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1. Dragons, Library Holds, and Biking

cover artI finally finished A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin yesterday. I am glad it is finally over. I’m not going to do a full write-up of it because it is the fifth book in a series and frankly, I found it full of bloat and, while better than book four, still not great. In fact, I am not certain I will read the Winds of Winter when it finally comes out. Of course if people I trust read it and tell me how good it is I will probably cave in and read it, but otherwise, I’m burnt out. The thing has become so fragmented with a gazillion different storylines going on that it feels out of control and out of focus.

So there.

I know you have been wondering about my library hold situation and the resolution I made at the beginning of the year to keep my hold requests down to no more than five at a time. I had been doing so well and feeling so proud of myself. I got cocky. And of course I slipped.

Currently I have only one book checked out from the library, Lumberjanes, and one waiting for me to pick up, The House of Paper. But then there are eight hold requests. Only eight though, that’s not bad, right? One of them will be coming up to my turn very soon, When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds. The rest I have a little wait for – I am 120 in line for The Buried Giant by Ishiguro but only third in line for Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark. There is a good time spread between the two. Granted the rest of my requests I am twenty-something in line, but still they won’t all arrive at once (Hahahaha!). So even though I went over my self-imposed five hold requests limit it isn’t terrible, not like when I had close to twenty hold requests out at once, right? And it’s not like I’ve gone completely crazy with new hold requests. I’m still in control. Yes, yes I am. I am absolutely certain of it. Yup. In complete control.

On a side note, I went on my first group bike ride last night. It is a women-only ride that leaves from a nearby bike shop. I was nervous, let me tell you. The route was to be rolling hills and since it is a no-drop ride (the group stops and waits for those falling behind) I was terrified I would be the one everyone was stopping to wait for. Since I had never ridden with other people before I had no idea how my fitness level would compare. Turns out I didn’t have a thing to worry about. My fitness level is just fine and I am not too bad on hills.

There were ten of us and I had a blast. Most of us had not gone on this particular group ride before so no one really knew anyone which meant no one got left out socially. And because of the hills I got to practice shifting on Astrid, something I haven’t done much of because I haven’t had to. And I discovered a lovely sound, the sound of a group of strong women on bikes coming up to a stoplight and all of us clipping out (unlocking our shoes from the pedals) and then clipping back in when we start again. I don’t know why I like the sound so much but I do. Maybe it’s because I am making it too as part of a group. At any rate, I will be riding out again next Wednesday so chances are good that unless the weather is bad and the ride gets cancelled, I will not be posting on Wednesday nights through the end of summer. I’ve got a bike to ride!


Filed under: biking, Books, Library Tagged: Dance with Dragons, Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

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2. Resonance

book coverWanting to start a new book and nervous about it being fiction, I went for some nonfiction instead. I picked up a little book I bought at the Twin Cities Book Festival back in October last year, The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination by Carl Phillips. The book is part of a series put out by local indie publisher Graywolf that focuses on the “art of craft and criticism” according to the series description.

After reading the first chapter I am really impressed and excited and all kinds of happy. I did not know who Carl Phillips was. It turns out he is a poet. His thesis for the book is that restlessness is key to imagination and that imagination must take risks in order to create art. To forward his argument, Phillips analyzes poems. So far the poems he has chosen have been amazing from Louise Bogan to Shakespeare to W.S. Merwin.

In the first chapter Phillips talks about our need to create and make and he suggests this need is a result of our awareness of our mortality as well as wanting answers:

I think it’s largely the conundrum of being human that makes us keep making. I think it has something to do with revision — how, not only is the world in constant revision, but each of us is, as well. Each new experience at some level becomes a part of that lens through which we see — as in understand — the world we pass through.

Even though we keep revising, we are unable to find definite solutions. It is the tension between wanting closure and never being able to truly have it that creates what he calls resonance in a poem. If a poem has resonance, Phillips considers it successful. He understands resonance is frustrating for a reader. We want answers. We want experience to be translated for us. But what a good poem does is

transform experience so that our assumption about a given experience can be disturbed and, accordingly, our thinking about that experience might be at once made more complicated, deeper, richer.

Poetry is not meant to make readers feel better but to help us understand human experience in a way that leads to wisdom instead of the shallowness of simply feeling good.

It is a thought -provoking chapter and I fear I have not adequately conveyed Phillips’ argument. Perhaps as I continue through the book and tell you more about it I will get better at relaying the drift of his thoughts. I am eagerly looking forward to reading more of this little gem and it is making me excited about the other books in the series of which I have one other. Stay tuned!


Filed under: Books

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3. How to Ruin eBook Borrowing

Since I have had my Kobo I haven’t borrowed any ebooks from the library. This evening I decided I would borrow an ebook. With my Kindle it was easy, downloads went through Amazon’s website and I never had any problems. Kobo is different, it requires all kinds of hoop jumping. I was in no mood to jump but spent forty-five minutes at it without any success.

I downloaded Overdrive and it froze my computer. But I don’t think that is what I needed. It seems I needed Adobe Digital Editions. So I downloaded that but I couldn’t get it to work because it refused to allow me to authorize it to run on my computer. Maybe because I didn’t get a special library ID for it? I have no idea. The digital borrowing instructions are terrible and fragmented and my patience was gone so I gave up.

Now I am all kinds of grumpy because I was going to read my first Jo Walton book and was really looking forward to starting it in the morning on my train ride to work. Now I won’t be. It is not my library’s fault. It is the fault of publishers for requiring so much DRM crap because they are so paranoid I might steal their books. Well you know what publishers? If I want to I could go to a file sharing website and download the book and have it on my Kobo faster and easier than your paranoid library borrowing restrictions allow.

When I am prepared to spend time figuring out the library borrowing I will. Until then I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a few books. All of them I want to read, but not sure I want to read them now. My fiction reading slump is still in progress. Jo Walton was going to fix it. Grr.

I will come back tomorrow and I promise I won’t be grumpy then!


Filed under: Books

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4. Biking and Gardening Galore

The forecast for the weekend was warm, humid and stormy. Storms here usually happen in the early morning or the middle to late afternoon into evening when cool and warm air are most likely to clash. Saturday morning was partly cloudy and the humidity had not arrived yet, which meant storms weren’t likely to happen until afternoon. The forecast for Sunday was a bit dicier. Bookman had to work Saturday and I wanted very badly to go out for a long bike ride so I decided to go out on my own. I wanted to see if I could find a connecting trail off a trail we had been on before.

Bookman attached the small emergency bike pump to my bike and made me some homemade energy snacks (so good! made from fresh dates and peanut butter or almond butter, oatmeal, walnuts and whatever else you might want to add) then he went off to work. I pocketed some snacks, tire patch kit, ID and what-not, then off I went.

It was partly cloudy and slightly breezy and people were out enjoying it. Lots of cyclists out in pairs and groups, a few on their own like me. I noticed I was pretty much the only woman out on her own and even in groups the women were scarce. I have read about there not being a lot of women cyclists but I didn’t believe it, I know lots of women who like to bike. But as I was riding and thought about it I realized the women I know who like to bike like casual biking, short rides around the lake or an easy trip to the library. I know very few who bike everywhere or who are serious long distance cyclists. This made me sad and rather lonely and made look forward even more to going on the Wednesday evening women-only rides at my nearby bike co-op.

I cruised along at a good pace over familiar trails and was enjoying myself immensely. I made it to the area where I thought the connecting trail was, and yes, indeed, it was there. Not far down that trail was a coffee shop swarmed by cyclists. Obviously a good place to stop for a rest since I had been out for well over an hour. So I had some of the snacks I brought, stretched my neck and shoulders, and hopped back on my bike to explore this new trail. The asphalt paved trail turned into a compact gravel trail about half a mile up from my rest stop. I was a bit nervous about riding on the gravel but I decided I like it much better than asphalt. There are no potholes or pavement ruptures to deal with. And it wasn’t all that bumpy. My front wheel did kick up an occasional piece of gravel but I got whacked in the face and arms more by tree seeds and bugs than I did by gravel so it was all good.

The gravel trail took me out through semi-wooded areas with lakes and ponds. At one part of the trail there was a small pond covered in green algae or duckweed or something and singing with frogs. I didn’t see the critters, just heard them and were they ever loud! It was great. I kept traveling the trail until it came out on a wide semi-busy road and split in two different directions. Since I hadn’t looked at the map to know which direction I wanted to go and since emerging from the trees and seeing the sky and feeling the wind starting to pick up, I decided here was a good place to turn around.

Riding back I was passed by a guy who had also turned around in the same place I did (he had been there drinking water and having a rest when I arrived) and I set myself the goal of keeping up with him without being too obvious about it. I managed it until we got to the coffee shop and the trail split and he went a different direction.

Then a little after that there were two guys out riding together who passed me and I decided to try and keep up with them. We played cat and mouse for a bit, they’d start to get way ahead but then would come to a road crossing and I would catch up with them. Eventually they either slowed down or I got faster because I ended up riding about four bike-lengths back from them for a few miles. Was that rude? They kept me going at a good pace and kept me from feeling lonely and they were going fast enough where I couldn’t really pass them and keep up a pace to stay ahead. They kept looking back at me but didn’t say anything. When we got back to the city part of the trail and their ride together was obviously over and one guy split off to go his own way I passed the guy who stayed on my trail.

Back in the city on familiar trails that were busy was hard going. By this time I was starting to feel tired and it didn’t help that the crowded trails meant I was constantly slowing down and speeding up and couldn’t ride at a consistent pace. This was the five miles to home and it made me just want to be done. But when the trail would clear and I could go at a good pace once again I was happy as could be and feeling good. When all was said and done and Astrid and I were back at home it turned out we had ridden 39.2 miles/63 km in 2 hours and 40 minutes. I was tired and very happy and excited about the new trail and hoping the weather Sunday would be okay in the morning so I could show it to Bookman.

My garden is so phloxy

My garden is so phloxy

Well, Sunday dawned rainy and very humid. The forecast said rain in the morning, then clearing and a hot and humid afternoon followed by thunderstorms with the risk of turning severe with possible tornadoes this evening. Since heat and humidity cause MS fatigue for Bookman, we decided he’d have to wait until next weekend to see the new trail. Instead we spent the day off and on in the garden.

After the morning rain stopped Bookman went out in the front yard to try and dig out the forsythia stump. It turns out to be a massive thing and is going to take some work to get out. Bookman joked about tying a rope around the stump and a rope around me to see if I could haul it out. Instead he spent about an hour digging around it until he hacked away all the side roots and only has the huge taproot left. After that he needed to take a break which was fine because it was starting to rain again.

After the rain stopped we decided to go out into the garden and plant the chicken garden shrubs in a temporary location because the garage still has no demolition date. Because of my allergies I have to keep my outdoor clothes separate from my indoor clothes which means Bookman does too. So after a complete change of clothes, and gathering of tools we are standing out in the garden deciding where to temporarily plant the shrubs and it starts pouring rain. Back in the house, change our clothes and we decide it is a good time for lunch.

A little while after lunch the skies have cleared and we go back out and got the shrubs planted. Then we dug up

wild geranium starting to bloom

wild geranium starting to bloom

a bed and planted dill and cilantro seeds. Next we began working on clearing out the garage. There was a small pile of concrete from an old project we finished breaking up and turning into “urbanite” and lined garden paths and beds with it. As I was doing that, Bookman was also cleaning up old unwanted and broken items that had been stashed in the garage because we didn’t know what else to do with them at the time. When we were both good and sweaty and tired it was time to come in.

All of the plants from the plant sale last week are doing fantastic. The seeds we have planted are all sprouting. The peas are beginning to be tall enough to put out their first grabbing tendrils. The spinach and lettuce and radishes are sprouting. The corn we planted last week is also sprouting. The gooseberry we planted last spring has pea-sized berries on it already. The white peony we planted two years ago is big and tall and covered in tight flowerbuds. The black raspberry we planted last spring is covered in buds too. Walter the crabapple has quite a lot of tiny apples forming and Bossy, our green apple tree does too.

The garden is fluttering with red admiral butterflies. Whenever I walk out there are at least four or five that lift off from the garden path or plants alongside it. Dragonflies are beginning to make an appearance too. I saw a couple pretty blue ones zipping around this afternoon. Next weekend will see us planting warm weather seeds in the veggie beds for zucchini and cantaloupe and beans and the like. It’s all coming along!


Filed under: biking, gardening

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5. How to Feel Like a Tree

While I am in a fiction slump, the nonfiction is as good as ever. I just have to share a marvelous quote from Roger Deakin’s Notes from Walnut Tree Farm:

If you want to know what it’s like to be a tree, sleep with a cat on your bed and feel it manoeuvring and exploring your curves and hollows for the most comfortable nest.

Waldo and Dickens both sleep on me at night, they each have their place and should one or the other be in the wrong place a fight ensues. I’m not sure I feel like a tree though unless trees get woken up at 2 in the morning with tickling whiskers to the face because it is imperative that someone’s belly be scratched right now.

Still, it’s a nice sentiment.


Filed under: Books

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6. The Reading Blahs

It’s not a reading slump, only that there isn’t much in my reading that is sparking my interest lately. I loved Ongoingness and I am reading Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and loving that too. But the fiction, it’s not doing it for me lately. It’s not that any of the novels I am in the middle of are especially bad, I’m just not interested in them. It’s me, not them. Mostly. I have about eighty pages of Dance with Dragons (book five in the Game of Thrones series) left and thank goodness for that because between it and the TV show of it airing right now I am burnt out on it and finding it increasingly difficult to care what might happen next.

Also, I have so many other things to occupy my time right now that anything less than stellar feels precariously close to a waste of time. Why read something mediocre when I could be out working in my garden? Why read a novel with a plodding pace when I could be zipping down a bike path on Astrid? Maybe I am just grumpy this evening because it is windy out and my allergies are bothering me and as a result I am not going on my first real group bike ride and will have to wait until next Wednesday to join.

Whatever the reason, I have the reading blahs. It is the second time this year, the first time was in January/February. I’ve gone two or three years without having the blahs and then it’s happened twice already in one year. What’s up with that?

Maybe if I’m having trouble with fiction I should just stick with nonfiction and not worry about it, just wait for my fiction slump to pass, which it will eventually. Maybe I just need to start a different novel to add something fresh to the mix? I dunno.

I got an email from the library that Lumberjanes is waiting for me to pick up. It is a graphic novel that has gotten lots of raves and looks like fun. Perhaps that will help me over the slump hump and get me back on the fiction trail? I just have to get myself to the library tomorrow or Friday. And then, well, I hope it’s as good as people have been saying it is. I’ll let you know! Until then, I suppose I will just keep going with what I’m in the middle of however unenthusiastic I am about it at the moment (wow is that ever and Eeyore thing to say!).


Filed under: Books Tagged: reading slump

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7. Ongoingness

cover artOngoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso is a book-length meditative essay in which Manguso explores her twenty-five years of obsessive diary keeping. The diary was a way to remember and forget. It also provided proof that she was paying attention to her life, that she was living. Except it became something she had to to every day:

If I allowed myself to drift through nondocumented time for more than a day, I feared, I’d be swept up, no longer able to remember the purpose of continuing.

But Manguso admits that she doesn’t want to remember everything, she wants to remember what she can bare and pretend that is all there is. By controlling her memory, she felt that she was in control of her life. She even goes so far as to regularly revise her diary:

Everyone I’ve told finds the idea of my revisions perverse, but if I didn’t get things down right, the diary would have been a piece of waste instead of an authentic record of my life. I wrote it to stand for me utterly.

Of course I found myself wondering how authentic a record can it really be if you are revising the narrative of your life to include only the things you want it to and “erasing” the things you don’t want to remember. Manguso understands the that things cannot be erased, that

Nothing’s gone, not really. Everything that’s ever happened has left its little wound.

When she had a baby her diary entries began to change. They became shorter, more a recording of facts, what was eaten, health, medication. The contemplation disappeared. Instead of Manguso living “against the continuity of time,” she became a “background of ongoing time” for her baby to live against.

Manguso begins to understand the ongoingness of things, of time of life of history. The past cannot be fixed in her diary. Change cannot be stopped. Always looking at what has happened prevents one from seeing what is happening. She thinks

Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments — an inability to accept life as ongoing.

By the end of the book/essay, Manguso has moved from wanting to remember everything to wanting to forget it all:

And now I’m forgetting everything. My goal now is to forget it all so that I am clean for death. Just the vaguest memory of love, of participation in the great unity.

Ongoingness is a marvelous little book about the things we do to create the illusion of control in our lives. Manguso created that illusion with her diary. Others have different methods. But no matter what we do, life is ongoing. Time is ongoing. There is nothing we can do to stop it.

The book is not written as a continuous narrative but in short little paragraphs grouped into thought packages (I just made that up, do you like it?). A thought package can be as short as a sentence or as long as a page. The thought packages build upon one another but they also spiral around, first going one direction, then looping back and moving out in another direction. They give a feeling of movement and together they create a sense of wholeness without being something fixed and conclusive but ongoing.

One other thing I love about the book, it was published by Graywolf, a local independent publisher. In the front of the book is this:

This publication is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and culture heritage fund.

I’m one of those voters. Read the book. You’re welcome.


Filed under: Books

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8. Plant Sale Weekend Extravaganza

The irises are blooming

The irises are blooming

Oh my goodness gracious, all my gardening muscles are sore. Since Friday Bookman and I have been hours out in the garden cleaning and digging and planting. It’s been allergy-filled and sometimes hot, but always fun.

It all began with the plant sale Friday morning. We were up by 5:30 a.m., showered, fed the cats and out the door to arrive at the State Fairgrounds by about 6:20 to stand in line for a wristband, the equivalent of a ticket, to get in the door early when the sale opened at 9. There was already a long line. They began handing out wristbands at 7. By the time we got to the front of the line they had just begun handing out bands for group three. You see, your wristband determines when you get to go through the doors. They allow people in by groups of 100. That we were at the beginning of the third

You should see me pack a suitcase

You should see me pack a suitcase

group tells you how many people were in line before us. There were more than that in line behind us. With our wristbands we headed back to the car and off to breakfast.

After a filling and leisurely breakfast we got back to the fairgrounds and headed to the door with our cart. When we arrived they were corralling group three to prepare to let them in the doors. What great timing! In we went. We have done the sale so many years we have a routine down. I have our list printed out and a mental map of the sale, Bookman pushes the cart, darts into the crowds to pick up plants, and I navigate and keep track of our list. So in the doors and first stop was the herbs:

  • Borage
  • Roman chamomile
  • comfrey (2)
  • black cumin
  • lemon grass
  • oregano
  • rue
  • purple sage
  • lemon thyme

Then it was to the outdoor area where we took a right to the fruits:

  • red currant
  • elderberry
  • goji berry
  • red gooseberry (a sale volunteer told me to pick the fruit before it is ripe because it cooks up better that way — good to know!)
  • honeyberry, two for cross pollination, varieties honeybee and tundra
  • red raspberry
  • rhubarb
  • Saskatoon serviceberry

Then still outdoors we headed to the shrubs:

  • flowering quince
  • wild prairie rose

Next, still outdoors, it was native plants and grasses:

  • blue grama grass (3)
  • aromatic aster (4-pack)
  • wild bergamot
  • butterfly weed
  • wild ginger
  • giant purple hyssop (2)
  • white wild indigo
  • New Jersey tea
  • wild petunia (4-pack)
  • prairie smoke (4-pack)
  • pussytoes

That was enough damage outdoors, time to go back indoors to the perennials:

  • daylily, variety jubilee pink
  • hosta, variety Abiqua drinking gourd

From there we headed to the vegetables:

  • Brussels sprouts (6-pack)
  • Egyptian walking onion
  • Satan’s kiss hot pepper
  • sweet pepper, variety gypsy (yellow)
  • ramps
  • black salsify

Bookman digs it

Bookman digs it

Finally, our last stop was the annuals for a couple four-packs of French marigolds. Then it was to the check out area. I waited with the cart in the loading zone while Bookman walked to the car and drove around to get me and the plants. Looking at all we got you will understand why we are tired. Everything is planted except for a few things we bought for the not yet existing chicken garden because we still haven’t found anyone who will knock down our garage but we have a few leads. What remains for the chicken garden is the elderberry, serviceberry, gooseberry, quince and rose. If we have not gotten anything scheduled for the garage removal by the end of this week, we will plant the chicken garden plants in a “nursery” area of the garden and then dig them up and move them when their permanent home becomes available.

In order to plant some of our new plants we had to make new beds and clear out old ones. The blueberries went onto the compost heap. We removed the raised bed frames they were in and then planted the new honeyberries. We cleared out one of our oldest flower beds that had gotten weedy and feral. From it we removed a mostly dead rugosa rose, transplanted a bunch of Asiatic lilies to another bed, pulled out lots of creeping Charlie and grass and planted the goji berry in the sunny center of the bed and the hosta in the very shady corner. We also put the daylily in this bed which will only be temporary because it will eventually become part of the chicken garden. Then we liberally sprinkled zinnia seeds in the bed.

In the front yard we dug up more grass from the boulevard strip, the area between the street and the sidewalk. Here we

new bed with tiny plants

new bed with tiny plants

planted the grasses, the asters and the petunias. We also finally removed the forsythia except for the stump. That is going to take some work. We didn’t realize how much space this shrub was taking up until it was gone. Looking at the emptiness Bookman and I both got very excited imaging what sorts of wonderful native plants we could now grow there instead. To get it started, we planted one of the giant hyssops.

In addition to planting all of our sale plants, we planted more radishes, chard, arugula and corn. In planting the corn we shifted the “corn field” over about a foot from where it was last year and somehow it also got about two feet bigger. Funny how things like that happen. The corn we planted this year is not sweet corn but popcorn (variety Dakota black). After planting it we put row cover fabric down over the bed to keep the pesky squirrels from digging it up and eating it.

Chop, chop Bookman

Chop, chop Bookman

We have also filled in Amy Pond. And emptied one side of our two-room compost bin. We spread the marvelous compost out around Bee, our Honeycrisp apple tree and also topped up the hole that was Amy Pond.

While we were out in the garden I finally saw the hawk that is nesting in my neighbor’s tree. It is small as hawks go and I couldn’t get a good enough look at it to identify what kind of hawk it is. The pesky rabbits have not been around in the garden for a couple of weeks but just because I have not seen them doesn’t mean they aren’t still around. These being city rabbits, they are not terribly shy of people so my guess is they have gone elsewhere. Yay!

While I was talking to my mom on the phone this afternoon, wishing her a happy Mother’s Day, I looked out my front window to see a turkey walking down the street in the direction of the lake. Now that is not something I ever expected to look out my window and see walking down the street. We have quite a few turkeys in the Minneapolis but I have seen them mostly along the creek that runs through the city. This fellow was all alone, casually strolling along the sidewalk.

During this whirlwind of gardening I have been happy to see quite a lot of red admiral butterflies, several kinds of native

Bye bye forsythia

Bye bye forsythia

bees and lots of earthworms. I have also been pleased to note how much the soil in various parts of my garden has been improving. There are some places that, a few years ago, were terrible pale dry silty sand and are now dark and loamy and rich. Seeing the soil improve makes me happier more than anything else because the plants can’t thrive unless their roots are in good dirt. I still have areas that need work but it is nice to see past work paying off.

I’ve been going to bed sore and tired at night and sleeping deeply. So satisfying. Tonight we are expecting rain. Hopefully it really happens and gives all the new plants and seeds a good soaking. With all the gardening there were no bike rides this weekend. I missed it, but the gardening was great and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect weekend.


Filed under: gardening Tagged: Friends School Plant Sale

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9. Downtown Abbey, Now with Light Sabers!

Tomorrow is the big plant sale and I have plants and gardening on the brain and can’t think about books right now. So instead I give you Downton Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Valet (via Boing Boing)


Filed under: Miscellaneus Tagged: Downton Abbey

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10. The Folded Clock

coverAs someone who kept a diary as a kid and still does on an albeit infrequent basis, diaries as an art form are a very attractive draw for me. I love to read them and then get really depressed because my diaries are never so interesting as that, never so well written or filled with exciting things or deep thoughts. No, my diaries were about school and friends and who was being mean and how I was feeling lonely. Now they are about work and friends and who is being mean but not so much about being lonely so I guess that’s an improvement.

As Heidi Julavits discovered when she found a childhood diary, they usually end up telling us a different story about ourselves than the one we have currently concocted. As she says at the beginning of The Folded Clock, she has told people that her childhood diary keeping was the seed of her becoming a writer. So when she read her old diary looking for evidence of the future writer, she was surprised to find her absent and instead discovered the mind of a future “paranoid tax auditor.”

The really interesting thing about diaries is that even though they generally have no plot or narrative structure (unless you are writing for publication), the writer thinks she is relating facts but in reality she is assembling a story or an explanation, she is creating something and stamping it with her point of view. And then time intervenes and during those span of years the story created in the diary morphs into something else as the “narrator” becomes more sophisticated and gains more knowledge and experience. We really want our lives to be like a story with a plotline, we want to see in our past selves the beginnings of who we have become and like to think that who we are today is the key to who we will be in the future. But diaries have a tendency to point out the fallacy of narrative desires.

The Folded Clock is written like a diary but it liberally plays with the genre. The entries are dated (month/day but no year) but they are not in order; July 16th follows July 31st and is followed by May 2nd. In homage to her childhood self, Julavits begins each entry with “Today I.” And while it might start with today, it rarely ends with today. Instead it turns into a mini essay of sorts that are sometimes only a page long and sometimes two or three. We get meditations on time and losing things and people, lots of mulling over identity from various angles in more than one entry, thoughts on middle age and adultery, and musings on needs and desire. We also get lots of self-deprecating humor, worries over what is proper friend etiquette in various situations, arguments with her husband, thoughts about her children, and everyday life stuff. The high mixes liberally with the low and all is told in Julavits’s pitch perfect voice. I mean, how can you not like someone who writes this:

Today I read a book while holding a fountain pen. I often have a pen in my hand when I read. I am trying to fool myself into thinking I am writing when I’m not. I read with a pen in my hand because it helps me think. If I underline a sentence, I temporarily own it. It’s mine. I have bought real estate in this book, laid down stakes, moved in. This does not mean I remember where I live. I turn the page. I lose my place.

The Folded Clock is a fun, thoughtful read, never heavy even when talking about a serious subject, but not flippant either. It is serious without taking itself seriously. And because of the diary format, it makes for perfect before bed or in between activities reading.


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11. May Reading – Plan? What Plan?

Here we are in May already and as I sit down to think about my reading plans for the month I find myself keeling over in laughing hysterics. Plan? Oh that’s rich. I ask myself all innocent like, Self, what’s going on? And Self says, there ain’t gonna be no reading plan sweetheart. In case you haven’t noticed, you’ve been trying to cram in all kinds of activities into days where there just aren’t enough hours. But Self, I protest, I can do this. And then I find myself hysterically laughing on the floor again.

It’s not that I don’t plan on reading anything, goodness, I am still reading, but instead of dark evenings and cold weekends under a quilt reading for hours, reading has become more like something I do as a linking activity between activities. Reading on the train then at lunch then on the train again and then before bed. On weekends it is reading in order to rest after being in the garden or on the bike; there are no long hours of just reading right now. Once the summer heat and humidity arrive in a month or so then there will be slow days again but until then sitting for too long is pretty close to criminal when I’ve been sitting since last November.

Therefore making any kind of plan for May will only make me feel bad when the calendar changes to June and I see that all the books I planned on reading have not been read.

I can tell you I am still reading Keats. I am also still reading George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. Supposedly I am also reading volume three of Proust but I didn’t open the book once during April. I am also reading The Bridge of Beyond but haven’t read far and haven’t picked it up in a couple weeks.

I am almost finished with The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. I am enjoying it very much. We are the same age — both of use were born in April in the same year. This is a woman I can relate to in so many ways. But she is also much weirder than I am and an extrovert. So while there is this total sympatico feeling, I’m also disturbed by how neurotic she is and know we could never be friends in real life because I’d forever be restraining myself from strangling her. But reading her “diary” is a real hoot.

What book I might pick up next is anyone’s guess. I’ll probably continue to dip in and out of the ongoing books and then concentrate on whatever library book hold request comes up next for me. Or who knows? May might turn out to be a really rainy month giving me more hours indoors to read. No plans either way. We’ll just see what happens!


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12. Full Speed Ahead Gardening

dainty violets

dainty violets

This has definitely been a full weekend. With sunny days and high temperatures around 80F/26C, I had to get outside and take advantage of it. Saturday I worked outside several hours cleaning up the dead stalks from last year’s perennials. I have two more beds in the front of the house yet to do. This always takes so much longer than I expect it to and the compost bin is overflowing. But everything is looking great. The black currant has leaves and so does the gooseberry which also is getting tiny little flowers on it. And those wonderful violets that no one ever plants but seem to pop up everywhere are, well, everywhere and blooming mostly white but a few purple too. The tulips are open now as well and one of them has already been beheaded by a naughty squirrel. At least it is only one. The squirrels have ripped off the heads of all of them in one go before.

In the veggie garden the radishes are coming in strong. I am so looking forward to radishes. Last year I discovered how good they were sliced up on sandwiches and I’ve been craving them since the seeds arrived in the mail in January. Another three weeks and I can feed my craving.

Last night Bookman and I planted more peas. We also planted mustard, kale and spinach. Bookman has been on a spinach kick lately so we planted a lot of spinach. We also planted a lot of kale because I love kale and I found a recipe for garlicky kale salad with crispy chickpeas last month that I am yearning to try.

I can tell it’s spring because I am craving mounds of leafy greens. In the winter our greens have to come from somewhere else and that somewhere is California. But with the worst drought they have seen in decades, the greens have been rather small and sad and I have felt very guilty even eating them. So hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to start eating fresh greens from as local as my own garden. The French sorrel in the herb spiral is just sprouting up but there is a common sorrel that seeded itself from somewhere next to the defunct Amy Pond that is already tall and leafy. I am planning on pulling off a leaf or two to have on my black bean burger this evening at dinner. Yum.

Walter our crabapple tree has burst into bloom and is he looking gorgeous! I noticed last night that his

Walter the crabapple

Walter the crabapple

blossoms are lightly and pleasantly scented. The bush cherries are also blooming. This year I will be sure to put netting over them so I can actually try the little cherries! My nextdoor neighbor’s tart cherry tree is also in bloom. They don’t pick the cherries because they have to be pitted and cooked and they think that is just too much work. Bookman and I do not feel the same way, however, and they let us pick as many as we want. Last year there were hardly any cherries and the ones that did come on were really small so we didn’t bother. It is not looking like it will be good this year either. Several branches of the tree are completely bare. Depending on how things turn out in the chicken garden, I might have to seriously consider planting my own cherry tree because sweet or tart, do I ever love cherries!

We are expecting thunderstorms later this evening, but if I have the get up and go after dinner I will spend a bit of time in the garden planting arugula. I might not have the energy though because of all the bike riding I have been doing this weekend. Yesterday I did 34 miles/54.7 km indoors on the trainer and early this morning Bookman and I went out on our bikes and rode 35.7 miles/57.4 km. It was a beautiful ride, sunny and the perfect temperature. Our only snafu was getting caught passing through the Walk for MS crowd. We did not know the walk was today and there were so many people! They were totally oblivious about all the cyclists who were out and, like us, got stuck in their traffic. But since Bookman has multiple sclerosis we really appreciated seeing so many people and thanked many of the groups we passed for walking.

Look fast before the squirrels behead them!

Look fast before the squirrels behead them!

We are doing so well with our biking that we are considering doing the train and trail tour in June, a 45 mile/72.4km ride that involves taking the Northstar Commuter rail train north and outside of town and then cycling back. Doesn’t that seem like it would be lots of fun? We will have to decide soon if we want to do it because the ride is limited to 150 participants. I suppose even on a Sunday they don’t want to have hundreds of people and their bikes crowding onto the train, which probably has a capacity limit. Will we go? Stay tuned!

I have a lovely short week at work ahead because this Friday is the Friends School Plant Sale! Think of the biggest book sale you have ever been to, then imagine you are a gardener and the books are plants. That’s what this is like. And just like book people are generally very friendly, so too are gardeners. But when there is a sale, all bets are off and woe to anyone who gets in the way of the object of desire. I finalized my plant list just this afternoon. I am ready! Of course I will tell you all about it.


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13. Dangers of Nonfiction

I love reading nonfiction but it tends to be much more dangerous than fiction because it adds so many books to my TBR list. Sure, fiction can add books but for me it tends to be a slow burn. Nonfiction on the other hand provides lists as part of the book, bibliographies, further reading, footnotes, endnotes, these cannot be escaped unless you refuse to look at them. If you can, you have more willpower than I do!

After I finished reading This Changes Everything I combed the endnotes in which I had already placed a few markers due to mentions in the text. I thought I’d share the list of things I gleaned from the endnotes that some of you might also find interesting.

Who knows if I will ever come close to reading all of these but they all look pretty interesting!


Filed under: Book Lists, Books Tagged: climate change

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14. This Changes Everything, Part Two

coverartClimate change is happening right now and it is only going to get worse unless we take drastic steps immediately. Yesterday was the bad news portion of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Today is the small ray of hope.

It is entirely possible to make the switch to 100% renewable energy for the entire world by as early as 2030. We have the technology to do this, what is lacking is the will and the money. The free market as it currently functions will not get us there nor will our politicians. What needs to happen, Klein says is a mass social movement. She believes it is the only thing that will save us now. There are precedents, remember the Arab Spring? The US Civil Rights Movement? The Women’s Movement? Granted, none of these brought about a complete revolution, but they made an impact and perhaps a world-wide social movement could take hold and save us all.

There are places where it is already beginning. Klein calls the movement “Blockadia.” Currently much of it exists in areas where people are trying to protect land from being fracked. In the United States and Canada there are arising coalitions between indigenous peoples and their traditional opposition: ranchers, hunters, large farming operations. There is also a growing movement begun in Totnes, UK called Transition Town. It is a community led project to build resilient, sustainable communities.

Then there is the divestment movement that seems to be growing rapidly especially among universities. Divestment is about large institutions getting rid of their investments in fossil fuels. Yes, someone else buys the shares when they are sold, however, the more places that divest, the more public awareness it gets, the more unacceptable it becomes to make money from fossil fuels.

The bad news is there is nothing we can do alone that will make a difference. The good news is that together we can make change happen. Klein understands the difficulty in this:

For most of us living in postindustrial societies, when we see the crackling black-and-white footage of general strikes in the 1930s, victory gardens in the 1940s, and Freedom Rides in the 1960s, we simply cannot imagine being part of any mobilization of that depth and scale. That kind of thing was fine for them but surely not us — with our eyes glued to smart phones, attention spans scattered by click bait, loyalties split by the burdens of debt and insecurities of contract work. Where would we organize? Who would we trust enough to lead us? Who, moreover, is ‘we’?

The key to it all is a change of mindset. We much let go of our extractivist thinking that allows us to believe we can take and take and take, that we can control and dominate nature. There must, as Klein says, be a “fundamental shift in power relations between humanity and the natural world.” We must give up taking and dominating and become caretakers focused on renewal and regeneration.

It won’t be easy, if it were, we would have changed our ways already. But it isn’t impossible and we shouldn’t give up. One of the great things about a mass movement is when you start to feel overwhelmed and like your work isn’t making a difference, you are surrounded by people who can help bolster and renew your spirit. So find a local group already active in your area, or if there isn’t one, start one. Talk to your neighbors, your friends, they probably feel the same way you do and are just waiting for someone to light the fire. You could be the spark that gets it going.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: climate change

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15. This Changes Everything, Part One

Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything was a seriously depressing book for me. It took a long time to get through because I could not bear to read more than twenty or so pages at a time. The book can be more or less broken up into two parts, the bad news and there is still a chance to do something news. This will be the bad news post.

Of all the things I have read about climate change, Klein’s book stands out for a number of reasons. First and foremost, she takes the economic angle and attacks capitalism, particularly the neoliberal kind we have been living under since the 1980s. Second, she presents a viable economic alternative that would not only save us from cooking the planet, but that would raise the living conditions of not only poor countries but also the poor in wealthy countries to a level where everyone had enough — food, decent housing, and good health care. Yes, this takes a massive redistribution of wealth and a good many people won’t like it, but such a move is part of a social justice issue that addresses many of the wrongs wealthy countries have perpetrated against poor, undeveloped and developing countries for hundreds of years.

Klein’s book is filled with lots and lots of facts and numbers. I won’t go into the details of those, if you want them, read the book or do some Googling or visit 350.org. I’m going to stay high level or else there will be more than two posts about this book. So let’s start where we are right now:

So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate change disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us. Gentle tweaks to the status quo stopped being a climate option when we supersized the American Dream in the 1990s, and then proceeded to take it global.

In other words, if we had begun immediately cutting emissions after the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in 1988, we’d be in pretty good shape right now because we could have gone about the whole thing gradually. But since we haven’t done that, in order to limit global warming to 2C (which is still huge and will cause, and is already causing as we move toward that number, untold disasters) we have to make drastic changes immediately and take less than a decade to get to the targeted reduction in emissions required. What kind of cuts are we talking about? Try 8-10% every year.

I was not surprised to learn about the horrors perpetrated by the extraction companies (coal, gas, oil) against the environment, people and even governments. I was, however, surprised to learn that some of the largest and most respected environmental groups take money from extraction companies and in the case of The Nature Conservancy, even have their own oil well on land that they are supposed to be protecting from oil drilling. I have lost all respect for them as well as WWF (World Wildlife Fund), World Resources Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International. The Sierra Club was also extraction friendly for quite some time until a few years ago when they got a new president who put an end to that.

Unless we leave the oil and coal and natural gas in the ground there is at this point no “safe” emissions level. The free market is not going save us nor is technology. “Buying green” has become a thing, and yes, it is good to buy recycled products when you need them. The trouble is the free market tells us to buy in the first place. Buying green is not going to buy us into a livable environment. Not buying at all is what helps. But our economy is based on consumption and if we don’t buy, things go wrong. If we do buy, things go even more wrong.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Richard Branson (Virgin Group) among others are convinced technology will save us. They don’t think we should have to change anything we are doing at all and are funneling money into research that is looking for ways to suck carbon from the air. Still others are seriously considering geoengineering as a viable solution. Let’s make giant mirrors to reflect the sun away from our atmosphere! No, better yet, let’s go for the “Pinatubo option” and spray sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere! Problem is, while we know volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo had a cooling effect on the climate, we have no idea how it works and have no control over what happens up in the atmosphere and if we screw up there is nothing we can to about it. Not only that, climate models (and studies from the Pinatubo eruption) tend to reveal that such a maneuver would cause severe drought over a large area of Africa and South Asia. But somehow that is okay because why? The industrialized north will be saved and we can continue on our merry way without making any sacrifice other than then maybe sending food aid to all the starving millions. Of course, this is only a guess as to what would happen, we could also find ourselves suddenly in a Snowpiercer-like situation.

So if technology or the free market won’t save us, if the extraction companies refuse to cease operations and our politicians aren’t doing anything at all or not nearly enough, what can possibly be done? It looks pretty bleak but there is a small crack of hope. More on that tomorrow.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: climate change

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16. Don’t Believe Me Just Read

I finished Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything over the weekend and was going to write about it today but I need a little more time to sit with it and think about it and it might actually end up being two posts instead of one. Maybe. To be determined.

So because of that and because it is Monday, and who doesn’t need a little pick-me-up on Monday, and because librarians are so awesome — maybe I’m a little biased but I loved librarians before I began working as one — and because Uptown Funk seems to be latest hit that everyone wants to parody, I give you Unread Book:


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17. Glorious Day

After a cold week that brought rain, sleet and a little snow we finally have sunshine. It was sunny but chilly yesterday but today, today is a beautiful sunny 64F/18C. And let me tell you, Bookman and I have made the most of it. We were up about 6 this morning, not by choice — the cats were misbehaving — and there comes a point when the sun is rising and you realize you aren’t going back to sleep so getting up and starting the day seems the best option. Nothing a big cup of organic shade grown French roast coffee and homemade gingerbread waffles can’t fix. Followed by chores, a little rest and then a bike ride that was longer than we expected.

Me and Astrid, ready to ride

Me and Astrid, ready to ride

I have a PDF map of Twin Cities bike trails and it really is impossible to tell how long a trail is. I showed our proposed route to Bookman and said I thought it would be around 25 miles give or take. It didn’t look that far. When all was said and done however, we ended up riding 35.1 miles! It was probably a little longer than it should have been because we had to backtrack twice. The first time was when the river parkway trail said it was closed but it didn’t look closed, there were people jogging on it and the barrier was open. Plus it was a long downhill right next to the Mississippi River. Whee! And when we got to the bottom and came around a curve, yup, the trail was closed. There is no getting around a locked fence. So then we got to ride up the hill we had just zoomed down. Next followed a very poorly marked detour that took us through downtown Minneapolis and definitely off the detour path as we had to find our way back onto the trail much farther down from the closed part because we didn’t know where we were going!

Back on the trail, we had to look not long after for a connecting trail and of course it was not marked very clearly and we zipped right past it and up a short hill. At the top was a kiosk with an out of date map. When I got my iPhone thought it would never be a truly useful device to me, but turns out I was wrong. I have an interactive bike map on it that told us where we were and that we had missed our crossing trail which was at the bottom of the hill we had just ridden up. So back down the hill we went and sure enough, near the bottom was a small sign indicating our trail.

This trail did not look so long on the map. It ended up being quite long but a really nice ride through trees and prairie restoration areas, by lakes and a creek. It is entirely paved and off the streets, though we did have to cross some busy intersections a couple times. But it was a great ride that looped us around back to near downtown Minneapolis where we picked up another trail, this one familiar, and made our way home. At one point while I was ogling the nearly 3-foot tall stone rabbit statue in someone’s garden, Bookman was looking the other way and saw a huge heron that he thinks was a great blue heron.

Because I joined the National Bike Challenge yesterday that runs May through September and the app I was using to track my rides was not compatible to upload my data to the challenge site, I have switched to Strava. I had tried MapMyRide first but it has pop-up ads that made me grumpy really fast. Strava does not have pop-ups though the free version tracks the bare essentials and lets you do nothing else. But that’s ok really. I added an orange Strava badge in my sidebar so if you are on Strava too and want to be friends send my a request and I will follow you back.

Now to the gardening.

Everything is greening up. Walter the crabapple has dozens of tight little flower buds that will be bursting open very

Future potato hill

Future potato hill

soon. He is going to be so beautiful this year I can hardly wait! In the meantime, today Bookman and I planted potatoes. I have never grown potatoes before so we will see how this adventure goes. The variety is Irish cobbler, a creamy yellow all-purpose sort of potato.

We also planted peas. Lots of them. Twice as many peas as last year but it is still not enough to this greedy pea-loving person. I have two dozen seeds left and nowhere ready to plant. I am hoping during the week Bookman will help me dig out the grass next to the neighbor’s chainlink fence and we can plant the rest of the peas along the fence. Today we planted them in a bed alongside our deck that is an old strawberry bed that has run its course. Bookman has been working to clear it out because we plan to also plant spinach and chard in this bed. Then we strung twine around sticks down the middle of one of the main garden beds where we had tomatoes and peppers planted last year. Water and wait.

Ready for peas

Ready for peas

Last spring I planted asparagus, two crowns of it. It takes about three years before you can start to harvest any of it. I kept looking for it and was beginning to despair, thinking the rabbits had found themselves a delicacy. But today, there it was! Both crowns sprouting up tiny little spears. What a beautiful sight it is.

Meanwhile, we are having trouble finding a contractor to tear down our garage. They are all eager until they find out we don’t want to build a new garage to replace the old one. Suddenly they lose interest because a demolition is inexpensive work in comparison that only takes a day or two at most. You’d think someone would want the work but apparently we are

Asparagus!

Asparagus!

small fry so we keep getting tossed back. Bookman will be making more phone calls this week and hopefully will manage to finally find someone to do the work. We would like to have it done by the middle of May so we can then have someone install fencing around the new chicken garden and we can plant out a few shrubs to start growing. We also have a shed to build. And a chicken coop. C’mon you contractor people, one of you must want a job!

The week ahead looks sunny and warm with a chance for rain on Friday. That means we’ll be having to water our seeds all week. In spite of the precipitation we had last week, it has been a very dry spring and the whole state is in mild to moderate drought. Hopefully that will turn around soon, but please, not all at once. And leave the weekends dry. That’s not too much to ask, is it?


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18. Earth Day

To me, everyday is Earth Day but it is nice to have a specific designated day for celebration. Like a birthday. Sadly, I think a good many people only bother thinking about the Earth on Earth Day and the rest of the year they are oblivious. Or People say things like “I recycle” and “I bring my own bags to the grocery store” and that’s great but it isn’t good enough.

President Obama went to the Everglades in Florida today to give an Earth Day speech. Air Force One used more than 9,000 gallons fuel to get him there and back for his little photo op. And of course he talked about climate change and controlling carbon emissions which at this point is just lip service because he has done very little during his administration to move this country toward doing our part to stop global warming.

He chose to visit Florida for a reason, not only is it a state that is being severely affected by climate change, the governor, Rick Scott, has banned the phrase “climate change” from being used in all government-related documents and events. Because, you know, if you don’t acknowledge it is happening then it really isn’t. Magical thinking, that. Scott denies it but there are too many scientists that have done work for the state and too many other state workers all talking about it that it is hard to believe the governor when he says everyone else is making it up.

I was hoping to be able to do a review of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein today but I still have about 90 pages left to go. It’s an excellent book. Also, very depressing though not entirely without hope.

I am reading a marvelous book called Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin. It is a beautiful, meditative kind of book and I thought I’d share a couple Earth Day appropriate quotes from it.

[I]n the Middle Ages people were on the land — on it, in it — in a way that we simply are not today. We live our lives outside the land. We stay off it mostly.

***

This basic idea of consideration is at the heart of all true conservation. You act out of consideration, out of fellow feeling, for other living things, and for other people. Most of the degradation of our land, air and water is caused by selfishness.

And here is the first stanza of an Earth Day poem by Jane Yolen:

I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

You can read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

And one final thought, compliments of Henry David Thoreau:

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.

Remember, in being kind to the earth, we are being kind to ourselves.

Happy Earth Day!


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19. Rain, Sun, Wind

After a cold, wet and grey week it feels almost like summer outside this weekend. Saturday was about 70F/21C and today is 76F/24C! Rain followed by warmth and sun is going to jumpstart all things growing. I have tulip leaves pushing up through the mulch and a few eager perennials too. Next weekend will see me outdoors cutting back all the dead perennial stalks and clearing mulch off the low growing plants. I saw lots of people out in their gardens today while I was torturing Bookman with a bike ride, but it is too windy this afternoon to be out. My allergies were bothering me before the bike ride, they are worse now. To be outdoors getting dust and leaf mold up my nose right now would send me over the top. So, perhaps there will be a nice evening during the week to start work outdoors. If not, nothing horrible will happen if I don’t get to it until Saturday.

The bike ride this morning was wonderful. I don’t know how far we went because I accidentally hit the wrong button on my bike app and poof! our whole ride about three-quarters of the way through disappeared. We took some bike trails we had never been on before and took some wrong turns onto other trails and had to backtrack, so my guess is we rode 24 (38.6km), maybe 25 (40km) miles. The ride was originally mapped at around 23.5 miles (37.8km). The light breeze blowing when we began our ride soon turned into a 20 mph/32kmh wind. And it seemed like we were always riding into it. There were a few times it blew as a cross wind, which made for some interesting riding when it would gust. If you were watching me and didn’t know better, you might have thought I was riding while intoxicated! Bookman was not too keen on the wind but I kind of liked it even though it made my nose run even more because of my allergies. It was a good opportunity to practice balance and get bonus workout points.

But back to the garden. Most of the seeds I’ve been planting since the beginning of March are doing well. The peppers didn’t germinate in profusion, but there are some and some is better than none, right? All the seed starting is pretty much done except for sunflowers and the only reason we start those ahead of time is because the squirrels dig up the seeds. Those I will start next weekend. And I just realized, that if the weather continues warm this week, and it looks like it might, I will be able to seed lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach and other cool weather veggies in the garden next weekend. Woo! I had better figure out what my seeds are and where they are going this week!

Bookman will have a couple different contractors out during the week to look at our garage and give us estimates for tearing it down. We were out measuring today to get an idea of how big the space is so I can figure out how many shrubs to purchase at the plant sale for planting along the fence we will be putting up along the alley. The space is so much bigger than I thought it was! It looks tiny with a big one-and-a-half-car garage on the site, but take that down, replace it with a 7.5 x 7 foot shed (2.3 x 2m) and a chicken coop and run that will be about 5 x 10 feet (1.5 x 3m) and Bookman guesstimates we will have about 200 square feet (61m) of additional garden space! Squee!

It won’t all be planted though. There will be a gravel path between the shed doors and the gate in the fence and there will be gravel around the chicken coop for ease of access and what-not. However, there will still be a lot of additional garden to grow in. Do I need to tell you how much fun I am having planning this space? I am calling it the Chicken Garden because I am designing it so the chickens can free-range in this little garden without having access to the bigger vegetable garden. It is going to take a lot of work because I expect after being buried under concrete for sixty years, the soil is going to be pretty compacted and fairly dead. Roaming chickens will certainly help improve it much faster, however.

I have also decided that when we are building the coop over the summer, we will build it with a green roof. Mine won’t be exactly like this but you get the idea. I borrowed a book from the library called Small Green Roofs to help us figure out how to build it. The roof will have to support the extra weight of all that soil, which requires some extra structural pieces. In addition to looking pretty, a green roof will keep the coop cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. How fun is that going to be?

Can you tell how excited I am about all the planning? The actual doing will start soon. Stayed tuned!


Filed under: gardening Tagged: chickens

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20. When Books Went to War

book coverWhen Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning turned out to be bit thinner and lighter than I expected but was enjoyable nonetheless. The focus of the book is World War II and efforts undertaken to provide American troops with a constant flow of books. The effort was for two reasons, first and foremost, it was to counteract the war of ideas Hitler had unleashed with his book, Mein Kampf and the demoralizing radio broadcasts that he used to bombard the airwaves to make people think that he was right in his philosophy and there was no way to stop him or his army. The second and just as important reason for books was to provide the troops with something to do during all their hours of downtime and help them keep up morale.

The move to provide the troops with books began before the United States actually entered the war. A draft was instituted and suddenly thousands of men had to go off to training camps, some of which had not even been built yet. Librarians across the country began coordinating and holding book donation drives to provide all of the soldiers in training reading material. It was a huge success.

Once the U.S. entered the war, however, the librarians were told their books were not wanted any longer. Part of it was that all of the books at that time were large hardcovers and hardcover books were not troop friendly. When you have to march all day and your pack is already heavy, do you want to add a hardcover book to it? No. So the War Department and publishers got together and created a group called the Council on Books in Wartime. While there were a few publishers that had been experimenting with paperback books before the war, it was the creation of American Service Editions (ASEs) that brought paperback books to the masses.

Paper was being rationed and books had to be able to fit into a soldier’s pocket. The ASEs were designed to be light and small and readable anywhere. They were such a success the number of books printed each month had to be increased several times in order to keep up with the demand. The books were printed in a series beginning with series “A” which had thirty titles. Each book had a thumbnail picture of the original cover and its letter and number in the series. Oftentimes the most popular books would be called solely by their series letter-number combo. One of the most in demand titles was D-117, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

A set of books would be sent to a unit and passed around. Reading ASEs became such the rage that if you didn’t read them there was something wrong with you. And their portability made sure they got read everywhere from training camp to hospital, from foxhole to the beaches of Normandy where the men who made it to the cliffs but were wounded and could not continue sat, hunkered down, reading while waiting for medical help to reach them.

As important as the program was it was not without its problems and controversies. Some of the books were considered to be lewd or inappropriate and attempts were made by groups in the US to ban certain titles. There was also a bill passes in congress that threatened the entire program’s existence. The bill placed restrictions on the kinds of subject matter allowed in combat zones. Nothing that the government deemed political argument or political propaganda of any kind would be allowed. Violators would be fined and prosecuted. The bill was so vague the Council chose to interpret it in its broadest sense. This meant a very popular biography of Woodrow Wilson was not allowable along with a slew of other books. There was such an angry outpouring of letters from troops and from their families at home that the government very quickly amended the bill and set everything aright.

By the end of the war there were 1,200 different ASE titles and over 120 million books printed. The Council as well as authors received so many grateful letters from the frontlines and innumerable comments about how the ASEs had turned people into readers who had never been interested in books before.

When the GI Bill was passed providing those who had served a free college education, a great many men who went to university were inspired to do so because of the books they had read. In addition, all those new readers returning home wanted to continue reading. As a result the publishing industry boomed and the market for paperback books took off not only among the returning troops but within the general population as well.

I loved reading about this aspect of WWII, what book lover wouldn’t? The book itself is rather slim for a history, only 194 pages. And it doesn’t go into in-depth details or studies of people and places. There is also a bit of a repetitive feel to it, how many letters from servicemen about how great the ASEs are can be quoted before they all kind of meld together? When Books Went to War is still a good read. And Manning provides a complete list of all the ASE titles and their numbers in an appendix at the back of the book so prepare to add some titles to your TBR lists and piles.


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21. Now I Can Catch Up

This morning when I sat down to breakfast Bookman asked whether I had heard Eduardo Galeano had died. Yesterday I said, and Günter Grass too. Bookman commented that we have several fat Galeano novels on our bookshelves. I know, I replied, I’ve always meant to read him. Well now you can finally catch up, Bookman quipped.

Indeed I can. I can catch up on Grass too whom I have also meant to read and haven’t managed.

When authors are alive and writing it is hard to keep up with them sometimes. I mean, they are only writing one book at a time but we are reading all sorts of books all the time. And much as I wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s short story collection that came out last autumn, I still haven’t managed it. It’s lovely little hardcover self sits on my reading table, waiting. In the meantime I have heard she is publishing a novel this autumn. It kind of stresses me out a little. Thank the book gods I am not a huge have-to-read-everything fan of Joyce Carol Oates.

I am sad both Grass and Galeano have died and I look forward to the day I finally read their work and, perhaps, catch up on all of it. It is easier when an author you want to read but have not yet read dies. You can be sad but you can’t really be OMG I’m such a huge fan sad. When authors I do love die it is much harder. I am very sad there will be no more books whether or not I have yet read them all. But weird things happen.

Like when Adrienne Rich died in 2012. I had read all of her published books both poetry and nonfiction. She had just published a new collection of poetry about a year before her death. I had begun reading it, slowly, savoring, taking a long time about it. And then she died. And I stopped reading the book. It is still sitting on my night table. I haven’t picked it up since. It is her last book and when it’s done, it’s done. Sure, there might be some additional poems and nonfiction writing collected up but it won’t be quite the same. I can’t bring myself to finish the book.

Something similar happened when Octavia Butler died so suddenly. I had just discovered her a few years prior and was happily cruising through her newer books and looking forward to reading everything she has published. Then she died. The only book of hers I have read since then is an older collection of short stories. I can’t bring myself to read all the other books because, you know, when I have read them there won’t be any new ones and so nothing to anticipate. At least right now I still have the anticipation of the ones I have not read.

I know it is silly. But I bet all of us readers have some kind something or other that is silly. So now I can catch up on Galeano and Grass. One day I will finish the final poetry book of Adrienne Rich and the remainder of Butler’s books too. Probably.


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22. Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature

April is National Poetry Month and I have neglected to say anything about it thus far. Well, I am about to fix that.

The Library of Congress today launched the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. There are fifty recordings available at the moment and it will be added to every month.

The LOC is digitizing its collection of nearly 2,000 recordings of poets and prose writers who participated in events at the library. Most of the recordings are on magnetic tape reels and until now have only been available by visiting the library.

Among the items available at launch is Robert Frost being interviewed by Randall Jarrell in 1959 and the Academy of American Poets’ 35th anniversary program from 1969 that included readings by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. That is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a true treasure trove.

This is why I love the internet. Go now, explore the archive and enjoy.


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23. Gardening Season Begins!

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

The weather during the week was sunny, dry and warm. Oh, and windy. The wind makes my allergies very bad so it’s best to just skip over the misery to the beautiful warm, sunny and non-windy days that were Friday and Saturday. They could not have been more perfect. Unfortunately I had to spend most of my day indoors working on Friday, but the evening was mild and relaxing.

Saturday I had work to do. The forecast for Sunday was rain off and on all day. Gardening had to happen this weekend and it had to happen on Saturday. Bookman was at work so he missed out on all the fun. I spent two glorious hours outdoors. I began in the front garden removing leaves and cutting back the remains of last year’s perennials and grasses. I had decided last year that I want to use my tall native grasses to make baskets. I don’t have a huge prairie so they would have to be small or take a year or two to make one of size. No problem. I found out how to do this: cut grasses before they flower, place in a warm area to dry. When the time came last summer to cut back some of the grass to dry I couldn’t bear the idea. I know, it’s grass, it would grow back, but it’s so pretty waving in the breeze. So I decided I didn’t mind some fluffy grass seedheads in the mix and I would let nature take its course and when the grass dried naturally I’d cut it back to use.

When the time came to cut the dry grass I thought, oh it looks so pretty I can’t cut it back yet. I’ll wait until just before it snows. Snow came late but the cold didn’t and who wants to be out cutting back grass when it’s 25F/-4C outside? Spring, I’ll do it in spring.

And as I was cutting back the grass yesterday I understood why it gets cut when it is green. It is fresh and clean, unbroken and unbent. In spring it has been flattened by snow, has leaves and dirt in it. It is no good for baskets, only good for mulch and compost. Lesson learned. So this summer I will try cutting a little from a few clumps of grass and drying it and seeing how that goes.

I must have some new neighbors down the street from me because as I was working a child of about eight I had never seen before was riding his bike up and down the street all by himself. He seemed to be having a good time, zooming along and sometimes singing to himself. Finally his curiosity got the best of him and he stopped and asked me what I was doing. I explained I was clearing away the leaves and dead twigs so the new flowers could grow. He didn’t know what to say to that but sat there on his bike watching me for a bit before he asked if I was “helping the house.” I understood his question to mean was I being paid by the people who live in the house to do this work. I told him no, that I live in the house. His response was “oh” and then he zoomed off down the sidewalk and didn’t come by again. Did I scare him or have I been placed in the “crazy lady” box?

I got one big bed cleared. There is another large bed and a couple smaller ones yet to do. Almost all of these plants are natives and they don’t need much attention at all in order to thrive and do their thing. Unless there is something newly planted in one of the beds, my policy tends to be one of benign neglect. No one took care of them on the prairie, they don’t really need me to take much care of them now.

I was happy to see the gooseberry I planted last year is leafing out and the black currant, which I fretted

beginning ramp patch

beginning ramp patch

over all winter because it looked like nothing more than a stick in the snow, is covered in new leaves too. And, hooray, the ramps came back! Ramps are wild leeks, native to woodlands in Minnesota. I planted a couple last spring and they went dormant a few weeks after that. To see them tall and leafy now makes me very happy. Hopefully in a couple of years I will have a patch large enough I can start harvesting some for an early spring treat.

In the vegetable garden in the backyard I prepped the polyculture bed for planting. I had covered it in leaf mulch for the winter and with the wind most of the leaves had blown away. So I broke up the top of the soil pulled out a few weeds that had sprouted, turned some of the leaves under — found some earthworms yay! I also cut back all the dead stalks from the perennial sunflower that lives next to the polyculture bed. When Bookman came home in the evening we planted the bed with a lettuce variety mix, cosmic purple carrots, red beets and golden beets, parsnips and purple radish. Then we covered it with row cover fabric and weighed down the corners. Since it was going to rain, we didn’t water it.

It did rain a little overnight, not much though. And today it rained only once for about twenty minutes. It was too wet to do any digging but Bookman and I got out in the garden for a little while. We worked on breaking up some old concrete and used it to mark out more paths through the garden. At one point Bookman failed to remember he was swinging a sledge hammer while standing beneath a clothesline rope. He swung the hammer, it hit the rope and bounced back and gave him a glancing blow to the head. I didn’t see it happen, only heard the cursing after the fact.

Bookman is ok. He has a small cut on his forehead, a bruise and a marble-sized lump. But we decided he needed to be done gardening for the day. After a long afternoon rest, however, he did take a few minutes to help me plant sunflower seeds in pots. We have to start the sunflowers so the squirrels don’t dig up the seeds.

But it isn’t squirrels I am worried about this year. The mild winter we had allowed the rabbit population to embiggen and we’ve had several rabbits foraging through the garden over the last few weeks. There was nothing growing except weeds and greening grass so I didn’t think much about it. Until yesterday when I walked around the garden checking on all my shrubs. Bush cherries looking good, black raspberry fantastic, winterberries made it, blackberry not sure, huckleberry — hey where did the huckleberry go? Eaten down to a nub. And it is a good thing I already decided to give up on the blueberries because the rabbits had eaten those too! Nonetheless I was a bit miffed.

My nextdoor neighbor has a large shade tree in the backyard and has told us there is a hawk nesting in its upper branches. I can see a nest but I have not seen the hawk. Is it bad of me to hope the hawk takes care of the rabbit problem? There were three large rabbits. In the last few days I have only seen one. I have not seen any rabbit remains though so maybe the rabbits have just become more cautious? Whatever the case, I now have to take extra precautions and protect against both squirrels and rabbits. Not pleased about that!


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24. Sex Criminals

Earlier today I had a thought. I know right, such a rare occurrence! The thought was about something I should mention tonight that would transition so nicely with the graphic novel I just finished reading. Since I had this thought at work I was going to send myself an email reminder. Do you ever do that? Send yourself emails or texts to remind you to do stuff? But I got busy at the circulation desk and the email to myself never got sent.

Now I’ve been trying to remember for the last hour what it was I wanted to write and I can only remember that I wanted to remember something. It’s like when you tie a string around your finger and then forget why you did it. Oh well.

The Pulitzers were announced today though. I am so out of it I didn’t even know it was that time of year. Anthony Doerr won for All the Light We Cannot See. Gregory Pardlo won for poetry. I have never heard his name before. Someone “new” to investigate sometime.

coverThe Pulitzers do not make a nice transition to the graphic novel, Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. It is told from Suzie’s point of view and in a way is a kind of coming-of-age story. When Suzie is a teen and pleasures herself for the first time she learns that when she orgasms time stops. Eventually it wears off and time starts moving again. At first she thinks this is something that happens to everyone but no one is willing to talk to her about it and none of the books at the library mention it. When she is a few years older and has sex for the first time she learns what she was beginning to suspect, it is just her.

Until she meets Jon. Suzie is a librarian and her library is going to be foreclosed on by the bank. She is throwing a fundraising party to try to save the library and Jon shows up at the party, saves her from a loser dude trying to pick up on her, and then makes her fall in love with him by quoting extensively from Lolita, Suzie’s favorite book.

Well, it turns out when Jon has an orgasm he can stop time too. Then we get some flashbacks of Jon’s story. Meanwhile, since the beginning of the book, we’ve been getting flashforwards of Suzie and Jon robbing a bank and the whole thing not going well. Eventually all the timelines catch up and the whole sex criminals title makes sense.

I know it sounds kind of weird. Okay, so it is weird. But it’s good too. The art is great and the story is definitely different. And it is not a raunchy sex book. But it’s definitely adult content, not something you want to give your thirteen-year-old niece or nephew for a birthday present. And probably not something you want to give grandma for Christmas unless you have a really cool grandma. It’s fun and silly. There is one panel when Suzie and Jon are laying in bed together saying “Sylvia Poggioli” over and over very slowly. And then Jon comments that Susan Stamberg has a sexier voice. Now if you live in the US and listen to National Public Radio this is one fantastic joke. I am never going to be able to hear either of them on radio again without giggling. And did I mention Suzie is a librarian? Not one of those sexy, shirt unbuttoned down to here and skirt cut up to there librarians, but a normal human being kind of librarian.

I put myself in line at the library for volume two, which was just published this year. I’m something like number 44 in line. Volume One ends with a sort of cliffhanger so I hope I don’t have to wait so very long for my turn to come round.


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25. The Responsibility of the Reader

In an opinion piece in the New York Times last week author Lily Tuck asks, “How should one read?” Her conclusion is that one should read with imagination. But, it seems to me, her piece and the question itself, is really trying to get at what the responsibility of the reader is. Because as we all know, an author writes a book but it doesn’t come alive until it is read. And that requires readers. Us.

We may not write the story but by bringing it to life we are engaging in a mutually creative act. Do we have an obligation? A duty? A responsibility as a reader? When we ask how should one read, and given the number of books out there on the subject it seems a question we are interested in exploring, we are really wanting to know what is required of us in order to fully engage in the creative act of reading. And of course there are lots of answers and lots of qualifications of those answers and plenty of people are willing to say there is a right way and a wrong way and our heads begin to spin and we begin to feel inadequate because we don’t look up every unfamiliar word in the dictionary and we fail to properly notate and annotate and who has time to read every book more than once even though supposedly you can never truly understand a good piece of literature until you have read it twice at least but three times is better and OMG why isn’t reading fun anymore?

Instead of piling it on, let’s get back to basics. Let’s talk about minimum requirements, basic responsibilities. Like imagination. Because I do agree with Tuck that we do need imagination. It also helps to have an open mind. Inevitably we will read something we don’t agree with or a point of view that is completely foreign or a way of being in the world that we had never considered. These things challenge our personal worldview and when we come upon them to be closed-minded shuts down everything. I don’t think you can truly have a good imagination unless you are also open-minded. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with what you read, only that you can entertain the possibility of difference.

What else? I think trust is important. I know some people go at books believing the author has to earn their trust. I prefer to trust from the start and am willing to risk feeling betrayed if the author screws it up. Which they do sometimes.

How about curiosity? Along with that I’d like to propose that it is beneficial to be comfortable with uncertainty not only in terms of not knowing what is going to happen next in the plot of a book, but being okay with being lost and confused and disoriented when it comes to understanding. I know people’s tolerance for this is highly variable, but I think the more we can bear, the more exciting and interesting a reading experience can be. Here is another place that trust comes in. Such a state requires a reader really trust the author, and herself for that matter, to find a way through the confusion to a place of understanding. So it also helps to have a sense of adventure but I don’t think that goes on the list of responsibilities.

Is there anything else? I don’t think the list of responsibilities should be that long. There is a difference between basic reader responsibilities and skills to enhance the reading experience. It’s the skills all those books focus on and neglect inquiry into entry level requirements. And I hope you all understand that when I say requirements I don’t actually mean that if you aren’t curious you have no right to call yourself a reader. The only real requirement to be a reader is being literate. It’s more like a basic approach or attitude toward reading to make the best of the experience. Does that make sense?

Please, share your own thoughts on the matter because I know you have them!


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