Friday, June 2, 2023

May Happenings

May was a lovely month. The weather has warmed up and the trees have leafed out, perfect to start our outdoor season. There is a trailhead about five minutes away that leads to a stream perfect for throwing rocks into. Has the pollen been terrible for you too? I'd love to spend even more time outside, but the yellow stuff is everywhere! It doesn't help that we've had a very dry spring, with no rain to wash things clean again.

I am lucky enough to live only 30 minutes away from where the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival is held, which is one of the largest such festivals in the country. I've been going on and off since 2005, but it's been a while since I was able to attend, with all that pandemic nonsense. I went by myself, as the crowds are so insane, trying to keep track of small children eliminates any ability to shop. The people watching is also great, with knitters showing off their creations and others bringing their most interesting outfits.

Ok I realize the below highlights the row of toilets, but also, look at the crowd!

I didn't buy too much because I don't knit as much as I used to. The gradient packs from Fiber Optic Yarns sucked me in, as did the colors from Into The Whirled. I've bought from both companies before and been very happy with my purchases. The small basket was handwoven by the sweetest lady (who really needs to charge more - the basket was only $8!) The zippered pouch I got for free for signing up for a mailing list; I was shocked when she handed it to me. I was expecting the "free gift" to be a sticker or something small. It's from Cottontail Farm. I wish I had bought more than one skein of the fingering weight yarn, because I really don't need more socks and have been wanting to make a summery top. (Let me know if you have recommendations!)

I am firmly into flower season, harvesting several times a week. The busyness of spring is waning, since I have almost my entire space planted. I'll still need to start more plants for my fall crop, but for now it's mostly just watering and tending to what is already there. I've been having a war with a family of rabbits - despite multiple types of deterrent and a fence, they still outsmart me. Next year I will likely have to invest in a more solid chicken wire fence, because they have really been enjoying eating the tops off the young delicious seedlings.

It's crazy that I actually managed to go to TWO festivals by myself in one month, but I did! The second was the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which is a local event featuring a surprising amount of well-known authors. I find it so interesting to hear authors talk about their work, even if I haven't read (or even heard of) their books before. The first talk I attended was by Ari Shapiro (you may have heard him on NPR's All Things Considered). Seeing a person after only hearing them speak before is jarring. I did not expect him to look like this at all! He even acknowledged it, saying "Isn't it weird to hear my voice coming out of a stranger?" He was a hilarious and engaging presenter, and now I definitely want to read his book. [Note to publishers: book tours work!]

The author I most wanted to see was Anthony Marra, author of one of my favorite books, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. His newest book is Mercury Pictures Presents, about Hollywood in the 1940s. Isn't it odd that authors are actual, real people? He co-presented with Barbara Mujica, who also recently published a book, Miss Del Rio, with a Hollywood theme. Because they had to share the time, he didn't get to speak all that much. The moderator seemed very flustered and at kept losing her notes. One thing he did talk about was the German Village that was built in Utah during WWII to conduct bombing experiments. I had never heard of this before!

The last talk I attended was with Brendan Slocumb, author of The Violin Conspiracy and Symphony of Secrets. With him was E.A. Aymar and Art Taylor, two other authors I admit I had not heard of before. The panel was fantastic - the three had great chemistry together and were joking and laughing even while tackling heavy subjects, like representation in publishing. Brendan talked about how his editor wanted him to change the name of his main character, Rayquan, because "that name won't sell books." It's insane that this type of thing is still happening in publishing. In the end, Brendan did not change the name, and he added that his editor later apologized. 

The Friends of the Library holds a massive used book sale at this event. I'm trying not to buy any fiction that I can easily get from the library, so I mostly looked for any art/nonfiction books I could use as references. I totally lucked out, finding two similar books about nature observation and sketching, a book on flowers in American Art, and another on Georgia O'Keeffe, one of my favorite artists. I also picked up a copy of The Overstory, because I'm low-key trying to read the Pulitzer winners, and it's long enough that I might not be able to finish a library copy during the checkout period.

A small local thrift store is a great resource for puzzles, and whenever I see a Charles Wysocki one, I buy it. His folk art style makes these a joy to put together - and this one had all the pieces! That pumpkin patch though... oof, that was a test of nerves! It's not seasonal, but I look forward to doing this one again in the fall.

My quilt is now basted and ready to be quilted. This is my least favorite part of making a quilt though, and I suspect I'll put it off for awhile. Luckily it is a fairly small quilt, so I hope to have it finished by the end of the summer.

I hope you are all having beautiful weather where you are too!

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Read in April 2023

Favorite Fiction: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - This was a highlight of the month! My first book loves were historical fiction, particularly multi-generational epics. I haven't read many of these types of book lately, and this was like revisiting an old friend. The story is split into several timelines (which did get slightly confusing), focusing on a woman who finds out she is adopted and searches for her origins in England. The story spans over 100 years, and I enjoyed the historical bits the best. Now, there were some cheesy bits in this book. A character will wonder "whatever happened to so and so", and convieniently a 40-year old letter will surface explaining exactly what happened. The descriptions of gardens, old cottages, and the sea made it all worth it. I'll definitely be reading more by Kate Morton.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan - It seems like there are a million books about bookstores in Scotland. After reading and being totally disappointed by The Bookshop of Second Chances last year, I wanted a do over. Laid off from her job as a librarian, Nina buys a van that she turns into a mobile bookshop and moves to Scotland. Oh, how convenient, her landlord is a cute, recently divorced farmer! You can guess how it goes. I thought this was a cute, easy to read book, perfect mindless listening during walks.

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh - Salama is a nineteen year old pharmacy student when war breaks out in Syria. As a volunteer at the hospital, she witnesses horror after horror. I didn't realize this was YA when I started, and there is a little bit of a "young" tone. There are also quite a lot of dead children in this book. This would be a good one to read if you want to learn more about the experience of the war in Syria - however there's not a ton of political background for context. A love story is also a big part of this book. I did like it, but I had just watched the movie The Swimmers, which I thought was a better portrait of Syria. 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - Edith Wharton is one of my favorite classic authors; The Age of Innocence was stellar. In the end, I'm glad I read this book because its main character, Lily Bart, gave me a lot of understanding of the situation of [some] women at the turn of the century. This book is also frequently referenced and now I feel like I'm more well-read. However, there were a lot of really dense, explanatory paragraphs that did me in. The audio narrator is what got me through: unfortunately she passed away in tragic circumstances in 2006.

The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton - I did not intentionally read these last two together, but apparently I was on a role with "the house of something" titles. The House of Fortune is the sequel to The Miniaturist, which I read back in 2015. It's possible to read this as a standalone, but I had to look up a summary of the previous book because I was feeling pretty lost at the beginning. The story focuses on 18-year old Thea, who was just born at the end of The Miniaturist. The plot is pretty basic, family wants daughter to marry to provide them a future, she falls in love with a poor random dude. Meanwhile, the miniaturist is leaving small items on her doorstep. Why? Who knows! Does it make a difference to the story? No! Nothing particularly unique happens and by the end I was skimming paragraph after paragraph of internal monologue. It wasn't terrible but there are so many other better books you could read instead.

Favorite Nonfiction: All the Living and the Dead by Hayley Campbell - Oddly enough, this is the third book I have read about death. (The others are Stiff by Mary Roach and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; I recommend both.) Campbell visits a wide variety of professionals who deal with death, including a cleanup company, an executioner, a medical examiner, and a midwife who only works with infant loss. These are heavy topics to be sure, but they are handled so well, and make you think about how our society is disconnected, for the most part, with death. This is not a book for the squeamish; I am not, and I found it completely fascinating. 

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel - I've read many personal finance books, so I was excited to see that this one had a different angle. It's not a primer on index funds or retirement planning, but an investigation into why people make the money decisions that they do. I really enjoyed the theme of understanding over judgement, and the acknowledgement that money decisions are emotional, and sometimes you have to make the decision that is best for your mental state.

Life on Delay by John Hendrickson - I love reading memoirs because they give us a glimpse into so many different types of lives. I don't know anyone with a stutter, and I didn't know much about it going into this book. I learned so much, and hearing about Hendrickson's life experience was fascinating. It was also a little heartbreaking, as he was bullied by his own brother and others. I listened to this on audio, which is not read by the author, but the narrator must have consulted with him to be able to accurately depict a stutter. 

Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May - Like many people, I loved May's previous book Wintering. By the title, I expected some sort of light self-help guidance about how to "awaken wonder." That was not the case at all, but: her descriptions of the seasons, and her writing in general, is gorgeous. Enchantment is split into four sections: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. For some of these, the category was a reach, and I assume yet another publisher attempt to market this book as something it isn't. I particularly love reading about May's cold-water swimming. It seems terrifying but also exhilarating. I will continue to read whatever she publishes, but next time I hope it can just have the subtitle "Essays". If Ann Patchett can do it, so can Katherine May!

Other Thoughts on Reading

One of my ongoing reading goals has been to read the books I own. I have had some books for over a decade, and still they sit unread on my shelf. I'm coming to terms that I am mainly a library book reader. One of my joys is being able to pick out whatever I want FOR FREE and then return books unread if I changed my mind or didn't like them. I'm much more likely to push through a book I own, even if I don't enjoy it, to "get my money's worth." (Which is most cases is like... a dollar.) I recently watched a video by Mercy's Bookish Musings about her goal to have a zero TBR (as in, not own any unread books) and it immediately hit home. I don't think I want to get to zero, but I do want to reduce my unread books to maybe 15-20. What about you - do you have a whole shelf of unread books? Do you prefer to visit the library?

I'm also trying to get away from the new, hyped books and read more backlist titles. Plus, there's not usually holds on these, and I can renew them for the full amount of time. Many of you are readers and know the feeling of wanting to read all of the books. Sometimes this can turn a fun hobby stressful, and I really want to avoid that!

This weekend I'll be attending a big book festival and I'm super excited... and yes I probably will buy books from the giant used book sale. I'll be looking for art books, gardening books, and copies of favorites.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Tulip Season

The month started off with a spring break trip to my parents' house in Williamsburg, Virginia. The kids had a fabulous time going to the pool, mini golf, an IMAX movie, and a Granny-funded toy shopping trip to Target. I saved my vacation days and worked from their house, which at minimum was a change of scenery. Spring hits a few weeks earlier in southern Virginia, and the flowers and blooming trees were in full force. I went to the local library (where my mom used to work as a children's librarian for many years) to check out the used book sale, and encountered the most beautiful wisteria I have ever seen. The scent was heavenly; I can see this being the perfect location for a small wedding. Williamsburg is full of these picturesque locations, and I highly recommend a spring visit if you're on the east coast. It's really only as a gardening adult that I appreciate the 8 years I lived there. High schoolers typically care little for azaleas.

I took several walks around the neighborhood, which is built around a lake. We totally lucked out on the weather. Blue skies, and temps rising each day from about 55 to over 80 by the time we left. Does anyone feel their mood lift when we finally hit spring? My overambitious mind plans to do inside home-related projects in the winter, and outside work when it gets warm. But then it's the holidays, and it gets cold and dark, and have no motivation to get out of my comfy chair, let alone do something creative. I need to remember this for next winter, and plan on "wintering" instead of taking on any projects at all. And I need to get to my home projects while it's still warm (a feat considering the amount of gardening I do!)

On the other side of the lake is a creek which leads to the York River, which leads out to the Chesapeake Bay. It's a beautiful, peaceful area. This is the best time to visit, before the mosquitos and the humidity arrives.

Back at home, reality hit. The hot days were causing the tulips to open about 2 week earlier than last year. With 800 planted, it was a lot to keep up with. Plus, April is also the month when seedlings are ready to be planted out; and compost spread; and netting put up; and, and, and. I may have said, "I never want to see another tulip again." Now that it's done, I can look back and enjoy the beauty, and start dreaming about the varieties I'll plant this fall. 

On one rainy day I was finally able to deal with the buckets full of dried flowers from last summer and make a few bouquets. I had planned to make wreaths, but turns out, I don't have the time for that. I've sold a few of these already!

Nearly all of the main garden is planted now - I'm just waiting a few more days until the dahlias can go in. It will be a huge relief to have this done and my Sundays should be a little more free. The actual harvesting and selling takes much less time than planting and weeding. (Although I will never be done weeding.)

Do you have a hobby or skill that people are constantly telling you, "You should totally sell those! You could make money doing that!"? This is common in our contemporary hustle culture, which does not prioritize rest and leisure. I'm willing to bet you could ask nearly anyone who works for themselves if they work more or less than when they worked for another company, and they would say MORE! A common dream is to quit workin' for the man and be in charge of your days. But: I will never quit my day job. I have no desire to flower farm full time. I greatly appreciate the reliability of a paycheck, benefits, and the right to log off when my work day is over. I grow flowers because I believe local flowers are better than imported flowers with a huge carbon footprint. I love how excited people are to receive them. I also love learning new things, and believe me, I learn new things about flowers every week! I write all this because I don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm not getting rich from this, it's a ton of work, and being a flower farmer is not glamourous. No one is Floret but Floret :) If you have a passion, enjoy it as much as you can and don't feel pressured to make it your job.

As a side note, you know all those "content creators" who are quitting full-time work to make YouTube videos? I am dying to know what they will be doing in 20 years. 

April was also back to in-person work. I know a lot people couldn't work from home and had to endanger themselves during the pandemic to help others. But uggghhh that won't keep me from whining. Mostly I spend at least an hour and a half per day commuting so I can sit in online meetings with people who are at home. Luckily my company is only making us come in 2 days per week, and we get to choose those days. But that usually means that the person you want to talk to is not there at the same time as you are. Adding to the strife, a sub-group in my department was permitted to stay remote, which has led to a lot of grumbling about fairness. Fun times! (I'm a manager so I'm often the target of such grumbling.)

How was your April? Is snow still on the ground or are the flowers blooming?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Read in March 2023

I really racked up the titles in March: 13 books finished! A lot of the books I read were graphic novels or otherwise short books, so it wasn't too out of the ordinary reading-time-wise.

Things to Look Forward To: 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Every Day by Sophie Blackall and My Hygge Home: How to Make Home Your Happy Place by Meik Wiking were two visual books that I enjoyed looking through. Sophie Blackall is one of my favorite children's book illustrators, so I had to pick up this book for adults. It's fairly short, sometimes only a few sentences on each page. Reading through the joys she describes was a great reminder to focus on the small things (that first cup of tea!), but many of the things she writes about were not small joys for me. (For example, I am not a coffee drinker and I don't like dogs [SORRY DOG PEOPLE!!]). My Hygge Home was full of great information on how to design based on moods and experience rather than looks. I loved this; so many design books are focused on looks, not function, and are full of staged, non-lived-in homes. The downfall of this book was all of the unrelated stock images that contribute nothing. I wish they had either published this book with no images, or found actual homes to photograph.

I love reading about people's interesting jobs, and luckily I found two graphic novels on this subject this month. Factory Summers by Guy Delisle (one of my favorite graphic novelists) is about the author's summer job at a paper factory in Quebec City in the 1980s. Wow, I guess safety regulations weren't really a thing back then? Switching between day and night shifts, exhausting work, and exposure to chemicals were all part of the job. Bullying and harassment were rampant. It was worse in the oils sands, based on Kate Beaton's Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. Isolated in the oil-production camps, sexual harassment and assault is almost a given for any woman working with men who outnumber them 50 to 1. Beaton handles this situation in her book in a sophisticated way, diving into why men change their behavior in certain environments. I think this would be a good first graphic novel for people who don't normally read this genre.

The third graphic novel I read in March was Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong. I was about a third of the way into this book before I realized that it was fiction. I went into it thinking it was a memoir of the author's experiences, but it turns out it was just "based on" his life. This was a relief because the main character, also an illustrator, is a terrible person! He yells at his wife and treats her like a servant, criticizing her work (she's also an artist) and the food she cooks. He also routinely kicks and hits animals. This behavior is a manifestation of his disappointment and stress working a job he hates, but ugh, the way he behaves is just awful. I don't think he grew as a character, and I ended up not liking this book at all. It won some sort of big award in Korea though, so maybe I'm missing something culturally.

Continuing the theme of men behaving badly, I listed to Chanel Miller read her memoir, Know My Name. Chanel was raped on the campus of Stanford in 2015, and became well known when her victim impact statement was published online under a pseudonym (you can read her impact statement here.) Let me tell you, this book will make you so angry. The way Chanel was treated after her rape was abhorrent. She was blamed for the crime, questioned at every turn, while her rapist ultimately only spent a few months in jail. Everyone should read this book.

Luckily my fiction reads for the month were less intense, balancing out the heavy memoirs.

Unfortunately I didn't love The Sentence by Louise Erdich like many others did. The bookstore setting is always a draw, and the many book recommendations sprinkled throughout were fun to read. I'm never drawn in by ghost stories, though, and I thought the book dragged. It's a pandemic novel, and it seems like Erdich had some themes she wanted to address, threw them all into one book, and stirred. I do enjoy Erdich as an author, though, and will continue to read her work.

I literally just wrote "I am never drawn in by ghost stories", and although Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett is narrated by ghosts, I was there for it. The humor and characters in this novel reminded me of the Thursday Murder Club books. There were some sad topics addressed, with a dose of silliness to even them out.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is the "it" book of the moment, and I totally see why. It's easy to read and easy to love. The main character is quirky and likeable, and the bad guys are clear. As soon as I finished reading it I thought "this is totally going to be turned into a TV series", and when I looked it up, I found there's already one in the works. I love that the author is in her 60s and has had such a successful debut novel.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson is super popular on TikTok, maybe? What do I know, I'm an out of touch millennial. I don't see the hype. Somehow a high school student ends up solving a 5-year old cold case that the police were too incompetent to solve at the time. I did like the ending which had a twist I didn't see coming, but otherwise I found the book to be too convenient and repetitive. I need to accept that I am not a YA reader.

Foster by Claire Keegan is more of a short story than a book at only 89 (small) pages. The writing was beautiful and the story was impactful. I wished there was a whole volume of Keegan's work published together so I could get more!

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers is sci-fi, which I usually don't read - in fact I almost gave up after the first chapter, with its description of a future religion. I'm glad I didn't though, because I greatly enjoyed the world in which this book is set. It's the future earth, but instead of dystopia, it's a beautiful land where people live in tree houses, recycle and reuse everything, respect the earth, and are comforted by tea monks who listen to their problems, serve them tea, and let them lounge on cushions. It was almost enough to make me get past a talking robot :)

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

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.

Sunday, February 26, 2023


On January 31, Cora started feeling unwell, and capped off the night by throwing up all over me. Just like newborn days! But worse! Thus began a month of sickness in our house - I feel like February just slipped by and nothing much happened other than survival. We were never officially tested, but all the symptoms lined up with the flu.

This dusting of snow may be all we get for the winter. Like many places, we've had a warmer-than-usual winter. Usually we'll get at least one significant snow, so it's pretty hard to believe that we're going to get through a whole winter without one. The kids are disappointed they don't have snow to play in, and I'm disappointed because the coating of white makes winter worth it. 

Cora and Mary each missed a whole week of school. They mostly laid on the couch, feverish, never changing out of their pajamas. Poor babies, you know they are really down when they can't muster the energy to complain.

I managed to get the sashing between my quilt blocks done, but I ran out of that particular color. I don't want to buy any new fabric for this quilt, so I'm trying to decide between the darker blue or the purple for the outer border. Unfortunately I missed craft night with my friends while I was sick, so this will have to be pushed off to next month.

Mostly I just sat in this chair. When I had the energy to read, I did, but mostly I was so miserable that all I could do was stare out the window. Luckily the birds were enjoying the bird feeder and I watched a pair of cardinals come and go.

My new activity for the month was going to see a local group called The String Queens. They play lots of covers of contemporary music rather than classical, and with the super-engaged audience (one woman was actually twerking) it was a fun show. It's been years since I've seen a live performance, and it makes me want to seek out more!

February is the start to flower season for me, when I start the first batch of seedings that will go in the ground the last week of March or early April. And so it begins! I will have plants to babysit from now until October. Because I have a detailed spreadsheet, plus experience, from last year, I am spending less time overall figuring out what to start when. Hopefully this means this year will be much less time-intensive.

To cap off the month, as I sat down to write this post, my laptop decided to die. Luckily I have my work laptop as backup, but whew, I will surely be glad to see the back of February. Here's to a better March!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Read in January 2023

And just like that, the first month of 2023 is over. Here's what I read in January.

I started off the year with some quick reads and some books that leaked over from 2022. As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman is a YA graphic novel about a LGTBQ girl who goes on a camping and hiking trip with a church group. As the only person of color, she's treated differently within the group. She ends up connecting with another camper with secrets of their own. Overall it was a meaningful story, but it ended abruptly. It seems like the author intended a sequel which, since 2017, still hasn't been published.

Mary (my 9-year-old) started reading the Harry Potter series last year, fulfilling all of my parenting dreams. I hadn't read the original book since it first came out in the late 1990s. It was every bit as charming and fun to read as I remember, and it makes sense that it's now considered a classic of children's literature. It's unfortunate that JK Rowling has gone off the rails and now writes rambling 1000-page books.

Like many others, I loved Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks. I was excited to read his earlier book, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking which was surprisingly hard to track down. Having finished it, I totally understand why Four Thousand Weeks is  more popular. The Antidote was academic and dense, with a lot of great information. However, it was hard to pull out the main themes and even now I'm having a hard time remembering any takeaways. Maybe appreciate that it could always be worse?

I'm not the type of reader who finds a new series and then races through all of the books, one right after the other. I tend to read one or two books a year, which means it takes me quite a long time to read full series. A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny is the seventh book in the Armand Gamache series (and the eighth that I have read). It focuses on the art world and is largely set in the adorable town of Three Pines, which made it extra promising. It was fine - but I am not sure if Penny's writing style changed in this book or if it just started particularly annoyed me, but all of the sentence fragments were so hard to read! Here's an excerpt: "Because she had no where else to be. No other hospital bed to sit beside. Her father was dead. Killed by a gunman in the abandoned factory. Beauvoir had seen it happen. Seen Gamache hit." Does this get better in later books? Because if not, I'm going to have to give up on this series!

I am a fan of the Ruth Galloway series, and the author, Elly Griffiths has started writing a new series. For some reason these are marketed as stand alone books even though they all feature the same detective. Bleeding Heart Yard is the third book featuring detective Harbinder Kaur. It's a mystery combing modern-day murders with the death of a student about 20 years ago. I enjoyed reading this one and Harbinder is quickly becoming one of my favorite detectives.

Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson was my first read from my 2023 TBR list. I listened to it on audio because I know if I try to read any dense nonfiction it will put me right to sleep! Overall I learned a lot, but this book didn't blow me away like it has the reputation for doing. I was expecting more history and analysis, and while there is a lot (the book is almost 500 pages), there was also a good deal of Wilkerson's personal experiences that read more like memoir. I felt like she was trying to combine two different books into one. She is also really down on America. I can look at the glass half empty with the best of them, but I think we need to have some hope for our country if we want to improve it.

Grow and Gather: A Gardener's Guide to a Year of Cut Flowers 
by Grace Alexander was a Christmas gift. The writing and photos were stunningly beautiful; however the text was so tiny, and many of the pictures were way smaller than they should have been! See all the white space in the middle photo? That said, I really loved this book. Contrary to what the title says, it's not really a thorough guide on growing cut flowers; it's more of a meditation on the seasons with a couple tutorials thrown in. Alexander's description of why she gardens in the Introduction is so spot-on: "I do not garden because it is therapeutic. It challenges me and finds my edges. I do it because I am compelled to increase the amount of beauty in the world. I garden because I cannot not." Grace Alexander has a newsletter if you're interested in more: A Manual for Paradise.

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley is about a scientist who is pulled out of prison in the 1960s in Russian to work at a top-secret nuclear facility. This book is based on real incidents and I learned a lot about radioactivity (it was more interesting than I would have thought.) Valery, the scientist, uncovers nefarious goings-on and has to try to save as many people as he can without catching the attention of the KGB. With that description, you wouldn't expect this book to be funny - but it was, complete with an octopus. There was also a ton of anachronism and modern idioms, which happened so frequently that it had to be intentional. I recommend this one if you're looking for unique historical fiction.

Did you read anything good in January?