June Reprise

June was your basic lazy summer month. I read 11 books (4 each fiction and nonfiction and 3 poetry). The theme for the month was award-winning books (any award will do). There was a pinch towards the end of June as I tried to finish up multiple books at once (the one drawback of having a monthly reading theme), but I managed to pull it off (even though I perhaps gave short shrift to the last 100 pages of Slaves in the Family).

There were two major league standouts: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (fiction), a novel that takes place during WW2, from alternating perspectives of a young French girl who is blind, and a German boy who becomes a soldier (at age 16) even though he doesn’t believe in the Nazi creed. Short compelling chapters made for several fine afternoons of reading on the front porch.

The other particularly notable book of June was Things That Are, by Amy Leach. One could call these nature essays, or one could call them flights of fancy. They could also qualify as prose poetry; the writing is often playful and sometimes humorous, delightful and whimsical. I also learned a lot about sea cucumbers and jellyfish.

I’ve been tending the garden, harvesting rhubarb, blueberries, and calendula and just starting to see raspberries. I opted out of growing any vegetables this year, since with the exception of tomatoes I tend to fail miserably. More room for rosemary and chamomile!

A major highlight of June was seeing South Pacific at the Guthrie Theater. I had never seen it before (either the play or the movie) and it was wonderful! I knew many of the songs, including “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” which I associated with Clairol hair coloring, but not a musical. Good humor and great dancing. I Love the Guthrie; it rarely disappoints.

Minor highlights: I got rid of several more bags of books (what a good feeling!); of course this makes room for more books, which is also a good feeling. One of my favorite restaurants closed—Le Town Talk Diner. A sad day. And I continued my haiku postcard project (a haiku a day, sent on postcards to my friend in Montana)—nearly three years now! Here are some of my favorites from June:

another bag gone
gently used books seek new home,
a new adventure

adieu Le Town Talk
you have loved and served us well
I will miss your quiche

out the front window
two swallowtail butterflies
in the lilac tree

award-winning books
just a few days to finish
six hundred pages

Happy summer and good reading!

May Reprise

May was mostly about establishing new patterns and routines with both of us home on a full-time basis. It is hard! I am a major lover of solitude and silence and will be forever grateful for these last two years. I found having full days to myself led to a desire to write. Ideas bubbled up based on books, conversations, current events; I would develop a framework in my mind.

The ideas aren’t bubbling up so much anymore, much less the framework to hang them on. I thought about taking the summer off from the blog, or even stopping. But I don’t want to quit writing (and I did keep up with the daily haiku project) and I think I’ve come up with a nice bridge/solution. That’s my next blog post.

Back to May: I read 12 books in May, and for the first time in a while, poetry ruled (5), followed by fiction (4) and nonfiction (3). My hands-down favorite book of the month (2 stars) was Farmacology, by Daphne Miller. This feels like an important, ground-breaking book, kind of along the lines of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I’m not sure why it has fallen pretty much under the radar. If you are interested in health issues and/or our ‘write a prescription to take care of a problem’ medical culture, you should definitely take a look at this book.

The May reading theme was one-word titles. Super fun. Here are my titles:

  • Georgia
  • Farmacology
  • Pinhook
  • Exterior
  • Fidelity
  • Nurture
  • Fortune
  • Gravity
  • Nimona
  • unflux
  • Pure

Doesn’t it make you want to go to your bookshelves right now and look for one-word titles? I thought so.

I did not do as much birding in May as I should have or wanted to. Lots of rain, and then busy on the days good for birding. Ah well. Still, I added 23 birds to my year list, with highlights of Northern Harrier, House Wren (backyard), Sandhill Cranes (about 30 of them!), Common Loon, Hermit Thrush, Indigo Bunting, and Gray Catbird (also in the backyard, and nesting nearby—very loud!).

In the kitchen I made apple-rhubarb sauce (very good, includes a lot of cinnamon), ham steak (also good though a little dry), scalloped potatoes (first try, not so good), and braised turkey legs (excellent).

We got rid of 6 more bags of books. I can actually see most of the floor in the blue room. Progress.

Haiku for May:

rampant raspberries
want to march across the yard
cheers for the home team!
early morning dark
before getting out of bed
I smell the lilacs
the saucy catbird
ever bold and curious
poses for Kathleen
last night I dreamt that
god is a small blue corner
dusky seaside blue

On to June. In the meantime, good books, good birds, and lots of laughter.

April Reprise

The rhubarb is ready to pick. The lilacs are starting to bloom. The catnip is a major personality in the herb garden, and the lemon balm is most decidedly coming back this year (last year was pretty iffy). Both sage plants are in full green and growing, and the raspberries seem intent on marching through the yard. I confess I cannot stop them. I will happily take a detour to allow the rampant raspberry.

Bookishly, I read 10 books in April. Another month heavy on nonfiction (5 of 10; 3 fiction; 2 poetry). The book I loved most was Plant Dreaming Deep, by May Sarton (memoir). I’ve read several of Sarton’s journals in higgledy-piggledy order, but this is a memoir and a prelude to the journals. I’m hoping to read all of them (in order) in the next year or so. Sometimes things call, and these books are calling to me.

My major reading accomplishment, though, was finishing The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Thank goodness I was reading this with a couple of friends, or I doubt I would have made it to the end. It’s about Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, as well as the journalists of the time (and most notably Ida Tarbell). I certainly learned a lot reading it, but I wasn’t as engaged as I have been with some of her earlier works (most notably Team of Rivals, featuring Abraham Lincoln). We all heaved a sigh of relief at our last discussion and decided to stay away from books with political themes for the foreseeable future.

One of the best things about April is the ongoing influx of migrating birds. I added 30 birds to my year list, including a variety of ducks, but also Eastern Bluebird, Golden Eagle, Pileated Woodpecker, Great-Horned Owl, and American Pelican. Of these, both the pileated and the pelican were seen from my yard, giving me a fairly respectable yard list this year. The pelicans were not new to my yard list, but this is the first time I have seen so many. They were kettling high in the sky—I only ran across them because I was scanning treetops with my binoculars and there they were. My other notable sighting for the month was a Belted Kingfisher. These are not uncommon in Minnesota, but I saw not a single one last year, so I was exceedingly pleased to see one a couple weeks ago, and not far from my house at that!

In the herb world, a few weeks ago my herbal friend in California sent me a hot rub that was so effective on the arthritis in my foot that I decided to have a go at making my own Minnesota version. It includes hops, chamomile, rosemary, cayenne, and turmeric. Half is macerating in grapeseed oil and half in canola oil. I am just starting to experiment with different carrier oils (up until now, I’ve used olive oil almost exclusively). It won’t be ready to decant for a couple of weeks, and in the meantime I decided to try another version, with minced ginger (along with chamomile, cayenne, and turmeric) and this went in olive oil. I will have much to compare and contrast in a month or so. Warning: If you make your own version of this, do wash your hands immediately after application and keep away from eyes and sensitive tissues. The cayenne can cause serious discomfort!

Cooking was not a high priority in April but I did have one quite excellent cooking experience. I was at a neighborhood restaurant and noticed orzo-tangelo-thyme salad on the menu. It looked delicious and I decided to try making it at home—it seemed so simple. And it was! Take some cooked orzo, add some zest from a tangelo (I couldn’t find a tangelo so I used a tangerine)—enough to add some pretty color but not to overwhelm. Add as much juice from the tangelo as you like to the salad, until it reaches a pleasing consistency. (I only used a cup of cooked orzo, and added the juice of half a tangerine—next time I will make a much larger batch!) Add fresh chopped thyme.

(Note: If chopping fresh herbs stymies you because the herbs always bend instead of getting cut by the knife, you probably need a sharper knife. I had completely given up on chopping fresh herbs with a knife and tore them up by hand for years, until a few months ago I invested in a fairly decent and small chef’s knife. The smaller knife fits better in my hand, and whether it’s the control or the sharpness of the knife, when I tried chopping the fresh thyme with this knife, it was like magic.)

Add enough thyme so the salad has a nice mix of orange and green. Taste, of course, and add more thyme as desired. Mix all together and serve with pretty much anything. It worked equally well with pork roast and sausages, and also makes a fine light lunch on a hot day.

My haiku postcard project continues. April highlights:

the nice sunny day
turns into a short blizzard
April’s lion side

not a house sparrow
skittering in the dogwoods
white-throated sparrow!

Plus the occasional tanka:

such a loud drumming
pileated woodpecker
I couldn’t find it
until it flew from the tree
so big yet so elusive

Happy reading, happy birding, happy spring. Is there a better time to be alive?

February Reprise

February was mostly reading and writing with a little shoveling thrown in. We finally got a nice dumping of snow in early February—about 10 inches. The book launch party I was planning to attend was canceled, so instead I made a tuna casserole, shoveled, and read.

I read 13 books in February, pretty evenly divided between poetry (5), fiction (4), and nonfiction (4). My favorite book of the month was Iron Hearted Violet, a YA novel by Kelly Barnhill. I loved this book for many reasons and was completely captivated. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that I loved it because it has lots of strong female characters, a mistress of falconry, a princess who isn’t beautiful, a dragon, a runty god, and a dab of physics.

Other than that it was just kind of a blah reading month; nothing else really grabbed me. I think it’s the February blues. Not that it’s been a particularly rough February (on the contrary). But my heart wants to be puttering in the back yard, pulling weeds and harvesting herbs. Two months to go yet.

I continued the GMO postcard project through all of February (a postcard a day to my two senators, with a fact a day about GMOs and what we know and don’t know and asking them to vote against the Dark Act). It was a lot of fun but kind of intense. I really got quite immersed in the GMO world (learned a lot, too) and while the postcards themselves only took about an hour a day, the issue occupied my mind for many more hours. I did give myself Sundays off, but it was still pretty intense.

And I’m still continuing my daily haiku postcard project. From February:

white-breasted nuthatch
calls from the top of the tree
is it springtime yet?

winter storm warning
gleefully anticipate
5 to 9 inches

the perfect snowstorm
not too cold, nowhere to be
Groundhog Day indeed

The final thing that took a good chunk of time in February was politics: It’s been a bit of a wild ride and a lot to follow. From the presidential candidates to the Supreme Court to the many strains of populism being displayed by the citizenry. It’s a fascinating time to be alive.

Again, scary but fun.

October Reprise

October was about reading, presidential debates, repairing, and replacing. It was also a much more social month than is usual for me. But first, the books.

I read a lot in October—24 books. Half were fiction (and three of those were graphic novels, two of which were Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I read 5 poetry books which was nice after last month’s drought, and 7 works of nonfiction. The reading theme for October was scary/Halloween. Some sample titles:

  • Ghostwritten (David Mitchell)
  • Boo (Neil Smith)
  • Goest (Cole Swensen)
  • Night With Its Owl (Anne Love Woodhull)
  • Talking to the Dead (Helen Dunmore)
  • A Man Lay Dead (Ngaio Marsh)
  • The Boggart and the Monster (Susan Cooper)
  • Ghosts in the Garden (Beth Kephart)
  • Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)
  • Murderer’s Day (E.M. Schorb)

FC9781844673315The best book I read last month was The Food Wars, by Walden Bello. I learned so much about agriculture and world trade (scary things, depressing things and yes, some hopeful things)—too much to get into here. That will have to be a separate post. My other favorite book of the month was fiction, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. I read this in one day. If you have a friend who loves books (I’m not just talking loves to read, but loves the books 9781616204518in and of themselves), hie thee to the nearest independent bookstore and purchase The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry for the next gift opportunity (a sunny day will do).

Also in bookworld, we attended the Twin Cities Book Festival at the state fairgrounds. This is always a fun event with lots of authors and speakers and books for sale. I got 6 poetry books for $3 (total, not apiece), which was amazing.

As for the repairs and replacements, we have a new computer (which I’m slowly getting used to) but still a less than perfect (am I becoming too impatient?) internet connection. Also, the dryer vent fell away from the wall/vent hole and I could no longer fix it with duct tape, so that was replaced. And then the sewer backed up (doing laundry, always more pleasant than other indicators) so we called Ron the Sewer Rat and that problem was resolved. Whew.

And such a social month. One of the highlights was my mom’s 95th birthday. We went out for a birthday lunch to her place of choice, thinking it would just be a few of us, and imagine how fun when all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren showed up. They found a table big enough for all of us and Mom just glowed.

Also in the social world were the presidential debates. We prevailed upon our TV-owning friend Kathleen, who kindly invited us over for the first Democratic and the second Republican debate. Go Bernie!

Plus visiting the apple orchards with my friend in Hastings, making more dishwasher soap with my neighbor (love it—cheap and works well!), a reception and lecture at the University of Minnesota, happy hour with some former coworkers, and sundry lunches and other engagements conspired to fill so many days, I see a couple notations of “blessed day alone” in my journal.

I also turned up the stove in October and did more cooking. Nice to be back in cooler weather where I actually want to turn on the oven. Mostly the basics: beef stew, Cuban beans, applesauce, chicken adobo, spaghetti. I want to make a soufflé. Maybe in November.

October is a lovely month in Minnesota. We had our first hard freeze so I picked all the tomatoes and took in some herbs for hopeful overwintering. Then it warmed up again, and I took advantage to immerse myself in reading on the front porch while I can. They are rare days now and to be savored.

September Reprise

September was mostly about not having a working computer (also part of August and much of October). Not having a computer makes a lot of things different. Sure, I could check email and get the internet on my phone. But I mostly use email for lengthy correspondence, and small screens don’t work so well for that. I found myself sending more things through the mail.

I missed my morning email update from the Washington Post; I missed reading news in general (again, not as fun on the small screen). I started reading the newspaper in the morning. I find it a fine start to the day and even just paging through the paper for 15 minutes I realize I am gleaning a lot more than I do when I catch the news online. All those inside stories.

I missed blogging but I didn’t miss blogging. I got a lot done around the house. I slept better.

We have a new computer now, and I’m starting to learn at least some of the new gadgets that have been added in the many years since my last computer purchase. It’s a mix of annoying and fun. Annoying if I’m in a hurry or it crashes (still some glitches to work out) and fun when I have the “aha!” of “Oh That’s how that works!” Whether I’ll be able to figure out pictures for this post remains to be seen.

We also took our first vacation in several years in September, to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. Highlights: Northshire Books, a new independent bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs (it earned several visits); a drive through the beautiful Catskill Mountains; a few hours wandering around a relatively deserted state park, where we lost ourselves in a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies; and a most wonderful dinner with the in-laws (sister and husband) which was a perfect blend of banter and laughter and serious talk, and everyone had a second drink. I bet we sat there for three hours. It is very rare for me not to want social engagements to end, but this one I would have liked to extend for an hour or two.

As for the rest of life in September, I read fewer books than average (only 9), but it was a bit unusual in a majority (5) were nonfiction and none were poetry. The huge standout of the month was Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit. Who hasn’t had this experience? The experience Solnit relates was particularly egregious (but oh so funny): She was a guest at a party in Aspen, and the host said he heard she was a writer and asked what she had written. Solnit mentioned her most recent book at the time, River of Shadows: Edward Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. He cut her off and asked if she had heard about the Very Important Muybridge book that had come out recently. He then proceeded to tell her about her own book. When he finally realized she had written the book he was lecturing her about, he at least had the grace to turn ashen. Punch line: He hadn’t even read the book; he had merely read a review of the book! Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume, easily read in a day. I recommend it to everybody.

Much of the rest of September was about being outdoors. Harvesting, pruning, weeding, and just hanging out. We also finished the seventh (and final) season of West Wing, which I found to be a most excellent television series that I missed when it was airing. Perhaps not as good as Star Trek or Buffy or Xena, but still probably in the top five.

Oh. In the kitchen I made crabapple sauce and it was a total disaster. So much work with those tiny apples, for just a little amount of sauce, that was way too sour and crunchy. I also made my first batch of applesauce from the apple orchard season, even though it was a bit early in September. I now have Honeycrisp and Haralson apples, which will make the most excellent applesauce of substance.

Finally, we celebrated the equinox. The balance of light and dark, the start of autumn. The trees are beautiful here. The maples are flaming. The trees turn early in the Mississippi River valley, so I am happy to experience a really long autumn.

More soon I hope!

August Reprise

August was mostly about cleaning and cooking and culling. Part of this burst of productivity was due to the fact that our internet was down for nearly 2 weeks. Without that distraction (though I did learn a lot of new tricks with my phone), I turned to other forms of entertainment. Plus we were very lucky to have an unseasonably cool and rainy patch which gave me a boost of energy and made both cooking and cleaning more enjoyable.

As for the book culling, that was done mostly in the basement on the hottest days. I found it a fine way to while away a hot afternoon: going through old books that I’ve read and loved enough to keep, thinking I might read them again. But tastes change, time gets a little shorter, and new books keep coming out, and often a few years after reading it is easier to part with a book than immediately on completion. I did it at a good time, too—I was feeling quite ruthless. (It’s worthless to try book culling when in a sentimental mood. You’re lucky to find even one book you can part with.) In all, I culled about 500 books. When I saw the piles and piles and bags and bags, I hesitated. Wasn’t I getting rid of a sizable portion of my collection? But then I thought that perhaps I was merely getting rid of as many books as I’ve purchased since moving into this house 8 years ago. And then I decided to find out (because I keep track of these kinds of things). Oh. Well. I just did the calculation. From 2008-2014 (the most easily available data), I bought 1,350 books. I have barely culled what amounts to one-third of the books that I’ve brought into the house since moving in! But there are two more bookcases and another cabinet of books in the basement to cull, as well as others tucked here and there in nooks and crannies throughout the house. Maybe I’ll get to 1,000 before the end of the year!

EvermealBut August was also about reading, of course. I read 15 books in August, mostly nonfiction (8), but also 3 books of poetry and 4 novels. The best of the pack was An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler. I started this book intending to give it to my sister-in-law as part of her Christmas package (we have a “no new gifts” policy). It took me less than a chapter to wonder if I would be able to part with this book—so many things I wanted to try, cooking techniques and recipes (e.g., baked ricotta, parsley salad). Adler’s book also contributed to my August bean frenzy, with an entire chapter devoted to beans. By chapter two I had used my pencil gingerly, and by chapter six I was wielding it with abandon. This is a book that will go on my kitchen bookshelf to be consulted often, and reread on occasion. For those of you out there that love food-related literature, An Everlasting Meal is modeled on M. F. K. Fisher’s book, How to Cook a Wolf. I’ve not read any Fisher, but we happen to have How to Cook a Wolf in the house, and I expect to read it before the year’s end.

[Note: My sluggish computer is not loading pictures. I hope to come back and add more in later.]

The other best book was My Favorite Things, by Maira Kalman. This book is a visual treat—the type of book that I adore. I have loved all the books of hers that I’ve read, but this, more than any other, made me smile.

As for the cleaning, I won’t bore you with that much, except to say that the dust bunnies behind the poetry were more akin to dust hares, and vacuuming stairs is seriously unpleasant.

I’ve already written about my foray into the world of beans, and that has continued. I made a batch of kidney and pinto beans in the slow cooker (with just an onion, several garlic cloves, and salt, with the salt added toward the end) and they were great!

My efforts to limit my eating of factory-farmed meat have been moderately successful (in large part because it’s summer when I tend to eat less meat anyway) and I’ve surprised myself at how many meatless days I have (18 of 31 days in August). Eating out less has definitely been a factor in the increase in meatless days (and it has been good to my wallet!).

Also in the domestic realm, my neighbor and I made dishwashing soap and laundry soap. It was a fun afternoon of grating (bar soap—we used Dr. Bronner’s) and stirring and mixing and pouring. I’ve tried both the laundry and dish soap and have no complaints. Cheaper, fewer chemicals, and better for the environment. As long as it works, I’m there!

But the huge event of August was seeing The Music Man at the Guthrie Theater. In fact we loved it so much, we went back two weeks later and saw it again (from a completely different vantage point). A total luxury and worth every penny.

July Reprise

July was a lot of sitting on the front porch reading. I read 18 books in July, mostly nonfiction (10). I read 5 fiction books (two of them were graphic novels) and 3 books of poetry. I’ve already written about my favorite books (July 8 and July 10) which were all nonfiction.

House HopeI also had this bookish experience in July: One of my fun light summer fiction reads was The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Pragg, a book incorporating a goodly pinch each of magic, literature, and feminism. After finishing this book, I decided to read A Room With a View, by E. M. Forster which was referenced several times (and quite fondly) in The House at the End of Hope Street. I loved the movie version of A Room With a View (which I’ve seen several times) and have wanted to read the book for a long time, and this was clearly the moment. I went to my shelf and—it wasn’t there! I was so sure I had it. I remember looking for a good trade copy of it for several years, and then I wasn’t looking, and I was sure I had bought it. Apparently not. I found Maurice and A Passage to India, but A Room With a View was not on the shelf where it should be.

They didn’t have it in stock at Moon Palace Books, but they offered to get me a used copy. I didn’t hear from them, so when I went to the library, I checked the shelf and they had a copy so I checked it out. But that weekend we went to Moon Palace and they did have a copy for me, a not-bad trade paperback, so I got it for $5.

Room ViewA couple of days later, I was culling my tall bookshelf of already-read fiction. And there sat A Room With a View. Not only did I have it (at least I was right about that) but I have read it and couldn’t even remember it! (This is not completely unprecedented. I read Stephen King’s novel The Stand and forgot, and it’s much longer than A Room With a View. But I hold E. M. Forster to a higher standard than I do King, and so I am quite disappointed—shocked even—at myself for forgetting.) My guess is that it’s because the movie is so ingrained in my mind that the book just kind of adapted itself in my brain to the movie, because Lucy Honeychurch will always and ever be Helena Bonham Carter to me.

FruitJuly was also a bit about cooking as I ventured into the world of salads. Fruit salad, tuna pasta salad (with lots of celery and peas), creamy cucumbers, and potato salad (my first attempt was not too bad but my second will be much better). Having covered the common bases, I decided to branch out into an orange/lentil salad (lentils cooked with orange zest, ginger, and cumin and then mixed with large chunks of orange, served cold). This was a very good idea in theory, but in practice we liked the lentils so much that we just ate them on their own (both cold and hot). I made juice (and fruit salad) out of the rest of the oranges.

We got tortillas to eat with the lentils. Then I thought to pick just a few herbs from the garden and put on a tortilla, cover with cheese, and microwave for 30 seconds. Particularly delicious with basil. Since we had the tortillas and it’s such an easy summer lunch, I made more lentils (also just because I wanted to practice). And when the lentils were almost gone, I made a batch of refried beans. We are now experimenting with whole grain tortillas. There are a lot of tortilla options out there. Recommendations are welcome!

Also on the food front, I have to say I am extremely glad I didn’t have a goal of eliminating 100% of industrial meat from my diet! One surprising thing I’ve found is how many meatless days I’ve had. I’ve only been tracking for 10 days, but half of those days were meatless. This is in large part due to the fact that I’m eating out less. I think I have cut my restaurant eating by about two-thirds. (And I can tell. I’m starting to miss the social aspect. Need to put other things in place so I don’t become a hermit.) But even eating out, I find I’m ordering more non-meat options than I used to, purely to avoid the industrial meat.

I expected to do much more meat eating at home (since we get our meat at the co-op, sourced from sustainable farms), but as mentioned above, I’ve been experimenting with salads and lentils and beans this month which has cut down on our carnivorous tendencies. Come autumn and winter, meat will return to the table.

GreenTFor now, it is mostly about the garden. I’ve got tomatoes coming in (green and plentiful). I continue to harvest chamomile nearly daily, and my plants are doing well enough that I am now using two screens for drying instead of just the one I had been using. I have two late-blooming chamomile plants that have just started flowering. Worth the wait, as these flowers are about three times the size of those in the other pots! I’ve also been more diligent about harvesting my herbs for use over the winter and have already started jars of dried rosemary, yarrow, thyme, plantain, and sage.

The other best thing about spending time in the garden is the wildlife. I’ve seen fledging cardinals, blue jays, robins, and catbirds this year. More than ever before. Also many monarch and swallowtail butterflies, a great spangled fritillary, and different kinds of bumble bees. I think maybe I’m just paying more attention.

June Reprise

June was mostly about the yard and spending time on the porch reading. Also listening to and watching the rain. We had a couple of really nice thunderstorms. I read 11 books in June, 5 nonfiction and 3 each poetry and fiction. I’ve already written about the most outstanding reads (Award-Winning Books). Award-winning books was a fun monthly theme, and I covered a bit of territory: Alex Award (2), New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) Award (2), Minnesota Book Award (2), Ernest Sundeen Prize in Poetry, Newbery, John Burroughs Medal (2), James Beard Foundation Award, National Book Award, and the Lambda Literary Award.

But June was mostly about plants and planting and even some harvesting. First things first: I have all my plants in the ground (or in pots) excepting one blackberry bush that a friend is giving me. (She promises it will overwinter in the pot and I don’t need to plant it until next year. Since she knows a lot more about plants and gardens than I do, I will choose to believe her!)

raspberryMy currants are just ready to harvest. There are still a few left. Not many. I don’t mind so much: I like sharing my food with the animals. I might wish they would leave me a bit more though. I am getting blueberries! I only planted these last year, but it appears that I am going to have a small crop of blueberries. (Very small.) The raspberries are starting to turn red. The tomatoes are just starting to blossom. The berries are coming in on the red-twig dogwoods (robins and vireos, in particular, love these berries).

Butterflyweed

Butterflyweed

The swamp milkweed is starting to flower, but no signs of pods yet. On the exciting front, I have finally got some common milkweed in my yard. My neighbor has a very fine patch of it and has given me many seed pods which I have scattered with abandon to no effect. Until this year! I noticed four common milkweed plants while mowing the lawn earlier this week (I almost ran over one of them). Between the butterflyweed and the swamp milkweed, I have already seen a monarch caterpillar and a monarch butterfly.

In herbland, the hops are coming up nicely, it appears the lemon balm might be coming back after all, the comfrey is flowering and spreading, and the feverfew is in full bloom. I harvest a handful of chamomile flowers pretty much every day, and I’ve also put up some rosemary and sage to dry (for winter cooking). My big failure in the garden last year was insufficient harvesting. I am trying to be a better steward of the plants this year. (But also not over-harvesting which I did last fall to a couple of plants. They taught me a lesson by not returning.)

I’ve already harvested both catnip and yarrow twice, using them together in a brandy-based tincture that I have found to be quite helpful when taken at the first sign of cold or flu.

I don’t do a lot of cooking in the summer but we had a few cool days in June and I was pulled into the kitchen. I made my first shepherd’s pie (futzy but fun, and not bad at all), rhubarb sauce (twice), pork chops with apples and rhubarb (very good), and refried beans. I’ve also gotten into the habit of making extra and freezing things so we have a few decent meals for really hot weeks when I just can’t stand the thought of cooking.

Lightning2June is not so much about birding. By the time June rolls around, I’m usually feeling a bit birded out and my interest turns more to the garden. It’s one of the wonderful things about the natural world: There’s always something to capture your interest. Birds. Ants. Monarchs. Thunderstorms. Something as simple as mowing the lawn can lead to a discovery.

May Reprise

May is my month of abundance; an embarrassment of riches. Books, bookstores, birthday, and birding rise to the top as highlights, as well as gardening and watching things come back to life. MinBooks.  I read 13 books in May, 5 each for fiction and nonfiction, and 3 poetry. The big standout was The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, which I’ve already written about. I also particularly liked Red Azalea, by Anchee Min, a memoir of growing up in China under Mao. Very compelling and I learned a lot (not surprising given my sparse knowledge of China). The reading theme for May was color, and I did indeed complete the color spectrum:

  • Red Azalea, Anchee Min
  • From the Orange Mailbox, A. Carman Clark
  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee
  • A Few Green Leaves, Barbara Pym
  • Blue Jelly, Debby Bull
  • Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, Ntozake Shange
  • Violet & Claire, Francesca Lia Block

It was fun in that I had the books in my collection to do it, and I read a lot of books that have been languishing unread for years (one of the great boons of the monthly reading theme), but I didn’t get to several of the books I had really wanted to read (the one that stands out most particularly is Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett). Of course that seems to be the case with every reading theme, so I guess I’m best off not blaming the color spectrum.

moon palaceProbably the bigger book story of May was the purchasing side. We went a little wild on that front. May is always a big month for buying books because it’s my birthday month and also we usually go to WisCon (Feminist Science Fiction Convention hosted annually in Madison, WI) where the books are not to be resisted. We didn’t go to WisCon, but we have a goodly number of local bookstores and we managed to hit several of them (Moon Palace Books, Minnesota’s Bookstore, Micawber’s Books, SubText, Magers & Quinn, Dreamhaven, Sixth Chamber, and three different Half Price Books). Crazy, huh? But it’s a vacation! We saved all that travel money, but then we spent it on books (yes, even more books than last May when we DID go to WisCon, an increase of a hefty 75%). We got more books in May (58) than we did in January-April combined. Lots of nonfiction (31) and fiction (19) and also several new volumes of poetry (7). An extravagant month as books go!

Birding. I added 62 birds to my year list in May! This was a spectacular May for shorebirds and I added a few to my lifelist, including White-Rumped Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Short-Billed sbdow_beauliddellDowitcher. Of these, the most exciting was the Short-Billed Dowitcher, which we saw at the Princeton Sewage Ponds. It was just there for the longest time, and we watched and watched and watched. The sandpipers I know I have seen before, but never close enough views to truly identify them. The waters were really low at Old Cedar one birding morning, and what at first looked like empty mudflats were in fact mudflats teaming with shorebirds. Oh they can blend! Other particularly fun sitings in May:

  • Wilson’s Phalarope (5-8)
  • Indigo Bunting (5-12)
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk (5-16)
  • Blue-Headed Vireo (5-19; new yard bird!)
  • American White Pelican (5-24)
  • Earred Grebe (5-30)
  • Caspian Tern (5-30)

I’ve only seen a few Caspian Terns in my life, so it was a rare treat at Old Cedar. Just one, but it flew in close and then settled down on a sandbar where it stayed for a good half hour or so. Lovely.

Medicinal Herbs. After a bit of a hiatus, I’ve gotten back into the swing of things. I felt like I had gone too broad, taken on too much, tried too much (with scads of bottles and jars filled with tinctures, herbs, and oils to prove it!) and said as much to a friend. My wise friend said it was probably not a mistake to go so broad to start—that’s how you learn the scope of the field. And I realized that I have learned a lot about what’s out there, and also the things that I most use and need, as well as what I am most drawn to. So now I am starting to focus in.

One of the things I like best is salve. I like to make it, I like to give it away, and I like to use it. I made another batch of the ginger, chamomile, clove, and black pepper salve (good for muscle massage and body aches); another batch of rosemary-chamomile salve (my favorite and most popular with my friends, and good for mild arthritis); and a thyme-chamomile salve (soothing and good for disinfecting).

Chamomile is one of my go-to herbs, so I’ve planted some from seed this year. I’ve moved several into large pots and am hoping to have a decent crop in a few weeks. Last year I was horrible about harvesting, and this year I vow to do better. Most especially with the chamomile (which I can buy at the co-op but it just doesn’t smell as good as the home-grown does) and rosemary (which I use vastly in cooking and for medicinals).

rhubarbCooking. My rhubarb was crying to be picked by early May, and pick I have. Several batches of rhubarb sauce later (the most recent just yesterday, with brown sugar, honey, and cinnamon), it’s still going strong. When we had a cold rainy spell mid-month I made some beef stew. I also made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce and froze a few pints for summer days when I don’t feel like making it from scratch.

Other highlights. May Baskets! Seeing Bernie Sanders, first mowing of the lawn (second, third), and cleaning out the garden beds. Perhaps the greatest highlight of the month: My mom gave me her dutch oven. She has used this for roasts for years, her most prized piece of cookware. But at 94, she isn’t cooking very much any more, and she has handed it down to me. I am thrilled. I hope to do her proud.