Saturday, November 30, 2013

Garden Post Mortem

Ofcourse with all the leaves off my neighbors trees the garden is getting all sorts of light. grrr...

 Winter, despite my lack of hospitality and warm feelings toward it, has settled in for the long haul here in central Iowa.  We've had snow that has stayed on the ground for over a week and 4 degree temperatures. The bastard is here to stay at least for the next few months.   All this means that I am very late in wrapping up this year's garden.  I think I have been avoiding reflecting on the past growing year because it was, once again, frustrating.  Apparently, I do not tire of complaining about my yard's lack of sun so... grumble grumble sucks.  I will ignore all implications that I just don't know how to grow things:)

But for all my negativity it wasn't a complete failure especially considering the continuing atypical weather patterns.  We had an extremely cold and wet spring (snow on May 5!) followed by a dry summer that took awhile to get hot.  Here's the low down:

Green Beans:  I am really digging this Empress variety and got nice continuous and yummy production out of my small patch.  I would have been pretty content with my lot if I hadn't been invited to come pick out of the garden of the friend who introduced me to the variety.  Her patch was not much bigger than mine but in full sun and her plants had about 4x the production of mine.  sigh...

Garlic and shallots:  Pretty good haul of medium size heads of garlic. The Music variety did the best.  The shallots were all pretty small. I've planted next years crop and it has been cold enough that there has not been any early sprouting this year.

Cucumbers: I got maybe 4-5 cucumbers total off of 4 plants.  I ran into a problem I don't think I had encountered before.  The plants were producing all female flowers and no males.  Female cucumbers require fertilization to grow into big cucumbers.  I watched perhaps 50 tiny baby cucumbers rot and die on the vine because there were no male flowers around for fertilization purposes. Damn cucumber sex.

Carrots: I had a decent crop of Dragon carrots (for me) though none of them got huge.  They were a tad more bitter than I remembered from last year which probably was a result of me not watering enough at a critical juncture.

Peppers:  These were perhaps the biggest heartbreakers.  The plants for most of the pepper varieties hardly topped 1' in height - my sweet peppers were especially pathetic.  I planted Tolli's sweet and Tomato-shaped Pimento and got maybe 2 Tolli's off of 5 plants and 5 pimento's off of 5 plants.  My hot peppers did a little bit better with the main variety being Fish peppers.  I though they were producing really great but in the end the haul was pretty small.
The Sum Total of my Fish Pepper Harvest.  Not so vast after all.

Tomatoes:  The big ones sucked but my yellow pear tomatoes (Beam's Pear) produced reliably as always.  They ripened a little early as well and were ripe enough for me to enter in the county fair (mid-July) which was a first. They got a blue ribbon despite the fact that they weren't quite fully ripe.

I think that is the outcome for all the major players - I did plant some potatoes that were given to me and the harvest as usual was lackluster.  The greens (Spinach, chard, lettuce, and kale) all did okay though the spinach practically bolted before it got big enough to be worthwhile to cut.

My resolution for next year is that I am going to try more hybrids.  I tend to plant predominantly heirloom (actually everything this year except the cukes)  but they can be less hardy and a little more moderate on production.  With my other challenges I think I might need to give the frankensteins a try even though I do love the taste of heirlooms.  One variety I am definitely going to try is a cherry/pear sized paste tomato called Juliet which was recommended on A Way to Garden.

I did some last clean up today and I guess it is now time to hibernate with my books and seed catalogs until spring when I will forget all about the disappointment from this year and hope will spring eternal once again:)

Friday, November 29, 2013

REVIEW: Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

Seven for a SecretSeven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio from Library
Narrated By: Steven Boyer
Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): Mystery, Historical
Series: Timothy Wilde Series #2
Awards: NA

I accidently broke my solemn rule with this book and jumped into a sequel before reading book one. It took me two or three chapters of frustration before I realized what I had done - I kept getting irritated at how I felt dropped into a world I should already know details about. Because of this I recommend that book one be read first! I did continue reading, however, despite my anal retentive self nagging to stop. I was interested enough, if slightly confused, to keep listening, which I think says something positive about the book’s appeal.

Timothy Wilde is a young (late 20s) “copper star” (aka policemen) in New York in the middle of the 19th century. He is one of a small group of policemen that are prized for their brains and specialize in solving the most serious crimes. He is assigned to investigate a stolen painting and after success solving that crime is thrust into a convoluted case involving free blacks, slave catchers, missing family members and corrupt politics. New York and America is explored in all its squalid mid-1800s glory which at times is really interesting and at times gets a little tiresome.

Faye did a great job creating an authentic-seeming historic New York and her plot is complex and interesting. There are many references to characters and relationship histories from book one, so, again, this would likely have been a richer reading experience if I’d read the books in order.

While my overall impression of the book is good, I do for some reason find it easier to articulate some things that didn’t work for me. The main obstacle I ran into while reading is that I felt preached at – Timothy is very earnest, self-righteous and filled with indignation. The story touches on many of the social issues of the day: slavery, exploitation of children in a myriad of horrible ways, corrupt politicians, poverty. I’m 100% on board with the fact that these are all horrible, horrendous atrocities and didn’t really feel like I needed to be convinced that they are bad. Faye lingers and sometimes seemed to detour so that she could really focus in on these issues and frankly it got tiresome and detracted from the story.

It also, eventually, led me to find Timothy tiresome because he is the reader’s lens and he is pretty much in a constant state of righteous indignation. I found his brother Valentine more intriguing as he is more practical, worldlier, more brilliant, a little corrupt and violent but in his way doing more good than his very na├»ve brother. I think I would have enjoyed seeing the book focus on Valentine more but I do love a complicated hero so maybe it is just me.

The final verdict is that despite some lags in enjoyment and my stupidity in inadvertently skipping book one, I overall liked the book. I like the time period and particularly crime stories set in that period so I was probably pretty inclined to like it. Faye is a good writer at the sentence level which provides a further boost. I was pretty fascinated with the details about the political system at the time. I do think, however, that I like Stephanie Pintoff’s series that starts with In the Shadow of Gotham better though it is set a bit later (turn of the century, I think). Pintoff’s series has less complex storylines but is more focused and narratively driven with strong characters and interesting relationships. So if you liked this book I would check her series out as well.

Finally, the reader for the audio book worked well as the narrator Timothy Wilde and distinguishes the other characters well and subtly.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Thank Goodness for All These Things

It feels good to be writing a Top Ten Tuesday post (a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) after a couple weeks of because of  It got busy.  This is a good one to come back in for: Top Ten Things to be Thankful For (could be bookish or not).  Here in the U.S. our holiday of Thanksgiving is just a couple days away so it's appropriate.  For those of you in other countries it is not perhaps so conveniently timely, however there is never really a bad time to contemplate the good things in your life.  Also, I've recently learned through a work training that gratitude is the single most important emotion that can bring you "above the line"  (i.e. from a negative, grumpy, victim language sort of place to a peace, love and happy unicorns and rainbows sort of place).  So lets get to it:

1) BOOKS!  That there are so many that I am never likely to run out of interesting things to read.


2) DOGS!  In particular the two cutie patoots that share my home - Rudy and Jasper.

 3) SCI FI TV! There is a lot of great Science Fiction storytelling that happens and at its best gives me Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Romance, Thoughtfulness and Great Characters.


 4) That WINTER is NOT Coming!  Specifically, that I am not having to patrol the Wall with Jon Snow.  Because winter is coming here in Iowa. In fact, it is already obnoxiously here but it least it won't last for years and years. 

 5) Hellbenders!  And all the other weird and wonderful wildlife that nature has made.  And the fact that its my job to watch over them and make sure they are valued.

  6) Libraries!  Particularly my local library which is pretty darn awesome.  It's like shopping for books but everything's free and now you can download audio and e-books from the couch at home. My weekly trip to the library may just be the favorite part of my week!

7) Women Writers!  Lois McMaster Bujold, Dorothy Dunnett, Georgette Heyer, Margaret Mitchell,   Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Harper Lee, Willa Cather, Agatha Christie, Ann Patchett, Sarah Dunant, Barbara Pym, Mary Roach, Harper Lee, Kate Ross, Kate Atkinson, A.S. Byatt.....

8) The Sea!  I love the ocean; It always brings me peace.  Don't ask why I love as far as possible from it:)

9) England! I'm a hopeless Anglophile, I think because I love history and also the King Arthur Legend.  Those were the Gateway drugs to a British TV, Tea, and digestive obsession.

10) Many things bring me joy and I've had so many opportunities and so much travel, to pursue a career... to complain or be ungrateful about anything is just plain ridiculous.  I am grateful for life.  Thanks bunches!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

REVIEW: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked LetterCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio from Library
Narrated By: Kevin Kenerly
Original Publication Year: 2010
Genre(s): Mystery
Series: NA
Awards: Barry Award Nominee, Anthony Award Nominee, The Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger, Edgar Award Nominee

I have complicated feelings about the South. I am, arguably, a product of the South. I was born and raised in Richmond,Virginia and I say arguably because I know many folks nowadays don't consider Virginia part of The South. They have a point, as it is pretty Mid-Atlantic, and I personally don’t have much of an accent. But Virginia was the Capitol of the Confederacy and this legacy is everywhere – I have 10 ancestors that fought on behalf of the South in the Civil War. I was obsessed with the old plantation houses along the James River and even tried to decorate my teenage bedroom in that style. Much of the South’s legacy, however, is very ugly and it makes it difficult to really embrace this heritage or look at it with anything but profound disgust. Richmond is also pretty segregated though not on purpose. I doubt there is anyone, even nominally as I am, from the south, that does not have complicated feelings about their home place. This is where Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter steps in. It is a book that simultaneously captures the unique flavor of the South and makes sure that it is a place of which to be wary.

Twenty five years ago, 15 year old Larry, awkward and a little strange, took his neighbor on a date and she was never heard from again. Larry was never found guilty of her murder but his “weirdness” and the circumstances ensure that he is condemned and shunned by the community of Chabot, MS. Even though Larry knows he is not guilty he seems to feel that people’s hatred and contempt for him is justified. He has had only one friend in his life, Silas, now known as ‘32’, and their friendship ended in the ugliest possible way a year or so before the event that ruined Larry’s already difficult life. The book opens in present day, just as the investigation of a missing girl has begun with Larry as the prime suspect and 32 is one of the investigating officers as he is now constable of Chabot.

The book works on many levels: as a disturbing mystery, as a portrait of life in small-town South and as contemplation on the nature of men, friendship and family and it is woven together fairly effortlessly.

As I alluded to above this book shines in evoking a tangible image of an insular and poor small southern town. Chabot, MS seems without hope and so set in its rut that, with a couple of notable exceptions, even the most intelligent of its citizens don’t question old prejudices – if you’re different there is just not enough energy to try and expand the mind to include you. Franklin also subtly depicts how the nature of racial tensions shift as the book jumps from 25 years ago to the present day. There are all the complicated feelings of being from the South and how it can in some ways trap you.

My favorite part of the book is how Franklin uses his two characters to explore the question of courage. Larry is a heartbreaking character who, on the surface, is a weak man but who at his core is quite courageous while Silas, against all appearances, is the coward. The way people treat Larry is so abominable but also believable which makes it just that much sadder. Both characters are very engaging in different ways and I rooted for both of them to have their moments of revelation. By the end…Thank goodness!...a glimmer of hope has started to shine.

The present day mystery at the heart of the book is twisted and dark and it does involve some animal cruelty which I had to kind of “La La La” my way through because I can’t take that. If you’re looking for a straight mystery I don’t think this will disappoint though it includes so much more.

The narrator for the audio book has a great voice and portrayed all the characters, especially 32, really well.

Not a book to restore your faith in mankind but it should keep you engaged and thoughtful.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Doctor!

Doctor Who is 50!  Have I mentioned before how brilliant this show is and how I love it?  Why yes I have:

TV Shows that are Awesome
It's Much Bigger on the Inside
The Reboot of The Reboot - Season 6 Part 1
Season 6 Part 2
Season 5 Rewatch Part 1
Season 5 Rewatch Part 2
Season 1 Favorite Episodes

I can proudly blather on ad nauseum about this show even if I am a bit of a fraud since I have never watched any of the older Who episodes.  If you've not had a chance to catch up with Doctor Who, I BEG you to take this 50th anniversary (how many shows do you know that make it to 50!) as a spur to get on it!  If you like shows that combine adventure and fantasy, goofy AND clever humor, complex characters and relationships, and even a smidgen of romance - you will not be disappointed.

Favorite Doctor: #10 David Tennant though Chris Eccleston and Matt Smith ain't chopped liver.
Favorite Companion: Rose Tyler (fingers crossed she shows up in the anniversary ep!)
Favorite Villain: The Master followed closely by the Weeping Angels
Favorite Season: Season 3 but under protest, Season 2, 4 and 6 were also great
Top 5 Episodes: (from New Who)
- Series 1: The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances
- Series 1: The Parting of the Ways
- Series 2: The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit
- Series 3: Human Nature and The Family of Blood
- Series 3: Blink
- Series 6: The Doctor's Wife

Happy Birthday Doctor Who and many Happy Returns!  Thanks for all the TV watching joy you've given me over the last several years!

Any other Whovians out there?  What are your favorites?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

REVIEW: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10)Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: Audio from Audible
Narrated By: Grover Gardner
Original Publication Year: 1996
Genre(s): Science Fiction (Space Opera)
Series: Vorkosigan Saga (#10 publication order and chronologically)
Awards: None

Dear Ms. Bujold,

It is no accident, I think, that the term master is part of your name.

Memory is the story of the downfall of an often annoying but extraordinary little man and how, as he claws his way back up, he starts to know himself and find a home. Or as one tagline for the books says: “Miles hits 30…Thirty hits back.” And of course thrown into the middle is a lovely and exciting little mystery that must be solved.

I shouldn’t have liked this book. I truly don’t love Miles though Bujold makes sure you at least have an exasperated affection for him. And a full 60 percent is seriously him searching his soul for meaning and identity. I had moments in the first half of the book where I got a little bored, a little frustrated with Miles, but I was never tempted to give up because an idea, a turn of phrase would come up that would make me catch my breath and keep reading. By the end, I was in awe of where we had come and how perfectly it had been orchestrated. Bujold knows how to build a book for the long haul. A book that is greater than the sum of the parts. I see why this is one of the highest rated books in the Vorkosigan series, at least by fans (it has a whopping average rating of 4.41 on Goodreads).

In this book Miles screws up, quite handsomely. He is forced for the first time in his hyperactive life to do nothing and spend time with himself. He is not sure he enjoys his own company and he must face himself and find out who he truly is. At the very depth of his depression, he is distracted by the odd behavior of his long time mentor Simon Illyan, head of Barrayar’s equivalent of the CIA/FBI/Homeland Security Department. When Simon ends up in dire straits in the hospital, Miles is shaken out of his malaise and starts to do what Miles does best – make waves. It’s a neat little mystery…what happened to Simon Illyan… which picks up the book's pace, gives it some focus and helps Miles discover an unexpected calling in life. Also in this book, Gregor, Barraryar’s morose Emperor, finds some happiness along with some other well-deserving characters and Miles and Simon go on the best fishing trip ever.

I have spent the last several years reading through the Vorkosigan series and had accidentally missed this book in the sequence. I really wish I hadn’t! It is a really nice setup, emotionally speaking, for the next two books in the series, Komarr and A Civil Campaign, which would have made so much more sense if I had read this first. Darn it!

One thing this book made me crave was another book about Cordelia, Mile’s mother. She is seriously kick ass and I’d love to see her and Aral at the center of an adventure again!

The narration for the audio book is pretty decent. Grover Gardner has a nice voice but doesn’t really do voices. His phrasing and the way he reads suits the writing and tone of the book however, even if the reading was less than dynamic.

Final verdict is that this is a fantastic book and has a huge payoff for fans of the Vorkosigan series. If you’re looking to start the Vorkosigan Series, for pity’s sake don’t start here!

Has anybody else read this series?  What's your favorite installment?  Does anybody else not love Miles?

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