January 30, 2018

A Little Gem for January

I ran across this book last fall and thought it would just be perfect for an afternoon read-aloud this winter. I bought it and ended up reading it with my kids right away. I'm glad now that I didn't wait, since this and every other book we own has been packed into boxes since the fire. Anyway...

We loved it! This is the kind of book that makes you want to go out an recreate the story for yourself and your kids. In fact, our garden is kind of sunken, so it would probably be perfect for an ice rink! Too bad this winter has been so warm--it wouldn't stay frozen. [That is the first time in my life I have ever written THAT statement!]

So if you need a warm, nostalgic look at the joys of winter, find this one! Or use it to supplement your Winter Olympics watching. It won't take you long to read, but you'll be glad you did.

Twelve Kinds of Ice, by Ellen Bryan Obed
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock

5 stars: A little gem!

This slim book tells all about how the author's family used to make their vegetable garden into an ice skating rink every winter, complete with hockey, figure skating, and a big show at the end. Before Garden Ice comes, however, you have First Ice, Second Ice, Black Ice, Stream Ice, and others.

* * * * *
I'm not much of a skater, but this one had me dreaming of flooding the garden this winter and strapping on some skates! The black and white illustrations perfectly matched the subject and were scattered liberally throughout the text. A book to savor together.

January 24, 2018

Garden Goals 2018

Lest you think I'm only doing Reading Goals this year, here are my goals for my garden:

1. Successfully grow the vegetables we like to eat.
As you may recall, the vegetable garden last year was a dismal failure.
We got a late start, had water issues, we had birds (we think) that ate up all the seeds we planted, did not stay on top of the weeds...many reasons, one result: harvest was very small.

2. Grow enough produce to make salsa, tomato sauce, pickles (a new canning adventure!), and some vegetables to freeze or can for future use. (This one goes along with #1.)

3. Get my herb garden started.
I'm still thinking of doing this around the base of the fruit trees in the orchard...if they would get enough sun there...

4. Plant grass in the "aisles" of the orchard. Prune/stake trees as needed.

5. Prune lilac bush.

6. Get irrigation system set up for garden and orchard.

7. Start as much as I can from seed, either winter sown or in my greenhouse.

Flower Farm Goals

1. Figure out licensing/zoning/permits.
Get what I need to be legit.

2. Write a business plan. Do my market research and figure out pricing, etc.

3. Decide on a name and register for the web domain.

4. Purchase the basic supplies needed to get started.

5. Grow enough flowers to cut bouquets all summer and fall!

6. Make back my startup costs, plus $2000.

January 22, 2018

Reading Goals for 2018

It has taken me awhile to come up with some good goals this year--not just for reading, but in all areas of my life. I know some people are very much against making resolutions at all, for various reasons. It seems for many to be just one more thing making them feel guilty or feel like a failure. For me, the simple act of writing a resolution or goal down on paper (or screen!) makes it much more likely that I will accomplish that goal.

I give it my level best, but I don't get bent out of shape if I don't make the goal in the time frame allotted. Many of my goals have been completed the following year. If I'm halfway through the year with zero progress on a goal, I figure it's time to re-evaluate: have my priorities changed, or do I not have the information or tools I need, or what's going on? Then I either revise the goal or delete it completely. No harm done. No guilt. Just forward progress, no matter how incremental at times.

So, here we go!

Reading Goals 2018

1. Read memoirs, biographies, and true stories about inspiring women and make a list for the blog, for future reference.
   I'm not setting a number of books here. It's not about the numbers on this one, it's about discovering new heroines and women to look up to--for myself and for my daughters. I enjoy fairy tales and princess stories, but I want to learn about real women that I can talk about and point to. I'm excited for this one!
   I plan to report on my progress quarterly, here on the blog, with a complete list at the end of the year .
   I already have some in mind that I would like to read more about, including Temple Grandin, Abigial Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Marjorie Pay Hinckley. Who would you add to this list?

2.  Read Newberry Award winner and Honor books from the past 5 years.
   You may remember this one is a carryover from last year. I am confident it can be done

3. Read aloud to my kids on Sunday afternoons/evenings.
  As my older two have started reading on their own a lot more, we haven't been reading out loud together nearly as much, and I miss it. Also, much to my dismay, I haven't been reading nearly as much overall with my 5 year old as I did with his older siblings. Time to fix that, too!

4. Read at least one book published in 2018.
  This may seem like a modest goal, but apparently, even one was too many for me last year.

5. Listen to Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, on audiobook, and at least 3 others.
  I have enjoyed the few books on audio that I've done, but haven't gotten in the groove of this one yet. I especially think it would be great for driving to and from grandparents, though, or while I'm doing my sewing projects. Just have to do it.

6. Read 4 classics.
  I'm going for 1 per quarter on most things this time around.

7. Read 1 book of poetry for adults and introduce my kids to more poets.
  Possibly memorize a poem.

8. Find a middle grade graphic novel  (a series would be great, too) for my 8 year old daughter to read.
  This is one of the genres I'm least familiar with. My daughter picked one up the other day that was quite a bit too old for her, but I didn't know what to tell her to find instead. I want to find one that we both enjoy. Wish me luck.

* * * * *
Wow, 8 goals! I'm going crazy over here! This will push me a bit, but all in good ways, I think. What do you want to read this year?

Please, give me all your suggestions!

January 17, 2018

Clearing Out My "To-Read" List

One thing I really like about Goodreads is that it allows me to keep track of all the books I want to read. I see a review on a friends' blog, or hear about a great book that I don't want to miss, and all I have to do is find it on Goodreads, mark it as "to read," then go on my merry way. When I'm next looking for a book, I have this ready-made list waiting expectantly to choose from. It's nice.

However, it can get overwhelming, as the books keep getting added much more quickly than they are taken off. To help myself cope with "potential reading list overwhelm," I make it a point to go through the list every so often, subtracting as I see fit.

One of the most helpful things I have done, though, is declaring my time limit for reading books on that list to be 3 years. I figure, if I haven't gotten to it in 3 years, it's time to move on. To that end, at the the start of a new year, I take a good hard look at any books that have been on my list for 3 years. I look them all up one last time and make a decision--am I going to purchase this, is it at the library to read, or am I just going to say goodbye?

I've only got 8 to decide on this time around, out of 107 total. Hey, I'm feeling pretty good about that, actually.

Here's the rundown for this year:

1. Fire in the Bones: William Tyndale--Martyr, Father of the English Bible, by S. Michael Wilcox

Available at the library? Yes! What do you know? Our library here actually has this one! Woohoo! I will look for it next time I go. Off the list!

2. You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, by Eleanor Roosevelt

I am happy to report that I read this one recently! It came up as a cheap ebook and I snapped it up. Yay! Review coming soon. (And off it goes.)

3. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, by Sy Montgomery

Available at the library? No, though the movie starring Claire Danes is there. Hmm...may have to watch that sometime.
Amazon price: $9.99 (Kindle), $8.40 (paperback)

You know what? I'm just going to buy it. I have really enjoyed other books I've read by Sy Montgomery, and I'm still very interested in learning more about Grandin. 

4. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

I actually own a copy of this one, given to me by my brother a couple of years ago. (Thanks Alan!) It's one that I ought to have read in my sweeping "read my own bookshelf" goal this year, but alas, did not. I still want to, though!

At this point, it will have to wait until we get back into our house, since all of our books are...somewhere in a box right now being de-smoked. It is definitely still on my radar and it's not like I need it on there to remember exact title/author or anything. I own my own copy. Off the list!

5. The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain, as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean

Available at the library? No, darn it!
Amazon price: $11.99 (Kindle), $9.80 (paperback)

Hmmm....this is one I still want to read, but I don't want to own it. At least, I would like to read it first before I decide if I want to own it or not. Reluctantly off the list. On the other hand, it has been 3 years now. I'll survive without it.

6. An Ember in the Ashes (Ember in the Ashes #1), by Sabaa Tahir

Available at the library? Why yes, actually. Our library has the first 2. Book 3 is out, but not book 4 just yet.

This one comes highly reviewed by many of my friends on Goodreads. I am put off, though, that the last book isn't out yet. I'm going to take this one off my list for now. When #4 comes out and the series is complete, I'll revisit whether or not I want to read it.

7. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

Available at the library: No. Why doesn't my library have this one?! It was Best Book of the Year in many prominent publications.
Amazon price: $9.99 (Kindle), $9.35 (paperback)

Okay, I'm going to go ahead and buy this one. Partly because I think my husband will want to read it, too. If I don't want to keep it when I'm done, I'll donate it to my library.

8. The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell

Available at the library: No.
Amazon Price: $6.99 (Kindle), $6.28 (paperback)

To buy or not to buy, that is the question. [After reading several more reviews...] I am going to pass on this one. Most people loved it or hated it. The ones in the middle had some very valid-sounding issues with it that make me not to want to spend my time or money on it right now. If our library does purchase it at some point I will probably pick it up. Until then...

* * * * *
All right, done with that chore for the year! Feels good, I tell you. This little exercise has brought my "to read" list under 100 items for the time in recent memory. That's a victory, right there.

For those of you on Goodreads, how do you keep your "to read" list manageable? Or do you?

January 16, 2018

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Chipping away at my goal from last year, which has now stayed on the list as a goal this year: read all the Newberry winners (including Honor books) from the past 5 years.

I read this one last fall, but never got around to reviewing it until now. Hey, I had 500+ bulbs to get in the ground before winter! :) Priorities and all that. Also, probably too much wasted time on the computer, but we're not going to go into that right now.

If you missed it, by the way, Suzanne from Such Stuff Books and Amy from Sunlit Pages did a Book Blab episode on this very book. So go check it out!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
2017 Newberry Winner

5 stars: Just the right mix of danger, villainy, sweetness, bravery, and hope.

The people of the Protectorate are covered in sadness and resignation, like a thick blanket. Every year, they are required to bring the first baby born that year to the woods and leave it there, as a sacrifice to the witch of the woods. This terrible tradition has taken its toll on everyone who lives there. Every family has a story of someone they have lost and had to leave in the woods.

What they don't know is that the witch of the woods, Xan, is not evil and does not eat children. She doesn't actually know why these people leave one of the precious babies in the woods every year about the same time, but she arranges her tasks so that she is there to pick up the babe soon afterword, lest it fall prey to wild animals.

She then takes the baby with her to a village or town on the other side of the wood, feeding it on starlight along the way. The "Star Children" are much sought after by the people across the vast woods. They are just special and the families who get to raise them consider themselves very lucky. The star children grow up to surrounded by love. 

Then it so happens that Xan accidentally feeds the baby moonlight, instead of starlight. Starlight can you make you special, but moonlight makes you magical. She realizes her mistake right away, and decides she must raise the girl herself, in order to teach her how to control her magic. She names the child Luna. Just like that, a new family is created. Though Luna's birth mother is not so willing to let her baby go either.

* * * * *
This was such a memorable, thought-provoking book. I thoroughly enjoyed how it delved into all sorts of issues, with such a subtle and sure hand that it all wove into the story seamlessly. Some of the many things I thought about while reading it were:
* the way outward appearances can be deceiving.
* the way one or two courageous people can cause real change to happen.
* the way mother's heart is bound to her child, always.
* the way the things you don't say to your loved ones sometimes cause more problems than things you do say to them.
* the way you don't always have as much time in this life as you might wish for, so you had best make the best of the time you have.
* the way puberty is hard for everyone, including magical girls (I thought the parts about Luna's magic starting to break loose, and all the worry, fear, and grouchiness associated with that was just about as a good an explanation of puberty as anything I've read.)
* the way finding a new family member or reuniting with an old one doesn't make your circle smaller, it widens it. Love enlarges your heart and suddenly there's room for everyone.
   (There were more...read it and let's talk about it!)

I also appreciated Barnhill's ability to bring in darkness and evil without it becoming overwhelming. We learn about the tragedy of the babies left in the forest every year, but then we learn about what happens to them. That makes us know more than the sad people in the Protectorate, and it also gives us hope. Hope that the characters don't share--yet--but that we feel they must by the end of the book.

A less dramatic example is in the middle of the book, when Xan and Luna are trying to figure out what to do about both of them getting older and closer to major life changes. It could be heavy and angsty throughout that section, but it wasn't, in large part due to the wise swamp monster Glerk and the irrepressible tiny dragon Fryian. The balance was just right to allow the deeper issues to be explored while not weighing down the plot or the reader.

I thought it deserved the Newberry it won.

I think it might be too intense for my 5 year old, but I want to read it with my older 2 at some point. So that would make it ages 8+.

January 12, 2018

Winter Sowing

Did you know that you can start seeds outside during the winter, using recycled materials? 
Neither did I.

Basically, the idea is that you create mini greenhouses out of milk jugs and/or old deli containers.
You set them outside in January and let Mother Nature do all the work for you: watering, chilling the seeds, and so on. They come up on their own in the spring, and you give them occasional water, as needed. Once you get into May, you can remove the lids.

You wait for them to get a good root system going, then plant them out into your garden already hardened off! That means, already accustomed to swings in temperature, wind, etc.
No lugging them in and out of the greenhouse for longer amounts of time each day, while they get used to the big bad world outside. 
No fussing over them, no grow lights or special equipment needed.

I saw this article on Gingham Gardens, then read the articles linked at the bottom.
What have I got to lose?
It's heartening to me that both of the authors live in Minnesota, actually one zone colder than where I live. I still plan to plant things in my greenhouse too, once it's finished, but I think this is what I have been looking for to give me a jump on the season, without an expensive polytunnel or heating system.

I'm so excited about this! 
Not only is it something pro-active I can be doing right now in the middle of winter, but it's so easy. 
Milk jugs, tape, marker, seeds, soil. That's all you need.

This should also help cut down on plant losses due to deer, rabbits, and birds.
I decided last year that the reason none of my seeds came up, was that they must have all gotten eaten by birds before they ever sprouted (or maybe right after.) We had a flock of pigeons that would roost and peck around in our garden nearly every day there for awhile. That's one of the many reasons I wanted a greenhouse. Planting out mature plants to start with would give them all a fighting chance of survival out there.

It should help with succession sowing, as well.
I can start batches of seeds this month, which should be big and healthy and ready to plant out by May/June, then start more in the greenhouse once we get it finished in early spring, which should then be ready to plant out by mid-summer.

The author of these articles even starts all of her vegetables this way.
Sign me up! 

I will keep you updated on how it all goes--with pictures! 
(Once I get my camera back from being cleaned of smoke.) 

I have ordered some seeds and plan to order a few more.
Hmm...how many milk jugs can I scare up? :)

January 11, 2018

3 Books To Feed Your Flower Obsession

What, you are not obsessed? Give it time, my friend. Give it time.

I was so happy to get 3 (!) books from my Amazon wishlist for Christmas this year, all about flowers. Yes, this has contributed greatly to my flower-filled thoughts lately. On the one hand, it's great to read these types of books in the winter. You have more time to read, presumably, without as much to do in the garden. The colors and beauty are an antidote to winter's gray outlook.  It's a good time to plan what you'll want and need for the upcoming year.

On the other hand, I read these and then wanted flowers to experiment with right away! Cut flowers are expensive in the winter, and tend to not be as good in quality either. (I ended up buying a mixed bouquet from Costco to play around with.) So, there is that to consider as well. Consider yourself warned.

Flower Arranging: The Complete Guide for Beginners, by Judith Blacklock

4 stars: Full of valuable information and gorgeous photography.

This one starts off by giving you a purchasing guide for cut flowers, including what to look for to make sure they are fresh and will last. There's a short guide to conditioning flowers, and also a short chapter talking about tools and supplies, along with a few tips on various floral design techniques. From there we get into the meat of the book.

She starts off with "The Elements of Design." I learned some great basics from this chapter. Floral designers think about flowers according to their form: round, spray, or line (or spike). She says that the round flowers will always be the focus of any arrangement, because the eye is automatically drawn to them. It makes sense, but I hadn't thought about it in that way. So if you're doing a mixed bouquet, you need at least one round flower to provide a focus and center the eye.

Sprays and berries support the (round) stars of the show, and offer softness. She then says line flowers, like delphiniums or gladiolus, are used to bring color and texture from the edges into the center. She goes on to talk about texture and color. In floral design, green is a neutral you can use to link other colors in the arrangement together.

The last 1/3 or so of the book showcases different designs and techniques, from vase designs, to hand-tied, to table flowers, and so on. She starts off with classic designs, then moves into contemporary. This part was fascinating to me. There's a full-page photo of an arrangement on nearly every 2-page spread, with her tips and notes on the facing page. So she'll tell you her method for creating the arrangement, including any special techniques or materials. 
Overall, I felt that I gleaned quite a bit from it. I'm glad I own it, so that I can go back through it once I have flowers on hand, and not only try my hand at some of the various designs, but continue to learn more about techniques and such from her. She does rely heavily on floral foam, which I do not plan to use in my arranging, but I'm confident I can work around that.

I was a bit miffed at one point, where she's talking about making wedding party bouquets. In reference to making a tiara out of flowers she says something along the lines of "better leave that one to the professionals." Then I remembered her subtitle says it is for the "complete beginner." Well okay, I guess. What about those of us who are beginners but plan to become professionals? (Maybe she covers that in her next book!)

The Flower Farmer's Year: How to Grow Cut Flowers for Pleasure and Profit, by Georgie Newberry

5 stars: I already want to re-read this one!

Okay, this one was right up my alley! Newberry farms in the UK, so not everything was applicable, but most things were. She starts off assuming you're looking at an empty plot or field. Where do you start? How do you design your plot for efficiency and practicality?

I was soaking up all the information I could from this beginning chapter, since this is the stage I'm in right now. She says that you don't have to a large variety of flowers to be a professional cut flower farmer. In fact, she maintains that you can get by with as few as 10, as long as you're smart about which ones you choose. She discusses plant propagation, including common greenhouse problems you may run into, planting windbreaks, making compost tea to feed the soil, and many other great basic topics.

The middle part of the book spends a chapter each on several different categories of cut flowers: annuals, biennials, perennials, bulbs & corms, shrubs, herbs, wildflowers, etc. She has a separate chapter each on roses, dahlias, and sweet peas. Within each chapter, she talks about her favorite varieties to grow for cutting, along with tips for growing and conditioning that particular flower.

One thing I really appreciated about her perspective was she always had her eye on the market. So for example, with roses, she points out that you want yours to stand out from the scentless hybrid tea roses usually sold in bouquets. So go all out for the many-petalled, romantic, and fragrant varieties. She makes many comments throughout the book with tips for making your flowers sell in a very competitive market.

The last few chapters go into "Cutting, Conditioning, and Presenting" your flowers, extending the season into winter with "Hedgerow Christmas," "Starting a Cut Flower Business," "Where to Sell, and "Marketing and Social Media." These were all packed with useful information. If you just want to mess about with flowers but cringe at the thought of marketing them, then keep it as a hobby. She's pretty blunt about the challenges of making this work, which I actually appreciated. On this end, I need to hear that.

The biggest takeaway for me was her advice to not over-invest at the beginning. I have been trying to decide how much to put into this, just starting out, knowing I don't have the space or time to make it a full-time venture yet. It was validating to hear a seasoned flower farmer say that it's okay to take it slower. It's probably best to do so, until you're assured of a healthy market and you know enough about what you're doing that you actually have flowers available to sell all season long.

Fully illustrated with photographs throughout, with nearly one photo per page. Very useful.

The Flower Workshop, by Ariella Chezar

5 stars: Useful tips and techniques; gorgeous photos. I want to try all the arrangements!

While Blacklock's book deals more with traditional arranging, Chezar's style more closely echoes what I will probably be doing. I want to know and become proficient at the traditional and classic design principles, so I have that versatility, but I think my style tends more toward Chezar's, which she describes as "painterly." It tends to be looser, with more emphasis on local, seasonal, and even foraged elements.

She suggests having just one or two colors in mind for an arrangement, then adding darker or lighter tones of those basic choices to add movement within your bouquet. Once you have chosen the colors, then you can focus on finding and adding in various textures, sizes, shapes, etc., all within your chosen color scheme.

She has some great tips and techniques, as well. Rather than using floral foam for her arrangements, like Blacklock, she relies more on flower frogs anchored to the bottom of the vessel with floral putty. She suggests always starting biggest to smallest--so starting with a base layer of branches and/or greenery, and working your way up to focal flowers, and finally ending with vines or "floaters"--little sprays of flowers that will float above the main arrangement. Every one of her arrangements includes a vine of some type.

I appreciated her advice on achieving abundant, generous bouquets without breaking the bank. Choose a handful of "dynamite" focal flowers, which tend to be most expensive anyway, then either grow or buy cheaper flowers to fill in around them.

She advises searching thrift stores and flea markets for vessels to use: pitchers, footed compotes, vases, apothecary jars, and so on. Yes, this part will be fun. I may need a shelf or cabinet in our new shed just for my arranging containers!  In the past I have mostly used either glass canning jars, or one of my glass vases. However, I really want to try some arrangements in a low, footed bowl.

One problem with doing arrangements at home is that one of the best/only good places to put them is in the middle of the kitchen table. Well, a tall arrangement in a vase does not work when you're eating dinner. It's in the way of seeing, talking, passing food, etc. So if I can get good at some of these lower arrangements, then they could stay on the table during dinner! Wow, novel idea. Besides, it would give us a good place to use flowers cut by my kiddos, since their stem length often leans toward the short side. :)

From there she goes into talking about various arrangements: tonal arrangements, favorite flowers, branch arrangements, and so on. Nearly every spread contains a full-page photograph of the finished arrangement, with a brief discussion, "recipe," and step-by-step instructions for creating it on the facing page. She likes to use fruiting branches in her arrangements, and even things foraged from the vegetable garden: sweet peas still on the vine, for instance. She also includes "alternate flowers" for each arrangement shown, which expands the possibilities even more.

Her last chapter is "Celebrating with Flowers." She includes projects to make that are a bit different than some of others I've seen, including a marigold curtain and fern chandelier.

Finally, the photographs in this one are simply fantastic. Whether illustrating her flower recipes, or just showing off flowers in various shades, it's worth the price of the book just to see all the pictures.

* * * * *

I am delighted to add these three books to my flower library. I can see myself going back to all 3 of them--to try the arrangements, for more tips and advice, or just to look at all those photos again.

I will admit that reading these racheted my spring fever up a notch. Totally worth it.

Have you read any flower-related books that you would recommend?

January 9, 2018

Mini Theme: A Night at the Ball

I went on a Cinderella kick in December. I guess I needed the escape of glass slippers and fairy tale endings, with all the fire-related stress going on in my life. It fit the bill. Most of these were in the young adult section of the library.

Of the 4, I don't know that there was a particular stand-out. I enjoyed them, but haven't purchased any of them for my home collection. Actually, reading these got me thinking of Cinderella movies I have enjoyed. "Ever After," with Drew Barrymore, is one of my all-time favorites. Speaking of which, I have yet to see the new Disney version! I guess it's not even really new anymore. Do you have a favorite movie on this theme?

I quite enjoy fairy tale retellings, and it seems there are more cropping up every year, so I will no doubt revisit this theme again at some point. In the meantime, here are 4 to try for Cinderella fans.

 Cinderella (Faerie Tale Collection), by Jenni James

3 stars: Friendship becomes romance.

Eleanoria Woodston mostly tries not to think about how her life has changed since her beloved father died. Her stepmother, Lady Dashlund, rules the home with an iron hand, with Ella receiving the brunt of it. She now lives in the attic, instead of her own bedroom, and she does all the chores. Her stepsisters get to wear all the finery and are the recipients of Ella's hard work. Even her beloved horse, Sunshine, was sold to help pay the debts.

Prince Anthony has been roped into paying a formal visit to the Dashlund household, along with his friend Lord Gavenston. On the way there, he spots a woman on the grounds, whom he is certain is Eleanoria--a friend and rival from his childhood, when he used to sneak out of the castle and enter into local horse races. It can't be her, though. She's is dressed as a servant; she, whose father was one of the wealthiest merchants in the kingdom. Prince Anthony decides he must find out what is going on, so he once again dons the old ruse and nickname "John" and leaves Lord Gavenston to make his way on his own with the Dashlund sisters.

* * * * *
This version stayed fairly close to the original. What I liked about it, though, was that Ella and the Prince renewed their friendship long before the ball. The Prince got a lot more backstory, which was nice. He was more than a cardboard cutout. In this one, the King was dying, and he had the weight of that on his shoulders.

That being said, there was a part that tended toward insta-love. It had been 3 days (I think) since Ella and Anthony had renewed their acquaintance, and she started going on about all that she loved about him, naming each facial feature in turn (yes, it was awkward even reading about it.) Then at the end, she said something about how she didn't want him to take it wrong, because she knew they were just friends. Um...what?  Maybe that was just evidence of her own confusion. Anyway, they continued to meet for several more months before really declaring undying devotion to one another.

Content: Clean.

Ella, by Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

3 stars: Ella is resourceful and has purpose behind her obedience.

Ella Blakely works as a servant in her own home, ever since the death of her beloved father Henry. She has chosen to stay, despite the abuse from her stemother Victoria, and stepsisters Cecilia and Mabel, because of a promise to her father on his deathbed--that she would take care of them. She knows that he had no idea how bad things would get, but she still honors the promise and the man. She also stays because Ashfield is her home and has been in the family for generations. She will not leave, and by so doing, leave Ashfield in Victoria's clutches to do with as she chooses.

As it is, they are barely getting by. Ella somehow manages to scrape together food from the eggs and milk their 2 chickens and 1 cow give, but they are in desperate straits. Victoria has already sold off anything of value in the home, but instead of using the money to buy food or pay for upkeep, she invariably uses it to buy dresses for her daughters, or other trappings to make it look to the outside world like everything is still just fine.

When Prince Kenton returns home from years travelling abroad, he makes an electrifying announcement: he is having a ball, and means to choose his bride from amongst the commoners. Ella must get to that ball! Not that she will be the one chosen, but if she is--it would be a way out, while still keeping her promise to provide for her family.

Her friend Will, whom she often meets by the pond in the morning, has been so sweet to her always. He works at the palace, in charge of the stables. Maybe if he could give her a ride, or something...there must be a way for her to go!

* * * * *
I read this one after Ella's Will and it actually made me like Ella better. From Will's perspective, she is just too angelic and sweet to be believed. This one shows that she does feel frustrated and angry at her stepmother and stepsisters, at times, and that she isn't completely perfect.

Content: Clean.

Ella's Will, by Jessilynn Stewart Peaslee

3 stars: Maybe it's not the Prince who deserves the lady's hand.

Will Hawkins grew up in the Blakely home, ever since his own father died. In fact, Henry Blakely taught him more about what it means to be a man and a father than anyone else. His love of horses, and his first horse of his very own, came from working for Mr. Blakely. When Mr. Blakely died, however, Will was let go.

Some years later, as he's passing Ashfield--the Blakely ancestral home--he notices what seems to be a servant girl out in the yard. She is barefoot, though the ground is frozen, and ragged. When he gets closer, he recognizes Ella Blakely--at least, that's who it seems to be--but why the fear the comes over her face when he stops to talk to her, and why in heaven's name is Henry Blakely's daughter in this condition in her own home?

What he discovers is disheartening, to say the least. However, he learns that there is nothing he can do for Ella without causing additional hardship to her. Her stepmother will punish Ella at the slightest sign of help or interference from anyone, including Will. A chance meeting by a pond in the woods later on begins a new ritual of morning visits. He comes to treasure that time spent together.

As they both mature, Will begins to think about and plan for marriage. He's in charge of the Royal Stables, and has managed to save up some money. Then word comes out that the Prince plans to host a ball, to include commoners. What's more, he has stated his intentions of choosing a bride from those attending the ball. As Will thinks about his beloved Ella, he can't ruin her chances of being chosen by the Prince for a life of luxury, so he keeps his proposal (and most of his feelings bottled up) and does his best to support her as she gets ready for the ball. A few kisses may change everything, though.

* * * * *
Of the duo, I actually read this one first, as I mentioned earlier. It was good, though Will has Ella on such a pedestal that it was hard to relate to or like her very much. It was a sweet story about true love--in this case manifesting itself by Will sacrificing his own hopes for the greater good of the one he loved. Some humor in the grounds staff being used as waiters in the castle for the big ball. I was happy with the ending.

Content: clean.

Cinder and Ella, by Melissa Lemon

3 stars: Unexpected depth.

Cinder and Ella are sisters, the middle of 4 girls. Their family used to be close and happy, until one day the Prince came and talked to their father late into the night, about rebellion and how the King was mad. His words had a devastating effect, over time ensnaring their father in a subtle but evil spell. He eventually left the family all together. Their mother copes with the loss and changes by weaving constantly, day and night, and either giving in to or ignoring her daughters completely.

Katrina, the eldest daughter, becomes more and more selfish and tyrannical. Meanwhile, Beatrice, the baby of the family, is given anything she wants to stop her from crying or throwing a fit. Cinder sweetly goes about serving the family and taking care of the other 2, while Ella is more spunky and often gets exasperated with the state of things. The 2 girls are best friends, however, and help each other as much as they can.

Their mother has become confused in her mind, to the point where Ella does not exist anymore. She has become a part of Cinder, so rather than call for either girl by name, they both become "Cinderella." Cinder gets a job at the castle to help support the family, but Ella can't put up with the dysfunction all by herself for long. She soon also leaves to find work--preferably somewhere far, far away from the unhappiness that fills her home.

When Cinder returns home on leave to discover Ella gone, she decides she must find her, no matter what. She talks to a considerate guard at the castle, who forms a search party for the missing girl. Unfortunately, along the way, the Prince is informed of the plans, and he sets in motion sinister plans of his own for the sisters.

* * * * *
This one was quite different than the usual story. The basic elements are still there, but most have been altered dramatically. It was interesting. I didn't love it, but I liked it fine. Then I got to the end and thought--wait a minute! Has this whole thing been an allegory? So then I thought about it a lot more, trying to fit the various characters into different roles in the allegory.

If you read it, I'd like to know what you think.

Content:There's an attempted rape--not graphic--and some fantasy violence.

* * * * *
Can't get enough fairy tale retellings? Try some of these as well:

He Said/She Said: Fairy Tales from the Guys' POV

3 Fairy Tale Retellings

Happy reading!

January 8, 2018

How I Did on My Reading Goals Last Year

Ok, ladies and gents. It is time to 'fess up to how I did on my goals from last year.

Overall, not so badly, particularly considering all that has happened in the past year. (Move, new baby, fire.)

Let's get to it!

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

I was sort of forced into doing this one, what with the move mid-year. At a certain point, I didn't want to keep track of any more library books, so all I had to read were our own books. Then, once we moved, we could only check out 5 books at a time from the new library for 90 days. So yeah, that helped too.

I did awesome on this one!

Here's what I read off my own shelves:

The Medical Detectives, by Berton Reuche
Run For Your Life, by Jean Holbrook Matthews
Dominic, by William Steig
Obsession, by Traci Hunter Abramson
Code Word, by Traci Hunter Abramson
The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill, and Along the Shore, by L.M. Montgomery
Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, by Queen Noor
6 books by Sarah Eden: Longing for Home (Hope Springs #2), Friends and Foes (The Jonquil Brothers, #1), Drops of Gold (Jonquil Brothers #2), As You Are (Jonquil Brothers #3), For Elise, Seeking Persephone (Lancaster Family #1)
The Last Treasure, by Janet Anderson
Nickel Bay Nick, by Dean Pitchford
Thunder From the Sea, by Joan Hiatt Harlow
3 books by Jennifer Chavierini: The Aloha Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts #16), The Sugar Camp Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts #7), The Lost Quilter (Elm Creek Quilts #14)
Wrong Number, by Rachelle J. Christensen
The Hainan Incident, by D.M. Coffman
Wake Me When It's Over, by Robison E. Wells
The Counterfeit, by Robison E. Wells
The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption, by Monty and Sarah Don
The Backyard Chicken Bible, by Eric Lofgren
Latter-day Spies series, by Michele Ashman Bell
My Father's Dragon series, by Ruth Stiles Gannett
The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl
Pollyanna (Great Illustrated Classics version), adapted by Marian Leighton
The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde
Temple Square Gardening, by Christena Gates
As the Ward Turns series, by Joni Hilton

(41 so far! There may be more to add as I finish reviewing books read in 2017.)

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

I made some progress on this one, but not very much. This will stay on the list for 2018!

Here are the Newberry books I did manage to read/review this year:
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Doll Bones, by Holly Black
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos

Plus these two that I read and haven't reviewed yet (I know, I know. Coming soon!):
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
The Inquisitor's Tale, or The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, by Adam Gidwitz

3. Read something new by a favorite author.
I was not as intentional with this one as I wanted to be when I made the goal. I envisioned myself choosing one author and seeking out more obscure titles from their work. That didn't happen. However, I did read some new ones from favorite authors as I came across them. I'm counting it a win!

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary Schmidt
Charlie's Raven, by Jean Craighead George
The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald
The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
4:50 from Paddington (Miss Marple #8), by Agatha Christie

4. Complete a series.
I checked this one off early in the year, by reading Sea Spell, the last book in the Waterfire Saga, by Jennifer Donnelly. Two other series that I completed this year included Finishing School, by Gail Carriger, and As the Ward Turns, by Joni Hilton.

It always feels good to finish a series and get the whole story.

* * * * *
Overall, I'm feeling pretty good about the reading I did this past year. 3 out of 4 goals done! Go me! I did not seek out very many challenging or deep books this year, mostly due to my own stress levels, but perhaps that will be something I can address in my goals for 2018. I am still thinking about what those should be.

How did you do on your reading goals? Have you already decided on a new, shiny set for this year?

January 5, 2018

Filling My Head with Flowers

Happy 2018! 
This past month has been a challenge, with the fire and all that has gone on with that.
I feel such empathy for those in California who have completely lost their homes to wildfires this year. Our fire was small, but it has affected pretty much every aspect of our lives. 
Most recently, our computer completely died.
It was in the dining room, on the floor, so we didn't think it got any smoke damage.
Apparently we were wrong.
So it has been taken away to be cleaned, along with my camera, and all other electronics in the house. We will not get them back for 1-2 weeks.
No, we are not back in our house yet.
Still in our friends' basement.
Most of our stuff is either in boxes or in a pod in the driveway back at the house.
It can be frustrating at times.

I suppose it's a good thing I have some hobbies.
Otherwise I would be going crazy right now.
As it is, I have put a lot of thought lately into my flower farm plans.
(Better than thinking about how it will probably be spring before we are back into our house again.)
I got 3 books for Christmas straight from my Amazon wish list--funny how that happens! 
(To be reviewed soon--I am so far behind on reviews!)
Then a couple seed/plant catalogs came, and my favorite farmer-florist blog (Floret) put up seeds and dahlias for sale, and oh my. 
Flowers on my mind.
Why does it have to be January right now? 

I even went to the grocery store in search of cheap flowers to play with (rearrange), but I just couldn't bring myself to pay $20 for a couple stems of sad-looking roses and lilies.
So, instead I ordered 8 varieties of dahlias, 4 of each, from Floret and Eden Brothers, and some seeds.
I am going to let my daughter help me pick out any other seeds this spring.
 I've started a mental list of what I'll need to get started.
It's quite a lot.

Big stuff:

Greenhouse finished (clear plastic on outside purchased & installed)
drip irrigation system for garden
cold frame

Smaller stuff:

seed starting trays
seed starting medium
warming mats or DIY warming system
assortment of smaller pots for putting seedlings into 
plant markers/pen

5-10 tall buckets (for putting freshly cut flowers into) 
really good flower snips
thorn remover 
flower food in packets
brass pin-style flower frogs
floral putty
more containers/vases (I want to look for these at thrift stores)
chicken wire (to hold flowers in bigger arrangements)
Floral wire
paper or cellophane to wrap finished bouquets in for market
All this makes it seem like I'm going to jump in full force this year, but in reality I am moving forward slowly with my flower farming plans.
In addition to flowers, I am thinking about the business side of things.
I need to write a business plan; something I've never done before, but which I hope will be beneficial for getting these starry-eyed dreams down into practical realities and make them happen.

Here's what else I need to do:
* Come up with a name for my farm
* Figure out licensing/tax ID stuff
* Look into potential marketing opportunities
* get a feel for pricing

This year I am mostly hoping to get my feet wet.
Grow enough flowers to make bouquets and arrangements all summer.
See if I can sell some, probably give most away.
Track costs and materials closely.
Get out there and see how timing works out, both for daily chores and throughout the season.

If I get really brave, I may apply for a booth at one of the the Farmer's Markets close by.
I almost want to have a summer of seeing how it goes with growing first, though.
It would be awful to have booth space and have the timing wrong on the growing end so I have nothing available to cut that week.
 I may even take a flower arranging class or work at a flower shop or something.

Yep. Head in the flower patch lately.

You know what's funny, though?
I took my 5 year old to storytime at the library this week, and I could totally see myself stepping back into that job, too, at some point. Children's librarians have all the fun. :)
I love books and reading, and getting kids excited about books and reading.
Flower farming is a much different skill set and I have a feeling the learning curve will be steep.

So I have some work to do, as far as clarifying my goals and plans.
Maybe librarian in the winter and flowers in the summer? :)

Right now I'm taking it one step at a time.
32 dahlias here, 19 peonies there.
 I am also making list of shrubs and vines I want to plant this year, but that's another post altogether.

What has your attention right now?