Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Read in June 2023

I'm happy to report I'm back on track after a disappointing reading month in May. I finished a book that took me four months to read, but I think is going to be one of my life-long favorites: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I'm always hesitant to make such declarations, because someone might read a book I loved and not like it (and this one is an investment at 600 pages). However, it came around at the exact right time for me and I did not want it to end. East of Eden is loosely based on the store of Cain and Abel, and has some other biblical themes sprinkled throughout, but it's not heavy-handed. The story spans multiple generations of the Trask family, from late 1800s New England to WWI era California. It doesn't take long to become invested in the characters, and even root for the evil ones. Steinbeck is an excellent writer and I particularly enjoyed the touches of humor. It's a the perfect mix between readable but also slightly challenging. (I found this spoof of the book with Penn Badgely and it's pretty funny - but not accurate to the story.)

The other fiction I read / listened to were:
  • Village School by Miss Read: This is the first in an extensive series, begun in 1955, following the events of small town in England. It's so calm and heartwarming - school races, choir concerts, and trips to the sea. Nothing dramatic or terrible happens. Just Google a picture of Dora Saint, the author. This woman should be everyone's grandmother.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell: After reading I Am, I Am, I Am and The Marriage Portrait last year, I want to read everything that O'Farrell has written. Hamnet is written in the same style as The Marriage Portrait, which I really loved but opinions differ, I hear. Hamnet is Shakespeare's son, who died at a young age. The book mostly focuses on Shakepeare's wife, Agnes, who O'Farrell portrays as unconventional for the time, connected to nature. I liked The Marriage Portrait more, but this was still a solid 4 stars.
  • The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf: In the summer I love to listen to thrillers, which match the relaxed (haha) feel of the season, and don't require a lot of attention as I garden or put together flower bouquets. This story of a woman writing a book alone in a cabin, trapped in a snowstorm, seemed promising. During the storm, she discovers a nearly-frozen child in the snow, who she takes back into the warmth of her home. The storyline is connected to tragic events of the past, and the two stories come together at the end. I figured out what was going on pretty early though so it wasn't as suspenseful as I hoped. So, I went on to:
  • The Last Word by Taylor Adams: A woman housesitting at a remote beach house leaves a 1-star review of a book online, and after getting into an internet fight with the author, strange things start happening. Yep, another book about a woman alone in a house in a remote location! This one really fit the bill though and I enjoyed it. The suspense kept going throughout the entire book, and there was an unexpected vein of humor that made this stand out among many similar thrillers. I will definitely read more by this author.
  • A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini: Hosseini is also the author of The Kite Runner which was THE book back in 2003, which I never got around to reading. (I will soon!) I was looking for a short audiobook and this book came up, and I'm glad it did. It is the story of two women who are thrown together in Afghanistan through sad circumstances. I learned a lot about the politics of the country, and the strong friendship portrayed between the two women was top-notch. I love stories of women helping each other - but heads up, this book is sad.
  • Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh: I'm normally not a fan of literary fiction, but I went against my instincts and picked this up because the premise seemed so promising. It's based on the true story of a mass poisoning of a French town in the 1950s. However, when I had 45 minutes left the audiobook left and no poisoning had yet occurred, I felt misled. It's really the very odd story of two women, the baker's wife and the ambassador's wife. I appreciated the writing but the story was just too creepy and weird to me.
I also sprinkled in some nonfiction, which were:
  • All the Beauty in the World by Patrick Bringley: Having worked in two museums, I was so excited to read this book by a former guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The book is a mix between stories of interactions with visitors and other guards, and deep-dives into certain works of art. I absolutely loved the behind-the-scenes glimpses, and Bringley has a real reverence for art that can only come from a decade of looking at it intensely.
  • Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City by Guy Delisle: I've now read all of Delisle's graphic memoirs, and they all have the thread of being judgmental of the culture he's in. I did like the explanations of what is going on in Israel/Palestine, because I didn't know too much about it, but Delisle still has an attitude of "these people are ridiculous, I can't wait to leave." In this book he shares the story of teaching a comics class to a group of Muslims, and then being annoyed when after showing them a comic containing naked people, they walk out. It's surprising that someone who has traveled so extensively has so little cultural sensitivity, but here we are.
  • On Writing by Stephen King: In general I have always liked King's writing, but this book, written over 20 years ago, really made him seem like a jerk. Which is weird because he wrote it. There are some good tibits of writing advice in here, but it's overshadowed by his critique of other authors' writing; he even names names. Insulting others serves no purpose here, other than to make King seem cocky. Skip this and read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott instead.
I have so far checked off five books from my Summer TBR, and didn't finish one. I think Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is likely an objectively good book, but after 50 pages it was not clicking with me, so I returned it to the library. It is about a friendship between two girls in the lower castes in India, so if that's a subject that interests you and you read it, please report back if you liked it! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

June Bugs

It has been an excellent fruit summer. I've spent the past 5 years working on a raspberry hedge and this year it has paid off with dozens and dozens of raspberries that can't be eaten before they overripen and drop off. The season seems to be extra long with a crop lasting several weeks. Having a ready snack when I'm out working in the yard may be one of the best things in life.

The girls and I went blueberry and cherry picking, which we haven't done in many years because of my annoyance with our local farm. It's only 5 minutes from the house, but they have changed their model so drastically that it's clear that they exist only for entertainment. In addition to having to make reservations in advance (which usually sell out), you have to pay an admission fee, a service fee, and can only use their containers when picking. Ten years ago I used to go there, without fees, and fill up buckets with strawberries, blueberries, and cherries to freeze and can. This year, I spent $42 on two pints of blueberries and two pints of sour cherries. It seems like most people go here so they can take pictures of their babies in the orchard, which is fine, but in catering only to this audience they've left out the people who want to pick 15 pounds of fruit. Obviously the solution is for me to start my own orchard, in my free time.

Like many others on the East coast, we had lingering smoke from the Canadian wildfires for many days in June. It's difficult to capture in a picture, but you can see the haze in the background. Recess and sports were cancelled when the air quality reached hazardous levels. I hope for everyone's sake the fires are out soon!

By the end of June, all of my plants go from neat and tidy seedlings to giant bushes overflowing with flowers. Oh, and so do the weeds. Last year I had 5 subscribers to my flower CSA, and this year I have 18. Every few days I am cutting buckets of blooms and making bouquets. I've come to recognize that the warmer half of the year is a series of microseasons, where every two weeks or so different flowers and bugs peak. 

Freshly weeded: three weeks later the weeds had taken over and it was time to weed again. My favorite tool for this job is a stirrup hoe: no bending over! Using it gives me active minutes on my Fitbit, so it's basically working out. I've contemplated putting down mulch in the paths, but I worry that it might just make weeding more difficult. I also like to strip stems as I go, dropping the leaves in the paths. They either compost there or I rake them up later. Having mulch in the paths would probably make this process messier.

I filled the biggest order I've ever had, 15 bouquets for teachers at an elementary school. I was white-knuckling it hoping I would have enough flowers. Harvesting and putting all these bouquets together resulted in several late nights that I am glad to have in my past.

See how the flowers in the photo above and in the one below are completely different? Again, a 2-week microseason. This is the coolest and most rewarding part of growing flowers: getting to grow and introduce to people the incredible variety when you buy local. Grocery store flowers are the same year round because they are grown in greenhouses under controlled conditions and shipped very long distances. The varieties are always the same, because those are the ones that ship well. 

It's not all overflowing buckets of perfect flowers - thrips have been my #1 enemy both last year and this one. I have not been able to stop them no matter what I've tried (which hasn't been much because I draw the line at non-organic pesticides). They are primarily on my snapdragons, which is heartbreaking because they are such a great long-lasting flower. They seem to be attracted to the lighter colored flowers, so next year I'm only going to grow red, purple, and other dark colors. If anyone has a successful thrip remedy, please let me know!

So one day I was in my office working, when this florist shop van stopped on the street right in front of the house, and proceeded to sit there for a really long time. Doesn't the driver look shady? Were they checking out the competition? This is a long, straight street, and there really isn't a reason why someone would park here. Sketchy! (Do people say sketchy anymore? I was born in the 80s after all.)

As all parents of school-age children know, May and June are packed with year-end events. Cora had her preschool graduation (some kids knew the song they performed and some just looked confused, as expected for five year olds.) She also had her dance recital, which to be honest, was brutal. Her class performed second out of 39 performances. They hold the children hostage until the end so we were forced to watch 37 more amateur dance performances by children we had no connection to. Also, I'm no prude but some of the costumes worn by preteens and teenagers were shocking. And the dance moves they were doing - yikes.

The previously mentioned orchard also has these big slides. Once, as an adult, I went down one. Worst decision of my life. See all the ridges? I felt like I had just slid down a cheese grater.

Life Off Headset will recognize the two above photos immediately :) We went to The Kennedy Center to see The Lion King musical, and it was fabulous. I'm not a big musical person, but I do love live performances and the costumes, dance, and acting were as amazing as you've heard. Since I'm pretty grumbly in this post, I am also going to grumble about the people who were using their cell phones during the show. We all paid a lot of money to see this show, and for a lot of us it will be the only time we see it our lives, and yet some people just HAD to Google things at that exact moment. The ushers came around and told people not to do it, but that wasn't always effective.

The puzzle of the month was another thrift store find, isn't it cute?

I'd love a relaxed, quiet summer, but that isn't how it goes these days. Coming up are more camps, vacations, events, all requiring planning and disruption of routine. At least there are no snow outfits to deal with.