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1. A Jumble of Things

Ah Thursday! A happy day that means tomorrow is Friday and the weekend is very close at hand. I have a jumble of things this evening.

RIP Update
I am nearly done with Haggard’s She. I am alternately amused and appalled by it. I have also found the structure of the novel interesting because Danielewski’s House of of Leaves which I am also reading has a similar structure. Maybe structure isn’t the right word, frame or perhaps technique would be better. I find it fascinating that this very Victorian novel and a wacky postmodern novel both use manuscripts from a dead man to tell the story and each uses footnote comments from the inheritor of the manuscript to comment on the the text. It goes even farther than that in House of Leaves. But that I am reading two RIP books from different centuries that both use the same approach is fascinating. I’m not sure what else to say about that yet, perhaps there is a post about it after I finish both books. Oh and House of Leaves, had me feeling the chills in broad daylight.

Andrea Dworkin
I did some looking into various books of hers today and it turns out that someone has probably illegally scanned them and made them available online as PDFs. So if you are interested, download them while you can! The titles I am especially curious about at the moment are Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourse on Sexual Politics, Woman Hating, and Right-Wing Women. I have no idea how long these books will be allowed to stay out in the wild, so if you are interested, get them now.

Experimental Novels
Flavorwire has a list of experimental novels that are worth the effort in honor of the publication in the U.S. of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I am proud to say the U.S. publisher is Minneapolis’s own independent Coffee House Press. Woo! I am very much interested in the novel. Has anyone read it yet?

As to Flavorwire’s list, I take exception to the “worth the effort” bit. Any good book is worth the effort, so what if it is difficult. The list is good in spite of that. I’ve not read any of the books on it though I have read other books by several of the authors listed. Does anyone have a favorite experimental novel (if that even really means anything) that is not on the list you would recommend?

Reading Insecurity
A somewhat amusing article at Slate, Reading Insecurity. What is it? That feeling that you are not getting as much from your reading as you used to. The worry that you aren’t reading as much and when you do read you are distracted. The belief that you spent all day lost in a book as a kid and can no longer achieve that level of reading nirvana. It isn’t a bad article as these things go.

I was just wondering the other day when the fall readathon was going to be because it has ben a couple years since I participated and I am in the mood. Then today in my feed reader, behold! Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is scheduled for Saturday, October 18th. I have signed up and I am already wondering what I will read! Not only that I am wondering what delicious snacks I can get Bookman to make me to fuel my reading! I’m not sure which I am more excited about, the reading binge or the snacks.

Well, that should do it for now. Off to get in a little exercise and a little reading.

Filed under: Books

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2. Books Just Ruin Everything

Books have a way of wrecking a person’s life. Well, okay, not wrecking, that’s far too strong. Ruin maybe. Well, no not ruin either. Let me try again. Books have a tendency to keep a person from being settled in her opinion of things. The opposite could be true too, books could serve to always confirm a person’s opinions and beliefs. I guess it all depends on what sorts of books a person reads. For me, the first one tends to hold sway.

Most recently my opinion of Andrea Dworkin has been ripped to shreds. I am reading a book of essays called Icon edited by Amy Scholder to review for Library Journal and I just finished an essay in it by Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin. I can’t say that I have ever read Dworkin. I have read bits and pieces, passages, quotes, never an entire book of hers. By the time I came along to college and took a women’s literature class, Dworkin had already pretty much been written off by feminists because of her anti-porn and, purported, anti-sex, stance. I wasn’t especially concerned with porn, but when you are twenty, the thought of being anti-sex, even if you weren’t having any, was preposterous. So I wrote off Dworkin too as a kooky feminist who had gone way too far. I was all, feminism yay! But I just didn’t see the reason it had to go to such extremes.

But this Fateman essay is forcing me to re-evaluate my opinion of Dworkin. To be sure she did go way out there, but she had reasons. And now, from the perspective of 20+ years, I can also understand that sometimes one needs to go to extremes in order to get any sort of attention on an issue that people don’t think is a problem or refuse to believe is anything to be concerned with.

And did you know Dworkin wrote novels? A couple of memoirs? And some supposedly excellent literary criticism? I certainly had no idea. And now this (not) stupid essay has made me want to go and dig some of those things up, especially the criticism, to discover for myself just what made her so known and influential before everyone turned on her.

If I hadn’t agreed to review this book for Library Journal, and if there hadn’t been an essay in it about Dworkin then I could still be going on my merry way with not a thought about the woman. But now, blast it all, I am not going to be able to let it go. I will have to investigate further. Darn books, why can’t you just let me be ignorant? I don’t have time for this. Books have to go an ruin everything.

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Andrea Dworkin

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3. How Should a Person Be?

Have you ever watched the television show Girls written by and starring Lena Dunham? If you have and if you like the show, you will like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be. It is like Girls in a book. According to a review in the Sunday New York Times, the reviewer felt the same. He even quotes Dunham saying that Heti is one of her favorite authors. Heti herself said she modeled the book after an MTV reality show called The Hills. Having never seen that program, I can’t remark on any similarity.

What I can remark on is how there seems to be a certain tone and persona that young female novelists have in common. Heti has it, Offil has it in Department of Speculation and Kushner has it in The Flamethrowers. Young, smart woman, fairly self-aware but a bit lost for some reason, looking for something, she is not always sure what. There is a wry sense of humor, the story has something to do with art or artists in some way, there is growth in the protagonist but one is not sure just how much, and the ending is rather open-ended giving you to understand that the story continues but the book does not. Does this count as a trend or just a coincidence? Or is this just the common experience of what it is like to be a young woman in 2014? I’m not certain since I am wandering in the desert known as middle age where I am neither young nor old.

The book is a “novel from life” whatever that means. The narrator and person trying to figure out how a person should be is named Sheila. Most of the characters in the book have the same name and occupation of friends of the real life Sheila. And many of the conversations between Sheila and her best friend, Margaux, are copied from actual conversations they had in real life. In the book Sheila starts recording their conversations in an effort to discover the mystery of what it means to be Margaux and in the process figure out what it means to be Sheila.

In the novel Sheila is writing a play commissioned by a feminist group. She has been working on it for two years and is getting nowhere with it. The problem, with the play and with Sheila, is that she wants both to be a work of art. She believes she has a destiny and she wants her play to be so good it brings some kind of salvation to the masses. But while she wants to be god-like in this respect, she, at the same time, worries that she is not human, worries that somehow she is missing out on what it means to be human. She flip-flops back and forth worried she can’t fulfill her destiny, worried she is just like everyone else, worried that she isn’t like everyone else.

Such worrying could get old fast but somehow it doesn’t. Sheila worries about not being human but that worry itself reveals just how human she is, she just can’t see it. Eventually she figures out a few things.

The novel has no real plot. Things happen but they don’t especially pull the narrative along. The one event that does is a an almost friendship ruining argument she has with Margaux brought on by Sheila buying the same dress Margaux does when they are at an art festival in Miami where some of Margaux’s paintings are being shown. The argument is sparked by the dress, but of course it isn’t really about the dress at all.

There is also an ugly painting contest between Margaux and their friend Sholem. Which of them can paint the ugliest painting? Sholem ends up in a rather depressed place after completing his painting but this not being a tragedy kind of book, his situation is darkly funny and he is eventually brought back to a sunnier frame of mind.

How Should a Person Be? is well written, kind of quirky, sometimes grim, and occasionally uncomfortable. It has an honest quality about it. The pacing is perfect, it never bogs down even with the lack of plot. I’m not entirely sure how Heti manages to make it all work but she does.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Sheila Heti

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4. The Bookbook

Yeah it’s an add for Ikea but what an ad!

What cracked me up most? “Notice something? No lag. Each crystal clear page loads instantaneously no matter how fast you scroll.” The bookmark feature is fantastic as is the color coded system for multiple users. And the share feature! But best of all, the voice activated password protection feature. Amazing!

On a side note, does anyone know what that red fuzzy fruit in the bowl is?

Please forgive the post today. Monday beat me. Actually, Monday was just fine. The public transit system beat me. I promise tomorrow I will have a review of How Should a Person Be. I’m going to go start working on it now.

Filed under: Humor

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5. It Worked Until It Didn’t

A few weeks ago I placed a plastic bag over the head of one of the sunflowers in hopes that I would beat the birds and squirrels to the seeds. I couldn’t just cut off the head because while the flower had been pollinated, the seeds weren’t done forming. The bag was a big success. Yesterday I thought, it’s about time to cut the flower head off. Since I had plans on being out in the garden doing other stuff Sunday I figured there was no harm leaving it until today. The bag, after all, had been doing a great job at protecting it.

Crime scene

Crime scene

Bookman and I managed to sleep late this morning, well late for us anyway, and we got up and had a lazy breakfast of from scratch gingerbread waffles. I pulled open the blinds and looked out into the garden and something wasn’t right. There was a hole in the landscape, what was missing? And then I realized it, the sunflower! The stalk was broken off about knee high and the rest of it was on the ground. I could still see the plastic bag so I thought, naively, that it had deterred the squirrels from the seeds. I put on my wellies and tramped out to find the squirrels had ripped open the bag and eaten every single seed. The remains of their feast was scattered around amidst the peppers and tomatoes where the flower stalk had fallen.

If I had cut off the flower head yesterday I would have been shelling sunflower seeds right now. Note to self, deterrents only deter for so long. If it is ripe, don’t wait or you’ll be sorry.

The weather has taken a decided turn towards autumn. We came very close to actually having frost Saturday morning. I also

New England asters

New England asters

had to scramble at the end of the week to find clothes to wear because suddenly all my summer clothes weren’t warm enough. The change in temperature has definitely put a halt to the warm season vegetables getting on. The corn is done. The zucchini is done. Tomatoes and peppers, the ones currently on the plants will only grow a little bigger and may or may not get fully ripe before we actually do get a frost. Ironically, the eggplant has just now decided it is going to fruit and we have three beautiful purple and white streaked fruits about the size of a gherkin pickle. There isn’t enough growing season left for these to get full size so they have suddenly become gourmet baby eggplants. Didn’t know that was a thing did you? Well it is now. Hopefully they will at least get to be big babies before we have to pick them. We’ll see.

This afternoon Bookman and I were out starting to clean up the veggie beds. We pulled out the pickling cucumbers that hardly produced anything. We pulled out the bush beans too. We weeded and scattered clover seed to grow as a cover crop and act as a green “manure” in the spring when we pull it out to plant vegetables next year.

Apple time!

Apple time!

Fall also means it is apple picking time. Usually Bossy, our green cooking apple tree, produces apples on alternate years. Last year was a bumper crop year so we thought this year we’d be lucky to have any apples at all. But Bossy has quite a few apples. The squirrels have been helping themselves to their share this past week, but in this case there is enough for everyone. Bookman and I picked a bucket and there is probably another bucket or more on the tree. Problem is, they are all at the top of the tree beyond our reach even while standing on a step ladder. And they are big apples too! We aren’t sure how we are going to get up there to pick them, I suppose we have to try using the extension ladder on a day that is not breezy so the branch the ladder is braced against doesn’t move around and tip the ladder and Bookman over.

Last week I was sad at the prospect of it turning cool and gardening season being over. But the cool, dry, and breezy week and weekend is kicking up dust and pollen into the air and has my allergies working overtime. My eyes are dry and scratchy and my sinuses a bit inflamed. It is not bad enough to make me feel bad and keep me from doing things, but it does sap my energy. As the day progresses I start to notice just how worn out I feel. All that to say I am no longer sad gardening season is coming to an end. Mother Nature and my immune system had a chat and now my brain is in agreement. Yes, please, a hard frost would be quite nice. Trouble is, now that I have decided I am ready to be done for the season, there is no chance of frost in the forecast for the rest of the month. Temperatures will be cool and seasonable which means no frost until early to mid October. I guess when the freeze finally does come I will be extra happy and have not a twinge of sadness at the change of season.

Filed under: gardening

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6. A Reason to Live

Did any of you catch the article at the Guardian recently about the Future Library Project? Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, one thousand trees will be planted near Oslo. Every year until 2114 a writer will be asked to contribute a text to the library collection. The writer can do anything they like, a short story, a novel, poetry, and it can be in any language. The work has only to be on the theme of imagination and time.

Time? Why time you ask? Well, these works will not be read or published until 2114 when those 1,000 trees are cut down to print all the contributions to the project. I guess it will be a sort of cumulative literary time capsule. The contributing authors are sworn to secrecy on what they write. Kind of cool. Kind of weird.

Can you guess who the first author is? Margaret Atwood!

I have been planning on living a very long time, I have a huge TBR pile to get through. Now I have to add to it Atwood’s piece, which won’t be published until 2114. If that’s not a reason to keep going I don’t know what is! I will be 146 which makes me feel so young right now! I’m just a baby! I don’t want to rush through those 100 years, but I am looking forward to reading Atwood’s piece in 2114.

On a non-bookish side note, I know a number of you will be really interested in 10Q. I found out about it at Boing Boing today. It is an annual project that takes place over the Jewish High Holidays, a traditional time for personal reflection. You do not have to be Jewish to participate. The project is hoping to inspire people to stop and think, something we don’t do so very much in our busy always connected lives. So, over the course of 10 days, you get a “big question” in your email inbox every day. You are to answer the question. The project saves it and the following year, you get the question and your previous year’s answer emailed to you at which point you answer the question again. Your answers are private unless you choose to share them. Some people have. I have signed up and I am looking forward to it!

Filed under: Books Tagged: 10Q, Future Library Project

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7. The Troll Garden

For some reason I don’t read short stories very often. I’m not sure why, I have nothing against them. I think of essays as the nonfiction equivalent of short stories and I love reading essays. So I am always baffled why I don’t feel the same about stories. Until I read Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden and Selected Stories, I had not read a story collection in well over a year. First published in 1905, this is Cather’s second book and her first of fiction. Her first book was poetry published in 1903.

The first story, “On the Divide” made me really worried I was going to hate the book. Sure, it had great descriptions of the landscape but the story itself is pretty caveman: the hard drinking Canute Canuteson decides he is tired of Lena Yensen’s flirtatious ways so he is going to marry her. It doesn’t matter that Lena doesn’t want him. Canute shows up at her family’s farm in the middle of a snow storm and drags her away to his house. Then he goes to the minister’s and forces him out into the blizzard to marry him and Lena. And somehow, in the end, Lena is pleased with the outcome even though she won’t admit to it.

Ugh! This made me want to barf.

But the story that followed this unfortunate beginning ended up being one of my favorites. Eric Hermannson was a free spirit, young and strong and gifted on the fiddle/violin. But his mother and others in town had been drawn in by the Free Gospellers and their leader, Asa Skinner. The preacher’s beliefs are strait-laced and buttoned up, no music, no dancing, no mirth; God was vengeful and the only way to being saved was strict obedience to His will. Skinner has his eye on Eric. Converting him would be a triumph. Somehow he manages it. But as soon as Eric gives up his violin he gives up his soul and his spirit dies. He trudges on through his now unhappy life until he is reawakened by a young woman staying with relatives on her way through to somewhere else.

Margaret Elliot is on her last fling as a free woman. When she returns to the city in the east, she will be married to a man she doesn’t exactly love and she is determined to break through the walls Eric has built around himself. There is going to be a big dance and she taunts Eric into making an appearance. And you know from the start Eric is doomed:

Something seemed struggling for freedom in them tonight, something of the joyous childhood of the nations which exile had not killed. The girls were all boisterous with delight. Pleasure came to them but rarely, and when it came, they caught at it wildly and crushed its fluttering wings in their strong brown fingers. They had a hard life enough, most of them. Torrid summers and freezing winters, labour and drudgery and ignorance, were the portion of their girlhood; a short wooing, a hasty, loveless marriage, unlimited maternity, thankless sons, premature age and ugliness, were the dower of their womanhood. But what matter? Tonight there was hot liquor in the glass and hot blood in the heart; tonight they danced.

But of course the reader does not see Eric as doomed. We see him as being saved even though the preacher is quick to promise him sulfur and brimstone.

And it turns out the first story is an anomaly, the one that is not like the others. “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” sets the stage for all that follows. Story after story of a hard life on the plains being saved by music. Some of the characters are allowed to escape to the city — Denver Chicago or New York — and one is allowed to escape to Europe and the opera. But not all the stories are about artists or musicians and while some of them are happy, a good many are tinged with sorrow and a few are downright tragic.

The stories weren’t amazing, not like reading Song of the Lark or My Antonia, but they are good, competent stories with moments of beauty in which is glimpsed the writer that Cather becomes. And since I like Cather very much, it was a pleasure to discover her young voice and the seeds of the themes and motifs that play out in her later fiction.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, Willa Cather

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8. September Reading Plans

Here we are well into September already and I haven’t even stopped to take a breath and think about reading plans. It seems like I have just been grabbing whatever I feel like or whatever is due next at the library. It’s not a bad thing but it tends to distract me from books that are not of the moment that I really do want to read like Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. It has been on my shelf for — we won’t say how long — and back in July I got all excited about it and was finally, finally, going to read it. It is still sitting on my reading table and has several library books piled on top of it. Maybe I should request a copy from the library and then I might actually read it! Now that is an idea with possibilities.

Only trouble is, I can borrow from the public library and the academic library at the university where I work. The public library comes with the standard 3-week checkout and three renewals as long as no one else wants the book for a potential borrowing time of twelve weeks. Because I am a staff person at the university, I can borrow a book for as long as four months with a renewal taking it to eight months. Such a long time tends to let me set these books aside. This means I am still meandering my way through the poems of But What by Judith Herzberg, the fascinating world of moss in Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and I’ve had Medea all summer and still not even picked it up. Clearly I am highly motivated by deadlines when it comes to reading, or rather, library due dates.

I did finish Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? and Willa Cather’s short story collection The Troll Garden. I have not written about these two books yet, posts on them coming soon.

For September, it looks like two books will be arriving for me at the public library, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall and Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks, a book I requested on a whim after Ian mentioned how good it was in a comment about The Miracle of Mindfulness.

In the mail for reviewing for Library JournalI have on its way to me a book of essays called Icon which has a variety of writers considering various public figures from Linda Lovelace and Aretha Franklin to bell hooks and Andrea Dworkin. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Also on its way to me for review from the publisher is Hilary Mantel’s book of short stories The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. How could I refuse that offer?

Then, of course, I am in the midst of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd and She by H. Rider Haggard. I began reading Danielewski’s House of Leaves for the RIP Challenge yesterday.

And if that is not enough, I also have from the university library, so you know this one will be lingering for a while, The Selected Letters of John Keats. I can’t say why I all of a sudden wanted to read Keats’s letters but I did and do. I’ve not made it all the way through the long introduction yet, but it is serving to make me even more excited about the letters.

Gosh, all those books. And they are only the ones I currently know about. Who knows what might manage to slip in at the last second?

And now, I’d like to ask for a moment of silence for my dead Kindle. Yes, Kindle is truly gone. It is a hardware problem that cannot be fixed and I am so far out of warranty that I am out of luck. I am not yet out of luck when it comes to ereaders though. Earlier this year Bookman’s Kindle 1 appeared to die. It wasn’t charging and was acting all kinds of strange so he got himself a new basic Kindle, small, and light without a keyboard. After Bookman’s new Kindle arrived the old one revived and still works. So I am reading on the Kindle 1 now. I am not sure how long for this world it will actually be because while the battery does charge, it lasts barely a week before it needs to be recharged. And this is with the wifi turned off. While my Kindle 2 is dead, my decision about whether to buy a new ereader has been postponed until Bookman’s Kindle 1 ceases to limp along which could be tomorrow or next year; it’s hard to know for sure with these things.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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9. Winding Down

Monarch visitor

Monarch visitor

It was a quiet week in the garden. Actually there was a lot going on but I saw it mostly from the window. We had rain and heat and tropical humidity and then a cold front from Canada that gave us a couple dry, gorgeous early autumn days. If the forecast for the week pans out we will be warm to start and then after some rain and a cold front by Friday I’ll be looking at a high of 58F (14.4C) and a low of 38F (3C). There are even rumors of the possibility of frost in the outlying burbs.

Yesterday I was out enjoying the garden. It was a beautiful, sunny, Goldilocks kind of day and I was in and out hanging wet laundry on the line and bringing in the dry clothes. I love drying clothes and sheets and towels outdoors during the summer. My next door neighbor likes it too. He tells me he always knows that Saturday is going to be a nice day because I’m hanging laundry out. As someone who suffers from seasonal allergies, all the experts tell me never hang laundry outside to

Out to dry

Out to dry

dry. Supposedly it catches pollen which you then rub your face on with your towels and sleep in with your sheets, and wear on your back with your clothes. But really, in all the years I have been hanging out my laundry, I can’t say I have noticed that it makes me feel worse. I’m already taking allergy medication that works really well to keep the symptoms at bay except on the highest pollen count days so perhaps that is why I don’t notice a problem? Maybe if I didn’t take medicine from thaw to frost I would notice my laundry causing me trouble? Can’t say. Until I notice my sun-dried laundry making me feel worse, I will continue to hang it outside. And even if the day comes where I start to notice it troubles me I might just ignore it because I really like saving money on my utility bills!

Today Bookman and I would have normally been out in the garden enjoying the cool, early morning, but we were busy biking in the St. Paul Bicycle Classic. Thirty miles of bike riding fun through the closed streets of St Paul. All my hard bike workouts have been paying off as I passed quite a few people going up hill who were wearing fancy racing jerseys and riding nice road bikes while I’m riding a commuter bike with a rack and basket on the back end. These rides are dangerous though because I start to think how much faster I could be if I had one of those nice road bikes. One of the pleasures of biking though, even while huffing and puffing up a hill, is being slow enough to see the front yard gardens of other people around town. There were some really nice ones too. One shade garden was especially lovely and looked so serene it made me want to stop and rest in it.

Back in my garden it feels like things are starting to wind down even though I am a month away from the average first frost date (October 7). The heirloom garlic I ordered in July arrived a few days ago. I got a pound of Moroccan Creole. It is supposed to be a little warm. I am not someone who likes really hot and spicy foods, a medium curry is my limit and hot peppers, forget it. But I like hot garlic. This won’t be hot, but warm is good. I have to keep it cool and dry until I can plant it, after first frost when there will still be some nice days for the cloves to grow some roots but hopefully not nice enough for them to start sprouting.

Monarch in the morning sun

Monarch in the morning sun

A couple weeks ago I planted some radishes and turnips to have as end of season things that don’t mind cooler weather. I have never done this before and it is clear I have some things to learn. Everything began sprouting beautifully but the radish sprouts have been decimated and the turnips are quickly disappearing too. In spring I don’t have to contend with slugs and grasshoppers but at the end of the season they are everywhere. I must figure out a ways to deal with them so next year my late season sprouts don’t get eaten. I still might get lucky and get a few turnips but the radishes, there was only one sprout left yesterday and I expect it will no longer be there when next I check. Sigh.

Friday morning while waiting for the bus in the cool dawn I discovered the likely visitors to Amy Pond I had all summer. I looked down the street and not three car lengths away were four raccoons casually ambling across the road. It was a mother, fairly large around 30 pounds (13.6 kg) I’d say, and three adolescents following behind her. One of them looked up at me, waved, and said, “thanks for all the sushi!” I was not amused. We never were able to get the solar pump working again after their visit so we never got our TARDIS “fountain” going. I think there is still one fish left in the pond but the floating plants that did survive the visits have multiplied so much that they cover the surface so I can’t look in to see if there is a fish. I haven’t seen any mosquito larva so I am assuming there is at least one fish taking care of them. I won’t know for sure until we are ready to drain the pond for the winter.

We’ve still got corn in the garden. We had our first ears last weekend. We bought an heirloom variety, the name of which I don’t remember and I am too lazy to go and look it up at the moment. It is sweet corn but it is not the juicy high water content, sugary sweet stuff you get at the grocery store that doesn’t taste like much but sugar. No, this corn is a bit chewy, not especially juicy, mildly sweet and actually tastes like corn. Bookman isn’t thrilled with it but I like it quite a bit. Sure it could be juicier, but I like the flavor. Bookman is advocating for a different variety next year. I definitely want to stick with an heirloom so we’ll see what our choices end up being. In the mean time, we’ll be enjoying corn on the cob and black bean veggie burgers for dinner tonight.

Filed under: gardening

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10. Curse You Kindle!

I hate you - I love you

I hate you – I love you

Once again my Kindle has turned on me! It has been behaving so well since I zapped it back to its original factory settings earlier this year. And now that I have been lulled into believing its rebellious days are behind us, it has gone rogue again. This time it has decided to blank out half the screen so that only text appearing on the bottom half of the screen is visible. I usually only read one book at a time on it but this week I began reading a second. I had both Far from the Madding Crowd and She going at the same time. I didn’t think that was too much to ask from Kindle. But maybe Kindle got stressed out and was feeling overworked? Whatever the case, it refuses to negotiate. Googling Kindle’s current half-screen strategy does not provide any hope that Kindle and I might be able to reconcile. I will attempt over the upcoming weekend to, once again, return it to its original settings. If that does not solve the problem then I am out of luck, Kindle will be dead to me.

Thing is, I don’t want it to be dead. We have had a relationship for five years and I am not prepared to move on. I don’t want to give up on Kindle, don’t want to replace it with another. If Kindle really does turn out to be done for, I am considering giving up on ereaders entirely. Kindles have gotten pretty inexpensive but if I am going to have to buy a new one every five years or so then I want no part of it. I would rather spend the same money on books that will never have a technological failure. Plus Kindle’s periodic fits make me all kinds of grumpy and woe to anyone who gets in my way. Bookman can attest to how pissed off I was when I left the house to catch my bus to the train station Wednesday morning. I’m afraid I blamed him for everything because he had just added a book I had mentioned I might like to read to Kindle. Poor Bookman!

I would get rid of Kindle in a heartbeat if, in spite of everything, I didn’t get something out of the relationship. Trouble is, I like Kindle because I can make the font just a little bigger so I can read on the metro train without having to fiddle with wearing my reading glasses. I can no longer read book print comfortably without glasses unless I hold the book at arm’s length and that just won’t do on the train. Plus Kindle is slim and light and fits easily in my bag without adding a lot of weight.

I feel caught in a dilemma. If Kindle refuses to come back to me, I don’t know what I will do. I grow weary of love-hate relationships and want peace and harmony. Kindle seems to feel differently. I guess I will have to wait and see if we can work out our problems over the weekend. If not, then I will decide what to do. Stupid Kindle.

Filed under: ebooks, Kindle

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11. The Miracle of Mindfulness

A month or so ago when I came upon a book at the public library called Mindfulness in the Garden: Zen Tools for Digging in the Dirt I thought it would be something I’d like very much. And it is. But, the book turned out to be nothing except meditations to do in the garden. They are lovely, for instance:

Looking deeply at the tree,
I feel its presence.
In its stillness,
I find my true being.


Dear garden,
you mirror my heart.
With each beat,
a flower blooms.

Each meditation has a short explanation following, telling how you are supposed to do the meditation, when you are supposed to breathe and whether it should be an inhale or an exhale, that kind of thing. And reading this I realized I knew pretty much nothing about zen meditation. Sure I’ve meditated before but nothing so directed or specific. So, as things happen, one book took me to another and I borrowed The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh from the library.

Oh what a lovely book this is. Thich Nhat Hanh is Vietnamese and now lives in France. He is a Zen master and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. He is not the sort of spiritual leader who advocates withdrawal from the world to seek enlightenment by sitting under a bodhi tree like the Buddha. He is a peace activist and believes in being engaged in the world. And it turns out the thing about meditation is, it can be practiced any time, and any where for an hour or more or for five minutes. It can be done while in the garden or washing dishes or waiting for the bus or waiting in line at the grocery store.

Of course, Nhat Hanh advocates a practice of regular, long, quiet sessions the short ones worked in throughout the day. The Miracle of Mindfulness was originally written as letters to Brother Quang at the School of Youth for Social Service in South Vietnam in 1974. The style is friendly and matter of fact, easy to read, hard to put into practice. The essence of Zen meditation is breathing. The amazing thing is something as simple as paying attention to your breathing is really hard to do! The mind wanders and before you know it you are writing your grocery list in your head or thinking about what book you are going to read when you are done meditating.

The subtitle says manual and it really is, explaining how to breathe, how to sit, how long one should sit, how often, what to do when you realize your mind has wandered away, and why anyone might want to try meditating to begin with. There are also a number of guided meditations for walking, washing the dishes, even cleaning the bathroom. And of course there are meditations for relaxation.

It is a short book that will take a couple hours to read and a lifetime to master should you choose to pursue that goal. It helped me make sense of the meditations in the garden book. And while I haven’t been diligent at practicing meditation every day, the time I have given to it has felt good. It really does help one pay attention, be more mindful. And in these days of multitasking, being always connected and perpetually in a hurry, it is amazing how paying attention to your breath for five minutes brings focus and clarity and relieves stress. It’s the best kind of self-help.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Thich Nhat Hanh, zen

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12. RIP Challenge 2014

Turning the calendar page to September can only mean one thing when it comes to reading: time for the RIP Challenge! It’s been nine years —nine! — that Carl has been hosting what has surely become a highly anticipated fall event. I know I always look forward to it and actually started thinking about what I would read a few months ago, plenty of time to write and rewrite and rewrite again the list of books. And now here we are and I need to figure out what, exactly, I am going to read. Of course I can always change my mind. For some reason I don’t feel like I have much time to read many books for RIP, not sure why I’m feeling that way, maybe the big pile of books on my reading table has something to do with it. But I will still manage to get in a few, so here’s what I’m thinking of:

  • House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. I’ve been meaning to read this one for years and I think it is finally time I got to it. It is a sort of haunted house story in which the house, much like the TARDIS, is bigger on the inside. Only I don’t think the Doctor will be showing up to sort things out and save the day.
  • She by H. Rider Haggard. A little adventure, a chance at immortality, and a whole lot of Victorian prejudice, what more could a girl want? I actually started reading this at lunch today on my Kindle. Such proper gentlemen about to be terrified by a strong woman and Africa. Horrors!
  • What’s a RIP Challenge without some old fashioned gothic romance? The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve. Published in 1777, Reeve described it as “the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto.” It is filled with revelations, horrors, betrayals, and a final battle between good and evil. I presume there might also be a beautiful maiden in there somewhere too.
  • If I survive The Old English Baron and find myself prepared to face more terror, I just might give Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb a go. Lamb was Lord Byron’s mistress, one of them anyway, and the title character is reportedly a very unflattering depiction of him. It was Lamb’s first novel and a big success. Ah, revenge is sweet.

If the “classics” get to be too much I might substitute something more recent, but that will be a last minute decision. Stay tuned!

Filed under: Books, Challenges, Gothic/Horror/Thriller Tagged: R.I.P.

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13. Fall is in the Air

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Though the temperatures are still warm during the day, there is a touch of fall in the air. I can feel it in the early morning and smell it on the breeze. Not to mention there is a maple on my bus route to the metro train that is already starting to change color and the Canadian geese are beginning to make stop overs on the lakes as they make their way south for the winter. Even though autumn is my favorite season I always have mixed feelings about its impending arrival: boo, gardening season is coming to an end and yay gardening season is coming to an end. Also, yay cool weather, frost, no more allergies. And boo cool weather, snow and ice. If I am lucky, there will still be another month plus a week or two of gardening left before a killing frost makes a visit. Time for the pumpkins to turn orange and the turnips to grow. I am also expecting a shipment of garlic in the mail to plant before the ground freezes.

This morning Bookman and I were out in the garden early before the heat and humidity drove us indoors. It was humid but cool and there was a lovely breeze from the north. It smelled so good out in the garden. We were able to make a concerted attack on the weeds and it felt really good. I missed out on finding the netting for the blackberries before the critters got to them, but as I was saving it from the weeds and the comfrey plant that had gotten really huge and fallen over on it, I discovered it is sending out shoots and rooting new canes. Huzzah!

I also discovered that, once again, the squirrels ate all the hazelnuts off the tree. The tree has been producing nuts for

Sunflower in the bag

Sunflower in the bag

years and I have never had one. Maybe I need to put socks on each of the nuts? It’s working for the corn. I should have been paying more attention to Walter the crab apple. He had about two dozen bright red crab apples on him. I haven’t been diligent in checking when they would be ripe, figuring it would be about the same time as my other apple trees, about mid-September. Well, I was wrong. I went to work Thursday morning and Walter was covered in apples. I came home from work Thursday afternoon and there was not a single apple left on the tree. Note to self for next year, if you want to make crab apple jelly, the apples get ripe at the end of August.

One plant nothing bothered at all is the malabar spinach. It is not really spinach. It is a vining plant with little pink flowers on it. The vine keeps going and going all summer and likes the heat. The leaves are the edible part. I kept waiting for it to get really leafy but it never did so next year I will be sure to plant more than one. I did manage to get enough leaves from it to make malabar spinach curry. And was it ever good too! Unlike your regular greens when you cook them and they get a bit soggy, the malabar keeps its crunch. This is likely because the leaves are mucilaginous. I neglected to tell this to Bookman and he had a little panic when chopping up the leaves. They started to ooze and for a minute he thought he had chopped up a caterpillar or other bug into out dinner!

A wee green pumpkin

A wee green pumpkin

One of our big annual sunflowers is now covered with a plastic grocery bag. I read somewhere that this will keep the birds and squirrels away so we can actually harvest the seeds. I’ve never managed to harvest any sunflowers seeds so I am very excited at the prospect. Usually the squirrels will chew the head of the whole flower off and run away with it. The bag is suppose to keep them from doing that. While I am excited about having my own sunflower seeds, I just realized that I will have to crack open the shells on each one of them. Something to keep my hands busy while watching a movie some evening, right?

I read a really good gardening book called Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist by Michael Judd. I read a lot of gardening books and after awhile they all start to say the same thing. But each one never fails to have some new bits of information in it so I do always learn something. The book takes a permaculture approach to backyard gardening which is what I am doing so the book and I were meant for each other. I’ve read enough edible landscaping books and enough permaculture books over the past two or three years that herb spirals and composting and water retention methods and planting for pollinators and creating food guilds was not new. Still, I learned some good stuff.

Like comfrey is not just good for the garden. Comfrey, is good in the garden because it is a nutrient accumulator. It has



very deep roots and pulls up all sort of mircronutrients that would not be otherwise available. It grows big and fast and can be cut back once or twice a summer and used as mulch on the garden beds. The purple flowers also attract pollinators. Now I have learned that a comfrey poultice is good for bruises, sprains and sore muscles. The leaves are high in allantoin which speeds up the production of new cells. You can make a comfrey poultice or two out of leaves, water and flour and then freeze it to have on hand when the need arises. Neat, right? I haven’t made any poultices yet but I have a bunch of comfrey just waiting for me to do just that, which will be soon.

I also learned quite a bit about hardy kiwi and Bookman and I have made great plans for building a trellis next year over the polyculture bed. Each female plant can produce as much as 100 pounds (45 kg) or fruit that can be eaten fresh, dried, or made into jam. How awesome is that?

Gooseberries and currants are popular in permaculture gardens because they are small, high yielding shrubs that can withstand some shade making them ideal as understory plantings for bigger trees. This spring I planted a red gooseberry and a black currant. I have learned from Edible Landscaping that currants have 5 times the vitamin C of oranges, twice the potassium of bananas, and twice the antioxidants of blueberries. There are black, red, white and pink currants with black being the most tart and pink the sweetest. I was excited about currants before but goodness, now I want to go crazy planting a bunch of different varieties. I am seriously considering that come spring, if the soil ph still is not right for the blueberries, I might just take them out and plant currants instead. But I get ahead of myself.

Squash muffins

Squash muffins

Beside learning something new, garden books should also make you excited about gardening. Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist scores high on both. So if you are looking for a good gardening book, get your hands on a copy of this one.

Just a few more things from the garden before I go. Today Bookman made some delicious squash, raisin and walnut muffins. He used zucchini and lemon squash from the garden. Do they ever taste good. We have also harvested two ears of corn! I haven’t tried it yet but I will with dinner this evening. Bookman is making pizza and one of the ears will be sliced up onto the pizza. Yum!

Filed under: gardening

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14. Hardy Har Har

Almost two weeks ago now I started reading Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. I’ve not ever read Hardy before. I know! I have seen a movie version of Tess a very long time ago, does that count? Anyway, whenever I’ve mentioned Hardy on this blog over the years I’ve gotten two reactions:

  1. He’s sooo good, you have to read him!
  2. He’s really depressing so be prepared

The so good and the really depressing even come from the same people, implying that depressing does not mean a bad book. So when I began Far from the Madding Crowd I was expecting a really good book that is also a downer. Maybe it’s me, or maybe this is Hardy’s only non-depressing book, but I’ve been laughing while reading it. Laughing a lot. This I did not expect and was confused at first, worried perhaps I was misreading or something. But no, Hardy is funny. How can this not make you laugh?

Oak sighed a deep honest sigh—none the less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine plantation, it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the atmosphere.

Or this:

‘Come, Mark Clark—come. Ther’s plenty more in the barrel,’ said Jan. ‘Ay—that I will, ’tis my only doctor,’ replied Mr. Clark, who, twenty years younger than Jan Coggan, revolved in the same orbit. He secreted mirth on all occasions for special discharge at popular parties.

Or that one man in the neighborhood is known only as “Susan Tall’s husband” because he has no distinguishing characteristics of his own. I find myself giggling every time Susan Tall’s husband shows up, which isn’t often enough if you ask me, but I suppose you have to play lightly with that joke or it will wear itself out too quickly.

It’s not like Hardy’s humor slaps you in the face, it is pretty subtle most of the time. It doesn’t make me laugh out loud but it does make me grin. I’m far enough along to know there is trouble ahead for Bathsheba, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to turn everything depressing. Am I safe to put my hanky away or should I keep it in reserve?

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Thomas Hardy

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15. The Memory Garden

I was really excited when my turn for The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert came up at the library. I had read a few blog reviews of it (I’m sorry I don’t remember who!) and knew, as a first novel, it was a bit uneven. Still it sounded good and I was enchanted by the prospect of the shoe garden.

The book was a bit bumpy. There were moments when it had an identity crisis. It flirted with being a YA book. It thought about being a coming of age story. Sometimes it wanted to be a mystery or a ghost story. What it finally ends up being is a story about friendship.

Nan, Mavis, Ruthie and Eve were best friends. They were always together and not only was their friendship special, they were special too — an unusual knack for gardening and herbal lore, a special ability to heal through the art of cooking, a certain charisma that made everyone listen and follow orders. Nothing so very strange but strange enough for their peers to notice and whisper “witches” behind their hands. But being special does not make one exempt from tragedy. The four are sixteen, seventeen, when Eve dies. There is a secret around Eve’s death that is slowly revealed as the story progresses, and it is that secret that spilt the remaining three friends apart.

Years have passed, they are now all old women in the their seventies. They have not seen each other in that long time. Now Nan, feeling her age and worried about her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bay, invites Mavis and Ruthie for a long weekend visit, hoping for, she is not quite sure what.

Bay is not Nan’s biological daughter. Nan never married. Nan was well known as an herbalist who could help women out of difficulties, and one day a baby in a basket was left on her porch. In the basket with the baby was a caul. Babies born with a caul are witches by default. Nan has kept this a secret from Bay but recent incidents compelled her to tell Bay about the caul and what that means. But Bay, being a teenager who wants nothing more than to be “normal” refuses to believe anything. She is used to hearing Nan called a witch. People come by in the night fairly regularly and throw shoes at the house or yell or, on Halloween, smash all the pumpkins. Nan has turned all the shoe “donations” into a garden that passersby stop to admire. Bay loves the garden and her Nan while, in typical teenage fashion, is utterly embarrassed by her and her ways.

And then Mavis and Ruthie arrive. The three friends carry their old resentments and anger just below the surface where it frequently bubbles up and burns anyone who happens to be around. When they finally begin to see each other as the people they are now, the old women they have become, they are able to let down their walls, talk about what happened to Eve, and forgive themselves and each other. It is this story, the story of three old women and the ties of friendship that stretched so thin they almost broke, this story is what the book finally decides to be about. We don’t get to read stories about elderly women and friendship very often. Sure there are some unusual elements, but the witch thing is so very minor, and really, when you think about it, women are often accused of being witches. You can embrace the light fantasy aspect of it or you can stick with the light social commentary on women’s friendship and behavior that the label plays with. Of course you can also enjoy both, which I did.

The writing is sometimes rough but it moves along at a good pace and the description of the flower feast is really wonderful. The Memory Garden isn’t a great novel but it is an enjoyable one. It will make you think of your own best girlfriends and remember just how special their friendship is.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Mary Rickert

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16. 3 Sections

Until Vijay Seshadri won the Pulitzer for poetry earlier this year for his book 3 Sections, I had never heard of him before. Born in Bangalore, India in 1954, he came to the United States when he was five. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He teaches poetry and nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. I am really glad he won the Pulitzer because otherwise I might never have heard of him and his book, 3 Sections is well worth reading.

It is not a mystery why the book is called 3 Sections because it actually has three sections. The first and longest section is poetry, mostly one to at most two pages long. The second section is a prose essay about salmon fishing called “Pacific Fishes of Canada.” The third section is one long poem called “Personal Essay” which is, perhaps, an essay in the form of a poem. The Pulitzer committee describes the book as a “collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia.” They make it sound as though the book has a progression of some kind beginning with birth and ending with dementia. But this is not the case. I am certain there is some kind of logic behind the arrangement of all the pieces in the book, there generally always is, but it is not something I found especially noticeable. I just liked the poems a lot.

I also like Seshadri’s voice. It is firm, assured, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. His lines have a pleasant pacing, slow, but not so slow they become plodding. The slow movement of his lines serves to soften the firmness of his voice. He is not melodic but he is at times soothing. Seshadri’s language is straightforward, everyday. Though this does not mean that he doesn’t have some fantastic and startling images:

Therefore is he choked in the coils
of his being’s enormous Ponzi scheme
(Yet Another Scandal)


Self-esteem is leaking and oozing
over the concrete floor to pool around the feet.
Its color is the pink color of anti-freeze. The air is stringent
with the smell of anti-freeze.
(The People I Know)

And while Seshadri’s voice is firm and his language plain, one could even say grounded, he manages to write a number of poems that approach the spiritual. Here is the entirety of a short one, “Imaginary Number,” to give you an idea:

The mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
is not big and is not small.
Big and small are

comparative categories, and to what
could the mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
be compared?

Consciousness observes and is appeased.
The soul scrambles across the screes.
The soul,

like the square root of minus 1,
is an impossibility that has its uses.

One of my favorites in the collection is called “Memoir.” Here is a taste:

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.

And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

Humiliated by joy. But isn’t it true? Those moments of pure joy when we are and aren’t ourselves, should someone see us in such a moment, we are so very embarrassed by it. I wonder why that is?

I am not quite sure how the second prose section fits into the book. The narrator gets a job on a fishing boat during salmon fishing season. There is one sentence that really stood out for me:

my duties were light enough to give me plenty of time to indulge my invented self, my sea-going fictional self, and wallow in my version of the well-documented affliction that causes people to live in literature rather than life.


And the final section, “Personal Essay,” is a marvelous, somewhat meditative poem on consciousness, identity, and reality. One of my favorite lines in the poem is this:

Clouds oversized, exaggerated in the pale sky, drawn with a crayon by a kid,
which confirms that we are in a fabrication, maybe even in a mistake,
maybe even in a cartoon.

There is a wonderful poem called “Rereading” in which David Copperfield is taken to task for dismantling the lives of the Peggotys in their cozy beached boat upon the strand. And I was also pleased about “Three Urdu Poems.” I love ghazals, a poetic form in which the couplets tend almost towards aphorism at times. I love trying to puzzle out how the seemingly unrelated lines actually do relate and form a whole. It is not a form that those who write in English use very often so they always get my attention when they turn up.

3 Sections is a great collection, full of all sorts of gems. And for those who don’t really consider themselves poetry readers but would like to read poetry now and then, I bet you’d like this one too.

Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reviews

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17. Sunflower Season

Perennial sunflowers gone wild

Perennial sunflowers gone wild

This week as I walked through my garden delighting at the lush green, the tall corn, the yellow flowers, the bees, the birds, the pumpkin vines running everywhere, and weeds, weeds, weeds, wherever I looked, I realized that the late summer garden in all of its weedy wildness has a lesson to teach about control.

In spring it is easy to fall under the illusion that I am in control of everything. I dig the dirt, I plant the seeds, I water the seeds, I pull the weeds, I create the conditions right for growing, heck, I even give myself credit for the seeds sprouting, flowering and giving me fruits and vegetables. If it weren’t for me, there would be no garden after all. In spring everything is neat and tidy, orderly.

In late summer I am made to understand that I have absolutely no control over anything. There is nothing neat and tidy about the garden. It is a wild riot of sound and color and plants doing whatever they want to do and the weeds have long ago moved in faster than I can pull them. The tidy paths between beds have plants flopped over on them. There are weeds taller than the beans. The morning glories appear to be trying to smother everything they can grab onto.

For a moment yesterday I was in despair. I had a panic and felt like I should punish myself in the heat and humidity, spend

Perennial sunflowers close up

Perennial sunflowers close up

the whole day until my back hurt pulling weeds, tying up plants, putting everything in order. But then I heard the cicadas buzzing, and a loud symphony of crickets, and a chorus of sparrows darted and hopped through the garden, their chirping punctuated by a screech of a jay taking a bath. Sure I could exhaust myself trying to attain an artificial tidiness but it wouldn’t last, it isn’t supposed to. And no one seemed to care about the wildness except me. So I took a deep breath and then another and another and I gave up control. I stood on my deck and watched the birds and the bees, watched the corn and the sunflowers swaying in the light breeze which I also felt on my skin, listened to the chirping, the buzzing, the squawking, the singing, the sound of children playing in a yard a few houses away, and had one of those moments of deep happiness that you wish could go on forever.

This morning when I walked out into the garden I felt again, briefly, the urge to take control. But I looked at the the sprawling perennial sunflower and the bees and pumpkin vines and I couldn’t help but smile. They have everything under control and don’t need my help.


Giant sunflower

Giant sunflower

It’s the end of August which means it is sunflower season! The perennial sunflower has turned into a large colony. The annual sunflowers we first sprouted in pots in spring and let grow several inches tall before planting out to protect from the squirrels are about 10 feet (just over 3m) tall with morning glories climbing up them. The morning glories are reseeded from ones that we planted a few years ago. They began as heavenly blue and as they reseed year after year, have reverted to pink and purple with only the occasional blue one.

And then there is the sunchoke, also known as Jerusalem artichoke. It is in the sunflower family too. It is perennial. We planted a small one last year. It grew a few stems and got about waist high. The roots are edible, you dig them up in late fall after a hard frost or in early spring after the ground has thawed and eat them like fingerling potatoes. I thought, oh it is going to take a few years. But unbeknownst to me those few stems of last year were fueling an underground riot of roots that has come up this year as a thicket and grown well above my head. We will be able to harvest a few this year. Since I am anxious to try them, I have never eaten them before, I think we will dig them up this fall instead of waiting until spring.

Last weekend I was going to give you an update on my red wiggler worms but had gone on so long I decided to save it for



this week. I have made my second harvest of compost from the worm bin and oh, is it ever good stuff! Black and loamy. And the worms, they are sex maniacs! There are so many worms in the bin now that nine months after I started the bin, their population has tripled. I could actually hear them moving through the dirt. It was weird and creepy and really neat all at the same time. I upended the bin onto newspapers I spread out on the floor, then put fresh bedding into the bin along with some sand to aid digestion and calcium to encourage reproduction. It seems they don’t need much encouragement on the latter, but what the heck. Then I spent quite a long time separating the worms from the compost. Some of the compost goes back into the bin with the worms to keep a stable environment. This is easy to do because towards the end when I picked up a handful of compost I also got a big handful of worms. If you are squeamish about worms, worm composting is not for you. I had worms crawling up my arm and around the back of my hands. I was having fun, though the worms were a little stressed out and glad when I had them all back in their bin. I found lots and lots of little worm egg sacks and many sometimes very tiny worms too. I had been giving then only one margarine-sized container of food scraps a week but I’m pretty sure that is no longer enough food for them so this week I’m giving them two feedings a week.

I’m not entirely certain if they will control their own population growth or if I will have to split the bin and create a second one. But then what? I can’t keep making new bins, so I will have to trust that the worms know what they are doing and won’t suffer from overpopulation. Meanwhile, I have a small bucket of fresh worm compost to deposit in the garden somewhere. I haven’t decided who gets it yet. The first bucket in the spring went to the newly planted asparagus. Oh, I know! I am expecting garlic to be delivered in a few weeks. I’ll save the compost for the garlic. Won’t that be lovely!

And one final thing to report on: the monarch butterfly. It hatched! I check on the chrysalis every morning and Wednesday when I checked it on my way to out to work the chrysalis had gone translucent. That means hatching was imminent. Bookman had to work that day too. When I got home from work I ran out to look and hoped to see a butterfly still hanging around. But all I saw was a clear, broken open chrysalis and no monarch. I am sad I missed its emergence but so very happy it is now flying around in the world. There has been a monarch butterfly visiting the anise hyssop over the last few days. I don’t know if newly born butterflies hang around before they fly off, but I’m assuming it is “our” monarch and every time I see it I get a little thrill. I stand and watch it sipping nectar and send it good wishes, drink up, get strong, you have a long journey ahead of you, may you make it there safely.

Filed under: gardening

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18. A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit has gone on my list of authors whose work I’d like to own and read all of. It started off with her newest essay collection Men Explain Things To Me and was cemented by A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Field Guide was on my TBR list for years but I just never got around to it. Why did I take so long? I am a believer that every book has the right time and for whatever reason the right time wasn’t until now.

How to describe the book? Essays? Yes but not really because each one is connected. But it isn’t straight up nonfiction either because there is no real “plot” other than the theme of getting lost. Which makes it very much a long meditation. But yet there is a direction of sorts because four of the chapters/essays are called “The Blue of Distance” and these alternate with chapters called things like “Abandon” and “One-Story House.” The blue chapters all tend to be outward facing, about someone — the artist Yves Kline for instance — or about something — a certain color of blue or country western music. The other chapters tend to be more personally reflective and wide-ranging discussing things like leaving the door open for Elijah during Passover dinner, hiking in the wilderness, and family history. But even the distinction between the blue chapters and the named chapters blurs as Solnit will include personal reflection in the blue chapters and quotes Meno, Simone Weil, and a Tibetan sage in the personal chapters. I found all this intermingling to be satisfying and wanted the book to be longer than it is. A Good sign, right?

A Field Guide to Getting Lost is about many things, but at its core it is about stories:

A story can be a gift like Ariadne’s thread , or the labyrinth, or the labyrinth’s raving Minotaur; we navigate by stories, but sometimes we only escape by abandoning them.

Stories anchor us, tell us who we are or point to who we want to be. We can become lost in our stories. We can also be oppressed by our stories and only find out who we are by giving them up and losing ourselves. Trouble is, we think of being lost as a bad thing, but when we are lost we are more open to possibility than we are when we are sure of ourselves and our stories:

Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra icognita in between lies a life of discovery.

Even when we are sure of our stories, we still change over time and lose the person we used to be. When it happens so slowly we don’t even notice it we are not bothered by it until we are startled into awareness by an old photograph or letter, or a person we haven’t seen in many years. Sometimes, of course, loss happens very fast and unexpectedly and we are thrown for a loop. Not only do we write the story of our past but we write it well into the future and a sudden loss throws us into uncertainty, a place in which we do not feel comfortable spending time. And so we worry:

Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t — and it surprised me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown. Perhaps fantasy is what you fill up maps with rather than saying they too contain the unknown.

In the last chapter there is a beautiful piece of a lecture Solnit shares that she heard given at the Zen Center in San Francisco. Zen, you may know, is all about mindfulness, paying attention, living in the hear and now not dwelling on the past or projecting into the future. And this lecture coming as it does nearly at the end of the final chapter, serves to sum up much of the whole book. It is such a wonderful story it is hard to pick out an exact sort of summary quote, but this might give you and idea:

‘Maybe if I really paid attention I’d notice that I don’t know what’s going to happen this afternoon and I can’t be fully confident that I am competent to deal with it. Maybe we’re willing to let in that thought. It has some reasonableness to it, I can’t exactly know, but chances are, possibilities are, it’s not going to be much different than what I’ve usually experienced and I’ll do just fine, so we close up that unsettling possibility with a reasonable response. The practice of awareness takes us below the reasonableness that we’d like to think we live with and then we start to see something quite fascinating, which is the drama of our inner dialogue, of the stories that go through our minds and the feelings that go through our heart, and we start to see in this territory it isn’t so neat and orderly and, dare I say it, safe or reasonable.’

The story goes on to remind us that it is okay to not know; okay to be uncertain; okay to run into a barrier and ask for help. It is okay to be lost. Because we can only really find what we need if we are lost:

That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.

Filed under: Books, Essays, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Rebecca Solnit

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19. Founding Gardeners

Who knew that gardening could be such a political thing? That a gardening philosophy could have such an impact on the beginnings of a country and how its people conceived of themselves? Until I read The Founding Gardeners: How the Revolutionary Generation Created an American Eden by Andrea Wulf, I had never really thought much about American politics and gardening. That there is a connection is still amazing to me.

A number of the early founders of America were great gardeners, Thomas Jefferson, for instance. This is generally well known. What is not so well known is how revolutionary his gardening was and how that also played itself out in his politics and his vision of America. Wulf takes a look at not only Jefferson, but also George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison, all great gardeners, all signers of the Declaration of Independence, all Presidents of the United States.

Early in this country’s beginning, a lack of labor combined with heavy duties and taxes by the British prevented the not yet United States from developing much in the way of manufacturing. Thus, forcing the colonists to rely on British goods and keeping them under the thumb of the king. So instead of developing as a manufacturing country, the roots of America grew in the soil. A vast country with rich and fertile land, the colonists took to the fields raising raising grain, corn and tobacco. Almost all the colonists lived off the land, and became self-sufficient which eventually allowed them to break away from British rule and become the United States of America.

So it was that George Washington, general and first president, was himself a farmer. And it was planning and tending his farm that kept him warm all those cold winter nights during the revolutionary war. When the latest march was finished and the newest plan against the British worked out, Washington would sit down and write long letters to his farm manger about what to plant, where to plant it and when it should be planted. Not only was he a revolutionary war hero but his garden too was revolutionary. Independence from Britain also meant independence from the nation of British gardeners. It meant using American plants instead of plants from Britain and Europe. It meant finding the beautiful that existed in this country and elevating it to an even higher status as being worthy of being not just part of a wild landscape, but part of an ornamental garden.

This choosing to create gardens using the plants of America was something Adams, Jefferson and Madison did as well. Sure, they would travel to Europe and get ideas about gardening and agriculture, but then they would go home and adapt those ideas to their native American soil. These men, especially Jefferson, believed the future of America was in agriculture. They wrote letters to each other and their farm managers and wives and children about compost and crop rotations, about vegetables and trees.

Jefferson installed an extraordinary vegetable terrace at Monticello. Instead of hiding away the vegetables like most estates did, Jefferson turned his into a gorgeous experimental garden in its own right. He obtained seeds of every kind and variety he possibly could from anyone and everyone and planted them and observed and tasted. His goal was to find the best beans, the best, corn, the best squash and then spread the word and seeds to other farmers. America was to be an agrarian Eden, a republic of hardy, moral men working together to create something great.

In the beginning of the country there were no political parties. This lasted until Hamilton ran for president. His vision of America greatly contrasted with Jefferson’s and friends’ agrarian one. Hamilton wanted roads and cities, trade and manufacturing, and during his presidency established a national bank, a move which Jefferson though would be the end of everything that made America great. And so two parties formed. Which is really interesting because those seeds remain in the parties that exist today and is especially noticeable in Minnesota. The democratic party in Minnesota goes by the name “DFL” or Democratic Farm-Labor Party. It is the party that Jefferson and the others would likely find themselves agreeing with, though they would perhaps not be so keen on the social liberal part of the agenda. The republican party in the state is always on about business, trade, money, an agenda Hamilton would likely find familiar.

When it came to the building of Washington D.C., agrarian versus manufacturing politics played out there as well. Jefferson want a small town surrounded by farms. If he had his way the White House would be nothing more than a fancy farm house and the streets would be lined with trees and gardens and the city surrounded by fields. The other vision was one of broad avenues and grand architecture. In spite of Jefferson’s best efforts he mostly lost that argument. Though the presence of an organic vegetable garden at the White House these days harkens back to the past when we were all farmers.

By the time James Madison came along the fertile soil that had sustained the early colonists had begun to be depleted. The country was so large though that instead of taking care of the fields that had already been created, people started moving west, ploughing new fields. Forests were already disappearing and to Madison this was a travesty. Yes, this new country was large and full of resources, but that was no excuse to ruin one part of it and move on to ruin another part. Eventually we would run of out of room and then what? Long before Thoreau and John Muir, Madison began speaking out about the importance of conservation, of taking care of the fields, of saving forest land. Madison’s Address to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle was groundbreaking and at its publication amounted to a bestseller. It did not turn Americans into environmentalists overnight, but it began a movement that led to people recognizing that American forests were a national treasure.

As wonderful and revolutionary as the gardening practices of the Founders were, they still could not manage to bring themselves to rise above and see slavery as an evil. All of them had slaves. All of them worked their slaves on their farms and in their gardens. In creating a park lined with trees in front of his house, Washington made his slaves dig up full-grown trees in winter from the forest on the estate and move them to their new location. Madison was considered forward thinking when it came to slaves. He created a model village in the middle of his garden for a few of his slave families. They each had a small cottage and a small garden. The “village” was in full view of the house and was much admired by the constant stream of guests visiting Madison. The slaves, of course, had to pretend to be happy, always on display, always putting on a performance. Meanwhile, the rest of the slaves who worked in the farm fields lived in dingy cabins down by the fields, out of sight of the house and all the visitors. It will always be a disappointment to me that these great thinkers could never think their way clear of slavery.

Nonetheless, the early vision of America as an agricultural paradise lingers. These days even though the majority of Americans live in cities, we still have a view of ourselves as a nation of farmers. It is in the songs we sing about our country — amber waves of grain and fruited plains — and in the pride we take in our national parks and “purple mountain majesty.” It is in the upsurge in popularity of farmers markets, community supported agriculture and urban farming. It is in the pendulum swing from consumer capitalism to a movement towards self-sufficiency, homesteading, resource sharing, do-it-yourself alternatives. The vision of our founders still speaks to us, still captures our imagination, and still holds promise.

I had been wanting to read this book for ages so I owe Danielle for finally getting me to read it with her suggestion we read it together. Be sure to hop over and see what she has to say about it.

Filed under: Books, gardening, History, Nonfiction, Reviews

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20. Hearing Voices

When you read do you hear voices in your head? I do. I just asked Bookman and he does too. I suspect most readers hear a book as they read.

What you hear, is it you? Or do you hear the characters? I have a narrative voice and the characters get voices too but they aren’t especially distinctive voices, they are more like my narrative voice doing voices rather than say, Jim Dale doing all the voices on the Harry Potter audiobook with each one distinct. But even my narrative voice, while it is me, it doesn’t sound like me if I were to speak. I wish my speaking voice did sound like my inner narrative voice because that inner voice sounds so much more assured and resonant with lovely tonal variation that my real speaking voice does not possess.

Bookman tells me he has a narrative voice too. And, if he has seen a movie made from the book he is reading or has listened to the book on audio and heard the voices animated, he hears those voices when he reads. I think I have an inclination towards that too, just like the visuals of characters I have seen in film will overlay the visuals of the characters in the book.

You may or may not be surprised to know that the phenomenon of hearing voices is not a well studied one. Some academics at the University of Durham in the UK are working on changing that and you can help. Currently they are at the Edinburgh book festival talking to readers there, but, if you, like me, aren’t there, you can still participate in the study by filling out their online survey.

Before you take the survey, be sure to read a bit about it at the Guardian.

I took the survey and spent about 15 minutes or so at it. You should know it asks about more than just hearing voices while you read. It also asks about whether or not you talk to yourself and whether you had or have imaginary friends. I’m not sure what imaginary friends have to do with it. Oh, yes, I suppose when talking to an imaginary friend you might hear that friend’s voice. As someone who never had such a friend I was confused by those questions but now I get it. I can be a little slow sometimes!

It’s a fascinating topic so help them out and fill out their survey. Also, be sure to let us all know whether you hear voices. I can pretty much guarantee we won’t think you are crazy.

Filed under: Books

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21. Perdido Street Station

I read my first China Miéville book a couple years ago, The City and the City. Imagine two cities with different cultures and architecture existing in the same space. So, for instance, you live in one city but your next door neighbor lives in the other city. You see each other coming and going but you live in two different cities and you are not allowed to even acknowledge you see one another or the government will come and take you away for reconditioning. But that is not what the book is about, that is just the setting. The book is actually a police procedural. Trippy, right?

So when I sat down to read my second ever Miéville, Perdido Street Station, I was prepared to be plunged into something richly imagined but I had no idea what. The thing I like about reading Miéville is that you do just plunge in. He has created an incredibly detailed world with geography and beings of different races each with their own history and cultures but he doesn’t just tell you about it, he lets you experience it in the context of the story. This makes the beginning of his novels both exciting (you never know what you might discover) and hard going (you have no idea what is going on). If you are going to read Miéville, you have to be okay with total immersion and the confusion and uncertainty that goes along with it. Eventually you will know everything you need to know, you just have to wait and pay attention.

And so at the beginning of Perdido Street Station we find ourselves arriving by boat on a filthy river with a stranger to a city called New Crobuzon. And then the narrative shifts to Isaac and Lin and we don’t know who this stranger is for a number of chapters. But we don’t know who Isaac and Lin are either. Through the story we learn Isaac is human and Lin is Khepri, a humanoid woman body with an insectoid head, and the pair are lovers. Prejudice against inter-species love abound and so we start to think that this is going to be a love story of sorts about breaking through boundaries. And it is that, but that does not turn out to be the main story.

The main story congeals around Isaac a scientist semi-attached to the university but no longer really welcome there because his research is just too far out of the realm of what anyone believes is possible. Except it isn’t. And his far out research ends up in a breakthrough that eventually saves the entire city of New Corbuzon from being destroyed by slake moths, nightmare creatures escaped from government control that suck the consciousness out of sentient beings leaving them as living vegetables.

The book manages to be a romance, a thriller, science fiction, and horror all rolled into one. And it works. It really works. Miéville is always in control and no matter how weird the story gets or uncertain the reader might start to feel about making sense of it all, you can trust Miéville and so relax and enjoy the ride. This is speculative science fiction at its best, a substantial story, complex and intricately told. His vocabulary is one that sent me to the dictionary again and again. It’s smart and makes demands of the reader. And as alien as the world and the story turn out to be, it is all so richly detailed with such a sense of depth to it that it feels real and you believe in the places and peoples and histories and cultures. It really is astonishing.

If you don’t read a lot of science fiction, I wouldn’t recommend this book to you, however, if you are an avid SF fan or even read it now and then and feel comfortable in an SF world, definitely give this book a try. It is worth all the effort you will have to put into it.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: China Mieville

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22. Kindle Flare

Most of you are probably aware by now that I have a plain old e-ink Kindle and that I read on it five days a week during my public transit commute to and from work as well as during my lunch break. When I first started reading on a Kindle five years ago there was hardly anyone one else on the metro train who had an ereader. In fact, I’d frequently have people ask me questions about mine. Now there are so many people reading on ereaders, tablets, phones and iPods that the people actually carrying books are outnumbered.

As someone who loves to spy and see what people are reading, with the increase of digital devices it has become difficult. Though there was a woman yesterday next to me on the train who was obviously reading over my shoulder. It wouldn’t have been so annoying if she had been a bit more surreptitious about it. It was so bad I almost tilted my screen towards her a little and asked if that was better for her. I doubt she was able to figure out what I was reading — Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden. I have considered taping a piece of paper with the title of my book to the inside of my Kindle cover so when I am reading the curious reader will not be left wondering, but I’ve never gotten around to it.

But now The Onion reports the release of the Kindle Flare, a Kindle that will loudly and repeatedly tell everyone what you are reading. And, if you are reading something you aren’t so very proud of, it has an “explanation mode” where it will explain that yes you know the book is trash but you are also reading Infinite Jest.

My favorite feature, however, is “bookshelf mode.” In bookshelf mode you can place your Kindle on you now empty bookshelves (because, you know, you don’t need to buy print books any longer) and it will run through a list of all the books on your Kindle. So it is still possible to impress your friends at parties by the books on your virtual shelves.

I think I’ve got to get me one of those Kindle Flares!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a joke produced by the satirical newspaper The Onion. Unfortunately, The Onion and WordPress would not let me embed the video, so you will need to click on the link above to have a good laugh. Enjoy!

Filed under: Books, ebooks, Humor, Kindle

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23. How To Tell When Fruit is Ripe

A guide for the perplexed.

Lemon squash

Lemon squash

Last year and this year we began planting fruit in the form of berries in the garden. Last year we planted blueberries, a huckleberry, a thornless blackberry, and two bush cherries. This year we planted a Juneberry, a black raspberry, and a currant, and a gooseberry and a lingonberry. Neither the blueberries nor the huckleberry bloomed this spring because we have yet to manage to make the soil acidic enough. We are trying though so maybe next spring. The bush cherries did bloom and the gooseberry, small as it is, was blooming when we bought it. Also the blackberry got a few blossoms on it. Gooseberries can be green or red and for the life of me I couldn’t remember what variety I bought. I could have looked it up but where is the logic and fun in that?

I knew the gooseberries should be ripe sometime in July. So, early July I bent down over the thorny bush and looked at the two dozen berries. Are they ripe? I gave on a gentle squeeze. It was pretty firm so I figured, no not ripe. A week later I checked again. Hmm, still firm. Maybe I should give it taste test? So I plucked a gooseberry and popped it in my mouth. Now, I have never had gooseberries before so I had no idea what a ripe one would taste like. I assumed sweet so when my mouth puckered up and I exclaimed, oh tart! I decided, nope, not ripe.

A week later I checked again. Oh look, they are starting to get pink! I guess my gooseberry is a red one. A week later and they were still pink but getting darker. A few more days I thought. And then I forgot until a week had gone by. As I squatted down before the gooseberry my mouth watering in anticipation of the ripe red fruit I was about to taste, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not a single berry. Zip. Nada. Nothing. The thorns on a gooseberry are about half an inch (1.3 cm) long and I stabbed myself upon them several times looking under leaves and little branches just to make sure they were all gone. With the thorns, I didn’t expect any critters would bother it. Guess again.

So, how to tell when gooseberries are ripe? Someone else eats them before you do.

The bush cherries are small but each one had about thirty little hard green cherries on it all summer long. My neighbor’s cherry tree gets ripe around July 4th, my little bush cherries were adamantly green. And then suddenly, the end of July they began to blush. Joy! I checked on them a week later. They were all pale red, not ripe red. Another week. I checked a few days later just to be sure. Not ripe yet, a few more days. I took a bowl out with me to pick the cherries into. Oh I was excited. There wouldn’t be enough for a pie but I’m sure we could use them in muffins or scones or something. I bent over the first little bush and moved aside a branch. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Where did they all go? I rummaged around through the shrub, no thorns this time. All the cherries were gone.

I moved to the other cherry and found two cherries left. They were light red, not dark cherry red. Left because they weren’t quite ripe yet. I picked them anyway because I was so mad at myself for thinking the birds would leave the cherries alone even after they ate all the gooseberries. You can’t do anything with two marble-size not quite ripe cherries so after a day I tossed them in the compost bin.

Now, those blackberries. I am not a novice when it comes to blackberries. There won’t be many because there is only one cane from last year for them to bloom on (blackberries and raspberries bloom on second-year growth) but I will be putting bird netting over it this week. I love blackberries and have picked them growing wild in the redwoods before. So delicious. They will be getting ripe in about three weeks and by golly, I’m the one who is going to eat them, not the darn birds!

The turnip seeds we planted last week are doing wonderfully. They sprouted right up after only a few days. It was a warm, mostly dry week and we had to water the little sprouts and the garden about every other day. It turned hot, well hot to me, and humid Friday and the air has been hot and thick since. We had a little rain last night and we’ve had an off and on light rain this afternoon. Not a lot, the garden should really have more, but good enough that we don’t have to water for a day or two. Hopefully our rain barrels got a bit fuller too.

Yesterday I pulled all the bolted lettuce out of the polyculture bed. It was looking really sad. The broccoli we planted has mostly been eaten by either slugs or grasshoppers or both. The beets have pretty red leaves but they never got very big and they have no fat root. Another year of beet failure. I swear, the year I manage to grow a good crop of beets I am going boil them and pour the red water over my head and then do a beet dance of victory through the garden. And then I will spend the next several days explaining to everyone why I am red as a beet an no one will understand. No matter. The parsnips, well, they aren’t exactly tall and leafy so I don’t have high hopes for them, but then they have until early October to get it together and do something so maybe they will.

Also in that bed we had planted Jacob’s cattle beans. They are a dry been that is supposed to be good in soups and stews.

Jacob's cattle beans

Jacob’s cattle beans

You leave the beans on the plants until the pods dry. Well, they are dry. So today I picked all the dry pods and pulled up the mostly dead bean plants. Next year I will be planting more of these beans. I think I might have beans growing everywhere, after all when they are dry beans, can you really do too many? They are called Jacob’s cattle but they remind of appaloosa horses, the ones with the shiny brown withers and the white and brown spotted hindquarters. I had an aunt and uncle who lived on a farm in Oklahoma and they had several appaloosas. We spent two weeks there one summer when I was thirteen and I got to have my very own horse and he looked just like these beans. In spite of the heat and the record heat and humidity that year, it was one of the best summers ever.

Anyway, the polyculture bed is pretty much empty now. So I planted some more radishes that will be ready by the end of September, and scattered white clover throughout the bed for a nitrogen-fixing cover crop.

What else? Zucchini! We’ve been managing to keep up more or less but there are two in the fridge at the moment and three in the garden that need to be picked tomorrow which means we are about to fall behind. We’ve had it breaded, we’ve had it as “noodles” with spicy peanut sauce, we’ve had it sliced up on pizza. I think we are about to have it as latkes. And we plan on trying to make a sweet relish. And of course there will be zucchini bread too.

Looking corny in stockings

Looking corny in stockings

There are also tomatoes coming out of the garden. We planted four paste tomatoes and one slicing tomato. Most of the paste tomatoes have suffered from blossom end rot which is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. The lack of calcium can be brought on by excessive moisture or drought. My guess is the excessive moisture from the first half of summer and then the lack of moisture the second part of summer. This happened last year too. And it only happens with the paste tomatoes. I think next year we might skip the paste tomatoes and do more slicing and perhaps a cherry tomato or two, see if they survive the wacky weather better.

Corn! The corn is going crazy! For some reason I thought there would only be one ear on each stalk but there are at least two. We have about a dozen corn plants. You do the math. Thank goodness they aren’t all corning at the same time, it will happen in stages. The biggest ears closest to being ripe (a week or so away) now have nylon stockings on them in an effort to keep the critters away. So far, so good, but since it isn’t harvest time yet it is hard to tell if it is working. In the meantime the corn is all dressed up with nowhere to go, which is just as well given the stockings kind of sag around the ankles.

One more utterly fantastic thing. We have a monarch butterfly chrysalis! Bookman noticed it first about Tuesday. Remember

Monarch butterfly chrsalis

Monarch butterfly chrsalis

in the spring I saw two monarch caterpillars on the milkweed in my garden? I haven’t seen them all summer and thought they must have been eaten or something. But the chrysalis says at least one of them survived. It is hanging under the edge of the siding on my neighbor’s garage which edges up to the bed where the caterpillars were. It will be 10-14 days for the butterfly to emerge. The chrysalis will get transparent just before hatching so we will know when it is going to happen. Fingers crossed it will happen on a weekend when we can see it instead of during the day while we are away at work. Bookman and I are so excited. We check on it every morning and every evening. It is such a tiny, vulnerable looking thing, I fear for its safety. But the caterpillar did select a good place, out of direct light and protected from the worst of the weather. When I check on it I say hello and give it encouragement. With luck I might be telling you about a butterfly next week.

And, because this post isn’t long enough already, here is a video I took about two weeks ago of my “hellstrip” garden. That is the garden in my front yard that runs along the street and public sidewalk. It’s kind of long, sorry, but if you watch, I hope you enjoy it!

Filed under: gardening

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24. Poem for a Monday

I am feeling tired today. My cat Dickens has been known to wake me up at night but he has gotten really bad lately. He sits on the floor next to the bed and meows at me. Why can’t he be like Waldo and just sleep draped across my feet all night? The books say to ignore it. So I do. I lay there in bed, wide awake, waiting for him to get tired and stop. He can go for a surprisingly long time. This has been going on for a week now and he is not getting the hint that such behavior does not get any attention. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that. I am regularly as bleary-eyed as my coworker with the four-month old baby.

So it seems like a good day for a poem. Well any day is a good day for a poem in my opinion. I get a poem everyday in my email box from the Academy of American Poets. If you have not signed up for this wonderfully free service, you totally should. It’s easy.

Yesterday I got a poem by Hazel Hall who turns out to be from St. Paul, Minnesota. Her poem is in the public domain so I can post the whole thing without worrying about a visit from the copyright police. The poem is called “Hours” and since I’ve been having some foggy hours and hours that sure felt like eternal pain, I thought it only fitting. So here you go, enjoy.


I have known hours built like cities,
House on grey house, with streets between
That lead to straggling roads and trail off,
Forgotten in a field of green;

Hours made like mountains lifting
White crests out of the fog and rain,
And woven of forbidden music—
Hours eternal in their pain.

Life is a tapestry of hours
Forever mellowing in tone,
Where all things blend, even the longing
For hours I have never known.

Filed under: Poetry

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25. Yawn

I recently began reading Far from the Madding Crowd on my Kindle. I am so glad I am finally getting around to reading Hardy. Why did I wait so long? Please don’t answer that.

Anyway, after work today on the train I was reading and Oak, the main character thus far, was playing Peeping Tom, watching an older woman and a young lady he had just seen for the first time earlier that day feed a cow and take care of her new calf. The hour was late, somewhere around 1 a.m. by the stars Hardy tells us. The young lady yawns (but not in an inappropriately large way, she does have manners) and Oak, peeping through the gap in the barn boards is overwhelmed and suddenly yawns too. And I, reading the book, found myself attacked by a yawn.

Has this ever happened to you before? You are made to yawn by a character in the book yawning?

Or what about when a character is really thirsty, have you ever suddenly found yourself thirsty too? Of hungry? Books make me hungry all the time and there doesn’t even have to be a description of a great meal that makes my mouth water. I am currently reading The Memory Garden and there is an amazing dinner scene. I was doing fine, until they had blueberry sorbet. Oh that sounded good, give me a some please! I could even taste it and feel the cold in mouth even though the author didn’t spend any time actually describing it. But what has really gotten me is the chocolate cake that was mentioned a couple times. I was struck by a sudden craving. I came really close to asking Bookman if he would make one.

Other times while reading I have felt hot or cold or found myself squinting along with the character in an imagined bright sun. And of course tears. There have also been tears springing to my eyes as quickly as they spring to the eyes of the character in the book.

Being so affected probably has something to do with an active imagination and mirror neurons. When you see someone pick up a cup, for instance, mirror neurons supposedly fire in your brain in the same areas that would go to work if you were actually picking up the cup yourself. I’m wondering if I start reading books in which people get lots of exercise whether that means I am exercising too? Wouldn’t that be nice? Reading about someone running a marathon does not equal me actually running one. Very much wishful thinking but you can’t blame a girl for trying.

Filed under: Books, Reading

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