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1. Writing and Naming

I am woefully behind in progressing through the James Patterson Master Class on writing. It is not because it is a bad class (my thoughts so far here and here) but because I have so many other things going on it is hard for me to make the time to watch the videos. A few weeks ago I got am email inviting me to submit a writing sample to be critiqued by Patterson himself and even though I did not take advantage of the opportunity, having no fictional work in progress, I thought it was a pretty cool thing and felt a bit bad that I did not have any fiction in progress to submit and see just what kind of feedback was on offer.

Today in my email I received a message that my friends are eligible for a $15 discount of the price of a Master Class, any Master Class it seems. So if you are interested in taking Patterson’s fiction class or trying out any of the other classes on offer, if you sign up by midnight PST on September 8th, enter the code PTS86W.

***

There is a great article called Silence in the Library that you all might be interested in reading. It is written by an archivist and discusses the issue of naming that those who catalog materials must deal with. Before I went to library school I could honestly say I never once thought about how materials were cataloged, that someone had to figure out what subject headings and keywords and other metadata to add to them. And then when I did think about it I wondered, really, how hard could it be?

I am not a cataloger, but I had the pain and pleasure of finding out just how important these folks are in more ways than you can imagine. Because we all know that naming is important and it bumps into issues like privilege and race and class all the time. Library cataloging is not immune to any of the issues. Catalogers struggle with it every day. Not only do they have to figure out what to call materials so you, the library patron can actually find and borrow them, but they also very often consider the implications of how materials are named. Librarians at the reference desk often get all the glory when they help a patron find something, but those behind the scenes catalogers are owed a great deal of credit for creating the metadata that allows that reference librarian to help you.

Anyway, the article is great and delves into a bit of the issues and implications of naming and how librarians have the opportunity to be silent radicals. Give it a read you will have a new appreciation for librarians and archivists.


Filed under: Library, Writing Tagged: James Patterson

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2. So Glad to Have You

It is days like today when I am so glad I have this space and bookish friends like you. Why you ask? Well remember last week when I was fretting over all the books I have in progress? You’d think I would pull back a little right? Finish a few, not start any new ones for a bit until I felt less overwhelmed. Yes, you would think that and I even thought that. However, what did I actually end up doing? I doubled down of course!

And this is why you all make me happy because if I told this to almost anyone else I know they would look at me as if I were completely bonkers. And while I may indeed be bonkers it has nothing to do with books. Books are what keep me sane. But even I have to admit I’ve gotten a bit reckless. But it makes me happy and hurts no one so I can’t really be argued with.

Within the last week-ish I have added to my in-progress pile the following:

Tomorrow I will be adding Ms. Marvel Volume One,No Normal. It just won a Hugo earlier this week. And in a few days I will be receiving a book to review for Library Journal called Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped the Women of His Life by Eleanor Fitzsimons.

I want to break out into fits of hysterical laughter from the sheer number of books I am attempting to juggle at one time. For even more interest and some real danger, maybe I should toss in a fiery torch or two and a chainsaw! Wouldn’t that be something? Now you know if I suddenly disappear my juggling went awry; I will have either gone up in flames or sawed myself in half. There are other possibilities too so stay tuned. You never know what might happen!


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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3. On Elizabeth Bishop

She began with the idea that little is known and that much is puzzling.

coverSo begins Colm Tóibín”s wonderful little book, On Elizabeth Bishop. The book is one of those pocket-sized books, has generous margins, and is only 199 pages long. That probably doesn’t sound short, but believe me, it is. Because Tóibín has such a beautiful, smooth, creamy voice. He is thoughtful and meditative. And while he makes thought-provoking observations, they are delivered so softly that you find yourself wrapped up in them like a cozy blanket and mulling them over before you even realize how interesting it all is.

On Elizabeth Bishop is criticism but not of the academic sort. It is a book written by someone who loves Bishop’s poetry and wants you to love it too. He delves deeply into a number of poems but even if you haven’t read them he does not leave you lost. Because while he delves Tóibín also brings up patterns and images and techniques that range across Bishop’s work. He’ll say things like how what Bishop does not say in a poem is oftentimes as important as what she does say. And then we are looking at “The Moose” and Tóibín is picking it apart, pointing out the gaps, providing us with biographical information and context, and suddenly you understand why “The Moose” is one of Bishop’s most famous poems.

Tóibín also uses other poets and other forms of art as a way to see the poetry in a richer light. He writes of Marianne Moore, poet and mentor to Bishop, and the friction that would arise between them because Moore wanted Bishop to write like her but Bishop continued to develop her own style and voice. Tóibín compares the two writing of Moore’s poems:

They were close to certain pieces by Stravinsky, all brass and disturbed tones, unashamed of their own noise, or indeed paintings by Kandinsky, unashamed of their own swirling colors, whereas Bishop’s poems had the sad gaiety and inwardness and sparseness of Weborn or Mondrian or Klee.

And without reading either Moore or Bishop you get an idea of what their poetry is like and understand that Moore was never going to succeed in making Bishop into her very own Mini-Me.

The book has an overall effect of a long, intimate conversation, one you don’t want to end but reluctantly have to conclude. If you want to know more about Elizabeth Bishop, do read this book. Heck, if you are a fan of Tóibín’s you will probably like the book too and finish it wanting to read Elizabeth Bishop. And if you think he could never convince you to read poetry, allow me to say, Tóibín is very persuasive.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Poetry, Reviews Tagged: Colm Tóibín, Elizabeth Bishop

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4. A Taste of Autumn

The week was an unusually cool one for August, even in Minnesota. It gave us a taste for fall and it was rather delicious if I do say so myself. Days around 70F/21C and nights dipping down to 60F/15C or a few degrees cooler. It’s great for the humans but not so great for the hot weather veggies like tomatoes that just don’t want to get ripe in the cool. It warmed up a bit for the weekend but we had a cool front and storms last night and the cool will again stick around through the middle of the week. The State Fair starts on Thursday this week, however, and there are guaranteed at least a few hot days during its 10-day run.

The amaranth flowers are getting bigger and they are so pretty too. I’ll take a picture after they get a little bigger. The pumpkins are going crazy. The cantaloupe isn’t ripe yet but it is getting close. All of the different varieties of dried beans we are growing, black beans, cattle beans, cow peas (black-eyed peas) are looking great.

We picked a normal-sized zucchini from the garden, more lemon squash too and a few more yellow wax beans. There are some yellow beets that are almost ready to be pulled too.

Crabby apples for jelly

Crabby apples for jelly

Bookman is currently making our first ever attempt at crabapple jelly. We’ve got the apples cut up and simmering and the house smells delicious. They get cooked for a while and then left to drain their pectin-filled juices through cheesecloth into a bowl. Then the apple mash goes on the compost bin and we work with the juice to make the jelly. If all goes well I will have a photo of a jar or two of pretty jelly to share next week. Wish us luck!

On the chicken front, we are making some progress. The fence people are coming out this week to set the posts for the fence we are installing around the chicken garden. Yay! We’ve been waiting nearly all summer for the fence and now it is finally our turn. They will set the posts and then the following week come back and do the fencing. It will be good to finally have this done and no more contractors to deal with.

We did not receive the packet of information from the city regarding the permit process so Bookman called them Friday. He actually got to talk to someone in animal control, the department that does the permitting and all that instead of some admin person that doesn’t know anything. Unlike what Bookman had been told before, the animal control person said we can definitely start building our coop now and don’t need a permit for it at all. We don’t actually need the permit until next year when we are ready to get the chickens. That’s a good thing because the permit has to be renewed every January so we won’t have to pay for one now and then pay again in January.

So Bookman and I sat down earlier today and started figuring out what we need for lumber. Since neither of us has ever built anything before we are moving into new territory here. We have a plan for a coop like we are building but it is not the same size nor is it insulated for a cold climate or have a green roof. But the basic footprint is there. So we have to figure out how many 2x4s we need and how long and sizes of plywood and how big are sheets of plywood anyway? And what to do we have to do to build the rafters to support the weight of the green roof? And we only have a Honda Civic hybrid car, how are we going to get a load of lumber home? We are making progress but we still have quite a bit of figuring to do on the supplies. We haven’t even begun to consider nails and bolts and door hinges and screws and all that.

One very important thing we have decided on, the coop will be bright yellow with white trim.

When it comes to the actual building part, my Saturday biking buddy has offered to come and help us if we need it. So it’s good to know we have access to an extra pair of hands if necessary.

All I can really say at this point is that it is a good thing we are getting started on this now because we are going to need all the time we can get to build this coop!

Biking

We are three weeks away from the Jesse James fun ride Bookman and I are doing. We are both very much looking forward to it. Two weeks after the fun ride is my Gran Fondo race that is not a race.

Bike ride scenery: old flour mill ruins now an awesome museum

Bike ride scenery: old flour mill ruins now an awesome museum

My long ride on Saturday began in a nice and cool morning. It was humid but the constant wind that was blowing kept me from feeling the humidity. Of course for the entire outing I was riding into the wind or battling a cross-wind. Never once did I catch a break and get a tailwind. I told Bookman that it felt like I was riding uphill the whole ride which made the actual hills almost not even noticeable. Almost. Because riding uphill into the wind is something you notice a little bit. My average speed was slower than I wanted it to be but not as slow as I feared. All things considered, the constant effort was a good workout.

I need to take Astrid in for a tune up before the sponsored September rides. Her shifting has gotten a bit rough. I have tried to clean the chain and put fresh lube on it but it has not solved the problem of the gears not switching smoothly. Since I have not managed to take a bike maintenance class this summer I don’t know what else to do, thus time to call in a professional!

I am also thinking of getting a professional bike fitting. I have trouble with my feet going numb and have determined it is not my shoes. I am glad it is not my shoes, I would hate to have to buy new ones. The problem is my posture and how I am sitting on the bike. A professional fitting will do all sorts of analytics, figuring out the width of my sit bones, knee/ankle alignment, hip/pelvis rotation, etc. They will help me figure out my optimal riding posture and form and get everything just right and hopefully help me make my numb feet trouble go away.

In an effort to help my posture improve, because I have noticed my feet don’t start to go numb until I begin getting tired, I have added exercises to help strengthen my core muscles. This means planks and side planks and boat pose and bridges and a few other things. I should probably do crunches too but I hate crunches more than I hate planks and will avoid them as long as I possibly can. I feel like I have mentioned this before. Have I mentioned this before? I could go look but I am too lazy.

The core exercises are in addition to the free weights I do and I know it will help because the weights have helped improve my arm and shoulder strength so I don’t get a sore neck and shoulders like I did when I first began riding in the spring. I’ve been doing weights for several months now and I am just getting started on the core exercises so I expect it will take some time before I begin to notice much of a difference there. But then maybe not. I’ve been doing intervals twice a week for three weeks now and I have noticed a small improvement. Yay!

Now please excuse me while I go enjoy some dinner that includes basil pesto made from fresh-picked basil from my garden.


Filed under: biking, gardening

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5. A Poor Excuse If You Ask Me

One of the many books I am currently reading is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I have not read it since my freshman year of high school and so was really surprised by the “sketch” that precedes it, “The Custom House.” I had no recollection of this whatsoever. It’s no wonder really since it has not much of anything to do with the novel itself. Yes, there is some set up, but it is mostly Hawthorne writing about his time working at the Custom House as a Customs officer. It is mind numbingly dull for the most part so I skimmed.

I normally don’t skim, but good gravy, Hawthorne really drones on! There are, however, some rather amusing bits. Like when he complains about how soul-sucking his work is:

I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is anything but agreeable to be haunted by suspicion that one’s intellect is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your consciousness, like the ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a smaller and less volatile residuum.

Now you’d think he spent long days toiling away by the sound of that, yes? Unfortunately I can’t find the highlight in my ebook at the moment, but I burst out laughing as he goes on and on and then comes out that he works about three hours a day and is so exhausted by it that when he gets home he has no energy left to write.

Was time different back then? Was an hour longer than sixty minutes? Three hours of work a day and he can’t muster up the energy to work on his book? I think there aren’t many writers who wouldn’t love the chance to work three hours a day and then have all the rest of the day to themselves! Clearly Hawthorne was a sensitive soul and it is best he lived when he did because he would be completely crushed in today’s world.

Or perhaps he was just making excuses for a bad case of writer’s block. I think that likely to be the case because he touches that note of despair a few times throughout his sketch until he finally decides that he will never get The Scarlet Letter written unless he quits his job. Which he did. And obviously he managed to get the book written too.

But wow, I’d really like one of those three-hour work days to despair over!


Filed under: Books, In Progress, Writing Tagged: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

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6. The Multiple Book Problem

Do you ever get frustrated that you can’t read faster? I don’t usually. Most of the time I putter along happy as can be and only get frustrated that I don’t have more time to read. I don’t often wish I could read faster, there is a real pleasure in reading at the speed a book asks me to and for many of the books I like best, that is generally slow.

Lately I am in the midst of so many good books and I want to be reading all of them at the same time and it is hard to decide what one to pick up. So I end up doing the sampler thing. If you are of the one-book-at-a-time ilk, you do not have this problem. I, however, have wandering eyes and book monogamy is next to impossible. Then I get myself in a situation like I am now where I have about six books in progress, all of them really good, all of them I want to be reading. But while my eyes wander, I still only have two of them and can read just one book at a time. Thus, the sampler happens and I pick up book A, read a few pages and put it down for book B. I read a few pages and book B is replaced by book C. You get the idea. I get to read them all but it is completely unsatisfactory.

I can hear you one book people say, Stef you know there is a simple solution to your problem, right? Yes, yes, I know, just choose a book and stick with it. But when I am reading book D, book A begins calling to me, singing a Siren song, don’t you want to know what happens next? Forget book D, you want me. I do! I want you so bad! Except book now book E is singing to me and I can’t concentrate. Sorry book A, gotta go.

A couple days ago it struck me that if I could read faster then at least it would be a partial solution. Except you can’t read poetry fast. Or thoughtful essays. Or weird short stories. Or Nathaniel Hawthorne. I get nowhere. Oh how I suffer! But what’s a girl to do? Why start another book of course!


Filed under: Books, In Progress, Reading

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7. Miss Emily

When the publisher offered me a review copy of Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor I hesitated. It featured Emily Dickinson. I generally don’t accept books like this but Emily Dickinson is a favorite of mine and O’Connor is not a newbie author nor is she a nobody, so I thought I’d take a chance especially since the publisher offered a second book to give away.

I’ve been finished with the book for over a week and debating about what to say. You see, I didn’t care for it all that much. I wanted to be excited about the book, I really did. I spent time trying to convince myself to be excited about it, thinking about what I did like instead of what I didn’t. But I just couldn’t do it. So please forgive me if this review lacks enthusiasm. Miss Emily is not a bad book at all. It is well written and has some good things in it. I am just not the ideal reader for it. Maybe you are though so allow me to tell you a bit about it.

Miss Emily is one of those two narrator books with the story told in alternating chapters from the limited perspective of the two characters. The characters here are Emily Dickinson herself and the Dickinson family’s new maid-of-all-work. Fresh off the boat from Ireland, seventeen-year-old Ada Concannon is smart, skilled and spirited. It is her spiritedness that has gotten her sent to America to begin with. She lost a couple jobs in Dublin and word was getting out which would make it harder for her to get a good placement in another house. Her mother’s sister and brother-in-law are already in America, Amherst to be exact, and well established with good reputations. So off Ada goes on the boat. Just as she gets settled in at her aunt and uncle’s, word arrives that the Dickinson’s are looking for a new maid for cooking, cleaning and all the other household work that maids do.

Ada fits in well with the Dickinson household. She takes her work seriously, likes the family, and Emily takes a shine to her. The two become friends of a sort since Emily spends so much time in the kitchen baking bread and cakes. Ada starts seeing Daniel Byrne, local horse whisperer and it seems like life can’t get any better. Into paradise comes Patrick Crohan, lazy, mean and a drinker. He takes a shine to Ada who continually refuses his advances. So Crohan sneaks into the Dickinson’s house one night and rapes her. On this point turns the entire second part of the book.

Up until Ada’s rape I was mostly enjoying the book even though there was really nothing going on in terms of plot or anything particularly interesting at all. So when Ada is raped it serves solely as a plot point and a tired one at that. This frustrated me to no end because, while Ada does not get pregnant she does get gonorrhea. She tries to keep everything a secret because she is ashamed. Of course it doesn’t stay secret and we get the usual spectrum of it was Ada’s fault to Ada was the victim. And when Daniel finally finds out he decides to take justice into his own hands.

Emily herself portrayed so that at times she seems like she is a child and other times a grown woman. There is tension between her and her sister-in-law, Sue. It is a curious relationship with Sue married with children and treating Emily like a dear, intimate friend and Emily treating Sue at times like a lover. At one point Sue and Emily are in a close embrace and Ada walks in on them. Ada doesn’t find it odd even though she realizes she interrupted a private moment. Sue isn’t disturbed by it either. But Emily is. Emily gets a little angry and behaves as though she had been caught doing something she should not have.

There are some nice moments in the book with Emily thinking about her writing and what it means to her. It is these moments that kept me from completely disliking the book. In her solitude Emily thinks things like this:

Oh, chimerical, perplexing, beautiful words! I love to use the pretty ones like blades and the ugly ones to console. I use dark ones to illuminate and bright ones to mourn. And when I feel as if a tomahwak has scalped me, I know it is poetry then and I leave it be.

This echoes a real letter Dickinson wrote, and probably never sent, “I’ve got a Tomahawk in my side but that dont [sic] hurt me much.” In fact much of Dickinson’s portion of the narrative echoes of her words and poetry. That is probably why I liked her part better than Ada’s.

Nonetheless, I am not quite certain what the aim of the novel is. The events in the book are not based on any real events. Ada is entirely made up. I don’t feel like I have any better insight into Emily Dickinson the person. And Ada’s story feels terribly cliche to me. While I didn’t care for the story, as I said before, the writing itself is good. In fact, I think the writing is the only thing that kept me reading the book to the end.

If you think you may like the book more than I did and want your name tossed into a hat for a chance to win a copy from the publisher, do say so in the comments. Unfortunately, only folks with U.S. addresses are eligible. Sorry about that. I will draw a name Friday afternoon (August 21st).


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Emily Dickinson

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8. The Popcorn that Was

The hawks have flown the nest. Oh they are still around now and then, but essentially they are gone. The squirrels wasted no time moving back in.

Now, I think I have mentioned we are growing popcorn in the garden this year instead of sweet corn. About a month ago Bookman asked, should we put nylon socks on the ears of corn? Nah, I said, the hawks have been keeping the squirrels away, nobody is going to bother the corn this year.

Except the hawks left at the same time the corn was ready to be picked. Want to guess who got the corn first?

One ear. One. That is all they left for us.

Yes, I am a stoopid hoomun.

Lemon squash

Lemon squash

Today I did manage to harvest quite a few things, however. Picked all the crabapples. Once they get cooked down I don’t know how much juice they will translate into, but there are a couple pounds of apples. We have cheesecloth now and are ready to go. Just need to carve out time to cut the apples open and stand over the stove stirring them while they cook down. We got half-pint jars too which will also come in handy for making zucchini relish.

Also harvested some carrots. We didn’t get many but the ones that did sprout are really lovely. And purple. Cosmic purple. Dug up the rest of the potatoes too. There were quite a few, enough to encourage me to grow potatoes again next year. Picked several softball-sized lemon squash. They are called lemon squash not because they taste lemony but because they are round and lemon yellow. Makes it really easy to see them in the green leaves for picking.

We already have a few small pumpkins on the vines. The cantaloupe is growing like crazy this year too and if all goes well it looks like we will have quite a few. The variety we grow is called Minnesota Midget. It is a short growing season cantaloupe that is not quite as big as the huge ones you get at the market, but perfectly sized for two people. The flesh is a lovely orange and the flavor is sweet and juicy. Another week or two and they will be ready for eating. I can hardly wait!

I cut back the comfrey for the second time this season. It had gotten huge. I must try to

Perennial sunflowers

Perennial sunflowers

be more proactive about cutting it back because the big stems flop over and the huge leaves cover and smother everything they land on. I had two big armfuls of comfrey that I spread around the chicken garden to build soil. I had planted an experimental patch of buckwheat in the sand and it sprouted but the plants were little things with tiny leaves and tiny flowers. They are now buried under comfrey. The rest of the chicken garden is mulched in a thick layer of wood chips. The wood chips will keep the weeds from growing, because weeds don’t care if they grow in glorious loam or stingy sand, and they will decompose, creating soil as they go. Wood chips take a long time to do this but we will also be adding leaves and straw to the mix. And we have a compost bin set up in the area too.

Regarding the chickens, Bookman called the city on Wednesday. We are not allowed to start building the coop until we get the permit process started. So the city is sending us a packet with all the information and forms and stuff. We should have it in a day or two. The city has taken its sweet time and not yet changed the rule about needing your neighbors’ permission, so we will have to get their signatures. We also have to submit a site plan for approval. I think once we get that done we can start building the coop. Hopefully it will be a long, mild autumn.

Biking

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my bike, Astrid? I thought I could still love my

The Ninja, brand new in 2006. I thought it was true love until Astrid came along

The Ninja, brand new in 2006. I thought it was true love until Astrid came along

city bike, Ninja, but after pulling it out for the first time this year to ride it over to the library —it has a basket, handy for carrying books and stuff — I realized for the first time what an uncomfortable bike it is. It is slightly too small for me, which explains why when we used to go on rides longer than to the library, I would get so frustrated. I never understood why. But Astrid and I fit really well and the difference is so obvious that I wonder why I never figured it out when I just had the Ninja. Well, I do know. It’s because I had never had a bike like Astrid that actually fit me before. It also makes me mad that the bike shop I got Ninja from let me out the door with it, that they didn’t bother to make sure it was the right size and all that. I have not been back to the shop I got the Ninja from since I bought it, and I will never go back to it or one of their many locations ever again.

Anyway, Astrid. I love her dearly.

We had a really fantastic ride yesterday. It was the usual training route. The day was one of heat and tropical humidity. At 7 a.m. it was already 70F/21C with humidity somewhere around 70% or more. One of the great things about cycling is you generate your own breeze when you ride so even while I sweat a lot, as long as I keep moving I don’t feel how hot and humid it is. When I have to stop for a traffic light though, I am suddenly one big puddle. So I guess you could say the hot and humid weather encourages me to keep moving.

Riley Lake, one of the many lakes along my ride

Riley Lake, one of the many lakes along my ride

And move I did! Last week I was so thrilled to have finally averaged 15mph/24kph. When I began my ride I told myself it was okay if I couldn’t do it again because of the weather. But I felt good, really good. Maybe the intervals I began doing twice a week two weeks ago are starting to pay off already. Maybe it was the overnight oatmeal I ate for breakfast. Or the zucchini bread that was my cycling snack for the day. Or maybe it’s that I am getting really good at drinking small amounts of water while riding instead of stopping every 45-60 minutes to guzzle some down. It could be a combination of everything. Whatever it was, when I got home and looked at my ride stats I averaged 15.3mph/24.6kph and I beat my Queen of the Mountain time by four seconds. Not too shabby! It just might be by race time at the end of September I’ll be averaging 16mph/26kph. It could happen, right?

I had a little splurge yesterday on some new cycling kit. I only have two jerseys, one pair of shorts and a skort. Team Estrogen is having a summer clearance sale so I thought I would take advantage. I ordered a new jersey, a jacket that will be great for spring and fall, bad kitty socks, and BOGO (by one get one free) shorts. I saved almost as much as I spent so I don’t feel too guilty about it. And now I won’t have to worry so much about when I need clean clothes for a ride and whether or not I’ve done the laundry. If you bike, tri, or run and haven’t visited Team Estrogen before, I recommend you stop by and take a look. They sell the good brands, have plus sizes, have frequent sales, and the whole site is geared toward active women and run by women too. Plus they have good customer service.

If you are looking for a little cycling motivation, or just enjoy the Tour de France, Bookman and I watched the movie Chasing Legends the other night. It is a documentary that follows team Columbia-HTC on the 2009 Tour. They were a new team that year and I believe it was Mark Canvendish’s first Tour. He made the most of it too by winning eight stages, the most any British rider had ever won. It’s a good film, exciting, funny, harrowing. The cinematography is fantastic. Plus it gives a bit of the history of the race during which at least one rider has died from exhaustion in the mountains. I was feeling pretty good about my average speed, these guys average 24mph/40kph over a day’s ride of 125-186 miles/200-300km!

Astrid and I won’t be riding in the Tour any time soon, or ever, but it might be a fun challenge some July to ride as many miles as the Tour over the course of a month instead of 21 days. I might be crazy but I am not that crazy! Ok so even a month would be kind of crazy since the Tour is 2,200miles/3,500km, which over the course of 31 days comes out to 71 miles/114km a day. Whoa. I’d have to save up my vacation time and take the entire month off! Might have to rethink that challenge a bit.


Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Tour de France

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9. The Argonauts

cover artLocal independent publisher Graywolf Press is on a winning streak. Over the past several years they have been publishing some really fantastic stuff. They make me feel both proud and lucky to live in Minneapolis! One of their 2015 publications, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson is another winner. Nonfiction to be sure but not one of those books that fits into a neat category.

The volume is slim, only 143 pages. The book is written in thought chunks. I have no idea what else to call them, these paragraphs of varying lengths separated by a band of white space much wider than a regular paragraph break. Each chunk is complete but the chunks flow together too to develop an idea or make an argument or tell a story. Then there are slightly wider bands of white space that indicate a change in direction or the beginning of a new story. It makes for a meditative mood and works like thinking or conversation where you circle around things, go off on a tangent and then come back then leap to something that seems completely unrelated but turns out to be associated in some way or another. I very much liked this style and it suits the subjects Nelson writes about as well her exploratory approach.

The Argonauts themselves, you may remember them from mythology, were those who sailed with Jason on his ship the Argo to get the Golden Fleece. They had other adventures too, of course, but that is the one they are chiefly known for. So before even knowing what the book is about, we are given the signal that it is an adventure, and exploration of some kind. Within a few pages of the book we are provided further explanation:

I sent you the passage from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase ‘I love you’ is like ‘the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.’ Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase ‘I love you,’ its meaning must be renewed by each use, as the ‘very task of love and of language is to give one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.’

The “you” Nelson is addressing is her spouse, artist Harry Dodge, who is gender fluid and does not fully identify as either male or female. Though over the course of the book Dodge begins taking testosterone and has a mastectomy. That information alone might give you an idea about how “Argonauts” applies in an even broader sense than Barthes’ original intention.

Nelson also writes about her pregnancy and motherhood and all of the cultural complications it entails as well as the physical and mental changes it brings. She writes about giving birth and how it felt like she was falling to pieces and sometimes like she was melting. She writes about her postpartum body and how she is supposed to immediately get to work according to all the magazines, and lose the baby weight, get back to her career, get back to a sex life and being sexy, pretty much as if nothing happened at all and there was no pregnancy and no baby. And she writes of her need and desire to define a boundary between her and baby:

I’ll let my baby know where the me and the not me begin and end, and withstand whatever rage ensues. I’ll give as much as I’ve got to give without losing sight of my own me. I’ll let him know that I’m a person with my own needs and desires , and over time he’ll come to respect me for elucidating such boundaries, for feeling real as he comes to know me as real.

The Argonauts is beautifully intimate without being confessional. Nelson balances out the personal with the scholarly, quoting Barthes and Derrida, Judith Butler, Jaques Lacan, Lucille Clifton, even Ralph Waldo Emerson gets a quote. She explores the broader social landscape and the effects it has on her and her family as well as the effects her “genderqueer” family has on society.

Nelson comes to no firm conclusions about anything. She accepts being in a state of constant change, living with ambiguity and having no real closure. Any time she gets near to being able to create some kind of closure, she refuses to do so. This seems to be a theme in a number of nonfiction books I have read in the past year or so and I must say I like it very much. Nelson acknowledges that ambiguity and refusing closure is uncomfortable for a good many people, but being willing to live with uncertainty creates a space for discovery and transformation. One could say it is the demesne of the Argonauts.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Graywolf Press

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10. Rat Queens, Volume Two

cover artA friend of mine and I always laugh because on Tuesdays she generally has a time slip and thinks it’s Wednesday and of course ends up disappointed when she realizes that, no, it’s Tuesday. On Wednesdays I generally do the same thing expect I think it’s Thursday. So she’s decided what we need to do is just have Monday #1, Monday #2, Monday #3, Monday #4, and Friday. This, she believes, will solve the whole problem since nearly every day will be Monday. However, since they are numbered, I know I will think it is Monday #4 when really it’s Monday #3 but I’ll feel worse than I do now because it will be Monday. One Monday a week is enough for me, thanks, and today happens to be this week’s Monday.

So let’s stand clear of deep thinking this evening and have a brief moment over Rat Queens, Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth by Kurtis Wiebe, art by Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic. I read the first Rat Queens volume way back in January and as I began volume two I felt a bit wobbly on where the story was. I remembered the big outline but not so much the little details and the book assumed I remembered the details. So we got off to a slightly bumpy start.

No matter though because I was soon swept up in the new story which turned out to be all kinds of fun. The Rat Queens have to defeat a badass dude who has a grudge against their town of Palisade and unleashes some nasty memory and dream-sucking monsters to kill everyone. It’s a nice narrative trick that lets the back stories of a couple of the Rat Queens be told. So we get to find out why Violet the dwarf has shaved off her beard and left home. We discover what is beneath mage Hannah’s odd hairdo. We meet former priestess of N’rygoth Dee’s husband and she gets to work through her religious doubts. Sadly we don’t get much of Betty in this story, though there is a hilarious moment when she has some mushrooms that are a little more than culinary, if you know what I mean.

There is also a tiny moment where we get a glimmer of why these four call themselves the Rat Queens. Rats are harbingers of impending destruction. The Rat Queens are very good at destruction of various kinds.

It’s kind of a relief that the second volume continues the great fun of the first. I expect volume three will do the same. Hopefully the wait for it won’t be terribly long. If you need a little light fun to get you through a week of Mondays, the Rat Queens just might be what you are looking for.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews

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11. Battle of the Slugs and Giant Zucchini

Goodness gracious! So much going on in the garden right now and so much to do! It seems like there is never enough time for it all but Bookman and I do what we can and that just has to be good enough.

Monster zucchini

Monster zucchini

Before we went to Albuquerque last weekend we had been watching our zucchini plants flower like crazy and grow bigger and bigger. Where are the zucchini? We looked and looked and couldn’t find any. Well today I found some. Couldn’t miss them really, they are so huge. How could I not have seen them before? Zucchini bread anyone? Bookman will also be making zucchini latkes and if they aren’t terribly woody, there will be zucchini noodles too. And zucchini relish. I’ve been antsy to try making relish. So excited to finally have zucchini! Must now keep a close eye on them in the garden to avoid more like this. There are a few lemon squash out there almost ready to pick. A day or two probably. At least those are bright yellow, hence the name lemon, can’t really miss them.

Also before the trip, I was in a battle with the slugs over the potato plants. I went

Tater-ific!

Tater-ific!

away for three days which meant the slugs ate every single last bit of green. Today I dug through the straw to see if there were at least some small potatoes. As I was digging I discovered why I had such a hard time with the slugs. We used straw for mounding up around the plants and while the top layer was dry, beneath it was wet, and, judging from the number of slugs I exposed to daylight, a happy haven for them. Seems I provided a near utopian paradise. But there were potatoes! Not big, but quite a few, enough that Bookman and I have decided that we will try again next year. But next year we will not be using straw!

Amaranth

Amaranth

I planted a little patch of amaranth this year as a kind of experiment to see how it grew in our garden and to discover if it was worthwhile to make it a regular thing. Amaranth is a grain that is high in iron and calcium and higher in fiber than whole wheat. It’s a versatile little grain that you can cook up for breakfast or “pop” and use in salads. You can also make pudding out of it and all sorts of other things. I am not certain how much we will get from out little patch. It is a tall and pretty plant with think red stalks and red-veined leaves. It is just starting to flower. I am not certain how large the flowers will get, but it looks like they might get pretty big. Since it isn’t a grass I don’t have to thresh it like wheat or oats, I just have to dry the seed heads upside down in a paper bag and then shake out the seeds. Sounds easy enough. We’ll see if that is true!

Walter has quite a lot of crabapples on him for such a little fellow. They are getting ripe and I picked a few today. Can you say crabapple jelly? I’ve never made it before but Bookman and I are both very excited to give it a try. I have to go on a hunt for a good recipe. If you have one, will you share it with me?

The okra is also starting to get pods. I have never eaten okra before. I know a lot of

Crabby okra?

Crabby okra?

people hate it but there are many who love it. It is a highly mucilaginous vegetable that needs to be cooked just so in order to avoid the slime. I only have one plant so it will be a while yet before I have enough to actually do anything with them. Can I freeze the pods, does anyone know? If they are tasty I will plant more next year, especially since they are pretty plants.

Bookman called the fencing people we are contracted with to install chain link fencing around the chicken garden. We are still at least three weeks away from getting it installed apparently. Good thing I am not waiting for it to be installed before moving on to building the chicken coop! I drew out the plans of what we want it to look like and how big, where to put windows, roosts, access and egg doors and all that. Now we have to figure out the materials list which then might lead to a few height and size adjustments depending on standard lumber sizing and all that.

Bookman is going to call the city on Tuesday to find out if we can start building the coop now without having first gotten permission from the neighbors and going through the whole permitting process. Rumor has it the city is still planning this year on changing the requirement of getting your neighbors’ signatures. The city will still require a permit though because the coop has to be inspected annually. The city also requires a site plan submission so they can be sure

Hummingbird being overrun by morning glories

Hummingbird being overrun by morning glories

the coop is sited according to city code. I’m confident our coop location won’t be a problem, it is far enough away from inhabited buildings and well away from the garage of both my nextdoor neighbors. Plus there will be a fence before we have chickens and eventually there will be a screening hedge along the alley.

I want to finish the coop this year, but, if for whatever reason we don’t manage to, as long as we get pretty far along we will have time to finish it before the chickens move in. We will get chicks in March and they won’t be old enough to move out to their house until early to mid May. I think I mentioned the coop and the run will be covered with a green roof. Is it bad of me to have already begun thinking what plants I want to plant in it? Most people plant sedums but I’m not going that route, I have other ideas!

Biking

I missed my long bike ride last weekend, missed it mightily. But it is good to take a rest so as not to get burnt out and all that. I had a friend join me again this week for part of my ride, about the first 16 miles/26km. It’s amazing how fast the time goes when I have company and we are chatting the whole time. I’ve been working to up my average speed to 15 mph/24 kph and I am happy to say I did it! I am really pleased about this. By the time I get to my race at the end of September I should even be a little bit faster. So exciting!

I started doing interval training twice a week on a stationary bike indoors. Have you ever done internal training? It sucks. But it is supposed to help me be fitter and faster. You know you are in deep with a sport when you are willing to do stuff you hate in order to get better at it. Also, I need up my core workout. I’ve been doing free weights since early spring and they have helped build upper body strength, something I have never had much of, but I need to start doing even more focused exercises. Like intervals, this too sucks. I’m resigned to the weights, I don’t love them but I don’t hate them either. But I am not keen on doing side planks and a variety of other strengthening maneuvers, but I have to do them if I want to get faster and stronger. Maybe as a side benefit I will get some sexy abdominal definition? I’m getting some nice muscle tone in my arms, a friend of mine even remarked on it the other day out of the blue, so why not some abs? It could totally happen! However, this does not mean the core workout stuff sucks any less.


Filed under: gardening Tagged: chickens

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12. The Martian

cover artSo yesterday I started composing in my head what I wanted to say about Andy Weir’s The Martian and I was working up a good post too until I realized I had homework to attend to! Poof went all my mental work. Crud. The homework was writing and submitting my Library Journal review on Frida Kahlo’s Garden. I can only submit reviews between 175-200 words and they have very specific requirements. Every word counts. It isn’t so very hard to write it now that I’ve gotten good practice at it. However, it doesn’t leave time to write that blog post either. Having begun writing that blog post in my head and getting on with it pretty well, do you think I might remember any of it? Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course not! That’s why there’s this excuse of an introduction. And unfortunately I had no mental dreaming time at work today to begin again so I begin now and we’ll see where this goes.

The Martian. Loved it. Laugh out loud funny at times. Mark Watney’s smartass humor is what helps him survive alone on Mars and that’s saying something because I don’t think many of us would find any kind of humor in being left for dead on Mars by your crewmates in an emergency evacuation during a major dust storm. And he doesn’t even have a radio with which to contact NASA. Talk about being completely and utterly alone. So he begins recording a log of his days and the things he has to do to survive. He is a botanist and an engineer, two skill sets that turn out to be really helpful as he has to repair things that break and jury-rig other equipment to make them do things they were not designed to do. He also has to figure out how to grow food because there is not enough astronaut food for him to survive the four years he is going to be there.

The book is Watney’s log but it also jumps around a bit so we get the story told through the perspective of NASA as well as the crew who left him behind. Here is an example of some of the humor. NASA has just realized Watney is alive and given a news conference. Two of the people in charge of the program are talking and we get this:

‘I wonder what he’s thinking right now.’

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

The pacing is great. There are many tense moments especially getting towards the end when something really bad happens. I was reading that part on the plane Sunday afternoon and I had a momentary mental fit: dammit! He better not die! If he dies I’m going to be really pissed! Weir wouldn’t do that would he? Take him so far just to kill him? He’s not George R.R. Martin. Please don’t be like George R.R. Martin!

There was actually another event so very close to the end that precipitated another similar outburst. These outbursts had to be mental you see because I was already in trouble for attempting to bring some very dangerous hummus onto the plane. I didn’t want to give them any reason to escort me somewhere when the plane landed.

I don’t think it is spoiler to say the book has a “happy” ending. If it is, I’m sorry to have just given it away.

Weir originally published the book chapter by chapter on his blog. He is one of those uber-geeks who spends his free time learning about relativistic physics and orbital mechanics. But in this case it is good because he began daydreaming about what-if Mars scenarios and it turned into a book with very accurate science. The book was so popular his readers asked him to make it available as an ebook. So Weir formatted it and published it on Amazon for .99 cents because Amazon wouldn’t let him give it away for free. It became such a success that he was approached by a publisher and the rest, as they say, is history. But between the Amazon publication and the print publication Weir received numerous letters from scientists kindly correcting his errors and Weir made corrections to the book accordingly before print publication. While we have not gone to Mars yet, NASA has a Mars program plan called Mars Direct and Weir used this as the basis for his book.

The book touched all kinds of buttons in my geeky heart; space travel, real science that not once relies on some made up magical science to save the day, funny, suspenseful, surprising and unabashedly entertaining. Also, if it were me stuck on Mars, I’d be so dead. Therefore, when the day arrives when humans do actually go to Mars, you will not find me standing in line for a chance to go. I’ll keep my feet firmly planted here on Earth, thank you very much.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Andy Weir, Mars

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13. August Reading

At the beginning of July I was astonished at how fast June went by, now here we are in August and it seems like July flew by even faster. How is that possible? I had better get to work on building that chicken coop or I will be SOL when the temperature plunges and the snow begins to fall and frantic to get it done in the uncertain spring weather. Of course, the chickens have to be about 10-12 weeks old before they can be moved outside, but I’d rather not have to feel rushed. Have I mentioned I borrowed Building Chicken Coops for Dummies from the library? I have always looked down my nose a bit at the “Dummies” books but no more! This is one fantastic book! So much useful advice on every aspect of building a coop. Of course it has a basic plan as well, and while it is not exactly what we are planning, it is still very useful. So yay!

July didn’t afford long hours on lazy hot days for reading. Instead I was sweating in the garden or sweating on my bike or collapsed on the sofa recovering from said activities. August will likely follow the same route. Does that keep me from planning all sorts of reading? Of course it doesn’t!

I am currently in the midst of and almost done with a bunch of books. I am about 90 pages away from finishing Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. This is one fantastic book! I am on tenterhooks about the ending. It feels like there is something ominous ahead. If this turns out not to be the case, I won’t be disappointed because the anticipation has been sweet and I really like Isabel Archer.

I am also very close to finishing a review copy of a book called Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor. It is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of an Irish maid-of-all-work to the Dickinson family and Emily herself. Once I finish it, the publisher has kindly offered a second copy for a giveaway. So look for that, probably next week sometime.

A third book I am almost done with is The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. This is one of those slim books you have to read slowly. It is a mixed genre sort of book written in an episodic/collage kind of style. It is thought provoking in all kinds of ways and I am liking it very much even if sometimes I feel like I am not quite getting it.

I am still enjoying The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. Sadly when a book needs to be set aside, this seems to be the one. I don’t know why but that is how it is. Hopefully I will be turning the last page by the end of the month. It is time to set something else aside instead if I have to.

I am not close to finishing but am in the middle of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I’ve not read Bear before and am greatly enjoying this steampunk tale with sassy women and no good politicians.

I have Kelly Link’s newest collection Get in Trouble from the library and didn’t think I would actually get a chance to read it before having to return it and get in line again. But as luck would have it, the holds queue completely evaporated by the time the book came up for renewal so I renewed it and should be able to finish it. I have read one or two stories and they are typical Kelly Link weird.

One book I have from the library I know I won’t be able to read is Mark Danielewski’s newest, The Familiar. It is a big fat book and like his past books it is not a straight forward text. It looks interesting but I haven’t had the chance to spend much time with it to know whether I actually want to read it. If I do decide to read it I will have to buy my own copy so I am not forced to rush through it.

I have also begun a little study of Elizabeth Bishop. I have her Poems and finished the first volume of her published work, North & South, last week. Already I like her much better than Keats. I also have One Art, a collection of her letters and have begun reading that. What a good letter writer she was! So smart and funny, a completely different voice than in her poetry. And as luck would have it, there seems to be a bit of an Elizabeth Bishop revival in the works. I’ve seen numerous articles and essays about her around the internet in the last several months and the inimitable Colm Tóibín has just published a slim book called On Elizabeth Bishop. I just borrowed it from the library yesterday and am greatly looking forward to reading.

That should keep me going for August and into September too! Any good books on your plate?


Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Whoever said summer was for hours of lazy reading didn't live in a four-season climate with long cold winters

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14. Miss Me?

Hello! I’ve been away. Did anyone notice? What have I been away doing? Well, first, Thursday last week was Bookman’s birthday. He turned forty-eleven, something worth celebrating, eh? So we did. We went out to breakfast at our favorite breakfast place and I baked him a cake. Per Bookman’s request, the cake was chocolate chocolate chip with peanut butter cream frosting. I am not the cook of the house but that does not mean I don’t know how to cook, and I made a freaking awesome cake if I do say so myself. We had a meandering kind of quiet day with a little of this and a little of that. Some of that included packing because Friday morning we flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Bookman’s brother lives there and his niece got married on Saturday. We were very happy we could make it for the wedding. Bookman and I don’t often get to travel anywhere together, our slow times at work don’t exactly coincide and we both work places with a small staff which requires a whole other level of scheduling consideration. We knew about the wedding though since last winter and were able to make sure everything coordinated.

A friend of ours stopped by and took care of Waldo and Dickens. We travel so little, and, as I said, rarely together, that we had never left the cats alone like this before and they are 8-years-old! They survived just fine though. They were a bit mad at us when we got home last night, did the “I’m going to sniff you but you are not allowed to touch me” bit. Waldo is also an expert at making big sad eyes so he mooned around the house trying to look as wounded as possible to elicit sympathy and then not let us touch him. Ah, the cats, they know how to make their people feel guilty. They soon got over being mad though, their desire for cuddles outweighing their resentment. When I woke up this morning I had Waldo snuggled up and purring on one side of me and Dickens snuggled up and purring on the other. Today they have been sticking to me like glue. Bookman and I left for an hour to go grocery shopping and upon our return they tried to play the “you’re causing us trauma” card but they dropped it pretty fast when they realized we weren’t buying it.

It was a good trip. A Beautiful wedding that even had vegan food! And it was great to catch up with Bookman’s family, many of whom I haven’t seen in a very long time. The flight to and from wasn’t completely terrible. The only snag was on our return yesterday. I opt for the pat down instead of going through those full-body x-ray machines. The TSA agent got a false-positive for explosives on her gloves after the pat down. So then she took everything out of my carry-on bag that had just gone through being x-rayed and had passed and tested it all for evidence of explosives. In the bag was a sealed, just bought container of hummus and some pita bread that was going to be my and Bookman’s lunch. Well, apparently hummus is considered a potential hazard and even though the luggage screener had let it through, the TSA agent emptying my bag refused to. When I told her it was sealed and it was my lunch she told me I could go back out of the airport, eat it and then come back in. And go through all this again? My flight leaves in an hour! She was not sympathetic and tossed my hummus in the trash. I suspect after I left she fished it out and had it for her own lunch.

After going through my bag and finding no explosives, the TSA agent took me to a private room and gave me another pat down. I’m not sure why I needed a private room for this because the pat down was exactly the same as before only she used the palm of her hand down the inside of my legs rather than the back of her hand. Bookman gives them the benefit of the doubt and says they are offering privacy, but I suspect it is meant to be intimidating. Of course on the second go-round everything was fine. Except it wasn’t because Bookman and I no longer had any lunch.

Albuquerque airport does not have an abundance of restaurants like the one in Minneapolis does. There was no decent food to be found so we ended up having a big plate of overly priced, greasy french fries for lunch. I have not had french fries in quite a few years and this “lunch” had the curious effect of feeling both like a naughty treat and disgusting at the same time. But between that, some almonds the TSA agent did not deem a threat, and a tiny bag or airplane peanuts, we made it back to Minneapolis a little hungry but not starving.

There wasn’t much time for reading during our stay in Albuquerque but of course I had plenty of reading material! I had my Kobo with several books on it, my iPad with magazines, and I finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir on the airplane yesterday.

It’s nice to be home, sleeping in my own bed that doesn’t sag in the middle, not having to breathe dry desert air and dry, overly air conditioned air, having my garden-gone-wild and being surrounded by brilliant greens instead of the dusky desert colors, which are pretty but don’t exactly satisfy me.

Oh, one last thing! Thursday last week while weeding in the garden around some milkweed and feeling a bit sad about not hosting any monarchs this year, I came upon a big fat monarch caterpillar! It was huge and I suspect, close to being ready to spin a cocoon. I will have to keep my eyes out for it!

Back to work for me tomorrow and back to a regular schedule. Breaking up your routine is good to do now and then, but it is also nice to get back to one as well.


Filed under: Personal

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15. Margaret Atwood Imagines the Future Post-Oil

There are stories in the news all the time about climate change these days. the most recent one, in case you missed it, is how sea levels will likely rise more and faster than previously thought. If you are considering buying beachfront property you might want to rethink that.

But while these stories are shocking and worrisome, for the most part people go on their merry way because they don’t live on the coast or in drought burdened California or any other “threatened” place. Not in my backyard, not my problem. Except it is. If we think the migrant issues in the Mediterranean are bad now, it is only going to get worse. But worse still is so abstract it is hard to imagine. That’s where writers like Margaret Atwood can help.

In 2009 she wrote a piece on climate change for the German newspaper Die Zeit. Now, Atwood has updated the article and the online magazine Matter has reprinted it as It’s Not Climate Change it’s Everything Change. In the article Atwood imagines three possible scenarios, a utopian one, a worst-case one, and a somewhere in between one. They are nothing more than short sketches but it is very easy for the imagination to fill in the details of what if.

And while I would love to be able to go down the road of the utopian scenario, realistically, it is too late for that one to happen. So we are looking at the possibility of worst-case or something short of that. But if anyone thinks the not worst possible outcome scenario is not that bad, you’re wrong. And if you think that daily life as we know it will be pretty much the same in twenty or thirty years, you’re wrong about that too.

The essay isn’t a huge downer though, in typical Atwood fashion, she injects some dark humor into it:

The present governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is said to have issued a memo to all government of Florida employees forbidding them to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming,” because he doesn’t believe in them (though Scott has denied this to the press). I myself would like to disbelieve in gravitational forces, because then I could fly, and also in viruses, because then I would never get colds. Makes sense: you can’t see viruses or gravity, and seeing is believing, and when you’ve got your head stuck in the sand you can’t see a thing, right?

Oh, she is so good!

What Atwood’s essay drives home most, however, is that no matter what future scenario comes to pass, everything is going to change. It will be changing in our lifetime. It will happen whether we want it to or not.


Filed under: Margaret Atwood Tagged: climate change

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16. Creativ Magazine

I don’t often talk about magazines here for no other reason than they are not top on my list of reading material I feel compelled to discuss. Oh I read them, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know how awesome I thought the article on building a solar oven in Mother Earth News was. Still, when I got an email offering me a review copy of a new magazine called Creative, I thought sure, why not?

Creativ aims to share the stories of people who are, well, creative. But lest you think it is all about artists and writers, we are talking creative in a very broad sense. So broad that it includes the stories of people like fourteen-year-old Alyssa Carson who decided at the age of three she wanted to be an astronaut and has proven it to be not just a passing fancy. Now a Mars One Ambassador, she is determined to be one of the first humans on Mars. All of her studies are aimed at this goal. Then there are the Australians, Cedar and Stuart Anderson, who created a new and revolutionary beehive. The Flow hive allows beekeepers to harvest honey without disturbing the hive which means no bees die and the hive is left intact so the bees don’t have to waste energy rebuilding it. And then there is book sculptor Emma Taylor who creates gorgeous art from old books.

The magazine itself is beautiful to look at. Thick, glossy paper and page after page of full-color gorgeous photographs. It is a feast for the senses. My only complaint is the stories are too short, I want more! It is inspiring to see and hear about people from all around the world and the creative things they are doing with their lives. It made me want to be more creative.

Creativ has lots of online content and is trying to build a community where people can share their stories. The magazine is available at bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Chapters, through subscription, and online. Take a look if you are searching for a little inspiration. If you don’t find any I’ll be surprised.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Creativ

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17. Beans and Hawks

This time of year there isn’t much to do in the garden except weed, water, watch, wait and harvest. Actually, now that I type that out, that’s quite a lot! The harvesting right now is bush beans! Yellow wax beans to be exact, though I don’t remember what variety. Bookman made us a delicious dinner with beans, garden peas, tofu, couscous and a cashew “alfredo” sauce earlier this week. He just made it up as he went along. When I asked him if he’d be able to replicate it because it was so good he said “probably.” That’s the thing with cooks who make things up on the fly, they don’t know what they’ve done half the time so an exact repeat performance is not likely. But he’ll be able to make something close so I shouldn’t complain.

The zucchini has been flowering heavily but there are no zukes on the plants yet. We planted lots of zucchini this year instead of cucumbers. We never have much luck with cucumbers and I can’t eat them (they give me really bad indigestion) so the ones we do get Bookman always has to eat on his own. I’ve been saving up recipes for things like zucchini pickles and zucchini relish and there are the old standbys of zucchini “noodles” and bread. So we are ready for a zucchini bonanza!

The tomatoes are flowering and there are even a few green tomatoes on the cherry variety we have growing. The bell peppers this year were a complete disaster. All the plants we sprouted died and the two plants we bought, one died and the other has two very tiny peppers on it about the size of a big marshmallow and they are not getting any bigger. A gardening friend tells me all of her pepper plants are stunted and only have tiny fruit too. So I can comfort myself and say it has nothing to do with me.

The cantaloupe is vining an flowering like crazy. And I noticed yesterday the pumpkin is starting to vine too. The popcorn has tiny ears of corn on a few of the plants. None of the stalks every got taller than me and I am not very tall! I’m not confident that we will get many ears of corn, but we’ll see.

broad-winged hawk babies

broad-winged hawk babies

The big thing this week are the hawks in my neighbor’s tree. With our handy Birds of Minnesota Field Guide, we have identified them as Broad-winged hawks. Also, it seems there are three youngsters and not just one! Three hawks were sitting on our garden arch at the back of the garden. We thought one was baby and the other two were the parents. Then a fourth hawk came swooping in, much sleeker than the three on the arch, and landed on the power line not far away. Since our identification of them and learning a bit about them, we figure that was mama hawk. Papa hawk doesn’t really hang around much with this species. I managed to get a photo of the three babies, they are nearly as big as the mother but have a fluffier look about them yet (click on photo to enlarge).

This afternoon as I was hanging laundry out to dry, one of the babies was drinking and bathing in my neighbor’s bird bath. It was a rather amusing thing to watch!

We are expecting some hot days this week at or close to 90F/32C. It will make the zucchini, tomatoes, corn and lone okra plant very happy. Me, not so much.

Biking

Yesterday I did 56 miles/90 km and averaged 14.9 mph/23.9kph. My goal is 15 mph/24 kph which is a little slow on the racing side of things, but I’m still pretty pleased. I signed up for the Gran Fondo on September 27th. They have the course posted (a metric century!) and it has some big hills in it which scares me a bit. I might have to go drive the route in a car before the race date just to get an idea of what to expect. Bookman will not be joining me for the race but he will be at the start and finish to cheer me on.

I am finding that long rides involve just as much psyching myself up as they do physical exertion. The big hills on my route are mostly between miles 22-30 (km 35-48) and mostly come one right after the other. But there is one steep hill at about mile 40/64 km that I have always made it up but that some days, like yesterday, really kicks my butt. It was warm and humid by the time I got to it, I had been feeling nearly my entire ride like my legs were tired and by the time I got to this last big hill I had convinced myself it was going to be really hard. So it was. For the last month I have been able to make it up this hill without shifting down from my big ring, but yesterday I was so convinced I wouldn’t make it I shifted out of the big ring at the bottom of the hill and ground my way up. So whenI got home and discovered I had almost made my 15 mph average speed goal I realized my legs weren’t as bad as I had convinced myself they were. Then of course I started making up excuses. Oy.

I had company on my ride yesterday for the first 13 miles/21km, a coworker who wants to up his biking fitness joined me. It was fun to have company for that short while (about 50 minutes) and we chatted away the whole time. I think I did most of the chattering as he was working hard after a bit to keep up the pace I was setting. But it was fun for both of us. He plans to join me again, not next weekend because Bookman and I will be attending a wedding, but the Saturday after that.

Bookman and I both registered for the Jesse James fun ride on September 12th. It too is a metric century (100 km) but because it is a fun ride it is not timed and we can take all day to ride the course (as opposed to the Gran Fondo that requires you finish in 5.5 hours). The ride is an hour south of the Twin Cities and the course is over country roads with some lovely rolling hills. It will be good practice for the Gran Fondo two weeks later.

I have a feeling August is going go zooming by. Why not, it seems like the whole summer has been on continuous full-speed. And I still have a chicken coop to build!


Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: broad-winged hawk, Gran Fondo, Jesse James Days

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18. Sex Criminals, Volume Two

cover artThe first volume of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky was kind of quirky, fun and original. Jon and Suzie can both stop time when they orgasm. They each think they are the only one. They meet and what fun when they can stop time together. Suzie’s library is being foreclosed on by the bank where Jon works. They decide to “raise” the money by stopping time and robbing the bank. Except it turns out there are sex police, or at least three people who say that’s what they are. The robbery foiled and the police barely evaded, Jon and Suzie find themselves angry and confused.

In Sex Criminals Volume Two, Two Worlds One Cop, Jon and Suzie discover they can be tracked. They become paranoid and pretty much cease having sex. And then their relationship begins to fall apart. Jon sees the head of the sex police at the bank and finds out her real name and address and decides to break into her house. It does not go well. He also discovers one of the other members of the police is a very wealthy man who invests a lot of money through the bank. And suddenly the grace period the bank had given the library is revoked and the bank immediately forecloses and knocks down the library. But they discover another person who can also stop time and has met the “police.” They form a plan. What that plan is we really don’t know because that’s pretty much where this volume ends.

It also ended with me feeling pretty meh about this whole series and doubting that I will even bother with volume three whenever it should be published. After the novelty of the first volume you have to double down and really make an effort to have a good and interesting story because, well, the novelty has worn off. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the story all that interesting. I still don’t know who the sex police are or what they are doing since they aren’t really police at all. The story introduces a couple of new characters and tries to do some character development particularly with Jon, but it just didn’t work for me. When the best thing about the book is the “extras” at the end, I have to say the series is no longer that interesting for me.

And how about those extras? The “Sex Tips” were laugh out loud funny and I kept interrupting Bookman to read them to him. Here is one of my favorites:

Shower sex is great because you can fantasize that you’re having sex out in the rain, but the rain is hot because these are the End Times.

Heh.

There’s really nothing else to be said about this one.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction

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19. How the Garden Does Grow!

Common milkweed in bloom

Common milkweed in bloom

A hot day today with extremely high humidity makes it an impossible day to garden. Even going out to hang laundry to dry I am soaked with sweat within minutes. In spite of the breeze the air is oppressive and I get hotter and hotter so that returning indoors feels so very good. It is unfortunate to not be able to work outside as there is so much to be done, so many weeds to pull. There are peas to pick as well but it is just too hot. Perhaps later this evening before the thunderstorms arrive there will be a bearable window for pea picking.

All the black raspberries have been picked and we have very full pint. So many have mentioned they had ever heard of black raspberries before and wondered what they taste like. They do not taste like your regular red raspberry, not even close. The nearest thing I can liken their flavor to is concord grapes; sweet but a little tangy too with perhaps a hint of blueberry. How’s that for a precise description? Someone totally needs to hire me to write for their garden catalog!

I’m still picking gooseberries, a few every couple days. I think by the end of the week I will have them all

A happy herb spiral

A happy herb spiral

picked and then it will be time to figure out how to make them into jam. I picked the few remaining red currants and popped one in my mouth to try. They are supposed to be not as tart as black currants. Now I have only every eaten black currant jam and had dried black currants, nothing fresh picked. The red currant was tart but not unpleasantly so. What was a surprise was the seeds. Three or four rather large ones. Currants are small enough as it is, now I find out they are at least half full of seeds inside. The red ones are anyway. I have not yet had any fruit on my black currant. So when jam making with the currants, gooseberries and elderberries, I can look forward to straining out seeds. It had better be worth it!

With this heat the zucchini is really taking off and is covered in yellow blossoms. The cantaloupe is flowering too. And finally the tomato plants we started from seed are growing well. All of the bell peppers, however, are either dead or stunted and sickly looking for no reason that I can figure out. So earlier in the week we cleared the garden space and I planted turnips and some more radishes. Speaking of radishes, one of the varieties I planted this year are purple all the way through, malaga they are called. They grow well and unlike the red ones which have a tendency to split, stay round and firm. They do, however, have a bit of bite to them, not so hot to make your mouth burn but enough to make you take notice. Crunchy and a little peppery, they are marvelous sliced up on a sandwich with tofu or tempeh. I wouldn’t want them in a green salad though, I don’t think they would play well with mild flavors. Of course, you might think otherwise if you are a hot radish fan. Regardless, I highly recommend growing them if you have a little patch.

Are there potatoes under all that straw?

Are there potatoes under all that straw?

The potatoes are also growing like crazy. This is the first time I have grown any so I hope I am doing it right. I keep mounding up straw and the plants keep getting taller and taller and I add more straw. Are there potatoes in there under all the straw? I hope so but I won’t be able to find out until after the plants begin to die back. That doesn’t look like it will be very soon but I can’t say for certain. I just watch and mound up straw and wait and hope for the best. A lot like most things I do in the garden.

Squirrels and rabbits have been a bit scarce around the garden lately. Why? Remember the hawk nesting in my neighbor’s tree? There is now a baby. It can kind of fly between the nesting tree in the backyard and the big oak tree in my neighbor’s front yard. I haven’t managed to see it yet, it is careful to keep hidden in the leaves. I can hear it just fine though. Hawks aren’t songbirds and don’t tweet or chirp. So imagine the sounds you’ve heard raptors make, scale it down and raise the pitch to that of a squeaking door and you will come close to what this baby sounds like. And it being a hungry impatient baby it makes quite a lot of noise! Still, it is great fun having it around and I wonder if the parents will return to nest in the same place again next year. If so, I will have to be very careful that my chickens don’t give the impression of being a good dinner.

Last week we experimentally seeded buckwheat in the sand of the chicken garden. While morning glories and grass

buckwheat sprouting in the chicken garden sand

buckwheat sprouting in the chicken garden sand

have already begun to sprout, I did not have high hopes for the ability of anything desirable to grow in all that sand. But Friday I went out to check and there were sprouts! I watered them, then watered again yesterday, and today they are coming up really strong. Hooray! It’s going to take more than buckwheat sprouts to make the sandbox a garden, but it is a beginning.

We have bought the shed kit we are building for storage of bikes and garden tools and it will be delivered on Thursday this week. It comes with all the screws and nuts and bolts and pre-drilled holes, etc, like IKEA furniture. Bookman and I are actually pretty good at putting together IKEA furniture, how will we do with a shed? It can’t be that hard, can it? Four walls, a roof and a door. Hopefully it won’t take us long to get it all built. Once it’s up, or at least mostly up, I can mark out more areas to sow buckwheat. Stay tuned…

Biking

Another crash-free week for me and Astrid. The riders in the Tour de France have not been so lucky. There have been loads of crashes and a number of riders have had to drop out because of broken bones. Yikes! My scrapes are almost all healed and my bruises have turned all kinds of lovely colors and are just beginning to fade. I can wear a skirt again and not make people gasp in horror.

It was a warm and humid day for my long ride yesterday (55 miles/88.5km) so I left a full hour earlier in the morning than usual. I felt really good and was sure when I was done that my sprint intervals would have gotten me personal best times and that I surely had managed to average 15mph/24kph, a goal I have set myself as I have been hovering so very close to it for the last few rides but not quite making it. Well, once my ride data was uploaded I found I didn’t make it yesterday either. Nor did I get personal bests. I did beat my QOM time on my favorite hilly segment by four seconds though so that was something. Still, I was a bit disappointed. Even though I felt good I guess the humidity had more of an effect than I expected. Oh well, there is always next week when I will try again!

Speaking of beer--historic signage along my biking route

Speaking of beer–historic signage in downtown Minneapolis

Have any of you ever ridden in a Gran Fondo? There are three in Minnesota that I have recently discovered. They aren’t exactly races but they are run like races and riders get a tracking chip and are timed. It’s like the chip runners get in their timed “race” events. There is a Gran Fondo in April as part of the Ironman bike ride. There is the Fulton Gran Fondo in May sponsored by the Fulton Brewing company in Minneapolis. The ride is followed by a beer festival and event participants get a coupon for one free beer. Then in September is the Life Time Gran Fondo sponsored by Lifetime Fitness and the Waconia Brewing Company. What’s the deal with bike events and beer? I don’t drink alcohol so I am a bit mystified. Anyway, the September ride is 60 miles/96.5km and I believe one or both spring rides are 100 miles/161km.

The Life Time Gran Fondo is a week after my 62-mile/100km Jesse James Day ride. I am tempted to do it. For my $40 registration fee I get a t-shirt, a beer (or a root beer), live entertainment at the finish line festival as well as a fully supported ride that includes aid stations (snacks!) and bike assistance. Plus, since it is timed, I suspect I will get a ranking among finishers which is very motivating because, as I have mentioned before, I’m kind of competitive. Plus it will give me extra incentive to keep working on improving my average speed. What do you think? Should Astrid and I go for it?


Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: black raspberries, chicken garden, Gran Fondo, malaga radish

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20. Ah Monday

Let’s all pause for the collective groan that is Monday.

Feel better? Maybe some book stuff will help.

First, hop over to Bitter Empire and check out my review of a sweet little book called George’s Grand Tour. The book is about George, eighty-three, and his “young” neighbor Charles, seventy-six, who decide to road trip the route of the Tour de France.

And if that isn’t enough, here are some interesting links I have been collecting.

  • What’s the Point of Handwriting? (via LitHub). From the article: “Unlike digital’s precision, writing is blurry individuality under a general system. But in addition to this, we all have our own personalized understanding of arrows, squiggles, double-underlines and so on—little personal codes we develop over time to ‘talk to ourselves.’ To write by hand is to always foreground an inevitable uniqueness, visually marking out an identity in opposition to, say, this font you’re reading right now.” Now that’s an interesting twist! Giving up handwriting for digital text is giving up something that is unique to each of us. Don’t give away your individuality, grab a pen and start writing!
  • Gods and Goddesses help us all, The Millions has a list of the Most Anticipated books of the second half of 2015. Readers, get your TBR lists ready, you’ll be adding gobs of books to it.
  • Before you put your TBR list away, take a look at Neglected Books Revisited, Part 1 at American Scholar. It being a part one implies there will soon be a part two!
  • And while you are adding books, might as well check out a list by novelist Sophie McManus of 7 Great Books Born from “Catastrophes”. Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill leads the list and I can attest to it being a pretty great book.
  • On the futility of writing (and writing in spite of it all) (via LitHub). From the article: “Were I ever to be asked for a writing tip, something born out of this experience would be my choice: walk into any gigantic bookshop and think whether you can face being one more name lost in this desert of words. If that ideal situation proves too much to bear do something else with your time (it is of course highly likely that if you go around asking for writing tips you will never make it on print).” And, might I add, if you are that kind of person, you probably imagine your book will be displayed on a front table as a bestseller.
  • In The World’s Descent Steve King notes that Harold Bloom turned 85 on July 11th and compares what Bloom believes reading should be with what a few other scholarly types are saying these days. I am not a fan of Bloom’s dogmatism and his anti-feminist rants, but nonetheless I respect the man. How can I not respect someone who cares so deeply about literature even if I disagree with him on a number of things?
  • Nicola Griffith writes The Women You Didn’t See: A Letter to Alice Sheldon. You may know Alice Sheldon better under her pen name, James Tiptree, Jr. It’s a lovely, sad letter.

There you are. I hope at least one of them will go a little way to help Monday be not quite so bad.


Filed under: Links, Reviews

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21. The Bat-Poet

cover artI don’t often read children’s books, I don’t have children of my own nor do I spend time with people who have children. However, when Carl Phillips in The Art of Daring discusses a few poems by Randall Jarrell and mentioned he had written a children’s book called The Bat-Poet, well, I had to check it out. My marvelous public library had a copy and I requested it immediately. Oh happy day when it arrived and I discovered it had illustrations by Maurice Sendak!

First published in 1964, just a year before Jarrell died at the age of 51, this is a little book that will delight everyone no matter what age. It is the story of a little brown bat “the color of coffee with cream in it,” who spends his days sleeping upside down from the roof of a porch snuggled up with the other bats. One day the other bats move into the barn to sleep but the brown bat didn’t want to sleep elsewhere so he stays on the porch alone. And because he is alone without the warmth of his companions, he begins waking up during the day and noticing things.

Like the mockingbird. The mockingbird sings and sings and sings and can imitate other animals and sounds. The bat is enchanted. He tries to sing but quickly discovers that bats can’t, so decides instead to imitate the mockingbird’s words. And the bat composes a poem:

At dawn, the sun shines like a million moons
And all the shadows are as bright as moonlight.
The birds begin to sing with all their might.
The world awakens and forgets the night.

He is so pleased with himself he wants to share his poem and all he has learned about the

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

daytime with the other bats. But the other bats just can’t be bothered. The sun hurts their eyes. They are too tired. Bats aren’t supposed to be awake during the day.

Disappointed, the little brown bat decides he will share one of his poems with the mockingbird. The mockingbird is so full of himself he has a hard time being impressed, but he does not completely discourage the brown bat’s poetic endeavors. So our little bat goes in search of a new audience and discovers the chipmunk. The chipmunk is at first afraid of the bat but eventually agrees to allow the bat to compose a poem about him and then return in a few days to recite it. Are you surprised to hear the chipmunk is delighted and becomes the bat’s best listener and cheerleader?

I won’t tell you more, you have to get a copy of this book and discover the rest of the story for yourself. It’s a lovely, gentle story about poetry, creativity, and being different. But it does not have a slick moral at the end that slaps you in the face. It is a story written by a poet after all. Don’t worry, our little brown bat doesn’t die, nor is he an outcast or anything like that. Winter comes and he does what brown bats do in winter, hibernates in the barn with the rest of the bats. But it is not a giving in to convention and giving up poetry either, because as out little bat falls asleep he is thinking of the poem he composed about bats that he plans on telling them all when they aren’t so sleepy.


Filed under: Books, Children's Books, Reviews Tagged: Randall Jarrell

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22. Reading on Screens

Things have been quiet in the print versus digital debate lately for which I am glad, what’s the saying about beating a dead horse? I do understand that there is still much we don’t know about our brains and how reading online and reading in print affects how we read, what we read and how well we read it and I am grateful that the debate is heading down that river and away from the techno-evangelist’s books are dead digital utopia. But because it has been awhile since there has been anything “out there” about it, someone had to write an update about where we stand just in case we forget. And like a moth to the flame I had to fly right for it.

Everythig Science Knows about Reading on Screens is pretty much a summary to-date. You won’t find anything new or revelatory in the article unless you are one of the few readers in the world who have somehow managed to be disconnected from it all (and if you are that sort of reader, you have my admiration!).

What is most striking about this article is how it proves a number of things about reading on screens that it discusses. Like skimming. The presentation of the article invites it with blurry moving things on the header and cutting up the text of the article. I almost didn’t finish reading the article because all of the moving blurs were giving me a headache! The article quotes Ziming Liu, a researcher at San Jose State University:

Liu noted in his study that sustained attention seems to decline when people read onscreen rather than on paper, and that people also spend less time on in-depth reading. ‘In digital, we can link in different media, images, sound, and other text, and people can get overwhelmed,” explains Andrew Dillon, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas, Austin, “These are disruptive activities that can carry a cost in terms of attention.’

Ironically, this falls immediately below one of the big, moving blurry blocks! Distracting, check! Overwhelming, check!

We’ve been trained by internet articles like this one. It isn’t necessarily that I want to skim or that I purposely interrupt my reading with distractions, it’s the way words have been presented on the internet since websites were invented that has made me read this way on a screen. So is it any surprise then when given an article or story to read on a screen even without all of the attendant internet bling that I might read it just as though all that bling were there?

The article concludes:

Despite the apparent benefits of paper, Mangen and other reading researchers caution the screen-reading vs. traditional reading question has nuances that scientists have yet to fully understand. Which method works better may depend on the individual (for example, there’s evidence that for some people with dyslexia, e-readers improve reading speed and comprehension). Ultimately, it may be that both print and screen have unique advantages, and we’ll need to be able to read equally well on both—which means keeping our distracted habits onscreen from bleeding into what we read on an e-book or paperback. And reading researchers have some advice for how to prevent this: forget your smartphone and computer, sit down, and read a book.

Common sense. But I have to stop myself decrying the painfully obvious conclusion because common sense isn’t always a strong point for a good many people I have found, especially those getting grants to study the things that avid readers already know and could have told them without any trouble. Should it ever happen that researchers ask us one of these days about print and digital reading, someone is going to have to pick me up off the floor because I will have fainted.


Filed under: Books, ebooks, Reading, Technology Tagged: print v digital

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23. Shedding

Shed before

Shed before

I am so very tired. It has been a full weekend plus hot and yesterday was tropically humid and Friday night we had severe weather blow through which meant not much sleep. I need another weekend!

The main reason I am so exhausted right now is because Bookman and I spent all day working on assembling our new shed! Woo! There has been lots of sweating and swearing I can tell you that. The shed is a kit and everything comes labeled and the holes are pre-drilled. The video shows a happy couple putting it together in eight minutes! It looks so gosh darn easy surely it will only take us a couple of hours. Ha!

We’ve worked on it all day in the heat and we still aren’t done. The walls were pretty easy to put together,

Shed after

Shed after

the roof, not so much. There are a number of places where you have to line up holes blind and you can’t tell if they are aligned until you drill in the screw and the piece stays on or falls off because you missed the hole. What we have left to finish is the peak of the roof, the door handle and locks, and the outside corner finishing pieces. Once we finish the last bit of roof, everything else should be easy, keyword there being “should.” Strike that, as I was writing this, Bookman went out and put in the door handle and locks and the windows and snapped on the outside corner finishing pieces. So all we now have left is to secure those finishing pieces and screw down the peak of the roof. Bookman is an awesome fellow, have I mentioned that lately?

In the garden itself, there are butterflies everywhere, red admirals, monarchs, swallowtails, and what I think was a red-spotted purple, one I don’t recall ever having seen before. It was very pretty with its blue markings on black wings. There are also all kinds of bees and other tiny pollinators everywhere and the size of the dragonflies this year! As big as dragons some of them!

The real excitement for the week though has been the baby hawk that is in my neighbor’s tree. It is flying now and it’s parents force it to practice. They push it out of the tree and it flies down and lands on our clothesline pole. If it doesn’t move fast enough, one of the parents swoops down and gives it a poke to make it fly somewhere else. So then it will land on the roof of the garage of my other neighbor and sit until a parent pokes it to make it fly again. It is all rather amusing to watch. When I came home from work a little after noon on Friday, one of the parents was sitting on my deck railing keeping an on junior in the nesting tree. Parent hawk had just brought junior something to eat and junior was up in the tree digging in. I could not tell what it was eating, my guess is a squirrel. Meanwhile, Waldo and Dickens had spotted the parent hawk sitting on the deck railing and both were plastered to the closed sliding glass door making that weird chattering sound cats make. The hawk is as big as they are so I told them they shouldn’t get too excited since they would each make a very nice meal. Since they are strictly indoor cats, they have nothing to worry about and they can dream of catching and eating that really big bird.

Blvd beauty

Blvd beauty

I planted flax in the garden this year and while it didn’t germinate as well as I had hoped, I still have a nice little patch. Today it flowered. The flowers are pretty little blue things and I had planned on taking a photo but when I got the chance late this afternoon, they had all closed! I’ll see if I can catch them some time during the week.

Bookman and I are really pleased with how our boulevard area in the front of the house is looking this year. It’s a hard place to grow things and I have lost count of how many varieties of plants I have tried and that have failed. The soil isn’t the best, it is hot and dry, and in winter it gets snow plowed up onto it from the street and shoveled onto it from the sidewalk. So you know the plants that end up flourishing there are pretty indestructible. At the moment they are gorgeous shades of purple and yellow in different shapes and colors. A couple of these plants migrated there from other areas of the garden and I doubt I could have planned their arrangement any better than nature herself has done. It is a great joy to come home work at the end of the day and walk by all these flowers and see bees and butterflies having dinner.

The popcorn is tasseling. It is only waist high. I didn’t expect the popcorn to be as tall as the sweet corn

More blvd beauty

More blvd beauty

but it seems a bit short. Nothing I can do about it though. The pole beans I planted to grow up the corn are going to outgrow it and I even chose a shorter variety this year than I had grown last year to account for shorter corn. I’m starting to wonder if it is even worthwhile trying to grow corn anyway. Maybe next year I will just make teepees for the pole beans and grow pumpkins beneath them and leave out the corn. It was fun to try though.

I am suddenly reminded I need to place my order for garlic before the variety I want is all gone like last year. I am very sad about our garlic fail this year. This fall we just have to be careful we don’t overcompensate for not planting them deep enough last year by planting them too deep! Gardening generally has a wide margin of error so when you miss it you really miss it good!

Adventures in Biking

My long bike ride this weekend was quite an adventure! As I mentioned earlier we had severe weather Friday night. Nature threw a party and left the place trashed. We had strobe lightning, a thunderous bass and the rain stick sounded like a waterfall. Saturday weather was forecast to be 90F/32C + with high humidity that would make it feel like 100F/38F. So I left for my ride around 7 a.m. when it was still cool. There was a light breeze and it was really pleasant. I saw right away the storm had left a mess. Just riding down my street there were a couple broken tree branches on the sidewalk and street. During my 55 miles/88.8km I was almost always dodging leaves, twigs and small branches, mud puddles and standing water. I came across seven trees that had fallen across the path. One of the trees Astrid and I were able to walk under as we had about four feet/1.2m of clearance. Two trees were small enough I could pick Astrid up and carry her over them. The other trees required detours. The first detour was through some light underbrush to the train tracks that ran parallel to the path. Not a big deal. Another was walking with Astrid off the curb, carefully around into the street and then back up the curb to the path on the other side of the tree. Another tree there was no way around and I had to backtrack a little along the path and take a nearby street as a detour.

Then there was the huge tree close to mile 21/34km. On the other side of it was where the path crossed the road on either side of the path there was nothing but trees and thick underbrush. The easiest side to get around it required I carry Astrid through the underbrush into a ditch and up the other side through more underbrush and the tops of the fallen tree. There was so much debris in the ditch I didn’t discover it also had water in it until I stepped in it and my right foot up to the arch was soaked. There were people who lived nearby out for a walk gawking at the tree. One of them told me that I’d have to get up a lot of speed to jump over it. We had a good laugh. I think he expected I would simply turn around. I was too busy concentrating so I didn’t fall while carrying Astrid that I don’t know what sort of reaction my bike portage maneuver was worth.

So I carried my Astrid into the ditch, up the other side, through the undergrowth and tree branches talking to her under my breath the whole time, come on Astrid, it’s ok, you can do it. And, good girl Astrid, we’re almost there. When I told this to Bookman he got a good laugh, finding it hilarious I was talking to Astrid as though she were the one doing the work. Well, of course I was really talking to myself but it felt like Astrid and I were working together as a team so addressing her seemed right. Once we got out to the road we surprised the group of gawkers on the other side of the tree who did not expect to see anyone come through it carrying a bike. I pulled a few leaves from Astrid’s spokes and a twig from the chain, we eased across the road to make sure we didn’t get blindsided by a car, and off we went on our merry way, quite proud of ourselves.

By halfway through my ride the fresh morning breeze had begun to turn into a wind. I have learned that if there is a wind while cycling, I will always be riding into it. By the time I was 3/4s through my ride it was getting hot and humid and the wind was making me very grumpy. I was tired and grumbling and just wanted to be done.

Then the wind suddenly shifted direction, an angel began to sing — oh wait that was Elvis on my iPod — and instead of laboring into the wind, it was pushing me along from behind! I shifted up just one shy from my biggest gear and was zipping along at close to 22mph/35.4kph with hardly any effort. It was exhilarating! It lasted for about ten minutes before the wind shifted back around but it was enough. I had found the fun again. I got to go fast, have a rest and even manage to cool down a bit. Those ten minutes were pretty much the best part of the whole ride, enough so that when I got home tired and sore from all the extra work of bike carrying and riding into the wind, after first being glad I was done for the day my thought was, I can’t wait to go again next week!


Filed under: biking, gardening

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24. Frida Kahlo’s Garden

Today I am feeling a very lucky girl. When I got home I had a book package on my front porch. It was the next review assignment from Library Journal and I am so very excited about it. The book? Frida Kahlo’s Garden. I had no idea Kahlo was a gardener but apparently she was a pretty good one, her and Diego both! How cool is that?

The book was published to go along with a show at the New York Botanical Garden called Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life. The show features Kahlo’s art but also garden displays inspired by her Casa Azul home and garden. I was very lucky a few years ago to get to go to a large exhibit of Kahlo’s paintings. Seeing them in a book is one thing, seeing them in person was an overwhelming experience and a number of them brought me to tears. If I lived anywhere near New York, I’d be making more than one visit to this painting and garden exhibit, that’s for sure! The show runs through November 1st and if you like Kahlo, I highly recommend a visit if you can swing it.

Anyway, the book is a lovely, large, hardcover, lots of photos, essays about Kahlo and her art and garden. I read the introduction and flipped through all the pages and my only critique at the moment is not enough photos of the garden and of the ones there are, not enough big ones in color. But then I am greedy and when I sit with the book for a while and read the essays and look more carefully at the photos the balance might turn out to be just right. I can still want more though!

Yes indeed, I’m a lucky girl.

On a side note, my apologies for not visiting many blogs lately. I have found myself in a really busy patch that I just can’t seem to get on top of. Hopefully it won’t last much longer and I’ll be able to make my usual rounds soon. Until then, bear with me!


Filed under: Art, Books, gardening Tagged: Frida Kahlo

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25. The Buried Giant

cover artThere are times when one should listen to critics and times when one should ignore them completely. Trouble is, it is hard to know what time is which. In the case of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, it got lots of mixed reviews and my general impression ended up being don’t bother reading it because it’s a disappointment. This is mainly because critics accused Ishiguro of attempting to write a fantasy novel and failing at it spectacularly. But thank goodness for the internet and regular readers I trust who defied the critics and loved the book. Now I too can say the critics who panned the book are the ones who spectacularly failed and not Ishiguro.

As a reader who loves a good fantasy novel, I can tell you it is a huge mistake to read The Buried Giant as fantasy. Yes, there is talk of ogres. There is also a dragon. And Sir Gawain plays an integral part in the story. However, the story is more of a fairytale but it’s not even that. Rather, I think it is closer to an allegory, not the kind where you can say the X of the story equals A in real life and Y equals B; it’s not an allegory of equivalents that allows one to draw straight lines, Ishiguro is too good of a writer to do something like that.

The story is set in post-Arthurian Britain but not so long after Arthur that people don’t remember him or what happened. Sir Gawain is elderly but not falling to pieces, just slower and a bit weary. He remains fiercely loyal to Arthur who could do no wrong, which blinds him to the reality of the way things are now. The center of the story is Axl and his wife Beatrice, an elderly couple of Britons living in a small village that is kind of like a rabbit warren. There is a mist over everything, a fog that keeps people from remembering the past. Axl and Beatrice have been married for a very long time and are a devoted couple but they cannot recall when or how they met, what their lives were like before they met each other, that sort of thing. Precipitated by a series of events in their village, Axl and Beatrice decide they are going to go visit their son who lives in a village a few day’s journey away. They don’t know the name of the village or even where it is, they don’t even remember why their son lives there, but they believe if they set out in the direction of the village they will eventually find it.

Their journey is eventful and eventually they end up traveling with a Saxon warrior, a Saxon boy who has been mysteriously wounded and exiled from his village, and Sir Gawain. There are secrets and machinations and betrayals. But Axl and Beatrice move throughout as a steady, calm thread held together by their devotion to one another.

Because this is not a fantasy novel there is no vivid world building. The details are just enough to provide a vague sense of place and your imagination has to fill in the rest. The focus is not on the world but on the people, nonetheless, we don’t even really know what the people look like. I am unable to conjure up an image of Axl and Beatrice in my mind. But I can tell you how much they love each other and that Axl always calls Beatrice “Princess” and Beatrice usually walks in front and is always calling back, “Are you still there Axl?” I can also tell you that they are terrified that when it comes time to be questioned by the Boatman he will not take them both across to the island to spend eternity together because they cannot recall their past. Without memories of the life you have built together, no matter how devoted you may be day-to-day, how do you prove to the Boatman you love each other?

The novel is about love and memory and forgetting. The mist has made everyone forget the past and because everyone has forgotten the past the animosity between Britons and Saxons has also been forgotten. There have been years of peace and prosperity. But the novel makes us ask whether the price is worth it on both the large and small scale. Is it truly peace when the fighting stops because no one can remember what the war was about? Is it really love when you can’t remember the kindnesses, the disagreements, the betrayals, the forgiveness, the moments of grace of a long life together? The story is simple but it raises so many questions that turn it into something rich and deep.

The details are spare and the language itself is spare as well. In fact the language and style are so plain the books reads somewhat like a grade school primer. I exaggerate, but only so you don’t pick up the book expecting soaring flights of fancy, lush and lyrical prose. The language here is grounded, earthy, strong Anglo-Saxon English, an appropriate choice given the story.

I loved this book in case you haven’t figured it out. A great, well-told, thinking kind of story with a beautiful heart. It’s a story for grown-ups, quiet, lived, not flashy and turbo-charged. It left me feeling satisfied and maybe just a little teary-eyed. Don’t listen to the naysayers on this one. Ishiguro knows what he is about. And if you need a little extra push, and haven’t done so already, be sure to read the great conversation between Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman at The New Statesman.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Kazuo Ishiguro

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