They were the top attraction for several months. Then the owner of the other main park on Coney Island offered Hunt a better deal. Contract notwithstanding, he moved the Igorrotes to their new home in the dead of night and set up shop at the competitor's park. Conditions for the Igorrotes just got worse from there.

* * * * *
Truman Hunt was a piece of work. He started off as a friend to the tribespeople. When he lived in the Philippines with them, he doctored them and treated them well. Then, it seems that he was utterly corrupted by greed. At some point along the way, the Igorrotes stopped being human beings who deserved humane and fair treatment, and became to him simply a commodity. Whatever he needed to do--or get them to do--to bring in more money, he would do it. He staged fake weddings; he made up wild stories about them. In the end, he failed to even provide adequate housing and food for them.

It was all to get publicity and make more money. For himself. Do you think they saw one dime of what he promised to pay them? No. He told anyone that asked that they were such a simple people they couldn't be trusted with their money, and he was "saving it for them" to give to them all in one lump sum at the end. Yeah right.

It was interesting to read the backstory on what was a huge phenomenon back in its time. I didn't know anything about it going into the book, but this really opened my eyes. Now we look on a human exhibit with revulsion, but apparently back then it was completely accepted. Particularly if those being exhibited were considered to be inferior to Western humans in some ways. Hence the headhunting, dog-eating Igorrotes.

This story made me sad and it made me angry. Hunt was so dishonest and greedy. I liked how it asked--who were the true savages in this story? It certainly wasn't the tribespeople, with all their customs.

(Finished reading Sept. 16)

* * * * *
Okay, it's a good thing I've moved on to more uplifting reading since I read these--it was becoming a bit depressing reading on this Mini Theme. Have you read any lately that would fit into this theme?

October 11, 2017

Sycamore Tree

 We've got a new tree out back.
We wanted a shade tree that would be good for climbing someday.

The man at the nursery suggested a sycamore--they grow much faster than say, an oak.
He said with a sycamore, there's a chance our children will be able to climb it, rather than our grandchildren!

Exclamation London Planetree
Plantanus x acerifolia 'Morton Circle'
60' tall x 60' wide
Fall color--Yellow/Brown

It was a big hole to dig!
My husband and oldest son did the digging.
Luckily, the nursery delivered it all the way to the backyard, so we just had to drag it a few feet over to where it needed to go.

As the tree ages, the bark will peel off in spots, making the tree trunk mottled with different shades of brown and gray. It will also give us lots of leaves to rake in the fall--my oldest was excited about that! I'm looking forward to watching it grow.

p.s. Do you love those clouds in the background?
You know I do!

October 9, 2017

3 Reviews: Savvy, Horizon, and Ticker

I've got a handful of reviews to finish up from this summer. It's time to get 'er done! I can hardly believe we're already into October. I have to say, this fall has gone by much faster than last year's, when we were waiting and waiting for the job contracts to get finished. I feel like I have 4 different projects going on at any given time! It's good for me though--keeps me out of trouble.

Middle Grade Magical Realism

Savvy (Savvy #1), by Ingrid Law
2009 Newberry Honor

3 stars: Mibs goes on a journey and learns about herself.

The Beaumont family is unique. You see, they have special abilities--known as "savvy," that tends to manifest itself on or around each child's thirteenth birthday. In fact, they live out in Kansas in the middle of nowhere just to give plenty of room for everyone's savvy to get worked out and under control, far away from the prying eyes of curious neighbors.

It is the day before Mibs' 13th birthday, and she can hardly wait to find out what her savvy is going to be. One of her older brothers has an electrical savvy--when he gets angry or worried all kinds of things start shorting out! Another brings on severe weather that matches his moods. You see why they need a lot of empty prairie between them and everyone else?

However, Mibs will not get the party she was hoping for, nor does her savvy manifest itself right away. Her Poppa has been in an accident and is fighting for his life in a hospital. She'll do anything to get to his side, including hijacking a traveling Bible salesman and his school bus. She's not alone in her desperate deeds--2 of her brothers come along too, as well as the preacher's kids.

Along the way, she'll discover that there's more to most people--perhaps even herself--than it seems on the surface.

* * * * *
I liked this one, but didn't love it. I liked the children and thought they matured in satisfying ways. I wanted more of the Beaumont family and less of the other adults in the story, most of whom I didn't care for at all. The magical realism was well done and added to the story.

I will probably read the sequels if I run across them at the library, but I don't plan to seek them out at this point.

Content: Clean.

(Finished reading July 15.)

Upper Middle Grade/Young Teen Science Fiction

Horizon, by Scott Westerfield

3 stars--I was really getting into it. Then it ended.

Very cool cover, by the way.

A plane goes down over the North Pole, but instead of frigid winter, the survivors--all kids--find themselves inside a jungle. It's like no other jungle they've ever heard of, either. There are vicious animals and carnivorous plants. There's also a strange gadget found in the wreckage that seems to alter gravity...among other things. This tool--or whatever it is--may be the key behind everything that's happening.

As fascinating as it is for them to try to figure out what the heck is going on, they also have to actually survive. Food and water would be a good start. It's going to be tough. All the rules have changed in an instant and there seems to be no chance of rescue.

* * * * *
I really like Westerfield's work, and I was excited to see a new one by him. Then after I read it and was left dangling from the cliff, I found out that it was going to be one of those series where each book is written by a different author. I felt duped.

There were all kinds of great creative plot ideas here that I want to see developed further. Whether or not that will happen in the next book is anyone's guess. Oh yeah, and I also want to find out what happens to the characters.

Could the next book possibly be as good? After reading the author's note about it on Goodreads, I am cautiously optimistic. On the other hand, if I do read it and it is just as good or better, I'll have the same choice to make all over again for Book #3. Ack!

Content: Well, there's a plane crash and the kids see people getting sucked out of the airplane and such. Not to worry, though, no bodies among the wreckage. (One of the many mysteries....)

(Finished reading Aug. 14)

Teen Steampunk

Ticker, by Lisa Mantchev

3 stars: Non-stop action and cool gadgets--what more could you want?

Penny Farthing is on her way to her parent's factory when she receives word that bomb has gone off. Amongst the chaos and destruction she finds when she gets there, she is relieved and thankful to find her brother, Nic, alive. It's the day of Dr. Warwick's trial--the doctor who implanted her clockwork heart, saving her life--and there are many who are very angry about what he did. It turns out the doctor killed quite a few people along the way to perfecting his design for Penny's heart. Thus the trial and the anger.

Penny and Nic rush home, only to find their parents missing and their home in shambles as well. There's a ransom note, of sorts, demanding their parents' Augmentation research or more dire consequences will come. It's not just the two of them battling it all alone, at least. Nic's girlfriend Violet is intent on helping, and the captain of the guard--a guy about their age named Marcus--is helping because it's basically his job. Oh yeah, and another friend named Sebastian comes along for the ride, as well.

They have to get to the bottom of all this, and soon! Time is running out.

* * * * *
For those who like a lot of action, this book will be right up your alley! From the explosion onward, there's almost always something big happening or about to happen, with our characters right in the middle of it. Speaking of characters, I liked them. They were distinct and 3-dimensional. We got some backstory in bits and pieces that helped round them out as things went along without slowing down the story. The steampunk setting primarily relied on gadgets--most of which seemed pretty awesome.

I might have given it four stars, except for the romantic entanglements. We had some serious instant mutual infatuation (wait--love at first sight? My bad--) going on between Penny and Marcus that had me shaking my head. Nic and Violet's relationship was slightly better but still not my favorite.

Might make for a good teen book club discussion, though, with the medical ethics angle thrown in.

Content: Romances stayed clean; somewhat bloody descriptions of surgery.

p.s. Loved the cover!

(Finished reading August 30.)

* * * * *

Phew! It feels good to get these checked off my "To Review" list.
What has been keeping you busy this fall?

October 6, 2017

Orchard Update

Despite a lack of readily available water, our little orchard has grown this summer.

Starting up front, this is our sweet cherry tree.

Not sure which variety it is: it's either a combination of up to 4 varieties, or it's a Rainier.
(One of the cherry trees was dead when we arrived.)
Since this one didn't have a partner to pollinate it, we didn't get any fruit from it this year.
However, the pie cherry tree newly planted up front will cross-pollinate it next year, so I've got hopes for a great harvest!
That is, if the main branches don't break off.
There's a split in the trunk right where the branches start to come off.
I'm not sure what to do about it.

Moving back, we've got 2 apple trees.

As you can see, we finally got this one pulled upright and staked.
I didn't get a picture of the other, for some reason.
It is scrawny and the lower branches were all bitten off by deer a couple months back.
We do have the big apple tree in the side yard, though, which produced a handful of apples this year.
So, enough for cross-pollinating, even if the one dies.
Let's hope they do some growing next year!

The next 2 down are peach trees.

This one by the fence had all the fruit on it this year.
I was surprised to get any fruit, to be honest.
They both responded very well to the regular watering we gave them starting in June and made noticeable growth.
As you can see, this one needed staking as well.

Getting ripe!

The non-fruitful peach tree.
Not sure why this one didn't have any fruit on it this year.
I still need to get this one staked.
You can't tell from this picture, but it is leaning quite badly to one side.

Last row back are the plum trees.
At least, I think they're both plums.

This one is a plum tree for sure, since we harvested some from it!

I have since pruned off all the water sprouts from the base of both trees.
They look much better.

This tree is also in dire need of staking to help it grow upright.
Why are they all so crooked?
It's a mystery.

Here's some of our harvest this year:

This was pretty much all the plums we got--marble-sized, but tasty.
The peaches were plum-sized, but just delectable--sweet and juicy.

More peaches.
(A shiny countertop makes it hard to take good pictures!)

We counted our peaches--the grand total was 62.
Many more than I expected from what I saw growing on the tree!

Maybe next year we'll have enough to can some from our own tree!
These were just enough to eat fresh every so often.

Upcoming orchard projects:

Finish staking the last 2 trees.
Put in plants around the base of the trees--right now I'm thinking herbs--and grass? for pathways between them.
Figure out what to do with the split cherry tree trunk.