Friday, August 19, 2022

Books & Blooms

Thank you to everyone who left recommendations for books on my last post. I've already added many of them to my TBR list and I look forward to checking them out! As my last few months of pictures show, books and flowers are a major theme around these parts.

Flower farming was hot and heavy during July and the first half of August. There are several bits of wisdom passed among farmers about this time, all along the lines of "Never make decisions in August" and "Don't quit in August". It can be really hard to find the motivation to go outside in the 100 degree F + heat index to work, especially after being worn down by 6 months of planting, watering, harvesting, weeding, and shoveling. Luckily the heat and humidity broke last week and so my soul was somewhat restored. 

The garden below was a long time in the making. Last year I cut the border and tilled the grass up, then planted a cover crop which grew during the winter. In the spring, Jason weed whacked the cover crop down, then I covered the whole thing with plastic to help cook down some of the plant matter. After that I covered it all with cardboard and several inches of compost. Everything you see was grown from seed. I do cut flowers from this garden, but it's become the wild English cottage garden I dreamed of, and we can see it from the house which makes it extra rewarding.

In July I spent several long nights (out until 9pm or later) planted the cutting garden across the street. (The house surrounded by all the trees is ours, so that gives you an idea of the proximity.) It's now full of zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, and celosia. I'll share pictures soon, if it wasn't killed by the spraying of herbicide to kill everything else in that field this morning (I have feelings about this.)

The sunflower field really did look beautiful during peak flower. Sunflower fields are a THING now and they are popping up all over the place. I'm sure this is 75% the result of social media and people's desire to take photos. 

A view of the upstairs that I rarely show. The whole second floor of our house is just 2 rooms; this library/sitting room, and through the door is my office/craft room. Jason and I also keep our dressers here and each have a closet, and we use the bathroom. I suppose that the room that I use as an office was intended to be the primary bedroom, but it has 4 windows and 3 skylights and we'd rather sleep in the cave on the main floor. These two rooms are also mainly MINE and have decorated them however I want. (A Room of One's Own, and all that.) No toys allowed! Except for one pinata.

I visited my favorite Friends of the Library used bookstore recently (home of the danger section) and it was fabulous and fruitful as always. Most of these books are $3!

I even got a book from the danger section: The Sun is a Compass, which is about a couple who travel 4,000 miles by foot, ski, and boat through some very cold places. I can't wait; I can read about other people's physical discomfort without actually leaving my climate-controlled house! I'm also excited about all of the other books in this stack. I have read Big Magic before, but it's been awhile and I want to revisit the ideas. I have already finished The Principles of Uncertainty, which is packed full of paintings and is my favorite genre of book: hand-written

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was published in 2017 but is super-buzzy right now because of TikTok. (I think, obviously I had to Google why I was 254th on the holds list for a 5-year-old book.) It didn't turn out to be about what I thought it would be about (I won't spoil it!) It was a fun, fast-paced read, and I appreciated that the author didn't resort to twee endings. It was also a great example of how to make an unlikeable character likeable. I would definitely read more by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The Maid was another super-buzzy book. It turns out that the author ("Prose" is 100% a pen name) is a high-level exec for a major publishing company, so cynical me is sure that she really knew what she was doing promotion-wise. This ended up being a weird read for me. It had some fun bits, but I found the main character to be so inconsistent. She is supposed to be autistic (maybe, it never explicitly says), but she also seems painfully naïve. The main plot is a mystery, and then at the end the main character basically says, "Oh yeah I actually know who the killer is but I just haven't brought it up." UGH. Cheers to the author for trying to do something different, but in the end I don't think it worked.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Mid-Year Book Report

I don't know how this happened, but 2022 is already (more than) half over. In the first half of the year I finished 39 books. Instead of waiting until the year is over and doing one massive update, I'm breaking it into two parts to make it a little more manageable.

Book ratings are completely arbitrary, so I want to clarify that I rate based on how much I personally liked the book, not on it's objective merit. Something that I rate as a three might have been a five for you, and that's totally fine! 

  • 5: A book I will remember in years to come; unique in some way
  • 4: I really enjoyed the book, but it's not a complete standout
  • 3: It was fine, not bad but not great. Entertaining and filled the time.
  • 2: Ugh. I was able to finish it, but I didn't like it.
  • 1: Doesn't exist, because if something is one star, I won't finish it

Some of these I have already written about on this here blog, and some I likely won't mention at all. Many of these were consumed in audio format; I love listening to books while I'm out gardening or working on flower stuff in my fancy studio (i.e., the basement). My favorite types of audiobooks are memoirs read by the author. 

Nearly everything on my 5-star list is nonfiction. I have yet to completely figure out why this is; maybe I have unrealistic expectations for fiction? I also tend to learn new things and ideas through nonfiction, which makes those books memorable. A lot of fiction genres, like mystery, thriller, and WWII historical fiction, can be formulaic. This is good when I just want an easy comfort read. But looking back on my Goodreads "read" shelf, I can't remember what most of those books were about.

Some genres missing from this list are science fiction and fantasy. Over the years I have had many of these books recommended, and readers of epic fantasies tend to LOVE them... I have tried, dear readers, but I just cannot. do. it. I am too literal to read about made-up worlds and magic. Dystopian fiction I like, because most of the time it seems all too plausible. For some reason I also like time travel, but maybe it's the historical aspect that makes it seem less made up.

5 Stars

  • Miss Benson's Beetle - Rachel Joyce
    • Unique premise and entertaining characters
  • Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life - Anne Lamott
    • Funny with great advice
  • Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home - Charlie Warzel, Anne Helen Petersen
    • Academic writing but thought provoking ideas
  • What Fresh Hell is This?: Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You - Heather Corinna
    • I'm not there yet, but this was a good way to know what's coming
  • Beautiful Country - Qian Julie Wang
    • Fascinating memoir of growing up undocumented in New York City in the 90s
  • Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer
    • Engaging story told well
  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death - Maggie O'Farrell
    • Unique structure for a memoir and gorgeous writing
  • I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir - Malaka Gharib
    • Another insightful graphic memoir, with a cute drawing style
  • The Man Who Died Twice - Richard Osman
    • Hilarious, even better than the first in the series
  • These Precious Days: Essays - Ann Patchett
    • Insightful and fabulous writing
  • A Very Punchable Face - Colin Jost
    • I literally laughed out loud multiple times

4 Stars

  • The Guide - Peter Heller
    • Amazing writing and sense of place, plot took a weird turn
  • Hao: Stories - Ye Chun
    • Lyrical, how short stories should be done
  • They Called Us Enemy - George Takei, Justin Eisinger, et. al.
    • Memoir of a terrible time in the US
  • Snowblind - Ragnar Jonasson
    • Mystery was not that interesting, but really great sense of place (brrr)
  • The Mercies - Kiran Millwood Hargrave
    • Time period and location that is not often covered in historical fiction
  • The Son of the House - Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia
    • Interesting structure, legitimate twist, setting and culture not common in western literature
  • The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman
    • Funny mystery with likeable, quirky characters
  • The Diamond Eye - Kate Quinn
    • First half was better than the first, engaging take on actual events
  • Ten Steps to Nanette - Hannah Gadsby
    • Well written, funny, vulnerable
  • Japanese Notebooks - Igort
    • Art was amazing and skillful
  • Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Live Interrupted - Suleika Jaouad
    • Good writing, lots of insight into what it's like to have cancer as a young adult

3 Stars

  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House - Cherie Jones
    • Interesting setting but otherwise kind of slow
  • Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports - John Branch
    • Some articles were amazing, but there was very little editing leading to lots of repetition
  • The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah
    • Too long, too much romance, but the setting is good
  • Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie - Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, et. al.
    • Too short and condensed, jumpy
  • Northern Spy - Flynn Berry
    • 3 stars for getting to listen to an Irish accent
  • Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life - Steve Martin
    • I love Steve Martin, but this was boring and not funny
  • Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness - Kristen Radtke
    • Could have gone deeper
  • Ex Libris - Matt Madden
    • Graphic novel meta-fiction. A little weird.
  • Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris
    • I read this a few months ago but I can't remember what it was about
  • A Dying Fall - Elly Griffiths
    • Mystery comfort read
  • The Alice Network - Kate Quinn
    • Another women WWII novel, it was fine but nothing special
  • How to Stop Time - Matt Haig
    • Interesting premise brought down by a boring plot
  • Book Lovers - Emily Henry
    • How much witty banter is too much witty banter? How many italics for emphasis are too many italics for emphasis?

2 Stars

  • The Practice: Shipping Creative Work - Seth Godin
    • Just random blog posts with no overarching message
  • The Bat - Jo Nesbo
    • Dated, slightly offensive, bad detective
  • A Rule Against Murder - Louise Penny
    • The murder method was completely implausible
  • We Are All the Same in the Dark - Julia Heaberlin
    • Sooooooo slllloooooowwwwww

Tell me, what fiction book blew you away? I dream of a long, engaging, plot driven, well-written book that tells a unique story. Some books that I have loved in the past were The Poisonwood Bible, Fates and Furies, The Secret History, Someone Knows My Name, All the Light We Cannot See, and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. If you have a recommendation, please share!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Just Past the Solstice

It's high summer and flowers are a big part of my life right now, so it follows that most of the pictures I take are of flowers. Hopefully at least some of you are here for this thrilling content! The hotter weather led to most of the heat-loving flowers taking off, like sunflowers and zinnias. That same weather likely led to the worst bug season I have yet experienced. My snapdragons got infested with thrips, which I had never seen before, but there are thousands of them and they crawl inside of the flowers where I can't get them out. Having to throw out a whole crop of flowers was pretty demoralizing, but that's what happens when nature is in charge. The Japanese beetles have been terrible this year as well, stripping raspberry and zinnia foliage. There is even a mysterious tiny beetle that has been eating the zinnia flowers as well. 

No real story to the picture below, other than I was sitting in a chair reading and noticed how clean, light and put-together this corner looked.

Because this is the usual state of the living room. 

We went on "vacation" a few weeks ago to a lake in Virginia. The whole family stayed in one house: 8 adults and 7 kids aged from 1-8. The kids were living the dream while the adults took on a rotation of support roles such as accompanying children back and forth to the house to use the bathroom, change clothes, and get food; sunscreen applier; cook; cleaner; and negotiator. 

I went on a few very brief kayak runs and swam for a few minutes, but next time I will work harder to go out early or late to kayak. Fun fact: This lake is man made and exists only for the purpose of cooling a nuclear power plant. It's fine, I guess. I'm pretty sure the government would never lie about that.

Books, lately. I was so excited to read How to Stop Time because I generally love time-travel and immortals. The idea that someone could experience hundreds of years of history is fascinating. The premise of this book is that there are some people who age extraordinarily slowly, allowing them to live up to a thousand years. With that premise, I couldn't imagine this book would be boring, but it was. The main character spends most of the book pining over his first love who died over 300 years ago. I liked The Midnight Library better, and I still want to check out some of Matt Haig's nonfiction.

I had already read several stories in These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, but I still loved it. I have read some of her fiction before, but I think I prefer her non-fiction. I'm in a little bit of a reading slump right now and I found the ticket out to usually be short stories, essays, or short books in general. 

I don't buy a lot of books, and particularly not new books, but for my birthday earlier this year I bought myself The Flower Hunter by Lucy Hunter. This books is GORGEOUS. Lucy Hunter is truly an artist, using flowers as her medium. Every page is beautiful and inspiring. I haven't done too much with flower arranging yet and I'm excited to try.

This post has been sitting in draft for over a week, so it's a tad light, but so be it! For some reason having a full time job and a part time job kind of takes up a lot of time. I hope you all are enjoying the warm weather (if you're in the northern hemisphere) and are spending lots of time outside!

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Leaving the House

This is a flower blog now, so let's start off with that! More flowers grew, I picked them. There's always a moment in May or June when I look at the tiny plants and say, "This is useless, these dumb plants will never do anything!" But a few weeks later I have to eat my words because they showed me. In fact I think they get some sort of complex and grow extra fast just to spite me.

In other news: I left the house and did a thing! Remember how for years we couldn't do anything? Well, I packed up my water bottle and granola bar and headed over to a local book festival. It was sweltering hot that day, but I didn't even care. I browsed booths, bought some used books I definitely did not need, and saw two authors speak. The first was Stacie Murphy, author of The Unquiet Dead. I had never heard of her before, but I love to hear authors speak even if I haven't read their work. The other speaker was B.A. Shapiro, talking about her latest book Metropolis; I hadn't read that book either, but I loved her previous novel The Art Forger. I loved the contrast between these two women; one had never written much before at all, and the other (Shapiro) wrote five books that were rejected before she had her first published. I have never been a fiction writer so it all seems like magic to me.

Now that it's summer, we got out for our first hike of the year. "Hike" meaning just a walk that goes through the woods, it's less than a mile to this little creek. Both kids covered their shoes in mud and stepped in the water multiple times. Cora played with the mud like she was on an actual sandy beach. I'll take them back here with bathing suits and I'm sure they'll be in heaven. And also covered in mud.

I left the house a second time last week, for a sad reason. My cousin Scott (pictured above with my sister on a hike they did years ago) passed away from cancer. Cancer is shitty and it took him away too soon, and too fast. Scott and I never lived in the same area, but I loved watching his travels and adventures all over the world. When he was in his early 40s, he left his job and spent 3 years exploring, which is something a lot of us dream about, but never do. He actually did it! He was also just a really nice guy and probably the best knitting recipient I have ever known. I made him several hats over the years, and not only did he wear them, at least one traveled to a mountain in South America! So what I'm saying is, don't wait. Book that trip, do that thing, and wear your knitted gifts with pride.

My sister and I met in Illinois to attend the funeral and visit family. We got up early one morning and hiked at Starved Rock State Park, which, unbeknownst to me, was the site of some famous murders. Oh great. It turned out to be peaceful and beautiful, with perfect weather. I was not expecting this in the middle of Illinois. I love waterfalls and always seek them out while hiking, so this was a nice surprise during what was otherwise an emotional few days. Everyone, go outside. You'll feel better.

In reading, after my awful experience with The Bat, I went back to a series I know I like, the Ruth Galloway series. A Dying Fall is maybe the fifth book? Thinking back on it, I hardly remember what it was about, and that's fine. With these types of mystery series, I read mostly for familiarity and comfort, and to spend time with characters I like. Although I really wish this author would stop referring to Ruth's weight constantly, because who cares.

I finished several more books after that, but most of them were meh. Maybe I'm in a slump? The best of the bunch was Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby - maybe you saw her Netflix special. It's a given that this book was hilarious, but she is also very candid about the terrible things she went through in her life. I listened to it on audio and I very much recommend that format. Plus you get to listen to a cute Australian accent!

Off to find some better books...

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Merry Month of May

Tulip season came and went, fast and furious. When tulips are ready to be picked, they are ready, kind of like avocados. If they stay outside too long in the heat, they'll blown open in the sunshine which negatively affects their vase life. So at times, I was harvesting tulips 3 times a day. They're kind of a pain in that way but oh, I love them! They come in almost every color, and there are many fancy types with fringe, multiple petals, and stripes. I planted about 460 this year and I'm trying to decide if I can handle 700 next year.

After tulips, things calmed down a bit, but then it was time to put in all the seedlings. I've planted between 600-700 seedlings which (not surprisingly) is hard physical labor. I forgot that I am 40 and not 20, and kneeling, squatting, and bending might not be as easily shrugged off as it once was. It will all pay off in a few months when I'm questioning my sanity. By that point I'm sure the weather will have "improved" to 90+ degrees and 100% humidity. 

It has not been a nice spring, weather-wise. It has been cold and gray and wet; and then immediately it's warmed up to what is supposed to be a 105-degree heat index tomorrow. I'd rather be hot than cold  though, so I don't mind. 


As soon as the weather warms up, I find that I want to read summery, lighter books. I always return to mystery series around now, with some thrillers and modern romance sprinkled in. One of my favorite things in the world is sitting outside in my hammock chair reading as the sun goes down. Here's a few books I finished lately:

The Bat is the first book in the Harry Hole series. The Snowman is one of the more well-known titles, but I always like to start series at the beginning and read them in order. Apparently this was a mistake in this case, as the books are supposed to drastically improve after the first few. I'll say it: this book was bad. Don't read it. The main detective is extremely bad at his job and there's homo/transphobia at the core. The only reason I finished it was because I wanted to know who the murderer was.

After that bad reading experience, I immediately checked out The Man Who Died Twice, which is the next book in the Thursday Murder Club series. (Right now there are only two, with the third coming out later this year.) I loved this book even more than the first! It's funny, the characters are all unique and developed, and Richard Osman has such a talent for writing that I hope he lives forever and writes 1000 books.

I picked up The Diamond Eye on a whim, since I've heard good things about Kate Quinn. The book is about the real Mila Pavlichenko, a female Russian sniper during World War II who killed over 309 enemy soldiers. It was fascinating, and shocking, and sad to read how a "regular" young mother could go from historian to sniper, but that's what war does. The first half of the book is about her time in combat, and the second half focuses on Mila's tour of America and friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt (also true!) The second half was not as interesting to me and was a little slower, but overall it was a good read. There are also some photos in the back of the real people in the book, which were pretty heartbreaking.

How about you - does your reading change with the seasons?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Flowering

Some people think that gardeners are born with a "green thumb", a natural ability to make plants grow. I'll let you in on a secret: gardening is 10% research, 60% physical labor, and 30% crossing your fingers and hoping things work out. Getting to see the actual flowers is the reward for many months of mud and hope. And the flowers have arrived!

Last fall I planted 456 tulip bulbs and 90 daffodils. For the purposes of cut flowers, a tulip is only good once; you pull up the whole bulb when harvesting, and that's it. It seems a little harsh to the poor plant, but once you cut off the flower and the leaves, there's nothing to feed the bulb for the next season and it may never flower again. Daffodils do multiply over time though, so I should have more and more every year with no effort at all! What you see below is a double daffodil, which are much more rare to find in grocery store floral departments, so I'll definitely be doubling up (see what I did there) on those next year.

I didn't have my flower stand ready in time to sell most of the daffodils this year, but the tulips are coming in fast and furious and I'm opening up tomorrow! I intentionally am not linking to my business here because the website contains my address and full name, and I don't want any weird people lurking around here. BUT if you are interested and I know you're a legit person, let me know below and I'll contact you through your blog or your email if you want to leave it.

This desk is actually my virtual meeting background, so I put these flowers here to strategically distract from a tense presentation I gave to 100+ people this week. I think they worked because no one asked me any hard questions. My art desk in general is sadly neglected these days. I keep an art journal open in case I have a few minutes to stop over and work, but things tend to stay unfinished for a long time. 

In other farming news I had a huge pile of leaf compost delivered last week. The backyard is fenced, so I need to shovel and haul it one load at a time onto the beds. The new garden is now ready to go. I'm excited to get my blowtorch out again and burn holes in more landscape fabric. I will not be doing this on a windy day like I did the first time, which resulted in me having to relight the torch after almost every. single. one. of the 155 holes.

This may have been one of my longest knitting-free periods... ever? Because I've been crocheting instead! All of the yarn I'm using, besides the black, is leftover from other projects. I finally decided not to keep saving it for some future unknown project and just use it up. I did absolutely no planning for this, so I'm just randomly choosing colors and I guess I'll just keep going around and around until I decide I'm done. I think this would make an excellent children's book: a woman keeps crocheting the same blanket until it gets bigger and bigger, swallowing her house, her neighbors... etc. You can have my idea if you want to write it!

I've now finished 21 books this year. I have been a lot better about quitting books I'm not into, so even though I probably won't match my total from last year, I see that as an improvement. I really enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club, which is about a group of amateur investigators in a retirement home who end up involved a real murder. The writing was quite funny and I loved the backstories and personalities of the main characters. (Trigger warning for multiple suicides, though.)

I also finished Maggie O'Farrell's I Am, I Am, I Am on audio. It blew me away! I usually like every memoir I read, but the writing was top-notch. The book focuses on "17 brushes with death" which was a unique take on the standard memoir. It made me immediately go and check out another book of hers. 

I hope you're getting at least a hint of spring where you are!