Friday, March 31, 2023

Spring Has Sprung

After a difficult February, I'm happy to say that March was a big improvement. We continue to have warmer than usual temperatures, which has led to early spring flowers. The pace of spring is like a ripening avocado: nothing, nothing, nothing, BAM! After long, dark winter days it seems that my to-do list has exploded. The garden is ready to be cleaned up, there are sticks all over the yard (OH THE STICKS), and of course all the flowers need to be started and tended to.

The daffodils were quite early this year. In some places they were blooming February! For some reason they don't sell well. Are there people who don't like daffodils? Maybe it's just because they are so ubiquitous and seemingly in everyone's yard already. I have some specialty types that I think are really cool, but maybe that's just me, the flower nerd.

I'm in full seed-starting mode. It has been wonderful to have records from last year, so I know when to start each variety. I also have a process down which has increased my efficiency and reduced the overall amount of stress. I don't find it necessary to plan down to the specific number of each plant, instead I make sure my trays are always full and find random spots to stick each seedling. I know some will die, and I know I need to have the next round ready to go when the previous succession is finished. That being said, I think 128 snapdragons was a tad ambitious.

Even though the daffodils have bloomed and the trees are flowering, there still aren't any leaves on the trees. It's still a bit bleak out there, but in a few weeks it will be creeping towards glorious summer once again. I'm sure the person responsible for lawn mowing in this family (not me) is not looking forward to that, but for me the warm weather and sunny days is worth all the extra gardening.

Even the puzzles are flowering. There was a missing piece though - arrgh! We use a framed blackboard as a puzzle board, which is great because it contains the loose pieces. I also have a piece of foam board that fits over the top to prevent cat tampering. The downside is that it's not quite large enough for most 1000-piece puzzles, so if anyone has another solution I'm all ears.

The living room looks like this most of the day. It's why we haven't bought a new couch. It's a fort and a cat scratching post, so it seems silly to spend thousands of dollars on a new one at this point in our lives. Honestly why do we have furniture at all, let's just throw a bunch of pillows on the floor and call it a day.

My new thing for the month was a visit to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I have been wanting to visit for over a decade, and it did not disappoint. "Outsider" and folk art is my favorite type of art; I love the idea of people making art because they feel driven to, not as part of the official canon. Usually the wall text at art museums is a bit dry and full of facts. At this museum, the biographies of artists and explanations of the art were so fun to read, I probably spent just as much time reading as I did looking.

This photo is the side of the museum - the building itself is a work of art. This museum is so inspiring because it drives home the fact that anyone can make art. You don't have to sell it, or be good at it, or even show it to anyone. If you want to make a replica of a ship out of hundreds of thousands of toothpicks, go for it. If you want to decorate every door in your house, why not? We are meant to live with art and be surrounded by it. 

April brings the craziness of tulip season (I have over 800 planted which will need to be harvested 2-3 times a day when they get going) and the planting of many more seedlings. Plus, I have to start going back into the office two days a week, which is at least at 45-minute commute each way. I have gotten so used to working from home over the past three years that it seems ridiculous to have to go back when we have managed just fine for so long. I'm guessing most of my day will consist of being in virtual meetings while sitting at "my" desk (my in quotes because no one has an assigned desk anymore). The only benefit is that I can listen to audiobooks while commuting.

Happy spring to those of you in warmer climates, and if it's still snowing where you live, hang in there! It will end eventually and you'll see green again soon.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Read in February 2023

My first finish of the month was Kurashi at Home: How to Organize Your Space and Achieve Your Ideal Life by Marie Kondo. I've read all of her previous books, and despite the sometimes woo-woo suggestions of thanking your items for their service, I really like her approach to decluttering. She doesn't tell everyone to get rid of all their stuff, but rather curate your home to only contain items that you love. For some people, that's more items than others. A lot of the content of this book was a repeat from her earlier writing, but I enjoyed the format with pictures and additional sections on constructing your idea morning and days. The promise of "achieving your ideal life" seems a little bit much though. 

I really should have given up on reading Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. After reading and loving The Shell Seekers last year, I was excited to pick up all of Pilcher's other books. While Winter Solstice did have some cozy moments and settings, the premise was depressing and not much happens. There's a lot of question-and-answer type dialogue. I wasn't invested in any of the characters and I stalled out after a few hundred pages. I had bought a copy of the book though, and a part of me thought I was wasting my money if I didn't finish it, even though it was a slog. (One reason to buy fewer books!) I've heard September and Coming Home are better though, so fingers crossed I can recapture some Pilcher magic with those.

The Secret, Book, & Scone Society by Ellery Adams was recommended by a friend, and it turned out to be a cute cozy mystery. The main setting is a bookshop, with lots of mentions of baked goods, so it's hard to go wrong. The bookshop owner even lives in a train carriage tiny house! The mystery was a little silly as usual in this genre, but it was a fun read in general and I look forward to revisiting this series.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl was a random find at a library book sale last year. I'm trying to read more books that I own, and I picked this up because it was under 200 pages. The first part of the book is about Frankl's experience in concentration camps during the Holocaust. His account is horrifying, but takes a slightly different approach than other first-hand accounts of this time because of his background as a psychologist. He shares a lot about the mental state of concentration camp prisoners, which was something I hadn't heard a lot about. The first part of this book is definitely worth reading; the second half is about his psychological technique called "logotherapy" and wow, this all flew above my head. I'm sure if I had read it slowly and taken notes like I was in a college class, I could have figured it out. But it was way too academic for leisure reading, and I didn't get much out of it.

I was an early adopter of Goodreads, so I have things on my TBR shelf from 2008 - yes, the 2008 that was 15 years ago! At the beginning of the year I decided to either read these books or take them off my list by the end of the year. Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado and Vince Rause was terrifying and amazing. This is the story of the plane crash that occurred in the early 1970s that was the inspiration behind the move Alive. A rugby team, friends, and family crashes in the mountains, and initially there are a good amount of survivors. Searches called off and surrounded by snowy mountains, there is absolutely nothing to eat, so they quickly resort to cannibalism to survive. After nearly 10 weeks two survivors (one being the author) manage to traverse a 17,000 foot mountain and 45 miles of rugged terrain, with no supplies, to find help. I read a lot of survival memoirs, but this was HARROWING. It's one of the most awful situations I can imagine a person being in. This book gets five stars, but I only recommend it if it's something you can mentally handle.

The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni is the fourth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, and my favorite so far. A crab fisherman snags a crab pot that contains the body of a dead woman. There were lots of twists and turns as Tracy and the other investigators try to identify her and what happened. I highly recommend this whole series if you're looking for a police procedural/mystery with great characters.

Last year I read Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller and absolutely loved her writing style. Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller was my next read of hers, and while I didn't like it as much as Swimming Lessons, there was a lot to love. First of all, however, this book is not a "twisty page turner" as the blurb on the cover claims. The pacing is quite slow and I can see how that may put some people off. As expected the writing is gorgeous and the sense of place is particularly strong. I was transported to a falling-down mansion in the sweltering summer in England. The story definitely had gothic overtones. If you're looking for a slow, atmospheric read that will transport you, you'll enjoy this one.

I also had one DNF (did not finish): Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I really wanted to read more educational nonfiction this year, but honestly I was just bored. I also question the credentials of the author, who has a doctorate in philosophy, not anthropology or biology. There was one section early on where he argues that the agricultural revolution was a bad thing because it brought too many people together to spread disease. He claims that being a hunter/gather was actually better, and even though life expectancy was around 30, that's actually skewed because so many children died, bringing down the average. Uh, not convincing me. I'll take my living children and gardens, thanks.