Monday, July 23, 2007

Reading: Quick summary of recent read: Candy Girl: A year in the life of an unlikely stripper, by Diablo Cody - one word: "yuck!".

To come in future posts: Elizabeth Enright's The Melendy Quartet which I have been listening to on CD - wonderful! Every child should read these along with the Little House series and the All-of-a-kind Family books. Harry Potter 6 and 7 and the recent movie for year 5 - I could read these again and again. Oh wait! I have!

Upcoming selections for my bookclubs (now I am part of 3!): KnitLit, Wicked, and Eye Contact. I will review as I complete these.

Eating: In addition to the salmon cakes and pesto I mentioned before, I will post about other quick and cool meal ideas for cooking on busy hot summer nights: pasta salad ideas, what to do with chicken breasts, great grilling ideas and more!

Gardening: To be posted soon: the mid-summer report of what is still alive and what has succumbed to the heat and/or garden pests (like deer and rabbits). I have done better this year than in years past, surprisingly so considering the early and persistent heat and drought and the frequent long weekends when my gardens have been left to survive without me. I have several small but tasty tomatoes, peppers though the deer have eaten the leaves, an abundant supply of herbs, and several hardy drought-resistant flowers. I am going to figure out how to post pictures...

Stay tuned for these exciting stories and more! Also, I may start blogging on current knitting projects.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Reading: I have been reading a lot lately, just not blogging.

I finished Lance Armstrong's second book, Every Second Counts, which I found equally as interesting as the first book. We discussed Lance and his books at bookclub last night and as one person says, even though you know what happens (as you are reading about his chemo or about the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Tour de France victory) you still feel yourself on the edge of the seat, reading frantically to see how it turns out. The descriptions of the the Tour are gripping and interesting, even for those who have never seen bike racing or the Tour. I was cheering for Lance as he battled the French press and the anti-doping trial, as he struggled to have a happy home life and a successful career. Inspiring and interesting, even if you don't personally like the guy.

I also finished the last 2 books in the Series of Unfortunate Events: The Penultimate Peril and The End. I love this series. These are supposedly kids books but they are so fun to read. There are hints of philosophy, lots of cultural references, tons of great vocabulary words. I especially like the development of Sunny, the youngest Baudelaire orphan. In the course of the 13 volumes, she learned to walk, talk, and cook gourmet meals. Even her one-word phrases convey a lot of meaning (if I could find my book right now, I would give an example). I love that the Baudelaires are intelligent, well-read children, who demonstrate time and again how they can think for themselves and survive the idiocy of the grownups around them. I think in that way, they can allegorically represent all children - surviving, even thriving, despite the idiots raising them, teaching them, even those who are entrusted to care for them.

Coming soon: commentary on The DaVinci Code and A Thousand Splendid Suns; food items including salmon cakes and pesto; gardening info including tomatoes, peppers, and drought.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Reading: This week, I finished Waiting for White Horses by Nathan Jorgenson for the Saturday morning bookclub, which I ended up liking better than I thought I would. For a book about a couple of dentists who live for fishing and duck hunting, it had some interesting things to say about life, death and love. I have decided that I don't have the guts, interest, or whatever it takes to be a duck hunter. Getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to sit out in the butt-ass cold to maybe get 4 ducks, at the most, when I don't even really care much to eat even one duck. Sounds like an activity I will skip. Some people may say similar things about scrapping, knitting or gardening, too. Too tedious, too messy, too much money and time to invest. I guess that is why there are so many different hobbies and interests to choose from, so that everyone can do something she enjoys.

Also this week, I started and finished the next Sunday night bookclub selection, a little before the July 1st meeting. It was a book that has been on my list for a long time and it was so gripping, I couldn't put it down until I was done. My friend who finished her breast cancer treatment just about a year ago chose as her selection It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong. I read with equal interest the descriptions of the 1999 Tour de France and of Lance's treatment for testicular cancer. The book was very easy to read - it felt like Lance was speaking directly to me. Even though I knew how the race ended (my hubby is a big follower of the Tour and loves to give me the daily play-by-play every July for the last 8 years or so), I read every word as excited as I would have been seeing the race for the first time. Even though I knew Lance survived the cancer and the chemo, I sat rivetted to the book until I knew he was back on the bike. The psychology of survivorship is very intriguing to me - To know that you have survived in many cases against the odds, to know that many both before you and after you will not, to know that you have been given another chance at life, but also to be more acutely aware than others that this chance could be taken away from you again at any time. Can any of us who have not faced this really know how it feels? I have now started Lance's second book, Every Second Counts.

I am still listening to The DaVinci Code in the car. I like the cryptology parts, anything to do with math formulas, series, or sequences. The art and history parts are also somewhat interesting to me. Not so much into the secret societies and the Catholic church parts, but still a pretty good book so far. The guy who reads the book does a good job with the French accents and pronounciations, which I appreciate.

Eating: Not too much interesting on the eating front lately, though I finally had some pizza this week. I have been thinking about pizza fairly steadily for about 2 weeks so we ordered Papa John's on Thursday. I had leftovers for Friday so I am sated for awhile now.

I went to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market this weekend and picked up some delicious asparagus (I think this asparagus seller is the best, though I can't remember his name or the name of his farm) which I washed, chopped and froze (except about a cup I kept for immediate consumption). Yum! Also picked up some sugar snap peas (also froze most of those) and some lettuce. The lettuce is dirt-cheap and very fresh. I should just grow some myself but never quite get around to it. I was looking for cherries, as it is the beginning of cherry season, but did not find any good-looking ones so I picked up a couple big bags at the grocery store on sale. I washed and froze one bagful on a cookie sheet so I could just grab a few out of the freezer at a time. They are like tasty little popsicles - just pop them in and spit out the pit! Hoping to pick some strawberries, maybe next weekend.

Gardening: I haven't done any more planting this week, just maintaining. I have 9 small green tomatoes on my tomato plant. No peppers yet. The herbs are growing big and bushy. I should go out and harvest some soon. All the flowers are coming up well, blooming and growing. I worked this weekend on clearing out some grass around and under my lilac so that Eric doesn't have to try to mow or trim under there. I eventually would like to pull out all the grass along the front of the sidewalk and put in another bed there but will hold off until we get the sidewalk replaced, hopefully in the next month or so.

Happy reading, eating and gardening to you, until I blog again!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gardening: When I was at Camp Amnicon last weekend for a work weekend, one of my jobs (the one I really liked doing) was planting. I planted the annuals and tomatoes the director had purchased and then, because she asked me to, I sprayed them with Liquid Fence to help keep the deer and rabbits from eating them all. It smells like rotten ass. When I told her I would come back next year and do the planting again, she said she was going to look into plants that are deer resistant. I told her I have a list or two and would e-mail them to her. I have to do that soon but thought I would share with you, in case you have a problem with deer treating your flower beds as a salad bar.

Some of these are plants that I have actually had good experience with (indicated with a *) and others are just on lists I got from Bachman's and somewhere else (Lynde or Fair's probably). In general, plants that are prickly, fuzzy or smell strongly are ones the deer avoid. The Latin names are in parentheses in some cases. Some common names can apply to more than one type of plant and are sometimes confusing so I like to note the Latin name when I can.

Annuals: *Floss Flower (Ageratum) , Calendula, Cleome, Dahlia, *Dusty Miller, Flax, Forget-me-not, *Geranium,*Heliotrope, Lantana, *Lobelia, *Marigolds, Mint, *Morning Glory, *Parsley, *Polka-dot plant, *Salvia (though another list I have says deer like this one), *Snapdragons, *Sweet Alyssum, *Verbena, Wax Begonia, *Zinnia

Perennials: *Yarrow (Achillea), Monkshood (Aconitum), *Bugleweed (Ajuga), Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla) , Alkanet, *Allium, Anemone, *Columbine (Aquilegia), *Wormwood (Artemesia), Goatsbeard (Aruncus), *Butterfly weed (Asclepias), *Aster, *Astilbe, Barronwort, *Bellflowers (Campanula), Turtleheads (Chelone), *Clematis, *Coreopsis, Daffodil, Delphinium, Chrysanthemums (Dendranthema), *Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Dianthus, *Foxglove (Digitalis), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Globe Thistle (Echinops), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium), Meadowsweet (Filipendula), *Gaillardia, *Hardy Geranium, Baby's Breath (Gypsophila), *Coral Bells (Heuchera), Iris, Lavender, *Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum), *Ligularia, Lupine (Lupinus), *Mint/Catmint, Beebalm (Monarda), *Peony, Oriental Poppies (Papaver), *Russian Sage (Perovskia), *Phlox, Balloon Flower (Platycodon), Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium), *Lungwort (Pulmonaria), *Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Meadow Sage, *Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum), *Lamb's Ears (Stachys), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum), Creeping Thyme, Speedwell (Veronica), *Vinca; *Ferns; Yucca; Ornamental Grasses including Karl Foerster, Blue Fescue, Silver Feather, Shenandoah and Little Bluestem.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Reading: Since I last blogged, I finished "reading" The Wonder Spot which was wonderful! Very very funny! She would be me, if I was Jewish and lived in New York.

Books and Breakfast Club selection for May was Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart, a Minnesota author who graduated from St. Olaf (a few years before me - approximately 13 years). This is her second book - the first, Haunted Ground, we read a couple years ago for my other bookclub. Both are mysteries, set in the peat bogs of Ireland, and involve bog bodies. Actually in Haunted Ground, there is only a bog head, and in Lake of Sorrows there are multiple bodies. I won't discuss it too much yet though, because we decided to table our discussion of the book until July since I was the only one who had read the whole thing. The person who had chosen the book had read most but skimmed the rest. We will cut her a break though, because she is mother of the world's cutest baby.

Earlier this week I finished Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. Excellent reading. All I wanted to do was read that book until it was done. And now I can't wait to discuss it. Good thing it was a bookclub selection for the other bookclub and we are discussing it Sunday night. It is a memoir of a white girl and her adopted black brother, growing up in "Jesus Land" in rural Indiana in the earlier '80s. Their parents are "Christians" - mom is more interested in supporting and communicating with missionaries in distant countries than with her own family living with her; dad is a well-respected surgeon who is distant and abusive. Both Julia and her brother David are sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic where they suffer more at the hands of those who are trying to "save" them. Their story is sad but at the same time inspiring. They suffer but ultimately survive and thrive, despite the cruelty, bigotry and abuse at the hands of the self-righteous.

Currently reading: Waiting for White Horses by Nathan Jorgenson (another MN author) for Books and Breakfast Club, and listening to The DaVinci Code, in the car. Don't know yet if we are meeting for the other bookclub in July or what the book will be if we are.

Eating: Today for lunch I tried something tasty and filling (not to mention quick and relatively low cal/low fat). Take a whole-wheat tortilla (I actually used some of the yummy chili pepper ones I got from Trader Joe's), spread with salsa and some non-fat refried beans, sprinkle with cheese, roll up and microwave for 30 seconds. Yum!

Gardening: I have been very busy with the garden since last posted. I have planted: Achillea and Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum superbum 'Alaska') on the west side of the garage; 3 Bridal veil Astilbe and one Fanal Astilbe along the shady side of the deck, surrounding my hammock, transplanted 3 spiderworts and a hosta to the shade garden, transplanted several varieties of lamium to around the tree, planted all my containers including 3 deck boxes with moss roses, and a mix of red snapdragons, purple tiny petunias, and heliotrope, planted nasturtiums and black-eyed Susan vine in my hanging baskets on the deck, deep purple pansies and deep red coleus in the pansy pot, Cherry Profusion Zinnias in 2 of the deck pots, a variety of tomatoes (already 5 little tomatoes on the plant!), peppers and herbs in several pots on the sunny side of the deck; a mix of purple and white flowers in the front yard pots: white geraniums, purple Wave petunias, blue salvia, vinca vine, licorice vine, dusty miller (LOVE dusty miller!) and white polka dot plants. I had just got everything I bought planted and I went to visit my friend Siiri who divided several plants and gave them to me. So I went home and planted 2 colors of monarda, 3 big bunches of sedum, a bunch of catmint, a couple of asters, and a clump of Siberian iris. Everything is looking very lush and full.

My next garden project is to start digging for a bed in front of the sidewalk to be filled with plants for continuous (hopefully) bloom throughout the growing season.

We also cut down our apple tree (apple trees were not meant to try to grow under the shade of 2 huge maples), dug out all the grass underneath the fence and laid lots and lots of cypress mulch. we have had some decent rain in the last week so I haven't had to water much. Just deadheading the annuals and weeding as I go.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Just finished reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. Very interesting and thought provoking. How far have we come in the last 30 years or so in accepting people with Down Syndrome and similar conditions? Yes, they are "mainstreamed" now in school, and no longer institutionalized from infancy. Many hold jobs and live in the community, though not always completely independently. I thought one of the most interesting parts of this novel was Caroline's fight for Phoebe to be able to attend school and have access to the same medical care as other children. Of course, the affect of the secret on David, Norah and Paul was another intriguing aspect - how the secret became a wall between them all, how each dealt with the loss and absence of Phoebe in his own way. David's photography, his need to capture the moments and memories, even though the moment caught by the photo rarely tells much of the story. It is, instead, a sentence within a novel. It can tell a bit but without someone to interpret the scene or elaborate on the context, it means little to anyone except the photographer.

I am listening to The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank while in the car. I have the book, too, but found the audiobook at the library and checked it out. My commute flies by and I arrive much less stressed if I am listening to a good book. It always maximizes my "reading" time, time I would otherwise consider wasted. I really like it (the book) so far. I am about halfway through. I liked her previous book, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Much more clever and entertaining "chick-lit" than, say, Bridget Jones. Ugh. Did not care for Bridget. I therefore did not see the movie, either, though have been told that it is "really cute" and that I should see it. Rarely go for the "really cute".

My new bookclub, which I call "Books and Breakfast Club", though I don't know if anyone else calls it that, met for the first book discussion yesterday. We had bagels and coffee and discussed existentialism and the absurd at 9 am on Saturday. Nothing like a little deep philosophy and caffeine to get you going for the weekend! I had chosen the book, The Stranger by Albert Camus, mainly because it had been sitting on my shelf for awhile and because I had been meaning to read it since we read the first chapter in French my sophomore year in college, 957 years ago. It was a very quick read, done in 3 evenings, but one of those novels I felt like there was a lot more than I was getting. I did some research into existentialism at the library, reading the definition of it in a dictionary of philosophy. Ooh boy! No wonder my roommate got depressed when she took a class on the philosophy of Kirkegaard in college! There was some very good discussion with the bookclub, though there is some thought that I might be a bit disturbed for picking a disturbing novel (I have been accused of this before - maybe I am just intrigued by the disturbed?). Interesting conversation as to whether or not the main character would be classified as a sociopath, whether or not the guillotine should be brought back, who it should be used on if it was, and if there should be any other punishment inflicted on them before they were guillotined. And then we spread more cream cheese on our bagels and talked about gardening!

Next on the reading list: Surrender, Dorothy by Meg Wolitzer; Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres; and Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart.

As for eating, I am still thinking about the yummy rigatoni Bolognese I had on Friday night at Biaggi's. I would love to be able to make a really good Bolognese. Can a girl of northern European descent make a decent Italian sauce?

The garden is moving along once again. This weekend we planted a new forsythia (the old one died, mainly because I didn't get it planted all last summer and it over-wintered in a plastic nursery pot) by the front steps. We also assembled the arbor and put the last coat of poly on, set it up, anchored it, pulled out a bunch of grass, laid down mulch, extended the rock wall another couple feet, and planted 2 clematis to creep up the arbor. They are Polish pride clematis, deep purple in color. We both like purple, and the side of the garage is mainly purple and yellow flowers. The Polish part reminded us of our friend Ania, and our favorite half-Polish baby, Rena.

Other garden accomplishments: Weeded all the beds (darn quack grass!) and finally got all the dead stuff cut back. So I am a little slow! Now my next project is to get my containers planted, move some plants from my so-called nursery bed (they have been there "temporarily" for the last year and a half), and figure out what other plants I want/need to fill in and to replace those which did not survive the winter. The plant I am most amazed by is the bugle weed. It is an evergreen ground cover which appears to be undeterred by the shallow roots of the silver maple it is growing under. It does not seem to mind the poor soil, lack of water and low sunlight. I love the evergreen-ness of it. It has a slightly purple color to the leaves as well, giving the shade garden a little color to contrast with the green of the hosta.
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