What I've Been Reading

The short dark days and long dark nights of late December and January were good for reading.

Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas
Compiled by Christopher L. Webber
Readings for Advent and the Christmas season chosen by Christopher Webber. They are divided into topics such as Hope, Death, Judgement, Hell, then, what a relief, Heaven, Mary....Some of the readings in Death, Judgement, and Hell were a little too lovingly detailed for my taste - descriptions of what happens to the body after death, and of the torments of hell. Why are humans so quick to pass judgement on each other? Far too many people are already living in hell in their lives on earth. But descriptions of Heaven are often not much better, always seen in human terms. I was struck by how much descriptions of heaven are like that of an ancient king and his court, his warband (King Hrothgar's court in Beowulf, for example), with God's followers being rewarded with feasts and praise, and treasure. A far cry from the life of Jesus. There were some good readings in this book, but on the whole I didn't find it particularly helpful. 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser
This was a fascinating and intensive look at the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fraser covers the history and ecology of the places and times in which Ingalls lived, as well as the details of her life that were deliberately left out of the Little House books. Wilder did not write about some of the worst times, when the Ingalls family was actually homeless, their life in Burr Oak, Iowa, and Maple Grove, Minnesota, when she worked as a waitress and cook in hotels and restaurants, about the baby brother who died, and the actual illness that led to Mary's blindness. She had a vision she wanted to convey to her readers - of hope, family solidarity, cheerfulness, hard work and perseverence, of her parents' infallibility, that was not always present in her actual life.
The largest part of the book deals with with Wilder's adult life, her career as a writer, and her relationship with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Their mother-daughter relationship was certainly a complicated and difficult one, and Rose comes across as a prima donna, emotionally needy and unstable, an extravagant spender, of her own and other people's money, endlessly self-dramatising. I found it hard to sympathize with her, both because of the way she treated her mother, and other people, and because of her politics, which were far to the right of very conservative. I hadn't realized she was one of the founders of the Libertarian Party.
But she edited her mother's books in a way that enhanced them, and Laura trusted her judgement, even when she didn't agree with it. Fraser puts to rest the belief that Rose actually ghost-wrote the Little House books - there are enough manuscripts in Laura's writing to disprove this - but they did have an extraordinarily effective author-editor relationship. That is probably Rose's best legacy. Her own writing has apparently not stood the test of time.
I highly recommend this look into the life and times of a beloved American icon.

Diffusing my Young Living Lavender and Citrus Fresh essential oils in the living room has has been a great mood booster this winter.  And, yes, those are a couple of my To Be Read piles in the background.
A Year at Bottengoms Farm
by Ronald Blythe
Oh, what joy to discover that Ronald Blythe has written a lot more books than I realized! The mini-essays in this book are from Blythe's column "Word from Wormingford" in the "Church Times." I came away with an extensive To-Be-Read list, for which I am very grateful, the joy of meeting old friends and finding new ones, and a new understanding of Paul's Letter to Philemon. Paul is not sending Onesimus back to Philemon as his slave, but heaping coals of fire (as the saying goes) on Philemon's head. Onesimus is now my child, part of me, Paul says, treat him as you would me. In other words, if you don't free him you are no Christian. 

Divine Landscapes
by Ronald Blythe
Photographs by Edwin Smith
Ronald Blythe takes us on a tour of the landscapes that influenced some of Britain's most famous religious and most famous writers, from Saints Cedd and Aidan, Julian of Norwich, William Langland, the martyrs of the Tudor and Stewart reigns, and on through Thomas Hardy and Arnold Bennett. He visits the places where they lived and died and shows the influences of these locales on how they conducted their lives, and on what they thought and said and wrote. The book is full of the beautiful black and white photos of Edwin Smith, but it is Blythe's prose that brings these scenes and people to life. Beautifully and wonderfully written. 

Pippin likes to keep an eye on what's going on outside.
by Mary Oliver
I like to read poetry before I fall asleep at night. Felicity contains deceptively simple poems that pack a big wallop. I finished this with great sadness, having just heard that Mary Oliver died.  The blurb on the back cover describes it as a collection of love poems.  If that's true, then they are love poems to the world and nature, as well as to a human lover.  

The Dream Thieves
by Maggie Stiefvater
This is the second of the four books in Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle, about four boys from a ritzy private school in Virginia, and Blue, the local girl who becomes their friend. They are looking for Owen Glendower, the Welsh prince who led the last rebellion against the English occupiers of Wales. Legend has it that he escaped to pre-Colonial Virginia with some of his men and was buried there, and that if you find him and awaken him he will grant you a wish. This book focuses around Ronan, the most troubled of the boys, who has a head and heart full of the dark and tragic events of his recent past. Ronan doesn't sleep much, and when he does his dreams are always nightmares, nightmares that sometimes come back to the waking world with him. And now there are dangerous men in Henrietta, Virginia, looking for Something that belonged to Ronan's mysterious father. The problem is, no one knows quite what that Something is, even the men looking for it, men who don't hesitate to use violence to get what they want. I liked the story and getting to know the characters better, though the events are often dark and violent. Fortunately it is mixed with humor and sunshine, so it is not completely dark, which is a Good Thing, because I'm going to have to read the remaining two books to find out what happens to these people I've gotten so fond of. And because my younger son will insist, since he loves the books and wants to talk about them with me. Who can resist that? 

The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life
by Amy Tan
This is a wonderful collection of essays, and other non-fiction writings, from novelist Amy Tan. She talks about her life, her mother and father, and her family history, and reveals how the things that happened to her and to her family have impacted her novels. She tells us about her writing process and how she came to write her first few novels. "The Joy Luck Club" started life as a collection of short stories, since Tan began her writing career as a short story writer. One essay talks about the process of making that book into a film. (I'm going to have to find and watch that now, though I think I'll re-read the book first. It's been a while.) She reminisces, wonders, questions, unafraid to talk about difficult things. Though she sometimes considers herself "cranky," her wry, sometimes deadpan, humor shines through. Her essay about touring with The Rock-Bottom Remainders, a literary rock band (some of the other members are Dave Barry, Stephen King, and Barbara Kingsolver) is hilarious.  This book was originally published in 2003, and has recently been re-released (Hooray!  I've been wanting to read it for years.), so it doesn't cover her more recent work or life.

Part of my indoor garden: (l-r) pelargonium, basil, rosemary, marjoram, and French lavender.
Today's Quote
"Memories are our treasures and torments, as Wilder once said, and somehow it is only in books that it can all be set right in the end."
Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Farewell to the Christmas Season

Since it is now February, I no longer have any excuse for leaving up the remaining Christmas decorations.  February means Valentine decorations, and in order to put those up, the last of Christmas had to be packed away. 

The Christmas tree came down, and most of the decorations were packed away, in the week following Epiphany. 

My Christmas Village was invaded this year.

Though some of the invaders just came for the hot chocolate.

The garden bunnies are inside for the winter, and the one on the right was obviously unnerved by the invasion.  The other two seemed to find it all very entertaining.  A show just for them!

This was the reason I decided to leave the "greenery" up through January.  I was so pleased with the way the chandelier came out this year I couldn't bear to take it down.  Besides, it would lend an air of cheerfulness and festivity to the long, dark month of January, something I always need quite badly.

Can you tell I'm partial to gold and glitter and sparkle?

But, thank Heaven, January, that longest and darkest month of winter, is now over, and the days are visibly longer.  It stays light till 5:00pm!  Though, this is New Hampshire and we have at least two more months of Winter - "at least" because last year we had a snow and ice storm in mid-April - the light is returning and the garden catalogs are arriving, which means there will be Spring!  That deserves a lot of exclamation points.  I am told the overuse of exclamation points is childish and not good writing, so I usually try to restrain myself, but the anticipation of Spring is not the time for restraint.

Today's Quote
Happiness is not so much in having as sharing.  We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
Norman MacEwan

Book Review: The Peony by Alice Harding

The Book of the Peony by Alice Harding
This is a 1985 reprint of a book first published in 1917, updated with a section of color photos. One of the photos is of the 'Alice Harding' peony, a lovely white, named after the author for her contributions to peony history and culture. In the book she covers the history, mythology, cultivation and propagation of both herbaceous and tree peonies in a manner that is infomative and easy to follow. At the end she appends a paper from 1915 by Professor H. H. Whetzel delivered to the Massa chusetts Horticultural Society. This latter was a bit of a downer, I must confess, describing the icky things that can happen to peonies. He says the claim that peonies are free from disease is a "fable," but I think he's a bit of an alarmist. In my 30 years of growing peonies I have had very few problems with them, and mine have survived both my enthusiam and benign neglect.
I highly recommend this book for both the history and growing infomation it provides. There is also a wonderful list of cultivars, some still available, that has me wondering where I can fit in another peony bed.

The Peony Walk back to front, facing toward the street, with St. Francis on the half shell at upper left..  The foxgloves have started blooming as well.

The Peony Walk with Edulis Superba, Monsieur Jules Elie, Reine Hortense, Virginia Mary, Amabilis, and an unknown white that was a gift from a friend.  Not knowing the name of something drives me bats.  Like Anne of Green Gables I like things to have "handles."

Peony Walk border: Monsieur Jules Elie, Reine Hortense, Virginia Mary, Amabillis, unknown white.  The orange poppy back there was supposed to be the salmon pink Princess Victoria Louise.  I dug it up last year but obviously missed some.
In the front garden clematis Ville de Lyon, and peonies Karl Rosenfeld, Festiva Maxima, Bunker Hill and Moonstone 

Unknown pinks in the front border, with rose Tess of the D'Ubervilles against the house.

From the Garden

It is 9:10pm and I have just come in from the garden for the night.  In the words of Eric Clapton, "It's gettin' dark, too dark to see."  I could no longer see what I was weeding, and I didn't want pull something by mistake.  The mosquitoes were out too, and undeterred by my hat, were finding their way into my ears and behind my glasses.  It was dark at ground level, but the sky was still light in the northwest.  Venus was big and bright in the eastern sky and there were a few stars visible.  (At least, I think it was Venus.  It was the biggest and brightest non-moon object in the sky, which I always assume is Venus.)  Had it not been for the mosquitoes I'd have stayed out to admire the garden in the dark.  It looked beautiful and ghostly with the white and pale pink peonies and the ox-eye daisies blooming.  Pale pink looks white at night.

Finally got the urns planted, and the blue pot I found Wednesday.

I'm trying for a red, white and blue theme for the urns again this year.  At the moment they just look red and white as the blue lobelia hasn't started blooming yet.  I found the blue pot Wednesday at Home Goods and immediately envisioned it planted with a bright yellow snapdragon and a pale yellow petunia.  Which I just so happened to have gotten at Spring Ledge Farm in New London last Sunday.
Clematis Ville de Lyon, with Venice Blue Speedwell at it's feet.  Rose William Baffin against the house.

Between yesterday and this afternoon I got a lot of weeding done, though I still have a great deal more to do.  There is always weeding to be done, of course, but I got behind last fall and am not caught up yet.  As much as anyone can be "caught up" with garden work.  I am a thorough weeder but not particularly fast.  There's something very satisfying about pulling weeds by hand and feeling all the roots come out with the weed.  It's much faster when I use my hand rake.

Unknown pink peony given to me about 30 years ago by my mother-in-law.  I love the way the opening flower shows off the intricacy of the folded petals.
Same peonies open/opening.
Today's Quote
"When Spring is on the wane,
Then men are apt
To turn their thoughts
To peonies again."
Anonymous Japanese

Book Review: What's Your Creative Type?

What's Your Creative Type?: Harness the Power of Your Artistic Personality by Meta Wagner
An entertaining look at what the author considers the five types of creative people - A-Lister, Artisan, Game Changer, Sensitive Soul, and Activist. The categories are rather narrow, and I suspect most of us would be found in more than one of them . Each type gets a chapter with definitions, quizzes, ideas and advice, and famous examples. This skims the surface of its subject, but is still an interesting read.

For the Birds

I miss my birds.  There is nothing that gives me so much joy as getting up in the morning and watching them at, or under, my feeders.  Goldfinches, house finches, purple finches, juncos, tufted titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, the cardinal pair, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, the occasional rose-breasted grosbeak, and in summer the catbird.  There must be two catbirds, but I've never seen more than one at a time.
And then there are these furry grey ones.  I hadn't realized birds could have tails like that.  So greedy.  They eat me out of house and home.  They'll just plaster themselves to the feeders and stay and stay, just gobbling away.  I don't understand why the birds don't mob them and drive them away, there are many more of them than there are squirrels.  And, by the way, my supposedly squirrel-proof feeders aren't.
But why am I missing my birds right now?
We had a visitor two weeks ago.  I went outside on a Monday morning and was greeted with this sight.  I feed the birds year round, in spite of warnings, so I do know the risks.  But on the whole I've been lucky, and in the thirty years we've lived here we've only been visited by a bear three times.  We live right in town, after all, and the middle school and high school are just down the hill.  Though there was a day, back when my older son, now 31, was in high school, that a bear ambled across the upper field while he was at soccer practice.
This fellow was particularly thorough and took out all three feeders, as well as the suet feeders, in the side yard.  Fortunately he didn't go through the garden, though he, or she, left a calling card beside it.  And a much larger pile in the back yard.  The hummingbird feeder and seed feeder in the front yard were untouched, fortunately, but  I've taken in the seed feeder to be safe.  I will probably put them back out again in a few weeks as there's been no evidence (no additional piles!) of a return visit.  And I miss my birds.  There are still birds around, I hear them all the time I'm home, but the finches have all gone elsewhere.  I particularly miss the goldfinches.  Their brilliant yellow gives me such joy.

Quote of the Day
Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be.  Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet.  I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.
Groucho Marx

Book Review: Splintered Light

The view from my east window this morning made me think of the title of Verlyn Flieger's book Splintered Light.  There is actually a German word for this phenomenon of the sun shining golden through the new spring leaves, which translates as Mayshine, or May light.  Thank you to Robert Macfarlane for defining it on his blog.  He has a Word of the Day feature which I love.

And, since I mentioned it, here is my review Flieger's book:
Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World by Verlyn Flieger
An interesting look at Tolkien's use of the Word, words, language and light in the world that he created. Actually, he called himself a sub-creator, as there is only one true Creator. He believed that it was important to go back to the roots of words, even to their ancient Indo-European meanings, to understand what a word truly means, in all of its nuances. As language got more complex, as more dialects proliferated, as words were more tightly defined, he felt that it has inexorably separated us from one another and from our surroundings. The more the meaning of something is splintered in this way, the more it will be seen as Other than we are.
There are still a few tulips left in the garden, and a couple of late, double daffodils.  The creeping phlox is blooming like crazy.  In the front border the lilacs are in full bloom, though here on the east side of the house poor Miss Kim (lower right corner) seems to have expired.  She's been struggling the past few years.  I will not mourn, but view this as an opportunity to try something else.

Quote of the Day:
It isn't what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy,.  It is what you think about.
Dale Carnegie, from Everyday Happiness, ed. Emma Hill

Today from VioletThyme

What I've Been Reading

The short dark days and long dark nights of late December and January were good for reading. Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Ad...