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1. Planting and Harvesting



Autumn has finally truly arrived. High temperatures during the week hovered around 60F/15C. Nights got chilly and I had to wear a sweater or light jacket to catch the bus in the early mornings. Waldo and Dickens are both behaving as though it is freezing already and stubbornly curl up against me at night and refuse to budge even when I roll over or begin to flail around because I am too warm with them laying on me.

Some of the flax is still blooming but I wanted to plant garlic in that spot so I clipped off all the seed heads from the spent flax and pulled the plants out for the compost bin. In went garlic cloves. I bought a pound of porcelain garlic, a hardnecked variety that will produce delicious scapes. Last year I think I planted Spanish red and most of it got heaved up with all the freezing and thawing from a winter that was warmer than normal. With a super el niño in the Pacific this year, winter is expected to be mild and possibly snowier. When planting the garlic I kept telling Bookman, make sure the cloves are 2-3 inches deep! I said it so many times he got a little annoyed with me, but I don’t want another garlic disappointment next spring. The patch where the flax was didn’t turn out to be big enough so we also planted garlic in part of the strawberry bed and with the Egyptian walking onion we planted this spring. A pound of porcelain garlic was six heads with 4-6 cloves in each. If it all sprouts and bulbs up, garlic paradise next summer!

Currently the garden is a pumpkin paradise. We picked the first one today. Pumpkins have to cure for about a week before they get cut up and cooked but that doesn’t stop me from imagining all the pumpkin-y goodness that will be in store!

Some of the amaranth was obviously ready for harvesting too. I cut off two big flower heads and put them in a plastic bag to dry. Normally something like that would go into a paper bag, but amaranth seeds are so tiny that any seeds that drop out while the flower is drying would be lost in the crevices of a paper sack. The biggest flower is still going strong though and is it ever gorgeous. Bookman has decided he likes amaranth flowers to much that even if the grain harvest turns out to be negligible, he wants to keep planting them every year just because they are cool looking. And I must agree, they are pretty cool looking. At the moment some of the flowers are developing longer strands in the middle that stand up above the rest of the flower so it appears they are giving us the finger. Maybe they are.

We have a squirrel Bookman has named “Jimbo” who has decided it thinks screens are really awesome things to climb. Jimbo keeps climbing the big screen on the sliding glass door to the deck. This freaks out the cats who have thus far not tried to climb up the screen from inside the house in order to have it out with Jimbo. I don’t think they realize they could do this and I hope they remain ignorant for my sake and for the screen door’s. But it isn’t just the screen door that Jimbo likes. The other day I hear a big thunk! at the kitchen window and move the curtain aside to look out only to see a big fat squirrel belly! I pounded on the window and Jimbo didn’t seem to care. So I pounded and yelled and he reluctantly jumped off. It would be funny if it weren’t so annoying and if we weren’t convinced that Jimbo was trying to find a way to get into the house for a cozy winter hangout.

We didn’t make any actual building progress on the chicken coop this week. Time was spent priming/painting boards while the weather was dry and not too cold. Next weekend we will be able to start building the frame. In anticipation, today we got a square at the hardware store to make sure our corners are aligned so the coop doesn’t end up crooked. To test it out we put together the base frame of the coop which amounts two 4×10 foot boards and 2 4×5 foot boards screwed together in a rectangle. The corners are square but one of the boards is sightly warped so the edges aren’t coming together perfectly flush like they need too. Since this rectangle base is what the upright support boards get screwed into, I am not sure how critical perfectly joined boards are. No doubt it is one of those matters where we will find out just how important it is when we start framing the roof and everything begins to come out crooked or something. Before we begin building up next week we will make a valiant attempt to get these bottom boards as perfect as possible.


Sailboats on Lake Minnetonka

Sailboats on Lake Minnetonka

I still felt under the weather due to my reaction to the flu shot earlier in the week but my outdoor cycling days are numbered and I wasn’t going to let it keep me from what could be my last really long ride of the year. Hoping the cool weather had brought more color to the trees, I rode out to Carver Park Reserve, the same place I went to last week. The morning was cold so I wore a long sleeve bike jersey underneath a windbreaker jacket. Should I manage to get hot, both the sleeves of the jacket and my jersey are removable but I never did get hot mostly because the wind picked up and I rode directly into it nearly all the way home. At least when I am riding up a hill I might not like it but I can see the top and know there will be an end to it. When riding into the wind it feels like riding up a hill that goes on forever, I never get to reach the top and I certainly don’t get the pleasure of zooming down the other side of it after all that hard work. I did stop at Lake Minnetonka and watch the sailboats that were out taking advantage of the wind. They were really flying across the water too!

Hardly anyone was around at the reserve, at least not when I first arrived. As I pedaled along I saw something out of the corner of my eye come swooping down out of the woods. When its swoop took it right across the path in front of me I saw it was a hawk and it had just caught something. As it flew up into a nearby tree I was so busy watching it and trying to see what it had caught I almost rode off the path into some bushes!

A little while later while coming around a curve in the path, I saw what I first thought was a big orange tabby cat heading into the undergrowth. Then I saw the white tip of its tail and realized it was a fox! I have never seen a fox before and thought they were bigger than that. It moved pretty fast so I didn’t get a very good look at it but I was thrilled nonetheless.

I stopped at a different lookout than last time I was in the park. It was in bright

Me at the park lookout

Me at the park lookout

sunshine and Strava said I had ridden 33 miles/53 kms so I thought it was a good time to stop for a bite to eat. I had gotten really hungry while out riding the week before in spite of my date bar snacks so I had Bookman make me a banana-rito (peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla wrapped around a banana). I sat in the sun eating my banana-rito, listening to birds sing and watching the breeze move across a lake and through the reeds and grasses. It was absolutely marvelous and I could have sat there all day.

Sumac just past peak color

Sumac just past peak color

Back on Astrid we continued our tour through the park. The trees were stubbornly not changing color. The sumac did, which was nice, and was just past its prime but still beautiful. A good many trees had dropped their leaves but the leaves were brown so I don’t know what that was about. It was still beautiful. I got through most of the park without seeing another person, but as I got closer to the park entrance more and more people were coming in on bikes and skates and I was glad I was leaving, having had the chance to enjoy the peace and quiet.

When I got to my street I checked my mileage and it said 69/111kms. Since this was probably the last really long ride of the year — next weekend is NerdCon and who knows what the weather will be like the following weekend this being Minnesota it might be snowing — I decided I wanted to do 70 miles/112.6 kms. So I took a tour of the neighborhood until my mileage clicked over.

Astrid and I are both quite happy with our adventures this year. Hopefully there will be another short ride or two around the city before the weather gets too cold, but the big outdoor adventuring is done for the year.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Carver Park Reserve, Lake Minnetonka

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2. Just Trying to Be Part of the Herd

I had a flu shot on Tuesday.

This is a big deal because I have been resisting for years. I haven’t had the flu for well over a decade so why get a vaccine? I wasn’t willing to play along because I do have a small fear of needles and my only other experience with vaccines as an adult has been with the tetanus vaccine and through the years I have had an increasingly bad reaction to it. So why risk the unknown factor of a flu vaccine?

But after reading On Immunity by Eula Biss earlier this year it dawned on me that I probably haven’t gotten the flu because everyone else I know gets vaccinated, thus providing me with protection from the herd so to speak. Suddenly it didn’t seem fair that I was relying on everyone else to protect me because of ungrounded personal fears. Plus, I am not anti-vaccination and do not want to be lumped in with the people who are.

Tuesday the university had a flu shot clinic. I got a shot and everything was fine. My arm didn’t even hurt! And I felt good that I was part of the herd creating immunity and helping protect people who really can’t have flu shots for legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately my euphoria over doing a good deed did not last. In less that 24-hours I had swollen lymph glands in my neck and under my arm, a runny nose, swollen sinuses, a general feeling of fatigue and tiredness and the injection site is sore to the touch. At first I put down the runny nose and sinuses to seasonal allergies, which, as you know, I am having a hard time with at the moment. But after pretty much staying indoors all day yesterday and keeping the windows at home closed, my runny nose and sinuses are no better. Also, the injection site hurts even more and the lymph glands that were only a little swollen yesterday are even bigger today with the one under my arm about the size of a walnut. I feel run down and beat up and fuzzy headed.

Apparently I am one of the lucky few who get to have flu shot side effects! As terrible as I feel, it is not, apparently, considered a severe or allergic reaction, just not common. Supposedly I should start to feel better in a few days. I told Bookman this morning that it does not make me want to do the right thing and get a flu shot again next year. Bookman said that feeling mildly to moderately crappy for a few days was better than having the flu. Of course he is right. But my brain goes back to the fact that I have not had the flu in 10+ years and taking my chances seems better than voluntarily feeling ill after a flu shot every year.

This could all be my fatigue and fuzzy headedness talking.

On a side note, The University of Iowa, home of the famous writing program, is offering a free MOOC that starts today How Writers Write Fiction. Out of curiosity, I have signed up. I indicated I am auditing the class and will not be turning in assignments. There are over 2,000 people signed up for it as of yesterday and I find it hard to imagine that if I had wanted to complete the assignments that the online workshopping process could be remotely useful. I’ve taken in-person writing classes with mixed groups before and found them not very helpful at all and those were only 15-20 people. If you sign up for it and opt to do the assignments, I’d be really curious to know how it worked for you!

Filed under: Personal Tagged: Eula Biss, On Immunity

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3. Leaving Orbit

cover artWhat does it mean that America has done so much to advance space travel and now we have decided to stop? This is the central question governing Margaret Lazarus Dean’s book Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight. She asks the question to people who work at NASA, to astronauts, to space fans, journalists, her students at the University of Tennessee and discovers that no one has a single answer and most have none at all. Dean herself is not even certain what it means, even over the course of writing the book she can never pin it down. However nearly everyone she talks to expresses varying degrees of sadness, disappointment, confusion and anger that America is no longer sending humans into space on our own ships.

Since she was a child, Dean has been fascinated by space travel. She followed shuttle launches, even got to see one in person, remembers where she was when Challenger exploded and later Columbia. She knows the history of space flight from Gemini to Mercury to Apollo and the shuttle era. She knows the names of astronauts past and present. She even wrote a novel about the Challenger disaster and in the process made a friend of Omar, a NASA worker at Cape Canaveral.

Framed, no not framed, more like companioned, with Norman Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon documenting the Apollo 11 moon landing, Dean weaves together the heroic beginnings of space travel with the end of the shuttle program and thus the end of American space flight. Now all American astronauts going to the International Space Station get there on Russian Soyuz rockets. Far from being a recounting of historical facts, Dean also takes a page from Mailer and “new journalism” and places herself squarely in the narrative. This serves to make the book more personal and provides a high degree of emotional impact. Dean attends in person the final two shuttle launches as well as the installation of Discovery at the Smithsonian. She serves as a kind of witness to the end of an era. What does it mean to see the Discovery’s final launch into orbit and then several months later see it turned into a museum piece?

Dean often has more questions than answers as she moves back and forth through time, narrowing in on the incredible difficulty of getting to the moon and all the things that could have gone wrong and how none of the astronauts on that first flight truly believed they would all make it back to Earth. I was on the edge of my seat as she described the moon landing and I know that it had a happy ending! Then we zoom ahead in time to watching a shuttle launch or introducing Buzz Aldrin at a book signing. As nonlinear as the narrative is, there is a definite feel of forward momentum and as much as it jumps around, Dean handles it all so well that getting lost is not an option.

If you are looking for straight up history full of facts and technical details, this book is not for you. That is not to say there are not plenty of facts and technical details, there are, Dean drops them in throughout. But if you are looking for something a little different, a little less traditional and a little more human, than you will probably like this book very much.

I wouldn’t call myself a space fan, not like the avid people in Dean’s book, but I have a vivid recollection of reading John Glenn’s account of orbiting Earth in an elementary school reader. How it fired my imagination! I remember watching space shuttle launches on TV. I remember where I was when Challenger exploded. I have heard the double sonic booms when a shuttle had to land at Edward’s Air Force Base in California. The base is near Los Angeles and you could hear the booms in the San Fernando Valley where I attended university, they were that loud. And it was both exciting to hear them and also a matter of course, nothing so very remarkable. And yes, when the shuttles were retired I was sad. How could there be nothing to take their place? The Mars rovers are exciting but not in the same way as people going into to space is. Will NASA ever send people to space again? It is open for debate. They have big ideas but Congress has no plans to fund them which is sad in so many ways. Whatever happened to big dreams? To no longer reach for the stars kind of leaves me feeling diminished.

Leaving Orbit was published by Graywolf Press and won their nonfiction prize in 2012. The prize is awarded every 12-18 months to a previously unpublished work of literary nonfiction written by a writer not established in the genre. Dean is in good company as previous winners of the prize include Leslie Jamison, Kevin Young and Eula Biss.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Margaret Lazarus Dean

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4. This is Autumn?

Autumn joy sedum

Autumn joy sedum

September has turned so warm that the trees have been changing color very slowly. We are at least two weeks, probably three, away from peak color in my area. Usually by now the trees are starting too look pretty spectacular but the summer just does not want to let go.

That is okay in some respects. It means we are still picking zucchini and our tomatoes have had time to get big and ripe. The amaranth has grown to monstrous size and the blossoms are so huge the poor things have become top heavy and all but a few sturdy ones are leaning over. The basil is still going strong too which means more pesto is in the offing. Some of the pumpkins are fully orange, others are halfway there.

Rumor has it there is the chance for frost next week. It is a long time out to forecast anything however, so I won’t hold my breath but I will certainly hope. A frost, especially if it ends up being a hard frost (below freezing instead of close to) will mean I can harvest the amaranth. It will make the pumpkins sweeter too. I am also anticipating being able to harvest some sunchokes for the first time. The patch has gotten quite large and needs thinning, what better way than to dig up some of the roots and eat them! Oh, and I keep forgetting there are some turnips out in the garden too. A frost will make those sweet as well. Frost will also go a long way towards helping my allergies. Once all the ragweed is dead I will be able to breath easy once again.

The porcelain garlic I ordered over the summer arrived in the mail last week. It is too warm yet to plant, I don’t want the cloves to start sprouting. But if the week turns out to be cool and the chance of frost looks more certain for next week, I’ll be planting the garlic on the weekend.

It’s also time to start seed saving. I’ve got calendula, marigolds and zinnias in the garden I want to save for next year. Also dill and coriander.

All of the coneflowers have gone to seed now and the goldfinches are thick among them. I

Coop foundation

Coop foundation

love coneflowers of all kinds and when I began planting them I had no idea the goldfinches loved them so much too. I love their little chirruping! And what a delight to walk up to my front porch after a day at work and have yellow burst out of the flower beds at my approach. They are so wonderfully beautiful that my breath catches in my throat at the sight of them.

Board painting station

Board painting station

The bees are frantically busy on the asters and the sedums and still crowding on the anise hyssop. Most of the monarch butterflies have left but one floats through the garden now and then. I also saw a hummingbird flitting about too. You know, I’ve lived in Minnesota for twenty years now and had never seen any hummingbirds about until two years ago. They aren’t frequent visitors to the garden these days but they are visitors which is a huge step up!

Today Bookman and I finished laying down the foundation for the chicken coop. The week was wet so we did not have a chance to prime and paint any of the boards to build with. We got started on that today too but unfortunately the primer didn’t dry fast enough for us to be able to start building. Next weekend the saw and the drill get to do some work!


The best kind of biker bar

The best kind of biker bar

This was the weekend that was supposed to belong to my Gran Fondo race. Since it got cancelled because of so much road construction I had to take matters into my own hands. No race, but by golly, I was determined to ride 100 km /60 miles on Saturday. I did and then some! I ventured out to find a new trail, Minnetonka Regional Trail. It is 15 miles /24 km of aggregate trail that starts near my favorite “biker bar”, Hopkins Depot, a cafe that sits at the confluence of several different bike trails. To get to the trail head I had to ride through a couple blocks of “downtown” Hopkins, a suburb with one of those quaint small town-like shopping districts. The trail was well marked and good thing or I would have missed it as it was crammed in between the driveway to a business parking lot and someone’s backyard.

The trail was marvelous. It took me right out to Lake Minnetonka and along the shore with

Through the meadow

Through the meadow

views of the lake and a number of boat marinas. Lots of people were out boating on such a gorgeous day too. Near the very end of the trail is a turn off to Carver Park Reserve, with 9 miles/ 14.5 km of paved bike trail. The Reserve also offers camping, boating, hiking, a nature education center, and hosts rolling wooded terrain, meadows, lakes and marshes. It is also a waterbird sanctuary. Supposedly you can see trumpeter swans there.

I road into the park around 9:30 in the morning and was one of very few people there. I suddenly felt like I was a long way from anywhere and it felt so good. I didn’t see any swans but saw lots of goldfinches, a flock of grackles, geese and ducks, and a whole bunch of northern flickers. There was also lots of little piles of poo on the trail and at first I was disgusted that people weren’t picking up after their dogs when it dawned on me that it was deer, not dogs.

There are lots of turnouts throughout the park with lookouts and benches. If the weather is nice next weekend I plan on going back and taking a lunch with me to enjoy. And hopefully the trees will have begun changing color by then too.

One of many lakes in the reserve

One of many lakes in the reserve

It was a great ride even with the wind picking up and my last 10 miles/ 16 km riding directly into it. When I got home tired and sweaty I checked to see how far I had ridden and was surprised: a little over 69 miles/ 111 km! I gave Astrid a happy pat on the saddle for a ride well done.

Something that made me laugh. At the beginning of my ride the sun was just up and my shadow was to my right and just behind me enough that it kept making me think someone was riding on my tail. I’d catch sight of the shadow and expect someone to pass me but the person would keep riding on my ass so I would pedal faster and they kept following me! For the first 45 minutes of my ride I kept thinking my shadow was another person even after I realized it was my shadow. As I approached the trail turn off for the Hopkins Depot, there my shadow was again! And I laughed at myself for being startled and thinking someone was riding on my tail, but I raced my shadow anyway because I was happy and feeling good. It turned out that time there was someone riding on my tail and when I turned off the trail and my “shadow” kept going it scared the bejeezus out of me! Those shadows sure can be tricksy!

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Carver Park Reserve, Minnetonka Regional Trail

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5. So Long to Wait

Last month we had a Barnes and Noble gift card and a coupon. We placed an order and to get free shipping we had to check the box to have everything delivered at once. Bookman ordered a new Stephen King book, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. I ordered a new cookbook. Many of you probably already know I don’t cook, I can, but at my house the kitchen is Bookman’s domain. I, however, am the one who buys cookbooks. I love cookbooks. Twenty years ago when we went vegan it was nearly impossible to find a vegan cookbook. We had a book called Simply Vegan and one called Tofu Cookery. We still have them. Their pages are written on, smudged with sauces and chocolate, and dimpled from liquid spills. They were our life raft as we learned a new way to eat.

These days there are so many vegan cookbooks available I can’t keep track of them all anymore. Our own collection has grown quite large and there are probably enough meals that could be planned from all of them we could eat something new every day for a year without repeats. Nonetheless, I always get excited when I come across a new cookbook that is not quite like the ones we already own. This time I ordered Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen. I already know I will love it because I borrowed it from the library first and drooled all over the library copy.

But we have not gotten the cookbook yet because it turns out the King book was a preorder. When I discovered it, I figured we’d get our books in September sometime and my mouth watered and my stomach growled in anticipation of all the delicious meals I would get Bookman to cook for me. Autumn is an excellent time for a good curry in my opinion. Heck, any time of year is.

But here it is the end of September and the books have not shipped yet. I had just supposed it would be this month without knowing for sure and Bookman had no idea. So I started thinking, well, early October. Some little voice told me today to check the order to find out when exactly to expect it. Turns out, it won’t be here until early November! I’m going to be really hungry by then! And Bookman is going to have a lot of cooking to do to make it up to me for having to wait so long.

Waiting so long for a book you ordered is it’s own special kind of torture, isn’t it?

Filed under: Cookbooks Tagged: curry, delicious food, I am so hungry right now, Stephen King, vegan

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6. The Serial That Wasn’t

Literary Hub has an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s new book The Heart Goes Last that she has annotated. I am very happy Atwood has a new book but I am also unsure about it. You see, I have already read a large portion of it over a year ago.

The book began as an experiment on Amazon in writing serial fiction. Every few months Atwood would publish a new chunk of the story for $1.99-$2.99. Things were going pretty well and then all of a sudden she stopped publishing them. I read perhaps 100-150 pages of the book and then was left hanging. Ok, I thought, I guess the serial thing wasn’t working out and she ended the project.

When I found out about The Heart Goes Last I was excited until I realized that it is the book she was publishing as a serial. I feel a little cheated. I mean, if I want to find out what happens I will have to buy the whole book after I have already bought the first third of the book. Seems a bit unfair, like perhaps I should get a discount for the part I have already paid for.

That’s only part of the trouble. When it was being published as a serial, it was not on a regular schedule of say, a chapter a month or fifty pages every six weeks. Part two came out about two months after the first part and the third part came out about four months after the second part. And then it was no more. The length of time between each volume made it hard to really get into the story. The premise was good but I wasn’t especially enjoying it and only bought and read each subsequent part because it was Margaret Atwood. I am having a hard time mustering up enthusiasm for the book.

Part of me thinks that reading it as a whole book and not as a serial will make a lot of difference. But as I think about what I have already read, I am surprised by just how much detail I can recall. So then I wonder whether she made any revisions to what was already published and if so, how might that affect rereading the first third of the book and continuing to the conclusion?

Until I actually read the book I can only speculate. But I am not in a hurry to read it and that leaves me feeling just a tiny bit disappointed. I am hoping that when other people start talking about it my disappointment will dissolve.

Now, briefly, about those annotations at Literary Hub. Atwood used a site called Genius. They have a section called Lit Genius. This site is dedicated to annotating literature. It is kind of interesting. Have any of you spent much time on it? I haven’t had a chance to explore other than a quick browse. I like the concept, but I wonder how useful and/or interesting it might be for readers other than students? Because it looks like most of what is there is aimed at students. I could be wrong. Still though, makes me really happy about the cool things the internet allows us to do.

Filed under: Books, Margaret Atwood

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7. Taking Recommendations

A combination of allergies and Monday brain has me staring at my computer screen with a rather blank expression on my face. Seriously, if you could see me you’d be concerned whether I’d gone zombie or something. But it came to me through the fog, that I have been thinking frequently about wanting to read some good nature books over the winter. I really like reading about nature when I am snuggled up indoors and it is bitterly cold and the world has turned to shades of black, white and gray. I’ve got lists of books too, but let me tell you, the lists have gotten so unwieldy I have no idea what to choose any longer. Proof that when there are too many choices a sort of paralysis sets in.

I don’t often ask for recommendations, but I am going to now in the hopes that your suggestions will help kick me out of my too many to choose from stupor. So here is your chance to make a recommendation and I know we all like to advocate for favorite books but are often hesitant to do it. But don’t hold back, lay it on me!

What I mean by nature book can be a broadly interpreted. It might be a science-y book on moss or a sociology/psychology/philosophy kind of book on coping with climate change or a travel through the jungle/desert/forest/arctic sort of book or it could be about a cabin on a pond and planting beans and watching ants or about a garden or a farm. You get the idea. Something to take my mind outdoors while my body is stuck indoors.

Winter might be a little way off yet, but it is never too early to start planning!

So, what’s your favorite nature book?

Filed under: Book Lists, Books Tagged: nature, recommendations

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8. Coop Building Commences

Magic Beans

Magic Beans

The week was warm and we had a couple evenings and one day of rain. A lot of rain. The warm and the rain are rather unusual for this time of year, especially night time thunder storms. The month is trending much warmer than normal and the weather people are saying we might be looking at a top ten warmest on record. I am pretty happy and so is the garden but my allergies are not pleased. September is one of those love-hate months. I love that the weather has been mild because gardening and biking. I hate that it has been mild because I suffer. As long as I am busy and absorbed in a task I manage ok, but sit down to rest and I fell like I’ve been through the wringer.

Needless to say I did not spend much time working in the garden this week. And when I was out in it, I was simply passing through and maybe picking a tomato or checking on the progress of the pumpkins. Grasshoppers are everywhere and I don’t even want to think about what they are chewing on. Bees of so many varieties are on the hyssop, the zinnias, the asters, and goldenrod. The monarchs are everywhere too and one even flew into my head as I was watching bees yesterday. Was it drunk on nectar? Hungry and disoriented? Whatever the case, those butterflies pack a wallop! Not that they hurt, only that they make a bigger thud when they run into you than you would expect.

We got all the beans I picked last weekend shelled. There are still more to pick in the garden. The coco noir black beans are not very prolific so I think I will not grow them again. If we do another black bean, it will be a different variety. The Jacob’s cattle beans (great in stew or soup) is pretty prolific and I wish I had planted more. This year I just planted what remained in the seed packet from the year before. I think in spring I will be ordering these again, or maybe saving a large portion of what we got this year to plant next year.

What I am really pleased with are the cow peas, also known as black-eyed peas. This

Cat TV

Cat TV

variety is called “lady pea” and is about the size of a lentil. The plants are really prolific and are still blooming and producing more pods. We’ll be harvesting these until frost. I definitely will be planting more of these next year.

Bookman was cooking up apples into sauce the other day and had put the cores in a bucket and set them out on the deck until he had a chance to take them to the compost bin. The squirrels are busy and extra bold right now and before the bucket made it to the bin, a squirrel made it to the bucket. Dickens was looking out the screen door at the time and as the squirrel helped itself to the apple cores, Dickens turned to stone inside, watching. The squirrel didn’t care at all that there was a cat less than a foot away watching him through the screen window.

I’ve been talking about it all summer and finally, finally, we have begun work on the chicken coop! Today we began with the “foundation” and digging critter barrier. Our options were to build the coop on brick pavers or to bury hardware cloth a couple inches down and several inches out from the edge of the coop to keep digging critters out. We went for the pavers. It is a more expensive option but we thought less work in the long run and we felt better about having the coop sit on something solid instead of bare ground.

Laying the foundation

Laying the foundation

Today we started laying down the pavers. Of course we can’t just lay them out and start building. They all have to be squared and level so our coop doesn’t lean and all that. Luckily we have plenty of sand to lay the foundation on! We managed to put down half of the foundation today. A good start I think. Once all the pavers are down we’ll start building the coop and run frame. Hopefully we will have time to work on the foundation a bit this week, if not, next weekend will see us finishing it up.

Bookman, who was initially reluctant on the chicken idea back in January when I suggested it, is now gung-ho and as excited as I am. We are both really glad to at last start work on the coop!


Well, bad news. The Gran Fondo race I signed up for at the end of the month has been canceled due to road construction. Apparently there is too much road work being done in the area where the race is to be held that they can’t put together a route that avoids it. I was so disappointed. I’ve been working so hard all summer to train for it and now I won’t have a chance to find out if my hard work paid off. Plus, since we didn’t do the 60 mile/100 km route at Jesse James Days, the Gran Fondo was going to be my “century” ride this year. Disappointed as I am, I will still do a 100 km ride even if I am on my own. I was going to do that yesterday but it didn’t quite work out.

Not having to train for a race anymore, I decided I was now free to do some exploring for different routes and just ride for the fun of it. Not that my training rides aren’t fun, I do love them, but I don’t have to worry about time or getting in so many hills or practicing sprinting or anything like that.

Saturday morning began chilly and I had a really hard time warming up. I felt like I was pedaling through sand for the first hour and half. My allergies were also bothering me and I was fighting off a headache. I road a little less than half my usual ride and took a turn off where I see some other cyclists turn now and then. It turned out to be quiet suburban streets that felt suddenly almost rural. I was hoping for some good hills to try but there was only one, a long gradual grade that didn’t make me work too hard until I got close to the top. The route spit me out close to the end of a nice hilly section I usually ride on. I doubt I will take that alternate route again.

I then decided I was going to take on Purgatory Park, a trail Bookman and I had tried in early spring that had a couple really short but steep hills. I headed down the road and turned off into the park, finally starting to feel energetic and looking forward to the challenge of those little hills. I came down a hill and around a bend to cross a foot bridge over the creek. I was on a packed gravel path and it had washed away a bit from the edge of the bridge, leaving a concrete lip sticking up of about 3-4 inches / 7.5-10 cm. I hit it rather hard, got a bit of jolt, continued across the little bridge and back onto gravel. And then I noticed Astrid did not feel quite right. I stopped to check things out and surprise! Two flat tires.

I knew at some point I would get a flat. I even took a class early in the spring to learn how to fix one. Now confronted with not one but two flat tires I was somewhat at a loss for what to do. For some reason I thought if I just pumped air into them they would miraculously repair themselves. So I took my little pump off my bike and realized I had never used it before and had no idea how to use it now. Fifteen minutes later when I figured out how to get the pump locked onto the valve stem I started pumping, listening for air to leak out to confirm the tube was punctured because for some reason I thought maybe I could have two flats but no punctures. I could not hear any air leaking but the tire was not inflating. Instead of blaming a puncture I blamed the pump. Why not? I called Bookman who was at work. I was not far from the park entrance which is on a major road and not far from where Bookman works. He happened to have the bike carrier in the car still. He decided he would take his lunch break and come get me.

I walked poor Astrid out of the park and we waited for Bookman’s arrival. I felt really dumb not being able to figure out how to use the pump and fix my tires. I had a spare tube and a patch kit so I technically could have gotten myself mobile again so I could ride home but my hands and my brain just couldn’t manage it. After Bookman got lost a few times he pulled up, put Astrid on the back of the car and delivered us home. My Hero!

I showered, had lunch, and in a better frame of mind and comfortable surroundings decided to tackle fixing the tires, or at least one of them since I only had one spare tube. And it is just as well Bookman rescued us because I had to come in the house and quick watch a YouTube video to figure out how to get the tire off the bike. I have a quick release lever but I also have to unlock the break lever too. Oh yeah! That fix a flat class was a long time ago! Once I got the wheel off the bike I was fine with the rest, though getting the tire back in the rim almost had me in tears. I do not have strong hands and I could not get the last little bit to go in. I was just about to give up, when as a last ditch effort I used my feet to hold the tire and act as a counterweight while I pushed with my thumbs on the tire and in it popped! Then I started pumping. I used the little pump I carry on my bike to make sure I would know how to do it next time. Then I got the wheel back on and checked to see how long it took me: 45 minutes. And that was one wheel!

I didn’t have another tube to do the back tire but I took it off and got the tube out anyway. Then I decided now would be a good time to do some cleaning. So I scrubbed the cassette and the derailleur and cleaned them of road gunk and felt pretty good about that. The bike shop was closed by the time Bookman got home from work last night so we went today and I got three tubes. One for the tire now and two spares. I also talked to one of the bike mechanics and she said from the punctures I described it sounds like my tires were underinflated. So she talked to me about inflation and I had brought one of my wheels with me and she inflated it to the proper psi and it was hard as a rock. Turns out we had not been reading the pressure gauge correctly on the pump. That means both my flats could have been avoided. Live and learn, right?

So now having crashed twice this summer and getting two flats at once I have learned many lessons. I am stronger than I suspected. And I also now really know how to fix a flat. Next weekend Purgatory is not going to beat me!

Bookman likes me to text him from time to time while I am out so he knows I’m still alive. My eyes have reached the point where the text on my phone is almost too small for me to see clearly. I also wear polarized sunglasses which prevents me from seeing the screen on my phone with any kind of clarity, and yesterday my eyes were burning and itching from my allergies. All that to say with autocorrect, Bookman got some interesting text messages.

About an hour into my ride I was stopped at a traffic light and still pretty cold. I texted Bookman “Brrr” Except with autocorrect and my inability to see the screen the text Bookman actually got was “Beer.”

An hour later I stopped for a brief snack. I texted, “snack break finally not so cold.” The text Bookman received: “smack break finally not so old.”

The next time Bookman heard from me was a phone call to tell him I had two flat tires. That wasn’t fun but the text messages kept us laughing all day.

Filed under: biking, chickens, gardening Tagged: flat tire, Gran Fondo, Purgatory Park

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9. On Beginning to Read Oreo

I need to start another book like I need a hole in my head, but Oreo by Fran Ross arrived for me at the library and there is a hold queue so I can’t renew it and I couldn’t remember what it was about or where I heard about it only that I really wanted to read it when I put a hold request on it and Bookman is working late tonight so I decided to read while eating dinner and what should I read? Oh look! There is this new book from the library! Let’s see what it’s all about! And OMG, I almost choked on my dinner because I was laughing so much. I still have no idea what the book is about but is it ever funny!

I take that back, I do have some idea what the book is about. It’s about Christine (aka Oreo) whose father is Jewish and mother is black. Yiddish everywhere! Jokes and humorous situations galore! The back of the book tells me it is a modern parody of the odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, pop culture, black vernacular and Yiddish wisecracking.

I have not gotten far, I am only on page 12, but I am hooked. Here is how the book starts:

First, the bad news
When Frieda Schwartz heard from her Shmuel that he was (a) marrying a black girl, the blood soughed and staggered in all her conduits as she pictured the chiaroscuro of the white-satin chuppa and the shvartze’s skin; when he told her that he was (b) dropping out of school and would therefore never become a certified public accountant — Riboyne Shel O’lem!— she let out a great geshrei and dropped dead of a racist/my-son-the-bum coronary.

The bad news (cont’d)
When James Clark heard from the sweet lips of Helen (Honeychile) Clark that she was going to wed a Jew-boy and would soon be Helen (Honeychile) Schwartz, he managed to croak one anti-Semitic “Goldberg!” before he turned to stone, as it were, in his straight-backed chair, his body a rigid half swastika, discounting or course, head, hands, and feet.

And it just gets zanier from there. This is going to be fun!

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Fran Ross, Oreo

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10. On Writing and Not Writing

I had the best laid plans to write an essay on some of the things Azar Nafisi writes about in her fantastic introduction to The Republic of the Imagination (still reading and still enjoying!) because I have lately found echoes in other things I have been reading. Unfortunately I just haven’t had the time to spend to think about it and bring it all together yet. And here forms a dilemma.

I might have the time this coming weekend. But I might not. Do I wait and see?

The more time that passes between when I had the urge to write solely about the introduction and some of its ideas, the less enthusiastic I become about it. As if it is somehow dated even though it is not. Really it is a matter of being distracted from the original idea and pulled in other directions.

And of course the longer the distance between the original idea and its execution, the more I begin to doubt I could really write something worthwhile. If I had just managed to dash something off when I had thought about it first, I would not have had time to dwell on whether I could do any kind of justice to it. My inner critic (whose name is Zelda by the way and who can be a real bitch sometimes) has had too much time to whisper in my ear and make me self-conscious about what I wanted to say.

All of this — distractions, time, Zelda — swirls around in my head and creates a great confusion and a growing resistance to even wanting to try to write anything about the introduction. I have turned it into something bigger than I had intended, something more than “just a blog post.” Then emotions start to get stirred in too, why not? A big slice of uncertainty, a couple dashes of guilt, a pinch of disappointment, a flake of bravado. It makes quite a gumbo!

Things like this are why I don’t ever try to write anything besides blog posts. Sure, I consider it from time to time, but it never goes beyond that because gumbo.

Now after this little confession what do I do? Do I try to write something this weekend, results be damned? Or do I let go and move on? Part of me suspects this little, whatever this is, is an attempt to keep myself from moving on. Also, it is me trying to make an excuse for moving on.

I don’t talk much about my own writing on this blog and now you can see why. I am completely mental about it. I know a lot of people feel that way about their writing but we are all special in our own mental minefields, aren’t we?

So will there be a post next week about literature and imagination and censorship and culture? I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see who wins this one, me or Zelda and the gumbo.

Filed under: Writing

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11. Bits and Bobs

Just a few bits and bobs today.

First the bits.

Did you catch the book cover gifs at Slate not long ago? Subtle and quite clever some of them.

Then at the Atlantic The Terror and Tedium of Living Like Thoreau. Only it strikes me that people tend to not get what living like Thoreau actually means. They think he was monk in the woods sitting around all day observing ants and the water reflecting on Walden Pond. But Thoreau frequently had visitors, especially Emerson. And he didn’t sit around all day. You can’t cultivate an acre of beans while sitting around. Thoreau was a very busy and purposeful fellow!

The thing that draws the author to the solitude and wilderness of Alaska is the desire to live life fully, purposefully and with awareness. She thinks of all sorts of big picture stuff that this means — traveling the world, being a writer — but discovers these big things require one live moment by moment in the small things:

So: How to live? Just filling a day, I learned in my little cabin, is a tricky but essential business. I could much sooner tell you the way I’d like to spend a life than the way I’d like to spend an hour. Lives are fun to play with: I’ll be a writer! An astronaut! A world traveler! It’s harder to make yourself into a noun in the span of a day. Days are about verbs. In the cabin, there were too many options, and none of them very exciting. Read, write, walk, run, split wood, bake bread, pick berries, call my mom, hunt the mosquitos that had snuck into the cabin? Most of what I did in that cabin was mundane. There aren’t many stories worth telling. There aren’t many moments I remember.

One does not need solitude in order to figure this out, but I suppose it helps and it makes a great story.

And now the bobs.

I just found out that Jeanette Winterson will be giving a lecture and reading at the University of Minnesota at the end of October. The event is free and open to the public. Bookman and I will be there even if we have to stand behind the back row. So excited!

Early in October Bookman and I will be going to the first ever NerdCon and today they posted the event schedule. It is a two day affair that focuses on storytelling. There are going to be all kinds of interesting panels to choose from like diversity, the moral responsibility of the storyteller, storytelling through song, truth in fiction, and more! Authors the likes of John Scalzi, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kimya Dawson, Patrick Rothfuss, Maggie Stiefvater and lots of others will be there. Fun! Of course I will take pictures and report back on the events.

Filed under: Books Tagged: Jeanette Winterson, NerdCon, Thoreau

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12. Karen Memory

cover artWhat a marvelously fun book is Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory! Steampunk meets the old west in fictional gold rush town Rapid City on the west coast of the United States. From the very beginning the book charges ahead full speed without hardly a lull. And the cast of characters! There is Karen, our narrator and heroine, somewhere around aged seventeen, who was raised on a ranch by her father (her mother died) who gentled horses. Karen herself is quite the horsewoman but when her father is accidentally killed while working with a wild colt, Karen is left orphaned and unable to run her father’s ranch alone. She sells it all to pay his debts and moves to Rapid City where she gets a job working at a high class brothel.

Madame treats the women well and they all get a share of the profits. Karen is saving up so she can one day have her own ranch. In the meantime, life isn’t so very bad. Madame’s is like one big family and the customers are mostly regulars with plenty of money and include the mayor of Rapid City and many of the police officers.

Peter Bantle runs a brothel too but he does not treat the women well at all. Many of them are “hired” under dubious circumstances. Bantle has a taste for violence and so do many of his customers. He also decides he is going to run for mayor. He has created some gadgets to fight his enemies including a glove that electrocutes people and a mind control machine.

Bantle’s enemies of course turn out to be Madame and her girls.

Also in the cast is U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves. Reeves is a freed slave. He comes to town with his posseman who is a Comanche Indian. They are on the trail of a murdered who has been killing women, specifically prostitutes, across the country.

All the storylines come together eventually to create one great fun climactic battle with horses and guns and dynamite and a submarine with octopus arms and a sewing machine that is like no sewing machine you can ever imagine.

In the midst of this story Bear manages to focus on creating some wonderfully rounded characters including Miss Francina who happens to be transgendered and is never called anything but Miss Francina and referred to always as “she” and no one ever remarks on it at all. There is even a wonderful romance story between Karen and Priya, a girl slightly older than Karen who is rescued from Peter Bantle’s brothel. Priya and her sister left India to come to the United States to work and send money home to their family after their father’s business disastrously falls to pieces. But they get cheated and swept up by a broker who sells them to Bantle. Priya ends up being a favorite of Bantles and becomes familiar with just how much damage his electrified glove can do.

Karen is smart and savvy and ever so practical and matter-of-fact. And she tells a great story in a most colorful manner. Here is a little taste:

I waited, counting Mississippis, and made it to forty-one before the back door came open. Bless city houses and brass hinges and capitalist pork-barrel bastards who can afford staff to keep them oiled. The leather hinges on Da’s kitchen door would of let the door drag and in the wet of Rapid most metal hinges quickly learned squeak and stick, but this door opened in silent as a jaw gaping. And weren’t that an unsettling image?

She comes out with some delightful turns of phrase throughout the book that left me giggling and clapping my hands in pleasure. I can’t recommend the book enough.

This is the first Elizabeth Bear book I have read and I can tell you, it definitely won’t be the last!

Filed under: Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Elizabeth Bear, Steampunk

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13. Harvest Season

Zucchini relish

Zucchini relish

It is officially harvest and putting by season in the garden. I have so many dried beans to shell and still more to pick, I’ll be busy at it for some time. Have I ever mentioned how much I love beans? Definitely the fresh ones, but the dry ones to keep and cook in stews or burritos or other yummy dishes? You plant them the end of May and then except for the occasional water and weed, you pretty much forget about them and let them do their thing. I tuck them into places all over the garden, between bigger plants, in front of shrubs, in nooks and crannies. For dry beans you let them dry right on the plant. You know when to pick them off when the pods are brown and crispy. And beans are so beautiful too. I’ll have photos next week when I have enough shelled to make a decent picture.

Picked more cantaloupe melons from the garden this week. There is one small one left on

Crabapple jelly

Crabapple jelly

the vine with a bit more growing and ripening to do. I used to think a sweet melon from the market was good, but oh, just like vine ripened tomatoes, there is nothing like a melon picked fresh from the vine, chilled and eaten the same day. So incredibly sweet.

Speaking of vine ripened tomatoes, one of them actually got ripe! There are a number of others that are just beginning to color up. I also picked a couple of cherry tomatoes too. I think next year I just need to start the tomato seeds a couple weeks earlier, instead of mid-March, more like around Valentine’s Day. Now watch, next year I will end up with enormous plants by the time it is safe to put them out at the end of May and I will be complaining that I started them too early!

Still picking zucchini and lemon squash. Those will keep going until frost, sometime around early October. The pumpkins are going crazy and turning orange. There are a bunch of them this year and I can hardly wait until they are ready to pick just after frost (frost makes them sweeter). The Brussels sprouts are getting bigger and will hopefully be ready to start picking in a week or two. I didn’t realize the plants got so big and kind of crammed them too close together so instead of all six plants doing really well, there are two doing great, one doing okay, and the rest aren’t sure what they are doing (kind of like me sometimes!).

Silly Dickens

Silly Dickens

We started picking apples and last week Bookman made three pints of apple butter. Today he is making apple sauce. Last week he also made sweet zucchini relish. It came out so good! Tastes better than cucumber relish if you ask me, but then I am biased since it came from my garden! We have three pints and will probably make a few more. There was also success with the crabapple jelly! First time we have ever made it. Two cups of juice nets less than a pint of jelly, but hey, any little bit. The recipes call for one cup of sugar to every cup of apple juice so that’s what we did but the result is much sweeter than we’d like so next year Bookman will be cutting back on the sugar, maybe try one cup of sugar for two cups of juice. I don’t mind my jelly a bit tart, I’d rather that than too sweet.

We didn’t manage to get the final materials list together for the chicken coop last week, but we are close. The plan is to have it done today or tomorrow and then Bookman will go and order the lumber one morning during the week and have it delivered as soon as they can fit us into the schedule. That will hopefully be in time for next weekend so we can get started building it!


The road ahead

The road ahead

Yesterday was the Jesse James fun ride. Bookman and I planned on the 60 mile/100 km route. The day was forecast to be sunny and mild. We drove 45 minutes south with the bikes on back of the car. When we first moved to Minneapolis 20 years ago, we could drive 15 minutes and be outside the city and surrounded by farm fields. In a testament to urban sprawl, it now takes half an hour.

The morning was quite chilly and both Bookman and I were wishing we had brought light

Bookman rising (click to enlarge)

Bookman rising (click to enlarge)

jackets instead of just wearing long sleeves. We worry so much about Bookman and heat with his MS and didn’t even think about the cold which, at a certain point, acts almost as detrimentally as the heat for Bookman. Only difference is he recovers quicker from cold than heat. We began the ride around 7:30 and quickly found ourselves out amidst rolling hills and fields of corn and soybeans. The sun took a while to break through some low clouds to warm us up, and in the process kept Bookman too cold for too long. He was really struggling for awhile. It didn’t help that we missed the sign pointing to a turn in the route and we, and a good many other people, went the wrong way for about three miles that included a long hill. The riders in front of us figured out we missed a turn and let us know. We stopped to look at the very poor map the ride folks had given us and a kind police officer who had been sent out to find all the riders who had missed the turn came up and helped us out. At least the way back to the route was mostly downhill!

Back on track, we wound our way through beautiful country. A tractor parade drove by on their way to the Jesse James Days festival. The tractors were decorated with little flags and the farmers were all smiling and waving as we passed.

Fields of soybeans

Fields of soybeans

Our first rest stop was at the 22 mile/35 km mark. Bookman took a long rest and asked if we could take the 45 mile/72 km route instead. He’d gotten some energy back after being so cold at the start, but not enough to feel confident we’d make the longer route. He also wasn’t quite prepared for all the rolling hills (and there were a lot!). I was having a blast on the hills, a bit of a surprise really since the hills on my training ride are not my favorite thing but a necessary evil. But the work paid off apparently and there were only two hills that turned out to be real work.

Can I brag a second though? Even the hard hills I did really well on and passed people. The people I pass on hills though aren’t the really fit riders out with their really fit bike club pals, but the cyclists who are non-club sorts and tend to be larger men (as in very tall with big frames) or general recreational riding sorts and people who haven’t figured out how to pace themselves on hills. Still, it was great fun to pass people on hills especially when they were halfway up already when I hit the bottom and I pass before they reach the top. Bookman and hills do not get along at all. He did great though and made it up every single one without having to walk up. I’d wait for him at the top and cheer him on.

There were a couple of big downhills that were great fun. Country roads with hardly any

Barn and farm fields

Barn and farm fields

traffic and no stop lights or stop signs at the bottom of the hill meant I go fast and not worry about having to stop. Whee! Is that ever fun! Maybe because I’ve been riding all summer and feel balanced and confident on Astrid and maybe because I am just fearless enough that I don’t worry about crashing while zooming downhill, and maybe because I really like going fast, I’d hunker down over my handlebars to try and get more speed for as long as I could. Bookman found himself a bit unsure and, while he appreciated the opportunity to rest, he didn’t quite get the thrilling whee! that I did.

While it didn’t turn out to be the great success and long ride we had planned on, it was still overall a very nice day. I loved riding out in the country, seeing all the farms and fields, smelling the skunks and the cows, waving at horses and goats watching me ride by, listening to the birds, crickets and cicadas.

I will definitely be going on the ride again next year. Not sure about Bookman, he’s rethinking the whole long distance cycling thing a bit.

Filed under: biking, gardening Tagged: Jesse James Days

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14. Dream Mandalas Coloring Book

Dragon in progress

Dragon in progress

The adult coloring book trend has been building up steam for a while now and seems to have reached full speed ahead. The number of coloring books available these days is astonishing given that only a couple years ago the only way an adult was going to be seen coloring was if there were small children present. On my plane ride to Albuquerque this summer there was a woman with one of the garden coloring books who spent the entire 2 1/2 hours happily coloring and chatting with her companions. I have given coloring books as gifts to adult friends. I have yet to try one myself. Until now.

When the publisher contacted me and asked if I would like to try out Dream Mandalas I thought about it for a day or two. Is this really something I wanted to try? I loved coloring as a kid, but do I want to do it as a adult? But then I thought, well why not? Maybe there is something to it. After all, what have I got to lose?

Dream Mandalas arrived and what a nice little book it is too. So much nicer than the coloring books I had when I was a kid. The paper is nice and thick and the pictures are printed on only one side of the page. This is really nice because there isn’t any bleed through from the design on one side to a design on the other side. Good as the paper is though, I wouldn’t use markers on it, but I have never been a fan of coloring with markers anyway.

The designs are varied and often intricate. Animals, people, things, abstracts. You will want to make sure your pencils are sharp!

So what about the whole coloring experience? I thought I’d whip through a couple of

Happy elephant

Happy elephant

designs before doing a post about them, how long could it take after all? Turns out, quite a long time! I still haven’t finished the dragon I started on. Unlike when I was a kid with my box of Crayola crayons and pictures that were simple with large single-color areas to cover, these designs take time. And instead of just grabbing any old color, I find myself contemplating the whole picture and considering color schemes and effects.

The coloring itself is pleasurable and relaxing. I thought I could do it while watching television but I get so focused on the coloring that I don’t pay attention to the TV. I also found I enjoy coloring for short bursts of time, no more than 30 to 45 minutes. After that I start to get sloppy. Since coloring with the TV didn’t work I tried putting on music and found that was a marvelous idea. And it doesn’t matter what sort of music, pop, classical, folk, they all work as a soundtrack.

I’d call the whole undertaking a success and understand now why it’s become a thing. It’s a relaxing chance to play with color and feel like you are doing something creative. Plus it is just plain fun. If you loved coloring when you were a kid and haven’t tried one of the new coloring books yet, give it try! And if you can’t decide which coloring book to choose from, allow me to recommend Dream Mandalas as a possibility. I’m really enjoying it and I’m sure it will provide much pleasure through the winter months, perhaps even more than it has during the summer.

Filed under: Reviews Tagged: Adult coloring book

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15. Through the Woods

cover artI must apologize for not remembering on whose blog I first learned about Through the Woods by Emily Carroll because I owe that blogger a big thank you. Through the Woods is a short story collection like no other I have ever read. Why might that be? It is a book of graphic short stories.

When I got it from the library I didn’t remember about the graphic part of it and I worried that perhaps I had made a mistake. How can you do a book of graphic short stories? Novel, memoir, biography, but short stories? But you know what? It totally works and it is great!

The stories are of the very short and ambiguous kind and they are successful because the art and the text work so well together to move the story along. They have a fairy tale quality to them and they all felt vaguely familiar because of that but they are completely original. They all feature girls or young women. They are about things like a cold snowy winter and dad has to leave his three daughters alone. He tells them if he isn’t back in three days they are to go to the neighbor’s house. Of course he doesn’t return. The eldest daughter refuses to leave, insisting that dad will be back any time. The youngest doesn’t really seem concerned about anything in particular. And the middle daughter, the one telling the story, insists they follow their father’s wishes because if they don’t they will be completely snowed in and without food. And then during the night someone comes to the door and the eldest sister goes with that someone and doesn’t come back. The night after that, the youngest sister goes with the stranger. The middle sister is left all alone. The food is gone. She walks most of the day through the deep snow to the neighbor’s house and…

Another tale is about a father marrying off his beautiful daughter to the richest man in the county. The house is huge and gorgeous but something is not right. Someone keeps her up at night singing a strange song. Her husband tells her she’s hearing things that aren’t there. One night while her husband is away, she goes looking for the source of the song and discovers more than she bargained for.

The art in this book is amazing. Stark, deeply saturated color in a limited palette of black, white, scarlet red and deep blue, creates high contrast and a rich lushness that magnifies the creep factor of the stories. I raced through them all in less than an hour one evening before bed. The final story gave me such chills that I told Bookman if I have any nightmares Through the Woods is at fault.

A perfect RIP Challenge read for sure, but guaranteed excellent for any dark night or stormy afternoon no matter what time of year.

Filed under: Challenges, Graphic Novels, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Emily Carroll, fairy tales, RIP Challenge

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16. Get in Trouble

cover artI was so excited to read Kelly Link’s newest story collection Get in Trouble. I read Magic for Beginners a long time ago and really liked it. It was so quirky and strange. The stories would be perfectly normal expect for the zombies. Or the rabbits. Or some other weird twist that made everything shift just a little off the reality axis.

Get in Trouble has much of the same thing going on. I am reading and the story seems ho-hum and then a small detail slips in and — wait, what, did that just say she has two shadows? But as weird as a story might get, the characters in it find nothing weird going on and they have the most banal conversations. It keeps the stories grounded and prevents the slightly off-kilter from wobbling into the absurd.

I should have liked the collection. And I did like several of the stories. There is one called “The Summer People” that manages to be both innocent and creepy at the same time. Another, “Secret Identity,” is everyday enough. A teenage girl playing online pretends she is much older than she is, hops a bus to New York City to meet the guy who likes her in person only to end up at a hotel where there are two conventions going on, dentists and superheroes. Everyone keeps asking her if she is a sidekick or there to apply to be a sidekick. And the man she is supposed to meet? Turns out he is a superhero but she never meets him for various reasons. It’s a good story about the masks we wear and who we really are underneath.

“The New Boyfriend” is also pretty good. Teenage girls and synthetic boyfriends that you can buy — take your pick between vampire, werewolf, or a few others. The ghost version is no longer on the market because there were problems. But Ainslie always somehow gets what she wants and Immy just can’t stand it any longer. Not a story so much about boyfriends, Immy has had a real boyfriend and Ainslie has not, but more about friendship and jealousy, popularity and social power.

The rest of the stories were uninteresting to me. The humor and weirdness rubbed me the wrong way. The strange was expected instead of surprising and it was even at times boring; the charm and shine faded.

Overall I was disappointed. I seem to recall other folks reading the collection and finding it lacking a bit too. Unfortunately I don’t remember who they all are. If you have not read Kelly Link before and have heard what a good story writer she is and want to see for yourself, don’t choose Get in Trouble as your collection of discovery. Go for Magic for Beginners instead.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Kelly Link

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17. Apple Picking Time!

Minnesota midget cantaloupe

Minnesota midget cantaloupe

It’s been a hot and humid week and because of it I haven’t spent much time out in the garden. The garden, however, is at the point where it needs no help from me other than to keep it watered and weeded. The watering happened but the weeding did not because it was just too uncomfortable to be outdoors for any length of time.

The good news is, the heat has finally brought our cantaloupe to ripeness. We have two chilling in the fridge and two more almost ripe still on the vine. And all those green tomatoes? Still green but finally starting to blush. Well, not blush exactly since they are cherokee purple, but you know what I mean.

Are you wondering about the crabapple jelly? Turns out it takes a bit of time to cut up crabapples and boil them and then let the juice drain through cheesecloth. And you don’t end up getting all that much juice, at least not from the amount of apples we had. So we have about a pint of juice in a jar in the refrigerator. Tomorrow we will get it out and boil it up, add sugar and spice and hope for the best.

Also tomorrow we will be attempting sweet zucchini relish. Just like cucumber pickle relish only with zucchini instead. I will report back next week on our success or failure.

It is also apple picking time! And all I can say is, thank goodness for this long Labor

Our single ear of popcorn dry and ready to pop

Our single ear of popcorn dry and ready to pop

Day holiday weekend! Because tomorrow we will also be picking apples from our green apple tree. We’ll fire up the crockpot and start making apple butter and applesauce. Which reminds me, I still have a container of gooseberries in my freezer. I have to cook those up into jam sometime. But since they are frozen, they can wait a bit until after the rush of everything else.

Of the two sunflowers we had bags over, one was raided by squirrels and lost. The other, I rescued just in time! I cut the head off and it is now in the house drying upside down in a paper bag. The flower on the ten-foot tall sunflower has actually gotten pretty large. We cannot reach it without a ladder. Bookman thinks it is safe, I know otherwise. It is not ready to cut down, the seeds are still not all developed, so who gets it first, us or the squirrels remains to be seen.

Meanwhile in the chicken garden…

Our chain link fence was installed during the week. It looks really nice. In the spring I’ll be moving some shrubs we got this spring out to the part of the fence that runs along the alley. The idea is to form a screening hedge. The shrubs that will go there are elderberry, serviceberry, and flowering quince. I also have a prairie rosebush to plant along the fence that goes from the alley into our yard. And, Bookman and I loved the black raspberries from our small garden patch so much that I am planning on planting more of them along the fence because I am greedy that way.

Lovely new fence

Lovely new fence

As you can see from the photo we have covered over the sand with wood chips. This keeps weeds from growing and the wood will also decompose, albeit slowly, to improve the soil so we will actually be able to grow things in it. After all the leaves fall from the trees in a month I am also half inclined to ask my neighbor, who bags up his leaves for the city to take away, if I can have some of them to spread out on top of the wood chips. Leaves decompose faster than wood chips and between the two I might actually end up with a thin layer of loam over the sand by next May. I want so badly to plant a cheery tree there in may, but I might have to wait another year so it is possible the area will be a “field” or amaranth, popcorn, pole beans and pumpkins which in itself will be fun.

Today Bookman and I took our list of chicken coop supplies to the home improvement store to investigate what standard lumber sizes are available so we can figure out how much we need of everything. We also looked at insulation, hardware cloth, and windows. We are very happy with what we learned. We will get the final figures together tomorrow. We have decided we will have the lumber delivered instead of renting a truck because it makes Bookman happy to have other people do the loading and loading instead of us. So either tomorrow or sometime during the week, we will go back with out final list and place our order.

Up until today it has all been so abstract and I have been doubting whether or not we could actually build our own coop. But after our expedition I feel much more confident. Our coop plans turn out to work very nicely with standard sized lumber and we won’t have much cutting down to odd sizes to do. Yay us!

Bookman wants to do a time lapse video but I don’t want to have to figure out the filming and editing for such an undertaking so there will be a combination of video and photos, or possibly just photos. We’ll see how it goes once we get started.

What a ride I had yesterday! There was rain, sun, wind, heat, and humidity. I ate quite a few gnats too. The cicadas and crickets were incredibly loud. Some spots of the trail were covered in goose poo. Sometimes the geese were still there and I rode by warily hoping none of them would decide to attack. Since they aren’t nesting it was unlikely, but you just never know with geese.

Because it was raining for about the first two hours of my ride, there was hardly anyone else out. Since it was warm it was quite pleasant and having the trail mostly to myself was marvelous. How marvelous? At one point there was a large deer standing right next to the trail. She looked up as I approached, I slowed down and moved to the other side of the trail, looked at her and told her it was okay, I’m just passing by and she didn’t have to interrupt her breakfast. She tensed up and was thinking about bounding away but decided I wasn’t a threat and stood there watching me as I pedaled carefully by not three-feet (1 m) away from her. She was so beautiful.

Later in the day what I thought was a big twig with leaves on it at the side of the trail turned out to be a snapping turtle on its way across to the lake. It was almost the size of a dinner plate. It paid no attention to me, just went about its business of slowly crossing the trail.

The squirrels are out in force right now, fattening up and collecting stores for winter. They are thick on the trails and thank goodness I managed to not run any of them over. A few of them nearly got up close and personal with my bike tire, but I am glad we missed each other. I’d feel just terrible if I ran one over.

I did however, get beaned by a huge dragonfly. I saw it hovering over the trail ahead of me but it zigged when it should have zagged, bounced off the the inside of my right arm, smacked into my chest, bounced against my left arm, ricocheted off my chest again before finding an exit under my right arm. Since there was no bug spatter on my arms or jersey I’m assuming it escaped shaken up but uninjured.

So much excitement!

This coming Saturday the 12th is the Jesse James Days fun ride. Bookman and I are riding together and it should be, well, fun! The weather is forecast to be sunny with a high of 69F/20C, with the day starting off cooler than that of course. Perfect! The course reportedly goes over some beautiful rural roads. I’ll try to remember to snap some photos. And maybe we will get lucky and be around for one of the re-enactments of the failed 1876 bank robbery that led to the ultimate downfall of Jesse James and his gang!

Filed under: biking, gardening

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18. Crazy September Ahead!

Can you believe the calendar says September already? Seems like I say that every month, not that’s it’s September, but you know what I mean. August was a decent month for reading. I didn’t finish a huge number of books but I did start reading a huge number! Yes, yes, there is definitely an imbalance there, but I suspect that even if there were some sort of magic pill or vitamin supplement to right the imbalance, I would refuse to take it. Besides, it all works out in the end anyway and there is no reason to get ruffled about it.

What’s on tap for the month? Should I repeat myself from a few August posts? Sure, why not, you may not have read those, or maybe you have forgotten unless you are creepy weird and keeping diligent track of all the titles I mention that I am reading.

Ok, so this is what’s going on:

  • Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares by Carmen L. Oliveira. Thank goodness I got this one from the university library so I don’t have to rush through it! The book goes along with my study of Elizabeth Bishop. I am also reading the Complete Poems and have made it through the first two books she published. In addition, I am reading her letters, One Art. So very good!
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbé. A classic in the realm of cycling memoirs. The opening is fabulous. It begins just before a race and you can really feel the tension and excitement.
  • The Republic of the Imagination by Azar Nafisi. I am about to begin on her close reading of Huckleberry Finn and I expect it will be good. Even if it isn’t, the introduction of this book is fantastic and is alone worth the price of admission. I plan on writing about that introduction soon because its themes have popped up in a few other places recently.
  • Still Time by Jean Hegland. I am enjoying this one very much. It is about a Shakespeare professor who has Alzheimer’s and is slowly losing his memory. Rich with Shakespeare quotes and references, celebratory, yet sad.
  • I am sorry to say I failed to finish reading The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. I have not intentionally dragged this one out so long. Hopefully September will see me getting to the end of it!
  • Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I am loving this book so much right now. I am reading it on my commute and at lunch and I have almost missed my stop a couple times and have been a tad late returning from lunch once or twice.
  • Oscar Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons. This is for a Library Journal review and is about the women in Wilde’s life who influenced him.

Phew, got all that?

Now, just arrived and about to arrive from the library, a number of books that I placed hold requests on at the beginning of the summer!

And speaking of the RIP Challenge, it’s on! This year it is being hosted by The Estella Society. And it is the ten-year anniversary of what has become an annual event for a good many people. Given that pile of in progress books I just listed, I am not certain how much creepy reading I will get in this year, but I will manage at least one book. It runs until October 31st, so maybe I will be able to slip in something else that’s short. You just never know!

Filed under: In Progress

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19. A Taste of Autumn

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

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

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

Crabby apples for jelly

Crabby apples for jelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: biking, gardening

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20. On Elizabeth Bishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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21. So Glad to Have You

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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22. Writing and Naming

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

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


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

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

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

Filed under: Library, Writing Tagged: James Patterson

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23. Seasonal Transition

Giant sunflower

Giant sunflower

It is season transition time! That means some days are like summer and some are like fall. The leaves on maples are beginning to change color already. The Canadian geese are flocking around the lakes for food and rest on their way south. The bees are very busy. The monarchs float through the garden. The crickets chirp almost 24-hours a day. The cicadas buzz in the heat of a warm afternoon. Days are noticeably shorter. Nights are cooler and mornings are on the verge of crisp. Some of the pumpkins in the garden are hinting at orange. On my bike rides I see masses of goldenrod with their feathery flowers turning yellow and bluestem grass flowering and starting to turn pink/red. The squirrels are frantically collecting their winter stores and digging holes everywhere to hide it in. And my allergies are raging beyond what my medication can control but I refuse to lock myself in the house and as a consequence have a near-constant sore throat, dry, itchy eyes, and swollen sinuses so I feel as though I am coming down with a cold even though I am not. But in a little over a month there will be a killing frost and it will be the end of the growing season and I will be both relieved and sad.

We have a sunflower in the garden that is 10 feet/3 m tall. The flower on top is ridiculously small given the plant’s height. It must have put all its energy into getting tall and not saved enough to make a big flower. We have a few shorter sunflowers in the garden and we are attempting again this year to save them from the squirrels so we can eat the seeds ourselves. One has a bag over the flowerhead already as the seeds grow and dry. We did this last year and it worked until we left it too long and an enterprising squirrel broke the flower stalk and ripped the bag apart and had itself a tasty meal. Not gonna let that happen this year!

The amaranth is going great. I had thought it would only get about 5 feet / 1.5 m tall

Awesome amaranth

Awesome amaranth

but some of them are about 7 feet/ 2 m tall. They are very beautiful plants. I looked up when and how to harvest the seeds and it should be pretty easy. Famous last words! But I also discovered the plant has a golden yellow variety too. So Bookman and I are thinking we will plant both read and yellow next year. The seeds are tiny and you can use them like flax seed or cook them like quinoa. Apparently they make a delicious breakfast porridge. The whole enterprise being an experiment this year, I am not certain how much seed we will get from our patch. Next year I will know to leave more room between each plant. Also, the young greens are reportedly very tasty and rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. According to one website I found, if you prune down the main stem for greens early in the season it will promote a somewhat shorter but much bushier plant that will produce more flowers. The greens are used like one would use Swiss chard. I also learned that amaranth is a nitrogen hog so next year, since the plants get so tall, I am going to try growing pole beans with them and see how that goes.

Brussels beginning to sprout

Brussels beginning to sprout

The summer has been cooler than usual this year which is fine by me, but it does present a problem for plants that need heat to ripen the fruit like tomatoes. We have loads of green tomatoes in the garden and so far have had only three cherry tomatoes get ripe enough to pick. The coming week is forecast to be downright hot, summer’s last hurrah. So my fingers are crossed that the heat is enough to get the tomatoes on their way to ripening. If not, I suppose Bookman will have to make some green tomato salsa or discover the pleasures of fried green tomatoes.

I picked the last of the yellow wax beans, a second effort from the plants that are now officially done. I also picked a couple of small yellow beets. When I say small, I mean small, they are about the size of a gobstopper, but I am happy about it nonetheless because they are the first beets I have ever pulled from the garden. Every gardener has the vegetable that she just can’t grow and it is always one that is so easy, according to everyone else, but for some reason it is not easy for her. Beets are my Achilles heel. Every year I plant them and they sprout and get a few inches tall but never really leafy and never any beetroots. That I have pulled two beets big enough to actually eat is a cause for celebration and makes me inordinately happy. Perhaps my beet luck is about to change!

We had a bald eagle visit the neighborhood yesterday. It is not uncommon to see them near

Aralia Racemosa

Aralia Racemosa

the lakes but they generally don’t fly around the neighborhood. It circled around low a few times, watching something, no doubt, though I don’t know what. All the crows in the vicinity were in an uproar and goodness can they make a loud racket! After circling around four or five times it gave up and left, much to the relief of the crows who quieted as soon as the eagle departed. Unfortunately I was too busy watching it to even think about trying to get a photo. Such a beautiful bird too!

Thursday the fence people came our and set the posts for out fence. Yay! This week they will come out and install the chainlink. Yay! Bookman and I are still working out all the materials we need for the chicken coop. It is taking longer than I thought but we are getting there!


My long ride yesterday was lovely. It was cool enough that I had to start the ride with arm warmers. I took them off about halfway through and was still a bit cool but it was also really humid and I was borderline warm with them on. So I figured better a little chilly than hot. It was foggy in a few places though not so foggy that it affected visibility. A very nice ride.

My friend who rides with me Saturday mornings for part of the way had a wasp fly into one of the vents of his helmet and sting his head! I’ve eaten my share of gnats, been smacked by bugs and other unknowns, have even been pooped on by a low flying crow, but I’ve never had anything fly into my helmet let alone sting me while riding. Luckily he isn’t allergic to wasps and while it hurt he was able to keep going and still enjoy the ride. Next weekend he is getting married so I will be on my own for the whole ride. The weekend after that is the Jesse James fun ride Bookman and I are signed up for. One of the perks is a chair massage at the end of the ride. I am not sure which I am looking forward to more, the ride itself or the massage at the end of it!

Filed under: biking, gardening

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24. Ms. Marvel, No Normal

cover artMs. Marvel Volume 1, No Normal by G. Willow Wilson (story) and Adrian Alphona (artist) made me giddy happy it was so much fun. I completely understand why it won a Hugo Award last week and I am very much looking forward to reading more of the story.

And about that story.

Kamala is sixteen and wishes she were someone else. Her family is Muslim and from Pakistan. She is not allowed to go to parties or go out on dates with boys. Her parents are liberal as far as they can be but even that is too strict for Kamala who wants to fit in and be like everyone else. She loves the Avengers and dreams of being Captain Marvel.

One of the popular girls at school invites her to a beach party and Kamala sneaks out of the house to go only to discover when she arrives that the point of her being there is to serve as the butt of jokes. She runs off and the city is overtaken by a mysterious mist. In the mist Kamala is visited by Iron Man, Captain America, and Captain Marvel. She is granted her wish to be Captain Marvel who tells her that things will not turn out the way she thinks they will.

And it’s true. As Kamala tries to figure out her new super powers and how to use them to help people she often misreads situations and causes more harm than good. But with the help of her best friends, Nakia and Bruno, Kamala learns a few important lessons about friendship, helping others, and being herself. The latter is of course the most important lesson of all because it isn’t until Kamala understands that she can’t be Captain Marvel but only ever herself, everything else comes together. And thus she becomes not Captain Marvel but Ms. Marvel.

By the end of the story she has made a daring rescue and gained a nemesis as well as been grounded by her parents. It’s hard to fight evil when you’re grounded, but I expect Kamala will figure it out.

I’ve never thought of myself as a comic kind of reader and while I enjoy The Avengers films and Agent Carter and Agents of Shield, I have not been especially interested in reading the comics. But Ms. Marvel while on the fringe of the superhero comic world, is her own story that is also outside of all the already known superhero stories. That to me makes it fresh and interesting especially because she is not your average kind of superhero. More fun and adventures ahead!

Filed under: Graphic Novels, Reviews

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25. Between You and Me

Get it?

Get it?

I believe it was Joan who prompted me to get myself in the library hold queue for Between You and Me by Mary Norris and I am glad I did! Norris has spent over thirty years as a copy editor for The New Yorker. She has stories! She also knows her grammar. Although she frequently recognizes that New Yorker style and the grammar everyone else uses don’t always align. And yes, she reports people being afraid her at parties, worried they are going to say something incorrect and that she will judge them. Norris insists she has no time or inclination for that malarky yet however reassuring she tries to be, there are some who can’t believe she isn’t silently ripping them to shreds.

A pity too because if she is anything in person like she is in her book, she has a great sense of humor. Though as a grammar geek she does have issues as anyone who is geeky about something will. Like the time she read Light Years by James Salter. She had been hearing about how good he is for a long time and finally decided to read one of his books. She loved it but was pulled up by one sentence, particularly a comma in that one sentence, that seemed to her unnecessary. It bugged her so much she wrote him a letter asking about it. Salter kindly wrote back to her and explained why he used a comma where he did and Norris was completely satisfied with his answer. How many of us would write an author about a comma?

The book is part memoir, part grammar lesson, and sprinkled with the occasional hint of annoyance over all the mistakes people make on a daily basis. There is an entire chapter on “you and I” versus “you and me” and why most of the time “you and me” is the correct usage. Another chapter discusses the problem of there being no gender non-specific pronoun in English that accounts for he and she, him and her, forcing people into terrible grammar contortions and even prompting many to suggest such near atrocities as “ne, nis, nim” or “shi, shis, shim” or “mef” or “hu.” She acknowledges most people have thrown in the towel and settled for “they” and “their” and while she can manage to not be too upset by “they,” “their” is completely unacceptable in her book.

Other things we learn are the correct usage of “which” and “that.” While I was reading it I felt I would never forget the rules but if you ask me right now I will mumble something about restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses and oh, I’m sorry, I have to go take this phone call. I know I get these mixed up all the time but it is hard to make myself care. Should I?

One of my favorite chapters is on dashes, semicolons, and colons. I love dashes and once, long ago, after reading all of Emily Dickinson’s poems over the course of a month, I became a dash maniac. I have since tempered my usage but —oh! — I love them so. I used to be terrified of semicolons and would do my best to avoid any sentence that might need one. But a few years ago I read something, I can’t remember what, that gave me the confidence to start using them. And once I began I decided I really like semicolons even if I am never actually certain whether I am using them correctly. In her chapter Norris does a marvelous analysis on how Henry James uses semicolons. You will not be surprised to know he is absolutely brilliant at it. I am shy about colons and will probably always remain so. I had a writing teacher once drill into my head that a colon was like a big neon sign and that if I ever used one, what came after it had better be good. I guess you could say my shyness of colons stems from a fear that I could never say anything good enough to justify a neon sign. Norris is more reassuring on the matter but I believe I have been scarred for life.

At times I felt like Norris comes across a teeny bit condescending and know-it-all. Perhaps given her position at the New Yorker she really does know it all, but no one likes that especially when it comes to grammar. She has a light, breezy style and is witty and funny, but sometimes her jokes fell flat with me, particularly in her chapter about profanity. However, Between You and Me is overall a fun and enjoyable book that includes some of the most pleasant grammar lessons I have ever had. I highly recommend it should you ever need something to fill an empty spot in your TBR pile.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, Writing Tagged: Grammar, Mary Norris

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