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1. July Reading

Can you believe it’s July already? I can’t. I was just getting used to June, just starting to feel like I was in the June groove, and now it’s time to move on. I am not ready. Can we turn the calendar back to June 15th please? That should be enough for me to get my fill of June and then when July 1st rolls around again I will be ready. Not going to happen you say? Where’s Marty McFly or the TARDIS when you need them?

Well, let’s barrel into July then. What will the month hold for reading? I get a 3-day holiday weekend coming up for Independence Day. Groovy, some extra reading time.

Even though I have been (mostly) good about keeping my library hold requests down to a manageable number, two books I have been looking forward to reading that have long waiting lines have, of course, both arrived for me at once. I now have to either a) rush through The Buried Giant and Get in Trouble in three weeks, or b) choose one to focus on and not worry about the other and get in line for it again if I run out of time. Choice “b” seems the most likely one I will go with which means Ishiguro’s Buried Giant will get my attention first. I am looking forward to it.

Carried over from last month, I am still reading Elif Shafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice. I am enjoying it much more than I was before even though I am making my way through it rather slowly.

In June I began reading Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and The Martian by Andy Weir. Two very different books and I am enjoying each of them quite a lot. James manages to be funny and ironic and ominous and can he ever write! I know people make fun of his long sentences but I get so involved in the reading I don’t even notice the length of the sentences. I do notice sometimes the paragraphs are very long, but that is only when I am nearing my train stop or the end of my lunch break and I am looking for a place to stop reading. And The Martian, is it ever a funny book. The book itself isn’t funny I guess, there is nothing very funny about being left for dead on Mars, the character, Mark Watney is funny; humor as survival tool. Weir, I must say, does a most excellent job of writing about complex science in such a way that is compelling and interesting and makes me feel smart.

I have a review copy of a new book called Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor on its way to me. The Emily in question is Emily Dickinson. It’s a novel from Penguin Random House and they are kindly going to provide a second copy for a giveaway. Something to look forward to!

I will also begin reading Elizabeth Bishop this month. I’m still reading Keats letters and biography and poetry but he will get a bit less attention as I start to focus on Bishop. Much as I wanted to like Keats, it seems I like the idea of Keats more than the actuality; enjoy his letters more than his poetry. Not that his poetry isn’t very good, it is, at least some of it because there is quite a bit of mediocre stuff he wrote to/for friends that makes me wonder why I decided to read the collected rather than the selected. Hindsight and all that. But even the really good Keats poetry left me with mixed feelings. I mean, I appreciate it and sometimes I have a wow moment, but it generally doesn’t give me poetry stomach (the stomach flutters I get when I read a poem I really connect with). We’ll see how it goes with Bishop. I have her collected as well as her letters to work my way through over the coming months.

Without a doubt there will be other books that pop up through the month, there always are! The unexpected is all part of the fun.

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Andy Weir, Elif Shafak, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, John Keats, Nuala O'Connor

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2. The Writing Process

I’m about two-thirds of the way through a book I am reading to review for Library Journal. The book is called J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing by David Attwell. It is a sort of writing biography of Coetzee and is quite good. If you are a fan of the writer, this is one you will probably want to look out for.

I am also still working my way through all the lessons in the James Patterson Master Class.

Over the weekend Patterson and Coetzee provided a fascinating opportunity to glimpse and compared the writing process of two well-known writers. The writing process has always fascinated me. Everyone has one and goes about putting words on paper or computer screen in a variety of ways. Some writers fetishize certain objects —they have to write with a particular pen in a certain color on a particular kind of paper, or while pounding away at the keyboard there has to be particular piece by Mozart playing and there has to be a cup of tea/coffee in a certain mug placed just so on the desk — and claim to not be able to write without them. Some writers need to have a title first, or write the last sentence first or start in the middle or always begin a new project on the same date or sit down to write at the same exact time every day.

The actual writing part though, there are only so many ways a person can go about it, nonetheless, it remains a perennial and dreaded question at book readings, the moment someone in the audience stands up and asks, “so how did you go about writing this book?” What is wanted, of course, is the secret that only “real” writers know. The password, the handshake, the mystery revealed, the drug, the prayer, the key to it all so that said audience member can go home and write that novel they have inside them and make millions doing it. No one wants to hear an author say the truth, I sat down and wrote for six hours every day, seven days a week for four months (or more) and wrote and rewrote and wrote some more and tossed out and started over and wrote some more and rewrote over and over until it was done. What’s an author to do? Tell the truth no one wants to hear or make something up? The third option is avoiding answering the question entirely. I have heard all three answers at one time or another.

Of course in Patterson’s online writing class he has to address the question, he is the teacher and it is his job to explain how to write a novel. Patterson takes the truthful route but at the same time he makes it sound rather easy. To write a novel, one must first write an outline, do not begin writing without an outline, your book will be doomed. For Patterson, an outline is not the kind you had to do in school with the Roman numerals and the letters and headings and subheadings. He means a narrative outline. There are still numbers but the numbers correspond to chapters and basically what you are writing is a summary of the chapter. With such an outline you can work out plot and pacing before you get in too deep. You can find the slow bits and the holes and fix them before they grow out of control. That’s the idea anyway.

And it seems like a good idea that is really useful for a plot-driven James Patterson sort of novel. Heck, it is probably a good idea for a variety of novel types. It is neat and tidy. And of course once you have your outline, you know how you are going to get from point A to B to C. You know what happens in each chapter. All you have to do is fill in the details. Easy!

Coetzee’s approach is so much messier. No outline, just write. Draft after draft after draft. He makes notes as he goes. He changes character names and locations and plot and then he changes them back again and then he changes them again to something else entirely. It is organic and labyrinthine. It is a journey in which the ending is not known in advance, but is rather a sort of quest; a quest for a story, a quest for an answer to a question, a quest for understanding, a quest for any number of things. No bones about it, it is a lot of work.

And I find myself wondering, do the two approaches reflect the differences between commercial fiction and Nobel Prize winning fiction? Could an author whose process is like Patterson’s win a Nobel? Could someone whose process is like Coetzee’s be successful at commercial fiction and spend 24 weeks on top of the bestseller lists? Which comes first, the process or the desire to write a certain kind of fiction? Do people who make outlines naturally make a course for more commercial fiction? Do the messy organic writers automatically find themselves in literary fiction? And what about other kinds of writing, genre and nonfiction in all its variety? Is this a chicken or egg question?

Maybe. Probably. Likely the answer is a combination of all sorts of factors but it is interesting to consider.

Filed under: Books, In Progress, Writing Tagged: J.M. Coetzee, James Patterson, writing process

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3. Oh Peas!

First off, it is Pride weekend and is there ever cause for celebration! In case you haven’t heard, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that makes same-sex marriage a legal right in all fifty states. The court made a good decision for a change and I am so very very happy I may have even gotten a little teary-eyed about it. A big virtual kiss to the five justices who wrote the majority opinion (Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan). Thank you for doing the right thing.

Now, on to gardening.

Yes peas!

Yes peas!

I suppose I should apologize to the rabbits but I am not going to. Turns out they are not the ones who have been eating everything. They have eaten some things like the sunflowers, but they have not been the culprits when it comes to greens. My true nemesis/nemisises/nemisi are slugs! Not the big huge fat ones, but tiny ones the size of the tip of a well sharpened pencil. They look innocuous, like little moist pieces of dirt stuck to leaves after a hard rain. And so I didn’t notice them. But I have been spending time with my face close to the dirt weeding and discovered them hiding in plain sight. But they are so tiny and the plants are growing so fast now they are no longer really an issue. Still, I am not going to say sorry to the rabbits.

The second planting in the polyculture bed is doing pretty well. I had to thin the radishes this week and soon I will need to thin the beets. While thinning the radishes I began to wonder whether the greens were edible. They are! As are carrot greens. Radish greens recipes abound but it seems like they do best in soup and stir fried and as pesto. Carrot tops also make good soup as well as tea and supposedly a really fantastic pesto. Who knew? So now all radish greens are being saved and any carrot greens that might happen will be saved too. And is it me or can anything green be made into pesto? I think by the end of summer I am going to have so much pesto in my freezer it will last me nearly all winter.

Last year I planted parsnips in the polyculture bed. I thought I had pulled all of them out in the fall but it

Parsnip flowers

Parsnip flowers

turned out to not be the case. Parsnips are biennial and flower and seed in their second year. I heard they were great for pollinators so when I saw three or four parsnips coming up in spring I let them go. Now they are really tall and blooming pretty umbels of yellow flowers that pollinators are definitely enjoying. I will allow them to go to seed and then save the seed for the garden next year and see if I get some good parsnips from it.

The peas are beginning to be pickable. I got the first ones today and there will be even more to pick tomorrow and every day or two after that for then next couple of weeks. Yay! It is nice that the peas are ready now just as I picked the last of the strawberries today.

Bookman being silly fixing up the raspberries

Bookman being silly fixing up the raspberries

Bookman staked up and covered with netting the black raspberries. They are getting close to ripe and I don’t want to share them with the birds and squirrels. The birds can’t get them but an enterprising squirrel can get under the netting if it dares. I hope none dare. The raspberries are supposed to be black but they look like they will just be a really dark red. Oh wait, nope. Just did some googling. It looks like they turn red first and then black when they are ripe. Nifty. They are starting to go from green to red. I assume black comes not long after. Will keep an eye out and let you know.

My tiny elderberry bush that I got at the plant sale in May has some berries on it. Not many, less than a



handful. Elderberries cannot be eaten raw, they must be cooked into jam, syrup, or alcohol. There are not enough berries to bother cooking into anything so I will just leave them be this year and wait until the shrub is bigger in a year or two. I got the shrub to plant in the chicken garden but had to temporarily plant it in the regular garden because the garage was taking so long to get knocked down. Now it is so far into the growing season the shrub along with the serviceberry and the prairie rose will stay in their temporary locations until spring next year when I will move them.



Speaking of garage, guess what finally happened? It ended up costing a little more than originally estimated because the concrete slab we also had removed turned our to have wire reinforcement in it. But it is all gone now with only a sliver left just big enough to park a car and on the NE corner is an 8×8 foot square that we will use to build the shed on. It is such a relief to have all of this finally done! Beneath all of that concrete I was expecting gravel and compacted dirt. What is actually there is a 1-2 inch layer of fine building sand. I joked with Bookman that we should forget about the shed and chickens and put up a volleyball net and start hosting beach volleyball tournaments. Not to fear, under the layer of sand is the compacted dirt.

Now that the garage is gone, the next order of business is to have a chainlink fence with a gate installed. That should not be the ordeal that having the garage knocked down was. While that is in process, we will be



raking up all the sand into a neat pile. We will save some to use for the chickens — they will need sand for dust baths — and begin distributing it through the garden. We have plans to turn the polyculture bed into a year-round garden by building a small winter-hardy hoophouse and growing cool weather veg beneath it to harvest when there is snow on the ground (that is the hope anyway). The polyculture bed is a raised bed made of cinderblocks. The sand will go in the cinderblock holes. Sand does not freeze in winter and will serve as insulation. More sand will get spread out on the main garden path before it gets covered over in pea gravel. If there is still sand left after that, well, we’ll worry about it when we get there.

Once we get the sand raked into a tidy pile, Bookman will begin going over the compacted dirt with a shovel and fork to loosen it up. Then we will plant buckwheat as a ground cover and mulch that under in September and seed hairy vetch and oats as ground covers that will sprout first thing in spring. The idea is to keep the weeds down and to improve the soil. Wish us luck!

I am not trying to kill myself, I’m really not. I crashed again yesterday. This time it was totally me being stupid. I was on the last leg of my ride coming from a street bike lane to an off-street bike trail (it strikes me now that I have difficulty with transitions) and hit the curb. The curb has a very narrow cutout that is still kind of high. I have successfully navigated it a number of times and cursed it every time. Yesterday I was going too fast and not paying attention. I missed the cutout and smacked right into the curb. I knew it was going to happen a spilt second before it did. I do not know how to pop my front wheel up off the pavement. I don’t know that even if I did I would have been able to react fast enough for it to save me. Nonetheless, Bookman has promised to teach me how to do this.

So, I hit the curb. The good news is I did not go over the handlebars. The bad news is I still got pretty banged up. Last week when I fell on the gravel I was going slow and the scrapes were pretty minor in spite of the blood, and are actually almost completely healed. Yesterday I managed to scrape my shoulder, elbow, knee and shin. There is quite a lot of skin missing. When I got home I saw my elbow and shin each had a big lump developing. We had no cold packs in the freezer so I used a bag of frozen corn on my shin and a bag of frozen peas on my elbow. This was very effective and the lumps have gone away. The scrapes are tender but they will be healed soon enough. My knee, however, is one very large scab that will take a few weeks to have skin again.

Far from feeling badass, this time around I feel like an idiot. The repetitive motion of cycling is very relaxing to me even when I am working hard up a hill. On the flats, though, I tend to get meditative and have a bad tendency to zone out. This is not such a bad thing on a nearly empty bike-only trail. It is a very bad idea when there is a tricky route change.

Astrid is perfectly fine. Her chain came partly off which panicked me a bit because I do not know how to put a chain back on a bike. But since it was only partially off, it was not hard to fix. Poor Astrid. She’s a trooper she is.

All that happened with less than half an hour to home. And in spite of it, it was a really good ride. I am still Queen of the Mountain on the one Strava segment and I even managed to beat my time by five seconds. Someone else had created a segment within that long segment, a particular hill, and I am sixth overall. Woo! I am a very competitive person, in case you haven’t noticed. I’ve not had anything over which to compete for a very long time (competitive vegetable growing just doesn’t do it for me, I really don’t care who has the biggest carrot) and cycling has awakened those urges. I am not interested in racing though, I am perfectly happy competing with myself and the likely never to meet them cyclists on Strava. It is good motivation and makes me work harder to improve my stamina and strength.

Aside from Bookman teaching me how to lift my front wheel, the thing I am really focused on at the moment is pacing on hills and for distance. I have a tendency to attack the bottom of the hill and then run out of steam about halfway. Same with a long ride, I ride fast early and then the second half is nothing but slog because I have used up all my energy. I read an article in a cycling magazine that says when going up hills to keep a steady pace throughout. Also, shift before you need that next lower gear, not when you find yourself mashing the pedals as hard as you can. I practiced this yesterday and you know what? It really works!

As far as pacing during the whole ride, I discovered yesterday that a mix of music is a great assist. Don’t worry, I don’t put my ipod earbuds in my ears, I am not that dumb and it is illegal. No, I wrap the earbuds over my ears and turn up the volume — musical earrings. Bookman tells me that it isn’t loud enough for others to really hear anything other than a low buzzing sound which is much quieter than the young men on the train who have their earbuds in and the music blasting so loud I can hear the lyrics. So the music mix helps with pacing. I have fast songs and slow songs and somewhere in the middle songs. When the slow songs come up I get to have a more relaxed pace. When the fast songs come up I pedal faster without even having to think about it. When I finished my ride yesterday I was hurting from my fall but I was not really tired like I had been before. So I count this as a big success.

When I ride with Bookman or on a group ride, I do not take music, music is for when I am out alone. Pacing is easier when I am with other people I find. When I am alone I have no one to compare myself to, no outside perspective. The music seems to have solved that problem. Plus, there is no way I won’t get up a hill with Ricky Martin’s She Bangs playing through my musical earrings

Yup, Ricky Martin. I have a number of his songs on my ipod. He is great workout music. Don’t worry I have more current songs too. Walk the Moon is also great and P!nk is always fantastic. And for a slower or more moderate pace Indigo Girls and Sia work pretty well. I have 15 hours of songs on my ipod, I put it on shuffle and let them fall where they may. Except on the hilly sections of my rides, I always skip around and make sure I have a fast beat.

My cycling goal for the coming week? No crashes!

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: beach volleyball, Carrot greens are edible too go figure, chickens, crash test dummy, radish greens are edible who knew?, the garage is finally destroyed and now it is on to reclaiming the land from car culture, uncooked elderberries are toxic

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4. Thrilling! Adventures! Fun!

cover artI have been waiting my turn in the library holds queue quite some time for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. It is a graphic novel by Sydney Padua. I’ve just begun it and it is so much more than I ever could have hoped for.

It is not your average graphic novel. There is as much text as there are pictures. There are footnotes. There are endnotes. The art is great and the whole thing is absolutely bonkers and laugh out loud funny.

Don’t know who Lovelace and Babbage are? Charles Babbage invented the first computer but for various reasons mostly to do with Babbage, it never got built. Ada Lovelace is the daughter of Lord Byron and the first computer programmer. Lovelace died at age thirty-six. Babbage lived to be a crotchety old man.

After writing a story about Lovelace and Babbage, Padua thought it a real shame the computer never got built and the pair didn’t get to work together for very long. So she went all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and discovered a pocket universe where Lovelace and Babbage built the computer, have thrilling adventures, and, of course, fight crime, because why not? The first adventure has to do with the person from Porlock.

As I said, I have not read much but what I have read has been pure delight and I couldn’t keep it to myself until I finished. So I am telling you about it now. Check your library. If they have the book, get yourself on the list for it. Now. Go. No dilly-dallying.

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, In Progress Tagged: Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage

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5. Notes from Walnut Tree Farm

cover artReading Roger Deakin’s book Notes from Walnut Tree Farm was a great joy. The book is composed of excerpts from notebooks he kept during the last six years of his life. He wrote in them almost daily his observations, impressions, thoughts, feelings and doings. So while the book is strung across the course of a year from January to December, the entires are pulled from six years of writing. They are not dated with a year and on any given day there might be multiple entries from various years. It sounds complicated and disjointed but it really isn’t. I had intended to read the book a month at a time, to move through the year along with the entries. But I couldn’t stop reading, I was enjoying myself far too much to be able to dribble the goodness out over an entire year.

Deakin has a keen eye and a great knowledge of the history of the land. He is a fan of the commons and the wild, an advocate for stewardship. He loves cats and birds and holds a great respect for all living things including the insects that make their way into his study since it seems his window screens are either non-existent or of such a large mesh he is guaranteed to be visited by something while sitting at his desk:

I think, yes, it really is another world, this microscopic insect world, a world apart. But almost at once I realize that to put insects into ‘another world’ or ‘a world apart’ is dangerous. In fact it is the rationale for exterminating them with pesticides. If theirs is ‘another world’, it has nothing to do with us. It is unconnected, and, whatever we choose to do to it, we ourselves are unaffected. The very reverse is the truth of course. Unless we realize we share a single world with the insects, and that if we harm them we harm ourselves and the rest of nature, we will end up destroying ourselves — committing suicide, in fact.

I think we are beginning to discover this with the bees and people are starting to speak out about it. But it has taken far too long to get to this place and we have a long way to go. It is easy to feel sorry for a dead honeybee, not so easy for people to be sorry about ants or flies.

If I can be enchanted by my cat, rolling in joy on the brick terrace before me, why can’t I be enchanted by a green shield bug in my vegetable garden, or two ants meeting and exchanging information with a flourish of their antennae? Or the billowing fizz of cow-parsley in full flower?

But Deakin isn’t all nature yes and civilization no, bugs good, people bad. It is possible to have a balance.

I blame the Romantics for all this self-consciousness about landscape and inspiration. Wandering lonely as a cloud may be the last thing you need sometimes. Going round the corner for breakfast in a steamy cafe may be much more like it.

Deakin has much to say about trees. I learned quite a lot about pollarding and coppicing, two things that seem to be a dying art, as is creating and properly maintaining hedgerows. He is also a person who enjoys working with wood and has considerable skill at turning felled trees into bookshelves or even sculptures. He is the kind of person who respects the tree and the wood, which I believe must infuse his work with respect, passion and love.

How wonderful it must have been to be Deakin’s friend and walk with him around his farm in Suffolk and the surrounding area. Deakin died in 2006, but he has left us his notebooks curated into the beautiful Notes from Walnut Tree Farm through which we may walk with him anytime no matter the weather.

Filed under: Books, Diaries, Memoir/Biography Tagged: Roger Deakin

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6. Notes from Vacation

Ah, what a wonderful week of vacation I have had. Sadly it all goes by too quickly. There was a lot of time in the garden and a lot of time on my bike and a lot of time reading books and magazines and online articles. I could use another week. Or two!

Monster sorrel

Monster sorrel

In the garden my new favorite green is sorrel. It is a perennial green and I have the tame French variety growing in my herb spiral where it stays compact and tidy. But last year when we dug a place for Amy Pond and discovered just how sandy our soil is and piled all that sand up not far from the pond intending to do something with it and never quite figuring out what, a common garden sorrel planted itself there. I have no idea where it came from, seed dropped by a bird or raccoon or maybe it was already there and grew up through the pile of sand. Regardless, we decided to let it stay. It grew all summer last year and got taller than the French sorrel but generally behaved itself. In spring it was one of the first green things sprouting in the garden. We used it’s leaves on sandwiches as a lettuce substitute.

Having established itself last year, this common sorrel made itself right at home and grew into a huge monster

Tastes so good

Tastes so good

of a plant, tall and sprawling. It got so large I began to doubt our decision to let it grow. But then I found a recipe for sorrel pesto. Bookman made it and we had it on buckwheat soba noodles. It was divine! It had kick. And because we have so much of the stuff there are plenty of leaves for more! I have cut the plant back a little and we have frozen some of the leaves to use later. I hope it keeps growing all summer because I am imagining freezing sorrel pesto to have in the middle of winter. Yum!

We have been eating strawberries from the garden nearly every day for the last two weeks. They are slowly winding down, fewer and fewer each day and smaller than the early ones. The raspberries are beginning to color up a bit though so perhaps in a couple weeks we will have some ready to eat. Which reminds me, I had better put netting over them now or I might never get to have any!

Yesterday evening I pulled the first two radishes out of the garden. Oh radishes, how I love them! These are pink ones, I can’t remember the variety, sorry. But they are mild with just the right amount of crunch and kick to really enjoy sliced up in a salad. I’m hoping the next ones I pull will get sliced up onto a sandwich. I am going to try planting more radishes in some bare places in hopes that I can have radishes all summer long. I usually just do one planting and when they are done I am sad. But radishes grow so fast I should in theory be able to plant them until the middle to end of July. We’ll see if it works.

The peas are looking great and have been blooming all week. How long from flower to edible peas? One week? Two? I have never paid any attention. But I love peas so much and my mouth is watering in anticipation that I will be paying close attention this time. I have also planted twice as many peas as I have in the past in hopes of having an abundance that lasts longer than a couple weeks. I am greedy. Fingers crossed!

What caused the glass to shatter?

What caused the glass to shatter?

There was a mystery that happened during the week. Late morning, I am indoors reading with the sliding door to the deck open to let in the breeze. All of a sudden I hear a crash. Bookman sometimes leaves baking pans precariously perched on the counter and even though he hadn’t been baking anything I couldn’t think what else it could be. I got up to check and discovered everything in the kitchen was fine. But Waldo was puffed up and staring out at the deck. I look out and to my great surprise, the glass in the outdoor table had completely shattered. There was no evidence of what could have caused it. No rocks or dangling icicles. No meteorites. Nearest we can figure is that maybe there was a crack in it we didn’t know about and a squirrel jumped on it and got a big surprise. But we can only speculate.

The garage was supposed to get knocked down Thursday last week but due to a communication mishap it got pushed to Friday. But Friday the contractor called and said a piece of his equipment he needed broke and it has been rescheduled for Monday. However the weather forecast for Monday morning is thunderstorms. Will it be put off yet another day? Stay tuned.


Astrid wounded. You don't need to see my bloody legs

Astrid wounded. You don’t need to see my bloody legs

I was able to get in a few great bike rides during the week. Friday I did the 55-mile/88.5 km loop I had done the week before. It is a good ride, perfect distance with a variety of terrain. Well, part of the ride is on a gravel trail and at the end of the trail by Lake Riley when I was turning off of it onto pavement, my back wheel slipped right out from under me and down I went. It happened so fast I didn’t know it until I found myself on the ground. A nice man walking by came over to check on me and make sure I was ok. I had scarped up my left thigh, my right calf and lost some skin on the palm of my right hand. I had a trail of blood creeping down each of my legs, but while it looked bad, I didn’t feel hurt, just a bit shaken up. Astrid took a wound too. The gear/brake mount thingy on the right handlebar was bent but not too badly and everything was still working ok. So I took a few minute’s breather, had some water, made sure Astrid and I really were okay, determined that we were and off we went to finish the ride.

I had nothing to wipe the blood off so just went with it. And when I got to the hilly segment of my ride I was feeling great. When I got home I discovered feeling great was not an illusion. My hilly stretch is a Strava segment and I had been awarded Queen of the Mountain, meaning I have the best time over that segment than any other woman on Strava. Woo! And that after wiping out.

Do you know what that means? Astrid and I are badass!

I also completed the ride five minutes faster than the first time I rode it. Badass!

And it turns out I did not have to take Astrid in for repairs, Bookman was able to move the gear/brake mount thing back into alignment. I am not happy about having to go back to work tomorrow but at least I will be able to show off my battle wounds. That’s worth something.

Allow me to indulge this just a little longer…

Filed under: biking, gardening

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7. The Last Bookaneer

cover artWhen I received an email from the publisher wanting to know if I’d like a review copy of Matthew Pearl’s newest book The Last Bookaneer I thought sure! I mean it’s about book pirates and even better it promised adventure in pursuit of a final novel and masterpiece by Robert Louis Stevenson. It seemed like it could be Treasure Island with books instead of gold doubloons.

The elements are all there for a swashbuckling tale. An ailing Robert Louis Stevenson is living in Samoa and reportedly working on a novel, sure to be his last and sure to be a masterpiece. The International Copyright Act of 1891 has been passed and goes into effect on July 1st, a law that will effectively cut off pirating of British books in America. We have two of the last great bookaneers, Penrose Davenport and Belial, each wanting to get their hands on Stevenson’s manuscript and sell it to an American publisher for a small fortune before the copyright act goes into effect and ends their careers for good. A rivalry, a race against time, planning and scheming to get into the Stevenson household and, once the book is completed, steel it and make a getaway. Doesn’t that sound exciting?

Unfortunately, the story plods along and most evenings managed to make my eyes start drooping within ten to fifteen minutes of picking up the book. The biggest problem is the way the story is told. Edgar Fergins, bookseller and former assistant to Davenport is our narrator. He befriends a young railway waiter, Mr. Clover, and begins dropping hints of his colorful past. He even takes Clover to see a trial of a man who turns out to be Belial, Davenport’s rival. But we don’t know this until later, much later. Fergins is helping with the trial as he is an expert in all things bookish including identifying documents and handwriting. When Fergins is severely burned in a fire at the courthouse that destroys all the trial evidence, Clover visits him regularly to help nurse him back to health. During these visits Fergins narrates the final showdown between Davenport and Belial.

It takes a very long time to get going because we are treated to Fergins’ backstory and how he came to be Davenport’s assistant, lots of bookaneer backstory that hints at excitement and treachery but ultimately has nothing to do with the current story. We also get lots of backstory about Davenport, a big, handsome man who fell in love with Kitten, one of the few women bookaneers. She was older than Davenport and also his mentor. Her death torments Davenport and is meant to provide him a brooding, emotional depth that just doesn’t work, especially when we eventually, very late in the book, get the whole story of what happened. It all turns out to be rather anticlimactic. And Belial, we don’t know much about him at all. At times it seems that just when the story is about to get exciting it is abruptly interrupted by Clover asking questions. This is done in such a way that occasionally makes it difficult to tell that it is Clover speaking and not some weird non sequitur.

When we finally get to Samoa and meet Stevenson, he turns out to be a bit of a thin, cardboardy, one-dimensional character. He is called “Tusitala” by the “natives” which means teller of stories. He has a large estate and presides over it and all of his Samoan servants as a benevolent patriarch. The Germans are the ones who first colonized Samoa and the plot gets side tracked with politics and hints of Stevenson supplying arms to the Samoans and fomenting a rebellion against the Germans. There are also mostly naked, beautiful Samoan women, cannibals, heads on stakes and other pointless diversions that sometimes made be feel like I was reading a very bad retelling of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

In addition to attempting to be an adventure tale, The Last Bookaneer tries to provide commentary on copyright law and the book and publishing world, some of it in jest. For instance, we get remarks about bookselling being a dying and unprofitable business. But we also are treated to comforting comments about the joys of reading:

Books could function in two different ways he told me one time, ‘They can lull us as would a dream, or they could change us, atom by atom, until we are closer to God. One way is passive, the other animating—both worthy.’

When it comes to copyright, the bookaneers see themselves as liberators of books, providing access that would have otherwise been denied or at the least, made difficult or expensive. But yet there are authors trying to make a living who are harmed by what the bookaneers do. Even Stevenson at one point in the novel rails against those who have stolen his right to income from his own work. It is an echo of the digital copyright battle happening today with publishers and a good many authors on one side and pirates on the other with the reading public caught in the middle. Perhaps in an attempt at seeing things from both sides, Pearl himself makes no judgment in spite of the novel being about book pirates.

In a sort of afterword, Pearl acknowledges that he did not make up the name of bookaneer. It was first used by the poet Thomas Hood in 1837. Nineteenth century publishers really did hire agents to obtain potentially valuable manuscripts before copyright laws caught up with them. Pearl took the idea and ran with it. Or, tried to run with it but manages at best an awkward, hopping kind of gait. It’s a real shame the book didn’t turn out to be the one I wanted to read. It would probably make a good beach or poolside book, one where it doesn’t matter if you don’t pay much attention, get it covered with sand or splashed with water or fruity cocktail. In fact, it might be really perfect for with a cocktail or two while sitting in the shade of an umbrella, a clear blue sky above and a long, lazy warm afternoon before you. If you feel your eyes begin to droop, let them and enjoy the nap.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Book pirates, Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl

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8. When Mystical Creatures Attack

mystical creaturesWhen Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds is a book of connected short stories that is hilarious and sad. Or maybe it’s a novel, but if it’s a novel it isn’t a typical one. There are basically three main characters. Ms. Freedman is a young, fresh-faced English teacher assigned to teach at one of the poorest schools in Texas. She is idealistic. She will change lives and save souls through the beauty of literature. Janice Gibbs is one of Ms. Freedman’s students. She is smart but a trouble maker. She has ambition, makes it to editor-in-chief of the school literary journal El Giraffe for a brief time before her penchant for trouble cause her to be removed from the position. Cody Splunk is also a student in Ms. Freedman’s class. He too is smart and in love with Janice who likes him as a friend and enlists him as a companion on a few crazy adventures. Cody also likes to write stories and there is one particularly funny one that takes place in a wax museum.

Janice and Cody’s stories pretty much move forward in time. Ms. Freedman’s move back and forth. We begin in the midst of Ms. Freedman’s unraveling. At first it seems it is all from the stress of the classroom but gradually we discover there is more to it. Janice plays a part in that stress and somehow manages to steal Ms. Freedman’s diary which we later get to read. Whether it is because she feels guilty or she is basically a good kid or a combination of both, Janice becomes a regular correspondent with Ms. Freedman after the teacher leaves in the middle of the semester for a stay at Bridges, a psychiatric wellness center.

Bridges is one of those horrible chirpy places that turns regaining one’s mental health into a capitalist system of earnings and debt. Approved behavior earns points and you can buy things with your points from cookies to release from the program. Other behaviors take points away and Ms. Freedman quickly finds herself in debt for refusing to comply with the sickly blandness and for always referring to her doctor as Dr. Bin Ladin.

Meanwhile Janice is getting into and out of trouble at home, at school, and in the family way. But she keeps in contact with Ms. Freedman and Cody keeps in contact with Janice, all of them trying to save each other without knowing how but doing the best they can anyway. And that is what makes this book so wonderful, it has heart. Despite the quirky, dark hilarity, everyone is reaching for salvation in one way or another, and trying to save others too:

‘Have you been bargaining?’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘I’ve been bargaining. If they find her safe, I have to go say a rosary every day for the rest of my life.’
‘I don’t believe in God.’
‘I don’t believe in bargaining. … I always bargain though.’
‘I thought she could do it. I thought if she tried harder. If I tried harder.’
‘Some things you can’t do by trying.’
‘What else is there?’

Early in the book Ms. Freedman in one of her journaling therapy entries writes about a story Dostoevsky tells in The Brothers Karamazov about a woman who only did one good thing in her life, she once gave a turnip to a beggar. The woman dies, goes to Hell and cries for mercy. Her guardian angel reaches out a turnip to her to see if the one good deed is strong enough to lift her out of Hell. The woman grabs hold and is yanked from the flames. But someone has grabbed her ankle and someone else grabbed the ankle of the other person and so on. The woman looks down and sees the chain of souls. She begins to kick and thrash, trying to get free of them and in the process the turnip breaks and she falls back into Hell.

This story is countered at the end of the book with some revisions. This time a woman gives an apple to a hungry girl. The angel extends the apple to her in Hell, she grabs on and as she is pulled from Hell, someone grabs her ankle and a long chain of souls is formed. The woman sees them all and holds onto the apple even tighter, holds on for all she is worth and Hell is emptied.

The title of the book comes from the first chapter. Ms. Freedman gives the class a writing assignment. The prompt is to name their favorite mystical creature and what they see as the greatest socio-political problem of our time, then write a one page story in which the mystical creature resolves the problem. The chapter is made up of the students’ stories. They range from “How the Minotaur Changed the Legal Drinking Age to 16” to “How the Giant Squid Made Me Stop Being Pregnant” to “How Pegasus Created World Peace.” Writing assignments, therapy journal entries, emails, letters, short stories, even a chapter composed of recipes from the fundraising cookbook of Methodist Women of Piggot, Kentucky (Dark Night of the Soul Food, Render unto Cesar Salad), all serve to tell the story and make you laugh as well as want to cry along the way.

I found out about this book thanks to Tom at Wuthering Expectations. If you are looking for something a little off the beaten path, When Mystical Creatures Attack! is a good one.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Kathleen Founds

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9. Frustrations



It doesn’t seem like vacation yet because it has been a usual kind of weekend. Monday morning when I don’t have an alarm wake me up will feel more vacationy.

It is bothersome in gardening how you can do the same thing year after year and one year certain things will do great and the next year it is a complete failure. Take, for instance, last year. All the greens we planted did marvelous. We picked lettuce fresh from the garden for close to two months. The kale went nearly all summer. The mustard seeded itself from the previous year and did great. This year, we seeded fresh mustard and it is doing great. But we decided to branch out in our success of greens and planted, in addition to lettuce, spinach, chard and arugula. None of the lettuce came up. We have one spinach plant. A few chard and arugula. Hardly any kale. WTF?

In addition, nearly all of the sunflowers we sprouted and planted out when they were about four inches tall have been eaten by rabbits. I think we have four of the fifteen we planted. Of the five purple cabbages we sprouted and planted out, one has survived not being eaten by something. Most of the peppers are gone. A few of the tomatoes are hanging in there, stunted and not really taking off, but not dead either.

On the bright side, the comfrey is enormous and we had to cut back a bunch of it which is good, that’s what we want to do.



Comfrey, apart from supposedly being great for making poultices for to heal bruises and sore muscles, is a dynamic accumulator. That means it has super deep roots that pull up all kinds of minerals and good stuff from deep in the soil. When it gets big and starts to flop over, you trim it back and use the leaves and stems around the garden as mulch. Comfrey is like a multi-vitamin for the garden. Today the hazelnut tree was the beneficiary of the clippings. Comfrey also gets pretty purple flowers that pollinators like.

Also doing well is the borage. It has pretty purple flowers beloved by pollinators as well. And all the peas we planted, they are doing well too and starting to bloom and with luck in two or three weeks I will be able to start picking fresh peas. The squash is really coming up well this year. Last year it was so cool and damp we had hardly any at all. And the beans are looking good too. As are the potatoes that I can’t seem to keep mounded up fast enough.

New electrical outlet

New electrical outlet

Also on the bright side are the strawberries. Last year was not a great strawberry year. This year we have been having strawberries every evening all week and they are still coming. Some of them are huge. So along with the frustrations there are consolations. It is hard on a person though when she looks forward all winter to picking a fresh salad every night and then doesn’t get to do it. Perhaps the fall lettuce will do better.

Finally things are happening with the garage demolition. We had an electrician out on Thursday to disconnect the electricity from the garage and install an outdoor outlet on a fence post next to the garage. We will be able to use this outlet to heat the chicken coop if we need to as well as heat the water in winter. We do not have a date set yet for the garage demolition, the electrical had to be done first, but we do have a contractor engaged to do it. We are hoping later this week or next week for that to happen. In the meantime, We cleaned out the junk from the garage today which is not so very much, mostly broken things, pieces of fencing, trellis, wood boards we saved that might be useful that never turned out to be, empty boxes, some old carpet. Everything that is left now are things we plan on keeping that we will have to relocate to our basement or a corner of the garden when the garage comes down and until we get the shed built. Progress!

For the electrical work we learned the wire is buried under the garden and runs from the house to the garage by the

Does the dogwood have to go?

Does the dogwood have to go?

dogwood. We had to give the overgrown dogwood a major trim so the electrician could dig down for the wiring. We cut back half the dogwood and realized, gosh that takes up a lot of space. And now we are thinking we might take it out completely, allow the sunchokes to spread and plant a bit of prairie there instead. Because right behind the shrub is where the chicken coop is going to go. The dogwood is a bird and squirrel magnet as well as a place for rabbits to hide out in. We are thinking that as much as we have enjoyed it, it has become too large and unmanageable and could be a potential problem for the chickens. It’s been a great shrub and I am sad at the prospect of getting rid of it, but it seems like the logical thing to do.

We planted a few last beans today, scarlet runner beans, black beans and Jacob’s cattle beans. We are now officially done with planting until the end of August when we have to figure out fall/winter planting and how to build a hoop house. Won’t that be fun?

Saturday morning was cool with a light rain. I would not be deterred from a bike ride. I got rained on for the first 30-45 minutes. Once the rain stopped, it remained cool and cloudy. This was a glorious thing because it kept all but the serious cyclists indoors. There was hardly any traffic and no one was out walking on the bike paths. Astrid and I did not mind getting a little wet and when we got home later I cleaned her off before putting her away.

Rice Marsh lake

Rice Marsh lake

My ride was 55.8 miles/89.8km. I found some great hills to practice on, a few short and steep and a number of long, gradual climbs. None of these are huge hills though, I live in the midwest where terrain tends to be flat so my idea of a hill is very different from the hills of, say, San Francisco. But hey, I have to work with what I’ve got. My ride took my into areas I have not ridden in yet and I found a pretty nature preserve called Rice Marsh. I don’t think there is actually any rice growing there though. I liked this ride so much for its variety that I think I am going to stick with it for a bit and work those hills and work on getting faster and fitter and this distance. Once I start to feel like it is getting easier, there are many options for adding loops for more hills and distance.

I saw lots of robins and red winged blackbirds, a number of chipmunks too. And a flock of about six or seven gold finches that were hanging out on the trail and all flew up at the same time as I approached, flashing yellow and black. So pretty!

Today Bookman and I went out for a ride together but we had to cut it short because it was pretty humid and warmish and Bookman was getting overheated. With his MS getting overheated is always a potential danger because it causes fatigue and he heats up so fast it is hard to cool off. If it weren’t so humid it might not have been so bad. We were both a bit disappointed but better that then the heat making Bookman ill. We might try again later in the week when Bookman has the day off and this time we will go out very early instead of waiting until mid-morning. Still, we did just short of 21 miles/34km. Not bad for an “off” day!

Filed under: biking, gardening

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10. Vacation Looms

I finished reading Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin last night but I think I will wait a couple days to write about it. It is one of those beautiful books over which it wouldn’t do to be hasty. There are no other books on the finished or near finished horizon, at least not at the moment. I hope to change that next week.

What’s special about next week? Vacation! I’m not going anywhere, Bookman wasn’t able to swing a matching vacation, our garage may get knocked down during the week, there will be many long bike rides, hours of gardening, letters written, and, of course, reading. I also hope to update the links in my sidebar. I haven’t done that in years. Really, it has been that long. Yikes!

I am certain I have over planned all the things I can possibly accomplish during a one week vacation but it is good to dream big, right? As for the reading, here is the goal:

  • Finish reading The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl. It has dragged on long enough and I must make an end of it. That sounds terrible doesn’t it? We both need to be put out of our misery. Well not misery exactly, just not a whiz bang good time.
  • Finish When Mystical Creatures Attack! By Kathleen Founds. This one is a whiz bang good time even if it is pretty dark. There is an absurdity to it that makes the darkness bearable.
  • Decide whether or not I actually want to read Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark. In theory this is an appealing book. But the book itself is very much theory and I am not sure I am finding it interesting. So I need to spend an hour or so dedicated to reading it and figuring it out. Then if it is a go I have to do some major reading of it since it is a library book with no renewals that will be due at the end of next week.
  • Make some headway into The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. I haven’t spent enough time with it to get much into the story and I want to like the book. It deserves some attention.
  • Read some Keats poetry, letters biography.
  • Catch up on all the interesting articles that have appeared in my daily email from LitHub. Do you get their emails? They round up interesting book news from around the internet and send a daily email with a one sentence synopsis and link. I have accumulated quite a lot of unread stuff. Will I be able to catch up? Highly doubtful. I might end up just deleting it all and cleaning the proverbial slate.
  • Start a new book. Because, why not? I just got Naomi Novik’s new book Uprooted from Barnes and Noble. Maybe it will be that. Or perhaps The Martian by Andy Weir? Or something else from the TBR pile? I wonder what it will end up being?

So there is what I plan on doing for my summer vacation. Heh. I remember when summer vacation was three months long and after a month I missed school. If only I had known then how marvelous all that free time was.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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11. Literature Will Never Be the Same

It’s 91F/33C out and I’m a bit wilty. It isn’t supposed to be this hot in June; the end of July it is allowed but not early June. But no one ever seems to care about my opinion.

I recently began reading Portrait of a Lady by Henry James along with Danielle. I’m really enjoying the book. Today, however, I am not going to talk about that. Instead I am going to reveal how silly it gets at my house sometimes.

Bookman asked me the other day what I was reading on my Kobo. I told him I had just started Portrait of a Lady.

That’s by James Joyce, right?

No, Henry James. I replied

Well didn’t James Joyce write something with portrait in the title?

Yes, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

And then things got goofy.

Bookman insisted that Henry James and James Joyce were actually the same person, after all, had anyone ever seen them at a party together? The true name of the man is Henry James Joyce.

Oh yes, I exclaimed and the real title of the book is Portrait of the Lady as a Young Man, it’s one of the first transgender novels ever written.

We’ve finally set the literary record straight, so to speak.

Our work here is done.

Filed under: Books Tagged: Henry James, James Joyce

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12. Among Others

coverAs I mentioned before, Jo Walton’s book Among Others struck me as a kind of fictional version of her book of essays What Makes This Book So Great. But Among Others isn’t just chit chat about science fiction and fantasy books in the context of a novel, it is more than that.

The story is told in the form of a diary, but the diary is being written as a kind of memoir. The diary’s author is 15-year-old Mori and the entries date from fall of 1979 to spring of 1980. Mori, who is Welsh, has recently been sent to live with her father whom she has never seen before. He lives in England with his three sisters and they all decide to send Mori to boarding school. We don’t know much at first about why Mori was sent to live with her father, but as the entries pile up, we learn she had a twin sister who was killed not long ago when the two of them, with the help of the fairies, stopped their insane mother from doing some evil magic.

If you are opposed to fairies and magic in your books then don’t bother reading this one. If you are on the fence about them, it might help to know that this isn’t Harry Potter-type magic and the fairies aren’t the prettied up Disney kind. And while the fairies and the magic are a big part of the story, they are not THE story. Because the novel is actually about Mori dealing with the grief of losing her sister and figuring out who she is without her and who she wants to become. Mori is a smart girl, but even smart girls don’t know everything.

You might think the others in the title are the fairies, but that is not the case. Mori escapes a very bad home environment with her mother and in the process is forced to leave behind all of her friends, her beloved aunt and her grandfather to live among other people she does not know. The others are her father and his sisters and the girls at the boarding school. It is an entirely new environment and situation she needs to learn to navigate on her own. She makes friends and enemies and learns a lot about herself and getting along with others; loyalty, ethics, friendship.

A main delight of the book is how important books are to Mori, not just SFF books, though those are her favorite, but books and reading in general. She makes friends with the librarian at her school and the librarians at the public library in town. She is invited to join a book group. She talks about books with her dad and she meets his father who also turns out to be a reader and they talk about books too. It is a wonderfully bookish book.

I mean, how can you not like a character when, right at the start she says:

I have books, new books, and I can bear anything

And, as the person who does all the interlibrary loans at my library, how can I not love Mori and by extension Jo Walton when she says:

Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization. Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.

This is the first Jo Walton novel I have read. I worried with all the love she gets that I might be disappointed because my expectations were pretty high. I shouldn’t have worried. Now I have the pleasure of knowing there are a whole bunch of Walton novels out there just waiting for me to read. Hooray!

Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Jo Walton

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13. Everything’s Coming Up Including the Weeds

Happy potatoes

Happy potatoes

The week gave the garden some good rain and some good sun. Everything is green, green, green and the weeds are growing like, well weeds. It is impossible to keep up with them. Even when we mulch they still manage to find places where the mulch is thin and then they spread from there. Sigh.

The good news is that the replanting of the polyculture bed was a success. The radishes are coming up like crazy, the beets are poking up too and couple beans are just pushing up. I was talking with a gardening friend the other day and she said she had to replant her beets and lettuce too because nothing had come up. I feel a little better now because I can say it was nothing I did wrong. Neither of us was able to speculate why our first seeding did not take, but it’s working now so I’m happy. If only I can get rid of the two rabbits we keep having to chase out of the garden. They have eaten almost all of the sunflowers and they left one of the sweet potato plants with only one leaf. Since the other two plants still have all their leaves, I am assuming they are not tasty. I hope the singled leafed one is not doomed to die.

Speaking of potatoes, the regular potatoes are doing amazing. We mounded up dirt and are now using straw because we don’t have any more dirt. That’s fine, it will be easier to get to the potatoes with the straw than with the dirt. At least that’s what the literature says.

Two years ago we planted a white peony. I didn’t expect the little thing to bloom the first year. Last year it

white peony

white peony

grew into a stumpy shin-high plant that didn’t flower and didn’t look like it was ever going to do anything at all. This year, it has come back big and strong and has given us some pretty bright white flowers with the faintest smudge of creamy yellow in the middle. We got to enjoy them for two days and then it poured rain on them last night and flattened them. Peonies and rain never go together. But the climbing rose is starting to bloom and is doing as well as ever.

Does anyone know what to do with winter savory? I planted some in the herb spiral last year. It is a pretty

winter savory gone wild

winter savory gone wild

perennial herb, and this year it is going crazy. But Bookman has never had a recipe that calls for the herb and we are at a loss as to what exactly to do with it. Any suggestions are welcome! Remember though, we’re vegan so don’t tell me it tastes good on beef or fish, etc. that does me no good.

Because the city is discontinuing the program that provides free wood chips, Bookman and I have been struggling to decide what to do about the wood chip paths through the garden. They have reached the point where the chips need to be replenished. We tried to get a chip delivery from tree companies last year but no one had any which struck me as odd but whatever. I refuse to buy bagged mulch, I don’t trust where it comes from. At least with local chips I know they come from trees the city trimmed or had to remove. I don’t want to buy bagged mulch

changing wood chips to gravel

changing wood chips to gravel

that might be from trees that were cut down for the express purpose. So we decided to put down gravel at least on the main garden path. Those bags are heavy! Since we have only a small car we can only do a few bags at a time but we made a pretty good start.

Our poor corn field. We planted quite a lot of popcorn this year instead of sweet corn and it was coming up great. We removed the row cover fabric last week when most of the plants were a couple inches tall. During the week the wascally rabbits have thinned the field. We still have ten plants but when it was double that you can see why I might be disappointed. Today I planted pole beans by each of the cornstalks and a few extra in one empty corner where we will make a twig teepee for them to climb up. I also planted pie pumpkins and because the bed is bigger than last year I planted even more vines, about 12 seeds in all. If they all germinate the garden in fall will be buried under pumpkin vines. And if each vine produces 2 pumpkins, well you do the orange math. I love pumpkin however, and if I really end up with 12-24 of them I will try making my own pumpkin butter. Have you ever had it? It is so gosh darn heavenly delicious.

The Royal Horticulture Society in Great Britain has been doing some fab work on gardening and climate change. They have a website with helpful information for gardeners and they recently produced a report on climate change and urban gardening. Did you know that just a 10% increase in planting urban areas will help keep cities cooler? Urban gardens also assist with flood control and they help support wildlife. And of course, gardening is good for people too providing stress relief and exercise. Spend an afternoon lifting bags of dirt, cinder blocks and bags of pea gravel and there is no need to go to the gym! Plus, being outdoors you get vitamin D and a big dose of vitamin N(ature), two things the gym definitely can’t offer.

The week ahead looks to be warm, approaching hot, and dry. Good thing the rain barrels are full!

Yesterday Astrid and I managed to ride 54.2 miles/87km! My longest distance yet. It is a good thing Bookman and I went to the bike shop on Friday afternoon where I got a second water bottle and cage. I also got some snazzy gloves with gel in key places and for the first time my hands weren’t tingling and numb when I was done with my ride. Win! I also got a little under the seat bag to hold my patch kit and what-not. Now the only things I carry in my pockets are what I most want access to, my lip balm and my snacks!

You shall not pass

You shall not pass

I rode out along a regional trail I had not been on before. Once again it took a hop across the street and I missed the signage, went left when I should have gone right and took a tour of the suburbs and the astonishingly large mcmansions and expanses of green lawn. It was completely cringe worthy. The people who were out were nice to me though, saying hi as I rode by.

Eventually, my map and I found our way back to the trail only to run up against a closed sign five minutes later. Apparently with some recent rains there was a mudslide and trail washout. Sigh. So I turned around and got to see the part of the trail I had missed before due to my wrong turn. And then I got to another part of the trail where I couldn’t tell which way it was supposed to go. After much backing and forthing I finally figured out which branch I was supposed to take. The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful.

One part of my ride took me along the Mississippi River a portion of which runs north of downtown Minneapolis.

St Anthony Falls

St Anthony Falls

Minneapolis was founded was a flour milling town and back in the days of the mills, they built an artificial waterfall in the river to power them. The mills are gone now and one that remains has been turned into a pretty fantastic museum. The falls are still there as is a lock and dam system that was created to get the river traffic past the falls. The falls are called St. Anthony. I snapped a photo to give you an idea of what it looks like. you can see part of the falls in the background and in the foreground is part of the lock. There is a lookout park there that was super crowded so I didn’t try to ride in for a better view and photo. Behind me is the old flour mill that is now a museum. Part of the bike trail runs across what was once an old wooden road next to the mill. It’s a bumpy ride, but it is also kind of fun riding over and by a piece of history.

In some recent internet clicking, I came across a website called Velominati. It is pretty hardcore cycling and fairly male-centric but what was amusing was the long page of ”rules” that cover important things like tan lines, the allowed matching options for saddle, bars and tires, how to properly hang your helmet on your bike, those kinds of things. One of my favorites though is rule 38, Don’t play leap frog:

Train Properly: if you get passed by someone, it is nothing personal, just accept that on the day/effort/ride they were stronger than you. If you can’t deal, work harder. But don’t go playing leap frog to get in front only to be taken over again (multiple times) because you can’t keep up the pace. Especially don’t do this just because the person overtaking you is a woman. Seriously. Get over it.


There were lots of women out riding yesterday which made me so very happy. And I even got a compliment from one of them. I was moving at a pretty good pace and a woman came alongside and as she passed she said, I’ve been trying to catch you for a very long time! You’re doing great! Squee! Best bike compliment ever.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: climate change, Mcmansion tour, Nothing like a compliment, stupid rabbits, what the heck do you do with winter savory?

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14. An Adventure in an Online Writing Class

My WTF Wednesday night bike ride was canceled yesterday due to the pouring rain. Boo. So I rode fast on a bike indoors going absolutely nowhere. It is much more fun riding outdoors. the only advantage to indoors is that I can watch House of Cards or Orphan Black or some other TV show I only will watch if I am riding indoors.

I could have squeezed in a blog post but I decided to do a lesson in a masterclass I am taking. I am taking the class for free with the promise to review it, so I guess this is an early in the middle of class review since I have completed 4 of 22 lessons. You probably want to know what the class is, don’t you? It’s James Patterson Teaches Writing.

Here I have to admit I have never read a James Patterson novel. He doesn’t write the kinds of books I like to spend my time reading. However, I do know he is a bestselling author with gobs of books so he must know something about writing, right? That’s what I figured at any rate. Plus, I had nothing to lose so why not check it out?

So far, I am liking it. Patterson is a personable fellow. The videos are professional and are around 10-15 minutes long for each lesson. There is a workbook to go with the class that has a lesson recap and an assignment. There is opportunity to interact with classmates and even submit questions and work for critique to Patterson. I am not doing the assignments because I am not interested in writing a novel and that is what the assignments are mostly aimed at. But the things he talks about are things that work for most kinds of writing.

So what have I learned so far? Passion. You need to have passion for writing and it needs to be something you enjoy doing. If you have neither passion nor pleasure and only drudgery, then you are either doing it wrong or you shouldn’t be doing it at all. This is nice to hear from a writer instead of the usual suffering artist schtick or the “write because you have to and because there is nothing else you can do” fib.

Don’t think you have to have an original idea. There are no original ideas. There are only ideas that have been connected in new and different ways. And where do you get these ideas? Read a lot and read widely! Learn about new things. And keep a notebook with your ideas in them. The notebook will not only help you remember your ideas but it will also help you notice patterns and make connections. I found this advice comforting and reassuring. I’ve had friends tell me before that I should write a novel and I just laugh and say I could never because I wouldn’t know what to write about. And the advice is really valid when you think about it. I mean, how many coming-of-age stories have you read? Same basic idea, but they are all put together in different ways. It’s how you put it together that makes it interesting. Go figure.

When you are writing, leave out all the stuff readers are going to skim over. Patterson said that if you can’t tell what that is, have a trusted friend read it for you because they will be able to tell you. And be sure you stick to the nugget of your story and don’t go wandering far off course (I think George R.R. Martin needs to take this class!).

There are other things but these stood out most for me. My next lesson is about research, something I enjoy doing, so I am looking forward to what he has to say.

The class goes through the whole process of writing a novel, even up to publication and marketing and what to do after you have published. It will take me a while to get through all of it, but so far, very enjoyable.

Filed under: Writing Tagged: James Patterson, MasterClass

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15. June Reading Ahead

I wish I could say I was out and about doing something fun last night so blogging took a backseat, but alas, I was a bit under the weather with a mystery illness that left me exhausted. I feel a bit beat up today but otherwise fine so hopefully it was just a passing indisposition.

Of course, when not feeling well we reach for something comforting and in my case it was books. First I tried Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark. It is a heady theory kind of book that is interesting but not good reading when one feels as though she has been run over.

So then I tried When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds. This is a collection of darkly funny linked short stories. It is a delightful book but the darkness did not sit right.

Then I turned to Jo Walton. I managed to get a copy of Among Others on my Kobo and have been reading it on my commute. I like it very much and just the other day I was thinking how it is like her book What Makes This Book So Great only incorporated into a fiction story. Because the narrator of Among Others loves science fiction and fantasy and talks about why this book is good and how and she doesn’t like that author and I can’t help but notice many of the same titles pop up in What Makes This Book So Great. Since Bookman bought me that book when I was down with a very bad cold a year or two ago and it served as great “chicken soup,” I thought Among Others might also serve. So I retrieved my Kobo from my work bag and settled in and yes indeed, it was perfect. I read it for perhaps an hour before I was completely out of energy and went to sleep.

Other books in progress that I will be reading this month include more Keats poetry, more Keats letters and more Keats biography. Maybe I will get back to Proust. But then again, inertia might be too hard to overcome. Still, I have a week’s vacation later this month and I am not going anywhere and should the weather be too hot or too rainy so that I am kept from the garden and my bike, well, Proust might get some attention. It could happen!

I am still reading The Art of Daring as well. I want to gobble this book up but am forcing myself to read it slowly because it is so rich and yummy.

I’ve got two books from publishers that I received at the end of April and should have been done with already but haven’t quite managed because neither has been really wowing me. Still, I read on because I feel kind of obligated. One is Matthew Pearl’s The Last Bookaneer. How can a book about book pirates not be exciting? I mostly read it before bed and my eyes start to grow heavy within minutes and it is a constant struggle to not fall asleep. The other book, The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak is a bit more promising though I am having a hard time getting into it.

When all else fails there is Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin. The book is made up of diary excerpts and I had planned to read only a month at a time over the course of the year but that has not happened. I start reading and can’t stop and now I am reading October’s entries. Better that I don’t want to put it down than that I don’t want to pick it up, right?

There are the books in progress for June. I will very likely wiggle in one or two more books during the month; I will need a new book to read on my Kobo. I’m thinking of browsing NetGalley to see if there is anything especially appealing there. If not, it might be time for a good old classic, perhaps Henry James, Edith Wharton, or E.M. Forster. Just thinking of all the possibilities is half the fun.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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16. Summer’s Coming

Sweet potato tepee

Sweet potato tepee

It was a lovely cool, sunny day today perfect for spending time in the garden so Bookman and I did. Earlier in the week Bookman finally conquered the forsythia stump and got is out. Arriving in the mail on Thursday were three sweet potato plants we forgot all about ordering. Oops! What to do? Why, there is a freshly empty sunny spot in the front yard with loose, deep soil. Convenient! Sweet potatoes vine so Bookman made a tepee from a couple pruned apple tree branches. In went the sweet potatoes. We should plant something in the middle. Why, we have this anise hyssop we were going plant out here somewhere, let’s put it there! Wow, are we good.

Back in the veggie garden, I put the frog solar fountain out and it began burbling right away. The tomato, peppers, onions and cabbages we sprouted in March are safe to put out now. It is hard when you sprout your own because they are never as huge and lush as the ones you buy at the nursery that were started in January in a heated greenhouse and are already getting flower buds on them. Mine are all still little things with lots of growing to do. We put them all out and watered them in and fingers crossed they will settle in and grow like crazy.

The polyculture bed which seemed to be off to a good start actually never really started at all. Only a few

Future raspberries

Future raspberries

parsnips sprouted, a couple carrots and two radishes. What the heck? The rabbits are back in the garden and we are wondering if maybe… So we replanted beets, radishes, and spinach. We have no more lettuce or carrots to sow because we used all the seed on the first go around. So in the suddenly empty bed, we added a whole lot of green beans. Or rather yellow wax beans. Yum. Hopefully this time they will all be successful.

Elsewhere in the garden, the mustard and kale, chard, arugula, a few more radishes, and corn are coming up pretty well. The zucchini we planted last weekend is starting to sprout too. Also starting to sprout is flax, dill and cilantro/coriander. Oh, and the basil we started indoors is doing well too. One sunflower we planted last week has been eaten, we suspect by a rabbit.

We have a few more seeds left to plant in the week ahead: amaranth, black beans, cattle beans, cowpeas (aka black-eyed peas but they are really beans), pole beans and pumpkin. Lots of beans! Speaking of beans, do you know someone did the math on Thoreau’s beans and calculated that during his first year at Walden (1845) he planted seven miles of bean rows which, based on the description of how he planted them, comes out to 24,750 bean plants. That’s a lot of beans!

What was the meaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculean labor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer — to make this portion of the earth’s surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work.

“What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?” I love that!

There is some sort of tiny red and black beetle infesting several plants in the front yard. The new currant, catmint, wild geranium, mum, and flowering sage all have them. I have no idea what they are or how to get rid of them. I sprayed soapy water all over the currant but I don’t think it had any effect since beetles have hard bodies. There are too many and they are too small and fast for me to pick them off and drown them in a cup of water. So I just have to hope something that eats them finds them or they finish their sap sucking soon and don’t kill the plants.

Monster sorrel

Monster sorrel

One of the blueberries we dug up and tossed on the compost bin has all kinds of new growth on it and is looking really happy. Oh the irony, it would hurt quite a lot if the honeyberries we planted in the place of the blueberries didn’t look as happy as they do.

This has been such a long spring that I keep thinking there should be stuff ready to eat from the garden already. But it is only the last day of May and while there hasn’t been snow on the ground since the end of March there has been sleet and frost. I just get so impatient!

Good news! We finally found a contractor to take down our garage. Happy dance! Now we are trying to set the demolition date. Hopefully it will be sometime in mid June.


Gleason Lake

Gleason Lake

Since Bookman and I spent the day in the garden we did not go out for a bike ride. Astrid and I went out yesterday though and we did 49 miles/78.8km! I was hoping for 50 miles/80.4km and if I had known I was so close I would have taken the long way around my neighborhood lake. But since I use an app on my phone to track everything and I can’t see it while I am riding, and I thought I had 50 in the bag, I took the short side of the lake home. Oh well. Next weekend. Still, I am pretty proud of myself, that is the longest distance I have gone yet.

Here are some things I am learning about cycling:

  • My nose is going to run and my eyes are going to water. There is nothing to be done about it. Sniffle a lot and let the tears fall as they may.
  • At some point in my ride, usually within the first thirty minutes, I will either begin to sweat and the sunscreen that I have been so good to liberally apply all over myself and my face will somehow make it into one of my eyes. It will sting a whole lot and make the tears that were already in my eye well up so fast that I won’t be able to see for about ten minutes if I am lucky, twenty if I am not. I am pretty good at riding with only one working eye it turns out.
  • Snacks taste so much better when I am biking. Almonds are the best thing I have ever had and my granola bar bites, omg, you’d think I hadn’t eaten in days.
  • Guys do not like being passed by a girl on a bike. If the guy is out with a buddy they hate it so
    Crane looking for a snack

    Crane looking for a snack

    much they do stupid things. Like yesterday, these two guys zoomed by me at one of my rest breaks. I was just getting back on my bike. I shortly caught up to them. We went up a hill. The larger of the two slowed down and I zipped past and almost caught up to the other guy. We had to stop at a traffic light. The guy I passed on the hill came up and both he and his friend pulled in front of me and went through the light. I caught back up to them and passed the one guy on another hill and would have passed the other guy but we got stuck at a light again. They did the same as before. Then I passed them both. They caught up to me at a traffic light just as it turned green and rudely cut out in front of me. I passed them one more time and as there were no further stops for a while I did not see them again. This is not the first time I have encountered such behavior. And, it only happens when I am alone.
  • When my ride is over, a hot shower, and I mean hot, is the most amazing thing ever.

Have I mentioned lately how so very much I love my bike, Astrid? She is the best bike ever.

Filed under: Books

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17. A Scandalous Insult

I was planning on telling you about the next essay in The Art of Daring but it has turned out to be a hot and windy day and I feel a bit limp. So, I’m just going to tell you about a funny bit in the prologue to the biography of Keats I just began reading the other day.

The biography is the one by Robert Gittings. In the prologue he tells a little story about the first biography of Keats intended to be published not long after his death in 1821, Memoirs and Remains of John Keats. Apparently friends of Keats were angry and scandalized that someone would so hastily and prematurely publish such a book.

Appointed spokesman of the friends tossed out a barbed insult at Taylor of the publishing firm Taylor and Hessey who were planning on printing the abomination. The insult? Are your ready for it? It’s really bad. Ok, Brown called Taylor “a mere bookseller.” I know, right? It doesn’t get any worse than that. The insult worked so well that the book was never published and no one who knew Keats firsthand ever wrote a full-length biography.

I know, it was a different time and a different publishing landscape. No doubt the epithet probably implied Taylor was a money grubbing opportunist or something like that. But to think that being called a bookseller and a mere bookseller at that, was once insulting is at least worth an amusing snort, don’t you think?

These days if “mere bookseller” were to be used as an insult I am afraid it would mean something more along the lines of “you are a stupid idiot because everyone knows print is dead and no one actually reads any more.” Of course we know differently, which would also make this worth a snort of amusement and perhaps a head shake of pity for the poor fool making the insult. And a sigh. I think a good sigh would also be in order.

Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography Tagged: John Keats, Robert Gittings

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18. The House of Paper

cover artI really hate to admit that when I am out and about commenting on blogs and the book under discussion sounds appealing and I leave a comment saying I will have to read the book it generally doesn’t go much further than me putting the book on a list and forgetting about it completely until I come across the book again on someone else’s blog and say how good it sounds and I will have to read it and round and round it goes.

I had heard of The House of Paper by Carlos María Dominguez before, I can’t say where because it was so long ago. So when Emily at Books the Universe and Everything blogged about it recently there was a faint ripple in my memory. In this instance, however, instead of adding it to a list, I actually requested it from the library! What prompted me to do so? Well, it seemed like a bookish book and it is a novella and I hoped it would help me get out of my fiction slump.

The book arrived last week on Thursday and it was all I could do to keep from gobbling it down in one big gulp! It asks to be gobbled. It asks to be read slowly and savored. I managed something in between.

This lovely novella is a story for bookworms. It begins with the death of Bluma Lennon, professor, who, in 1998, bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in Soho and began reading them as she was walking down the street. She was on the second poem when she was hit and killed by a car. How obvious it is then that

Books change people’s destinies. Some have read The Tiger of Malaysia and become professors of literature in remote universities. Demian converted tens of thousands of young men to Eastern philosophy, Hemingway made sportsmen of them, Alexandre Dumas complicated the lives of thousands of women, quite a few of whom were saved from suicide by cookbooks. Bluma was their victim.

And only a funeral filled with literature professors could produce an argument over a phrase one of Bluma’s colleagues said in her eulogy:

so there are a million car bumpers loose on the streets of the city which can show you just what a good noun is capable of.

The narrator of our story, a professor stepping in to take over Bluma’s classes, is also using her office. One day not long after her death, our narrator receives a package addressed to Bluma. It appears to be a book and since professors are often sent books by publishers, he didn’t think much about opening it. It is indeed a book but it is not from a publisher.

The book is a broken-spined old copy of The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad. It is covered with grey grit and dust our narrator determines is cement. On the flyleaf is an inscription in Bluma’s handwriting to a man named Carlos. There is reference to a conference in Monterrey and the date June 8, 1996.

Intrigued, our narrator sets out to discover who Carlos is so he can return the book and let him know of Bluma’s death. The mystery takes him to Uruguay where he eventually learns the strange story of Carlos Brauer. I will not tell you the mystery, only that this story that began with such charm and humor turns dark as it examines the downside of a life obsessed with books.

The story is a mirror and a warning to bookworms everywhere. To add to the pleasure of this book, interspersed throughout the story are strange and delightful illustrations by Peter Sís. I highly recommend you do what I did and get yourself copy of this book right away. Don’t put it on a list, just get it and read it. It is only 103 pages long and you will be very happy that you took my advice.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Carlos Maria Dominguez

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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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!

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22. 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!

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23. 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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24. Good Thing I Am Not Made of Sugar

Day two of a long three-day holiday weekend. The weather is a mixed bag of sun, clouds and rain. It just wouldn’t be right to have three beautiful days in a row. At least it isn’t snowing!




I am a morning person and if I had my choice I would wake up with the sun every day. I love the long days of summer. At the moment the sun comes up around 5:35 and as the light filters into the bedroom my eyes fly open. It doesn’t matter that I get up at 5 for work during the week, sleeping in on weekends when the sun is up so early is impossible. But instead of jumping out of bed and rushing to shower, I get to wake up slowly and stretch and lounge a bit and languorously get up and wander into the kitchen where Bookman has already been up for a few minutes and is brewing coffee and starting to make breakfast. All this and it is barely 6:00!

Over breakfast and the weather forecast Bookman and I discussed the order of the day, stay home and garden and cook or go for a long bike ride? Since the day promised light rain throughout, we decided today would be a good day to stay home. Bookman began his wizarding (he is not a witch, he is a kitchen wizard) by putting pinto beans on to cook so he can make vegan sausages one of which will be used to slice up for the pizza he is making the crust for today too. And then there are the energy bars he is making for biking. Who needs Clif Bars when you can make your own nutritious granola bars with real food and no white sugar. We add coconut and chocolate chips and change up a few different kinds of seed like flax, pepitas, and sunflower.

I did a few around the house chores and then we got suited up to go outside. It had not yet started raining. We gathered our gloves and tools and the seeds we intended to plant and walked outside and it immediately began raining! At first it was a few sprinkles and then it was a light rain heavy enough to chase us back inside. We changed our clothes and puttered around indoors and couldn’t bear it any longer. Back into our gardening togs and out into the light rain. Since neither Bookman nor I are wicked witches or made of sugar, we did not melt (such a relief because sometimes you just never know).

We planted flax seeds, planted three different kinds of sunflowers we had sprouted so the squirrels didn’t dig up the seeds (lemon queen, Russian, and arikara). We also planted the basil we had sprouted in pots in our little greenhouse. Oh, and okra, we planted seeds for that where the garlic was supposed to be growing.

Kind of pretty mystery bug

Kind of pretty mystery bug

The garlic is the first garden fail of the year. Only two cloves came up. Most of the rest I found mushy and heaved up beneath the winter mulch. We didn’t plant them deep enough for what turned out to be a warm winter with quite a lot of freezing and thawing. And I was so looking forward to garlic scapes again this year. Guess I will have to wait another year.

By this time we had gotten a bit damp so we came back indoors and changed out of our gardening gear and had some lunch. It was still raining after lunch with no chance of it clearing up. I was restless and grumpy over not being able to be outdoors. Bookman took pity and humored me. We put our gardening gear back on and went out to garden in the light rain.

We turned over the groundcover clover in an arm of the veggie bed and planted zucchini, lemon squash and strawberry spinach. The squash does not taste like lemons but are yellow round things about the size of a lemon, maybe a bit larger. The spinach isn’t really spinach at all but one of those green leafies that like the heat of summer and you can substitute for spinach. The strawberry comes from the strawberry red flowers is gets that look kind of like strawberries but I think look more raspberry-like, at least in the photos. The flowers are edible too. I have not grown this before so it will be a fun experiment. I decided to grow this instead of the malabar spinach I grew last summer that is a vining plant and requires trellising. The strawberry spinach is tall and bushy.

We also planted seeds for cantaloupe, variety Minnesota midget. These softball-sized melons that grow on a compact vine and in a shorter growing season than your big full-size cantaloupe. I have grown these for a couple of years now and love them. They are the perfect size for two people and they are as sweet and tasty as their bigger cousins.

Do I need to say that gardening in the rain is a muddy affair? My wellies were designed for such delights! My

geese with babies

geese with babies

gloves, my gardening pants and the sleeves of the light windbreaker I was wearing are caked in mud. So are Bookman’s gloves and jeans and shoes (he does not have wellies in spite of my encouragement for him to get some).

While we were out gardening in the rain, our neighbor walked through her yard on the way to her car and I can’t imagine what she must have thought about the two crazy people who live next door to her. She didn’t say a word, probably too afraid to.

Not much blooming at the moment. I did notice the lemon thyme I bought at the plant sale a couple weeks ago has a few tiny pink flowers on it. The spiderwort is beginning to flower and the wild geraniums in the garden are going to town. Walter is covered in little bean-sized crabapples and it looks like it will be a big year for Bossy, the green cooking apple too. I can’t tell yet what Bee the Honeycrisp apple is going to do. The tree is still pretty young so I don’t expect anything really. I wouldn’t mind a surprise though!


Theodore Wirth Park trail

Theodore Wirth Park trail

Bookman had to work on Saturday so I once again ventured out alone on Astrid to do some exploring. I found two trails I had not been on before and oh, are they gorgeous! I took a couple of photos so you can see what a marvelous bike city I live in. And the trails were a little hilly too. Not big hills, but a few long, not very steep inclines and a couple small rollers, enough for a bit of a workout and some panting and a few whees! when I got to go downhill.

While out I saw lots of birds, a few I didn’t know what they were. There were geese too with their fuzzy babies. I got hissed at as I rode by. I also saw a deer! She crossed the bike path about ten feet/3 m in front of me and then stood next to the path until I was about six feet/2 m away before she bounded into the woods. It was so amazing!

The weather was cool and cloudy and rained lightly a couple times but I rode between the raindrops and didn’t

Luce Line Regional Trail

Luce Line Regional Trail

get wet. It was a perfect day for a ride. When all was said and done I had gone 43.8 miles/70.5 km in three hours and ten minutes, three hours and 37 minutes if you count my rest breaks and stops to look at a map when I couldn’t find the connecting trails or when the trail would suddenly disappear at a street intersection. Not bad, eh?

Tomorrow it is supposed to rain in the afternoon so Bookman and I will be out early for a long ride. We are going to try and see if we can reach Purgatory. Seriously. There is a park off a spur of the trail I rode last week called Purgatory. This amuses me immensely. I’ll be sure to let you know what Purgatory is like!

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25. LumberJanes and Purgatory

cover artNo, LumberJanes has nothing to do with purgatory, I’ll tell you a bit about that later.

LumberJanes: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis is a fun graphic novel that brings together teenage girls and camp and adventure. The five girls each has her own special talent whether it be archery or math or puzzles, that she is able to use in their adventure to solve a mystery.

In the end the mystery doesn’t get completely solved, only partially, and we are left with a cliffhanger, which is fine because since this is volume one I presume there is going to be a continuation of the story in volume two. Only thing is, there is no volume two published yet so I’ll have to wait. More than the mystery though is the friendship between the five girls. They are in the adventure together and they work through the obstacles and problem-solving as friends not as individuals competing against each other. There is a section of the story that is very much a play off of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where it would have been easy to split the group apart but instead we see them stick together, hat and all.

The book is broken up into chapters and each chapter begins with a badge —Up All Night Badge for example — and a page from the LumberJanes field manual talking about the badge and what is required for a LumberJane to acquire it. It should be no surprise that the plot of the chapter takes the adventure along a route that has something to do with the badge.

It’s all in good fun. A fast, easy read with an entertaining story and great artwork, it’s girl power on an every day sort of level. None of the girls are extraordinary nor are their adventures presented as something unusual. In fact, when they find themselves at the nearby boys’ camp, the boys offer them fresh-baked cookies and tea and there is no indication at all that this might somehow be not what boy campers would, should, or could enjoy doing. Check it out for a little afternoon entertainment and then hand it off to a tween/teen girl to enjoy.


Purgatory is deceptively pretty

Purgatory is deceptively pretty

I am not a LumberJane but I do enjoy a good bike adventure. Bookman was a good sport and took a ride with me today. We went to Purgatory Park. Purgatory has a creek too called Purgatory Creek. It is not a picnic and ballpark park but a wild-ish green patch in the midst of the outer suburbs. It is a trail around wetlands and the creek through trees and generally very nice and woodsy.

I was thinking Purgatory was a pretty pleasant place until we hit the hills. The hills are not big and long but short and steep. One in particular I struggled to get up and wished I had one more gear as I was pedaling as hard as I could and barely moving. I realized after I made it to the top that it might have been a good opportunity to practice standing up and pedaling. By the time I realized this it was too late and it turned out to be our last really hard hill. Oh well. Next time.

All in all, the trip to Purgatory and back was 41.7 miles/67km. Not too shabby.

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