Time flies when you’re lost in a good book

Humidity and heat = AC and books!

I chose to take June off from blogging. Then the heat and humidity of a South Carolina summer sapped me of the strength to do anything more in my garden than just water the plants and let them be. Doing so left me nothing to blog about from my garden – how many posts can I write on wilting vines?

Summers in SC are perfect for staying indoors, reading, sipping sweet iced tea, and enjoying Mr. Willis Carrier’s wonderful invention of commercial air conditioning. To keep this short, I’m just posting a list of some of the books I read since June, with maybe one or two lines of description. Tell me what a person reads and I’ll tell you about that person….

June

Kindle

Out of the Silent Planet
by C. S. Lewis

The beginning of Lewis’ lesser-known trilogy for adults. Fanciful yet deep. It rewards constant re-reading.

Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot
Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard

I’ve read so many books about the Kennedys – this was one of them. I can’t remember much about it.

January 6: How Democrats Used the Capitol Protest to Launch a War on Terror Against the Political Right
Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly has been the voice of those who have no voice in this matter. Read it and be infuriated.

OUTCRY: Why does Pope Barnabas release Catholic clergy from their vows of celibacy?
Ned Cosby

A piece of fiction which imagines a future pope determined to rid the church of sexual abuse.

Paperback and hardcover

Uncharted (1) (Arcane America)
Sarah A. Hoyt and Kevin J. Anderson

I love Sarah’s blog and love to read her books.


July

Kindle

The Devil’s Hand: A Thriller (Terminal List Book 4) AND

In the Blood: A Thriller (Terminal List Book 5)
Jack Carr

I had to read both of these to finish the series before I watched an episode of Amazon Prime’s Terminal List series. My conclusion: I’m happier with the books.

Blessed With All This Life (The Wilder Bunch Book 7)
Max Cossack

The last of the Wilder Bunch series, and yes, of course I have them all. I was turned on to the famous novelist Max Cossack by his lovely wife who writes the Ammo Grrrll columns at Powerline blog.

Paperback and hardcover

The Bodies of Others: The New Authoritarians, COVID-19 and The War Against the Human
Naomi Wolf

Still finishing this one up – it makes my blood boil!!


August (so far)

Kindle

The Iron Web
Larken Rose

A chilling look at a possible dystopian future, where men have forgotten how to be free.

The Puppet Masters
Robert A. Heinlein

My introduction to a master – thank you, Sarah Hoyt!

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein

I’m 75% of the way through this and it makes me cheer. The transportees settled forcibly on Luna (our moon) have risen up and declared their independence. I’d heard of this one before I read it – it is a masterpiece.

Waiting in the wings

The Little World of Don Camillo (Don Camillo Series Book 1)
Giovanni Guareschi

Another delightful recommendation from Sarah. Can’t wait.

Paperback and hardcover

One Row at a Time
Rochester A. Baker, Sr.

Rochester is in my Toastmasters club, Two Notch Toastmasters. He has written a lovely book which is both a memoir of lessons learned in his long life, “one row at a time,” and a tribute to his late wife Sheilda. She came with him to Toastmasters meetings years ago, before she passed. A wonderful elegy.

Gotta get back to my latest …

As you can see, I’m still finishing a couple or three. I’ll usually have four or five on the go at all times. Oh, yes, I read two Jack Reacher paperbacks as well this summer, but they’re in the car, destined for the Little Free Library on the corner and I can’t be bothered to dig them up.

A good book, a glass of sweet tea, and a little something to munch on – it don’t get better than this!

– Aunt Gem’s dad

Gird Your Loins and Fight

Latest in my series of book reviews

Never go to war against a mom

Before I started “weaning” myself off my smartphone – I couldn’t have handled a 651-page book – even one as entertaining as “Shut Up! The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment.

The librarian of your nightmares wants you to stop questioning the Library Board

This book makes me so glad I did the work to get my concentration back. Authors Megan Fox and Kevin DuJan tell the tale of their multi-year fight with a public library which allowed adults to access porn on their computers – and did nothing to stop it, saying it was allowed by the First Amendment. (Spoiler alert: no, the Supreme Court ruled libraries do NOT have to allow access to porn.)

A pleasant day turned peep show

At the beginning of the saga, Megan was a homeschooling mama of two little girls, named “Seven” and “Four” to protect them in the book. One day she decided to take them to the Orland Park Public Library with friend Kevin along with the ride. A quick errand to print some homeschool activity sheets led to a three-year saga – complete with lawsuits and a cast of characters that could fill a long-running soap opera. Here’s how Megan described it:

“There’s the awkward sibling of a beloved TV icon; a national hero from the Reagan administration; a former Playboy model, jewel thief, ex-wife of a Chicago Bear, ex-girlfriend of an infamous mobster who turned state’s evidence against him (and those last four are all the same person!); Our Ladies of the Perpetually Furrowed Brows; the heiress to the Comiskey baseball diamonds; a former United States Senate candidate from Illinois (who is more famous for once being married toa Sci-Fi starlet who flew around the universe in a spaceship); the King of Journalism; a gargoyle; someone who sold his soul on eBay (like it was a good thing); hot cops; … some of the best lawyers in the whole damn world (pitted against clearly some of the worst) … SNL’s Weekend Update; … the Karate Kid; famous legal scholars; fearless watchdogs; sexually harassed whistleblowers; and the nation’s leading expert on the dangers to children in public libraries.”

-Megan Fox

Truly, this book had EVERYTHING, as Megan described it: “Sex, government corruption, child porn, a gold heist, libel, slander, defamation, lawsuits, death and rape threats, police harassment, a SLAPP, cloak and dagger intrigue, fruits, 7 pounds of Italian beef and 2 large jugs of peppers, and special interest groups out to sabotage a suburban mom and her whimsical gay friend.”

Kevin and Megan take turns, chapter by chapter, telling the story. Their styles of storytelling complement and contrast with each other. Both bring in themes from children’s stories to anchor the tale: if you’ve read Harry Potter you’ll love the way they work in references to that saga. Kevin’s style is more “whimsical” as Megan said, and Megan’s motherly concern doesn’t just shine through – she’s on the warpath to make the library safe for all kids. Thank God these two are people who NEVER back down. They fought a public governmental body for years and triumphed. The best stories are ones where good defeats evil – and that’s exactly what happens here.

Whew!

At the end, you, the reader are drawing in a long breath after just reading about it. By the time the final lawsuit was settled, Megan had added another baby to her family. Kevin was advising other libraries how to prevent these horrors from happening.

I wanted another book – a sequel. What new adventure did Kevin and Megan have? What crimes are they uncovering? Today, you can follow Megan’s investigative reporting on PJ Media and on her YouTube channel. I haven’t been successful finding Kevin’s public profile (but then, I don’t use Facebook anymore!) I’m sure wherever he is, he’s busy employing his talents of organization, letter-writing and campaigning to keep fighting for government accountability.

Adventuring with The Hobbit

Dear readers: as you know, my site now focuses on four things: gardening, baking, cooking, and books. Today it’s time to focus on my love of reading.

So many books have famous first lines. There’s “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Herman Melville started Moby Dick with “Call me Ishmael.” And “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” My favorite is from the book I just finished with my book club: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Of course, that’s from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

As much as I love the first line, the first paragraph of this adventure is what truly draws me in:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Tolkien’s verse

We gathered Tuesday night for the final session on The Hobbit, and we all were sad to leave it. Everyone was quoting favorite lines from the book to each other, just to hear Tolkien’s lyrical prose. One of my favorite parts of the book, aside from the sheer adventure of it all – the dramatic journey of our little hero, the modest hobbit, fighting with evil spiders and a DRAGON – was some of the poetry Tolkien crafted as the songs sung by the dwarves and the elves. The songs reflected the characters’ nature: light, cheerful verse for the elves, cruel consonant-heavy lines for the goblins. And of course, our hero Bilbo Baggins, invented silly verses on the fly when he distracted the spiders away from his friends.

Old fat spider sitting in a tree!

Old fat spider can’t see me!

Attercop! Attercop!

Won’t you stop

Stop your spinning and look for me!

-The Hobbit, chapter 8

A complete world

Beside the poetry, everyone who has read Tolkien knows about the care he takes with what the sci-fi community calls world building. I’ve always thought of it as scene setting. The maps on the inside covers of the book were created by the author. But you can get it all from the descriptions Tolkien gives of the Shire, of Bilbo’s very nice hobbit hole, of the paths the adventurers take through the deep forest of Mirkwood, the wastes near the Lonely Mountain and finally in the dragon’s cave. Everything is described so beautifully that I can picture every scene of the book. But of the first Hobbit movie – I remember nothing except the first dinner scene. That’s the magic of books – you, as reader, collaborate with the author in creating the story in your mind.

Finding the Lonely Mountain

A brief, final battle

I’m thankful that Tolkien resorted to the “Deus ex Machina” technique of the using the Eagles to shorten the final battle – because it nicely shortened a brutal war scene. I thought that at least 30 minutes of graphic fighting could have been cut from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies – which I DO remember – without sacrificing the story. And it was somehow so hobbit-like for Bilbo to be conked on the head with a rock, causing him to go unconscious and miss the last part of the battle.

A humble hero

Bilbo Baggins is described as a hobbit who “looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father” and indeed he lived a decorous life until he was 50 years old. But then, with the visit of Gandalf the wizard, the part of him from his mother’s people, the adventurous and less respectable Tooks, came out. The two halves of his personality warred within him starting with the unexpected tea party he hosted for the 14 dwarves. In shock the dwarves were expecting table service (and knew his larders better than he did) he muttered “Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!” Then after being thought a grocer instead of fierce, he marched forth to join the fray. On the journey Bilbo went back and forth from bemoaning the lack of a pocket handkerchief to devising ingenious plans to save his friends from danger. That was Bilbo’s charm: he was a hero who didn’t think highly of himself, who forgave those who did him wrong (witness his weeping over Thorin) and who was pleased to be “quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

Notes

I’m sure I don’t have to tell this erudite audience from whence the lines in the first paragraph came, but in case you don’t know:
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The cover of the copy I have – the 75th Anniversary edition.

Watching Life Instead of Living It

Now that the COVID-mania of 2020 and 2021 seems to have lifted, I want to live life instead of watching it happen. Doing, instead of being in the audience, is my thing. That’s why I joined the choir in my church – I didn’t want to just watch other people sing; I want to be in on it too! Why be a spectator?

I’ve made strides toward more living, less watching before. When I first moved into my house in December of 2016, I moved my circa-2000 television with me. That thing was an old bulky set – definitely not a flat screen. The remote control stopped working sometime in the late 2010s.

My TV looked a LOT like this one. Heck, it could have been this model.

I worked around it by actually getting up to change the channel, like in the 1970s. I started watching less and less television over the years, and I decided once I moved, I was going to put that old wreck on the curb and run an experiment: how long can I go without a TV in the house?

Continue reading “Watching Life Instead of Living It”

Weeding while I wait

It’s now time to weed, pray for lots of rain, and watch the garden grow. This morning while I was outside taking advantage of the cool morning air I thought of how Laura Ingalls Wilder described her husband growing up on the farm in New York State: a plucky little soldier in the battle of growing crops.

There was no time to lose, no time to waste in rest or play. The life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime.

-Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder

That feeling caused me to rush to get everything in the ground this year. Sadly, I wasted my herb seeds by sowing them directly into my pots. I didn’t start them indoors. No oregano, basil, chives, or parsley have poked their stems above the pricey garden soil I spooned into those five-gallon plant bags. I’m making a trip to the Home Depot in a few minutes to pick up little herb plants (if I can find them.) For goodness’ sake – it’s still May – surely there are a few left. There are so many lessons learned in my first attempt at serious gardening.

My neat bed with the jalapenos attracted an unwanted visitor this past week. Thursday during watering I made my way over to the bed with its pepper stakes and netting, strung to keep my dog from nosing about the freshly sown seeds. A four-foot-long BROWN SNAKE had trapped itself in the netting. I shrieked and jumped back. I wasn’t going anywhere near that varmint, so I certainly wasn’t going to pick it up. I called a nice young man to come dispose of it. It was HUGE.

Look again at the image at the top of the post: I re-purposed the pepper stakes to support the exploding potato plants.

Cooking with Cabbage

It’s too hot to use the stove, even this early in the season. I’m not “cooking” the cabbage, I’m merely shredding it. And making my favorite Alabam’ Slaw. The recipe is super easy – I provide it below.

An entire head of cabbage, shredded.

First, shred your cabbage.

Then, put a little in a bowl, and spoon two or three tablespoons of Thousand Island dressing over it.

Voila!

-Alabam’ Slaw
Yummy – Alabam’ Slaw

Sunday thoughts

One of my favorite blogs, Maggie’s Farm, publishes the gospel message from the lectionary each Sunday. I’ve always loved that. Maybe I should do that? At the very least, I can send you over to Maggie’s for the gospel lesson today. And stick around and read more from the group; for a bunch of Yankees they aren’t bad:

We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn’t pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does “try my best to be just like I am,” and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.

MaggiesFarm.anotherdotcom.com

When hobbies turn into obsessions

How I turned coloring into a terrible habit

Today, I’m actually staying out of my back yard because I’m having a new small deck and stairs put in, to replace the crumbling, uneven, definitely home-made brick steps. So I’m posting about a different hobby today; one that has gone bad.

Remember when adult coloring books became all the craze? I bought one and found it to be so soothing. My friends soon found out I was into coloring and though, aha, this is a solution to gift-giving! For the next two years I was inundated with coloring books.

Wouldn’t you know it though – any good thing quickly gets turned into an app for your smart phone. And THIS is where I went bad with the hobby. A friend introduced me to the “Happy Color” app. This is not just soothing – it is ADDICTIVE. I have taken it off my phone twice. Sometime in 2019 I put it back on the phone and during the craziness of 2020 I just threw myself into it.

Continue reading “When hobbies turn into obsessions”

Let’s get cooking

I’m about more than just gardens

Two weeks ago the veggies started coming weekly from my CSA share. And I’ve been looking for more and more recipes – what to do with all that earthy, plant-based, unprocessed goodness? Last week’s kale went into a smoothie. (One-word review: ugh.) This week, I got radishes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, cabbage and cauliflower.

I know exactly what I’m going to do with the cabbage – I’m going to shred it raw and turn it into Alabam Slaw. This is a prized side dish at a local meat-and-three-veg restaurant, Lizard’s Thicket (where “country cookin’ makes ya good lookin’.”) It’s nothing more complicated than shredded cabbage topped with Thousand Island dressing. Even I can handle that one without a recipe.

As for the cauliflower – I was a little stumped. I still had a head left over from the first week – and got another this week. The newer one will become a Cauliflower Pizza Crust. I’ve long had a super recipe for that – just need to go buy some goat cheese to make that happen. As for the older head of cauliflower – what to do? I turned to my trusty Allrecipes.com account and soon found this marvelous English dish: Cauliflower Cheese. Yes, Cauliflower Cheese. Instead of making a lovely cheese sauce to go over macaroni, you’re doing it with cauliflower. And it is delicious. Lightly steam a head of cauliflower, then whip up the homemade sauce. So beautiful, so bland, so British. If you, like me, love comfort food, but want to make yourself believe it is healthy, make a Cauliflower Cheese. I ate my lunch portion up so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to take of photo of it on my plate. So here’s what it looks like, in the Tupperware.

So cheesy, so good.

More to come

In addition to my attempts at becoming Farmer Gem instead of just Aunt Gem, I’m also going to be cooking and photographing and sharing more pictures of my culinary adventures. The sweet potatoes are next: I’m going simple with that one. Old-school roasting with garlic, onion and balsamic vinegar … all things I have in the house. Look for pictures of that coming soon! Is this the beginning of my plant-based summer? I know my gen-Z niece and nephew would think that would be awesome. Or whatever language they use these days…. once I tried to say something was “lit.” My youngest nephew just shook his head, saying, “no, just no Aunt Gem. You shouldn’t say that.”

I need a rototiller…

I keep buying more large containers to avoid having to chop up the sod in my backyard.

Container gardening gone mad

It was past time to plant the sweet potato slips I received from my new favorite binge-buying company, Park Seed Co. (Thow some sponsorship $$$ this way!) I still have a few more to plant – I am exhausted with planting. I’ve got so many lessons learned: prep the soil and containers in March – don’t plant then! (Except early spinach and lettuce.) In March start all the things that need to be started indoors, under the fancy grow light and biodome set I acquired this year from who else? Say it with me, Park Seed.* Then, in early April, start the real sowing of things that can be sown in the soil.

My original plan this week: dig up a patch of my grass the dimensions of the pallet collars I purchased last week. Remove all the grass, hoe up the dirt, situate the pallet collar, then fill with bags full of the best raised bed soil. Plant those slips, position trellis (already purchased) and voila! My crop of sweet potatoes, planted and ready for their five-month gestation in the good earth. I was shocked to learn how long it takes for sweet potatoes to grow.

What actually happened:

Have any of you recovered from the Covid-19 pounds (or more?) you must have gained? I haven’t. PLUS – I’ve stopped going to the gym as much as I should. Once or twice a week is just not getting it. Though I walk each day, it’s at the pace of a dog who strolls, stops, sniffs, inspects, and generally meanders. It isn’t cardio – it’s just enjoying fresh air.

Continue reading “I need a rototiller…”