Friday, May 30, 2008

Counting Stars: Don't skimp of the tissues

I made a bad decision last night. I needed something to help me relax at bedtime, so I dug through my stack of unread books and pulled out Michele Paige Holmes Counting Stars. I knew I wasn't going to be able to put it down easily, because I had heard so much about it, but stupidly, I started it at eleven p.m. anyway.

About four in the morning and multiple tissues later, I forced myself to put it down. Unfortunately, I spent the next three hours dreaming about the book. Then I woke at seven and picked it back up again, finishing it before I did any serious work around the house. It's a good thing I don't have to work until this afternoon.

Counting Stars won the Whitney award for Best Romance/Women's Fiction and it definitely deserved the award. Michele's writing is engaging, her characters are funny, quirky, and very real. If anything, I would say her male protagonist was a little too perfect--not that he didn't have flaws, but that he would make any woman fall in love with him. And I love the First Fridays ritual her main character, Jane, celebrated--we should all settle down with a good book or movie and something ridiculously fattening once a month.

The back jacket of the book says:

Jane was hoping for a second date — maybe even a boyfriend. What she wasn't expecting was Paul Bryant's completely original and sincere pick-up line: "Hi. I'm Paul. I have terminal cancer. My wife was killed in a car accident, and I'm looking for a woman to raise my children."

It was never Jane's plan to fall in love with a dying man and his two infants. But her seemingly simple decision to date someone outside her faith leads to one complication after another, and the choices she makes soon have far higher stakes than she could have foreseen. In choosing to help Paul, is she choosing to be alone forever? And how can something that seems so unbelievably messed up feel so completely right?

Sometimes love is found in the least likely places and the greatest blessings are discovered while counting stars.

So if you're looking for a good read, check this book out--just be prepared with a box of tissues and enough time to read the entire book in one sitting.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Plants in Unexpected Places

Got your veggies in yet?

The one part of gardening I don't love (besides the weeding, which isn't all that bad if it's not too hot out) is watering. Let me get my hands in the dirt, or plot out where everything is going to go. Better yet, let me spend hours in nurseries looking at plants and imagining where they are going to go (If you refuse to let me buy anything while I'm there, I'm going to accuse you of cruelty.). But ask me to remember to turn the water on and off and move a hose periodically and you'll find how truly lazy I can be. I admit, a good number of my plant failures have been because I didn't water quite often enough.

So what if you don't have a hose to drag, or even somewhere to drag it? What if you live in an apartment or condo and there's exactly two and a half square feet of balcony or twelve inches of windowsill in your apartment? I bet you're thinking you couldn't possibly plant anything and thus you are off the hook. Not so, my friend.

Do you have room for a hanging planter on your balcony, or out an apartment window? Put a tomato plant in there and let the branches hang down. I've seen people get three-inch pipe, drill a few holes in the side, put a cap on the bottom, fill it with soil and plant tomatoes or strawberries in it. You could probably do the same thing with peas or beans. Since the plant hangs out the side, you can get to the fruit or tomatoes easily—just don't let the soil dry out. I've also seen pictures where enterprising apartment dwellers with roof access place the plants on the roof so they can open a window to water or pick the produce.

On the Church Web site, there is a great resource that tells you what amazing things you can grow in containers: Beans, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and much more. I've even heard of people growing tomatoes and other veggies indoors during the winter because, let's face it, there's nothing quite like a home-grown tomato (unless you're like my crazy sister and doesn't like tomatoes). For specific details about the size of the pot you'll need, the best time of year, how big the plant will get, and how long it takes to mature, visit the article Gardening in Containers,

And if all you have is a postage stamp-sized flower bed, throw some veggies in there. I actually grew several monster-sized, sidewalk-swallowing, bent-on-world-domination tomato plants in my front yard last year. After killing most of my winter-sewn seedlings, I wasn't about to yank any useful plants that grew on their own, even if I hadn't intended them to be there. You can see in this picture that they stretch across the sidewalk and take up at least six feet of the next flower bed. All of the plants behind the butterfly bush are tomatoes. They also hung down the window well. This picture was taken a couple of days before I pulled them out. I still have a dozen or more pints of tomatoes in my pantry that I bottled at the end of the summer.

An added bonus to the better-tasting food, is the cost. A six-pack of tomato plants that survive to produce something in the fall will give a family plenty to eat, and some to freeze or bottle besides—even if the pants aren't set to take over the world.

Return to the Neighborhood

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book review: Season of Sacrifice and a contest

I'm really excited to be talking about Tristi Pinkston's new book on my blog today. I've known Tristi for four years--every since my first Storymaker's conference, and you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer person out there--fairy wings and all. She's also a versatile writer, a home schooler, and dedicated blogger.

I admit, though I’ve had Tristi's historical novels Nothing to Regret and Strength to Endure on my list of must-reads for several years now, I haven’t gotten around to reading any of her books until Season of Sacrifice. Have I ever been missing out!

The beginning of the book is fast paced with great dialogue and descriptions, pulling you into the scene of a mine cave-in from the beginning. This glimpse into the life of Ben Perkins is a sign of the man he becomes, and the faith that directs his life as an adult.

Several years later, Ben is a young man, preparing to emigrate to America, leaving behind his family and sweetheart Mary Ann Williams. Before leaving, he extracts a promise from Mary Ann to join his family when they came to America. He struggles to learn English and to fit into the new world as he works to save the money to send for his loved ones. After Mary Ann joins him in America and they are married, the focus of the story turns to her much-younger sister Sarah, and the struggles her family, who still lives in Wales, goes through over the next several years.

After several difficult years, Sarah and the rest of the Williams family join Ben and Mary Ann in Utah and Sarah agrees to help the married couple with their children as they make the journey to form a new settlement in San Juan. The trip is long and arduous, lasting six months instead of the expected six weeks as the group of fifty families are forced to make roads where there were none, and the blast holes in narrow canyon slits to make them large enough to pass a wagon through in the dead of winter.

I gained a new appreciation for the struggles the members of this group went through as they dealt with dangerous passes, lack of grazing for their animals, freezing weather and exhaustion. These pioneers received amazing inspiration to have known what was the best course of action in a trek that should have been completely impossible.

Tristi's writing is rich and engaging and her history was well researched. Though I had been very concerned about how Tristi might handle the touchy subject of Polygamy, it was deftly handled so any reader could understand the struggle it was for everyone involved. I learned a new appreciation for the difficulty the those who practiced it endured.

Now for the contest. Everyone who comments on this blog (and leaves me an e-mail address so I can reach them) will be eligible for a drawing for Tristi's new book. This contest will continue through June 10.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gardening Like Laura

I'm really excited about the opportunity to blog for on landscaping and gardening.

If you discount snitching peas off the vine when I was a preschooler as actual gardening experience, you could say I first began gardening in my early elementary school years. The summer after I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, I was determined to grow my own food--just like a real-life pioneer. (Of course, at this time I wanted to be Laura Ingalls, in every way--an insane dream I fortunately grew out of.) There was a patch of dirt my mom had used for veggies a few other times back behind their business, where we kids spent the long summer days. I know I planted peas, but don't recall if I planted anything else. It's a good thing peas have such a short growing season, because I remember becoming bored with all the weeding before they finished producing for the summer.

Over the next dozen years or so, I helped occasionally with my mom's garden, (aka as little as possible) but it wasn't until I owned my own little piece of earth (sort of) that I really took to the gardening bug. My husband and I had been married almost a year when we bought our first home--a single-wide trailer at the end of a small trailer park in Cedar City. If nothing else, that place was a lesson on the 'joys' of home ownership and the pitfalls of renting to others. But I digress.

Because the trailer was the last one in the park, I not only had a dime-sized plot of grass out front, but a spot of dirt between the trailer and back fence. Never one to do things by halves, I immediately began digging out the weeds, setting stepping stones, and planting flowers and veggies. After we added some garden lights to the yard, I could sit on the back steps and admire my handy work. It was so cool.

Since then, we've owned two new homes where I got to be in charge of all the landscape design. I've made my share of mistakes, but I've also learned plenty along the way and hope to be able to share some of that knowledge with you.

The prophets have urged us to grow some of our own food, then preserve it for our food storage. I admit my chickens, ducks and geese helped themselves to most of my veggies last summer, but my new fence ought to prevent that from happening again. I hope.

I got a slow start on my yard this year and hadn't done much in the vegetable garden. You can see the before and after photos I took. I hauled about 150 gallons of weeds out of the garden area (in plastic tubs) but I'm not quite done. I also have a couple of beds that I haven't finished building. Flowers are so much more fun than tending to vegetables that take months before you get to eat them. Cleaning out the vegetable garden and getting my veggies in was the top project on my list for this weekend.

Since I've been putting it off, I had to buy broccoli and cauliflower in addition to my tomatoes, and it took a couple of stores before I found someone who still had onion sets. Other years I have started almost all of my plants from seed, but alas, I was a slacker. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time to get our corn and beans planted here in Utah, so if you haven't started yet, get out there and get things going. If you live much north of Utah, check your local frost dates before putting in more tender vegetables. This is one place that gives a first and last frost date in many areas, but other Web sites may have different listings.

Tip: I have massive airborne allergies to the wild rye that sprouts everywhere in my yard, and it is currently putting off pollen. I learned that hosing down the area where I wanted to work kept the pollen from bothering me, and I only had problems weeding around it when it got dry enough to start sending off pollen again. Try it if you have something in your yard giving you fits.

Return to the Neighborhood

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Growing Babies In My Pantry

Back in March I found out one of my geese was laying eggs. I was so excited and eagerly checked the nest every few days to see if she had added any more. I counted out how long before there would be enough for her to start sitting on, and then how long it would take before they hatched.

Two months passed and she still hadn't begun sitting on those eggs. *sigh* There went my visions of a dozen little goslings running around the yard (OK, so didn't actually want a dozen of them, but that didn't mean I couldn't fantasize.). Giving up on her motherly instincts, I decided to try rigging up an incubator inside. After all, my duck was laying too, and it might be fun to have ducklings. =) If it didn't work, I wasn't really out anything since the eggs were just going to sit and rot in the nest otherwise.

I threw half a dozen chicken eggs, along with the freshest-looking goose and duck eggs into a homemade incubator. A week passed and I candled the eggs (put a flashlight on the fat end of the shell in a dark room to see if there was a baby growing inside.). Some of them showed promise, so I put them back in the 'bator.

It got too hot, and they all died. I tried getting a water heater thermostat to turn the light on and off and regulate the temperature on a second bunch of eggs, but I couldn't keep it steady enough and it still got way too hot.

I tossed those eggs, then tried putting a wash cloth in the bottom of an electric fry pan and heating it to the recommended 102 degrees. I had read about it working great for someone else. It seemed to work for several days, then the temperature spiked again.

Frustrated and irritated, I broke down and bought an incubator. I got an automatic turner as well, so I wouldn't have to worry about whether I got the eggs rotated often enough when I worked a long day (they have to be turned three to four times a day to keep the baby from sticking to the shell). The goose eggs are too big for the turner, so I pulled a couple of the turning trays out to leave room for the goose eggs on one side. I still have to hand-turn those.

I put 13 chicken eggs in the 'bator, along with a duck egg and got things started last Sunday.

Meanwhile, I started reading again about guinea fowl. Apparently, they are supposed to be noisy, but I can't imagine they will be louder than my obnoxious geese, and they love, love, love to eat bugs and don't scratch garden beds to pieces like chickens. It's all about organic gardening, right? At least, that can always be my excuse. So I bought some guinea eggs on eBay, because as long as I have an incubator, I might as well put it to good use. They arrived yesterday and I rushed home to add them to the other eggs. Since I put the chicken eggs in, I came across several fresh duck and goose eggs and have added them as well, so we're now sporting a no vacancy sign, at least until the chicks are ready to hatch. I'll have to take some time tomorrow afternoon to candle my chicken eggs and see how they are doing. The two rows of eggs on the left are chicken eggs, except the top one on the second row, which is duck. The two rows of brown eggs are all guinea, and the big white eggs are goose eggs. The three green eggs on the top right are ducks eggs as well.

Eggs in the 'bator: 13 chicken, 4 duck, 5 goose and 14 guinea

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Saying goodbye to an old friend.

No, there hasn't been a death in the family, or even in the barn yard. Chicken yard? I'm not sure of the right terminology. Nope, this week we sold my lovely white Kia Rio. We've had that car since we bought it new off the lot seven years ago with only fourteen miles on the odometer. My husband and I both felt a little sad when we saw the new owners drive away with it, because it's been such a good car, and has needed no major repairs--engine wise, that is. I suppose AC not working is a fairly major repair, if that sort of thing is important to you. And when the temperatures outside start nearing the hundred-degree mark, air conditioning does tend to be fairly important to most people.

No, we didn't decide to sell it rather than fix the air, though the no-AC issue did prevent me from taking the car out of town all last summer. Actually, we sold my fuel-efficient Kia, because it cost too much to fill up the gas tank. In other words, we're upgrading to natural gas. Of course, we don't have a car in mind, yet. But since the truck does cost less per mile to drive than the Kia did/does (about half at the current gas prices), and it has air conditioning, we'll make do for a few weeks until we find the right set of wheels. Hopefully I won't spend half of the car purchase money on landscaping trees and bushes before then. They're so darn tempting.

Anyway, last night as I was driving the ambulance, white knuckled, through a wind storm in rush-hour traffic, (They always have us in Provo and Salt Lake during rush hour. It's like a code the hospital staff all follow or something.), praying all the way, I began comparing what it's like to drive an ambulance, versus a compact car.

1) The Kia has a blind spot about the size of a gnat's eyebrow.

The ambulance has a blind spot at least a hundred feet long on each side--and you can't look over your shoulder to see what's in that space either.

2) The round trip to Primary Children's would have taken about nine gallons of gas in my Kia.

It took twenty-four gallons of gas to take the ambulance on the same trip.

3) The Kia has a boring horn, like most any car.

The ambulance has not only a horn, but two kinds of sirens--how cool is that?

4) The Kia has headlights and a dome light...I think there's one in the trunk as well. All of them are white.

The ambulance has all that plus flood lights on each side, loading lights where you take the gurney in and out, and the patient compartment has various light settings as well. That's not even counting all the cool flashing and rotating lights to let people know you're coming.

5) The Kia seats four adults er, kind of comfortably. If they're midgets.

The ambulance not only has six seat belts (even if leg room isn't all that much better than in the Kia), it also has a bed for someone to sleep in on the way home from late-night transfers, er, I mean, to put patients on--and you can raise their heads so they are sitting up if they want.

6) A Kia will turn on a quarter. I would say a dime, but with the price of gas, it costs more than that to turn. (So would my truck turn on twelve-and-a-half cents? Note to self, research this.)

The ambulance, hmm, it doesn't corner quite as well. And it doesn't stop very fast, either.

I could probably spend hours listing all of the cool things an ambulance has in it, that you could never fit a tenth of into a Kia--even if you had a midget driving it, but I have trees to plant that I bought with money from my car sale.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Where did spring go?

When things heat up, it's time to play in the dirt.

Yes, I know the last frost date for my area isn't for another two weeks, but since all of the daffodils and tulips have died out, and the irises are just getting ready to bloom, my yard is looking pretty boring. Even then, so many of my perennials didn't make it through the winter (the local nursery owner said it was probably the constant freezing and thawing, so I guess there are drawbacks to having a mild winter, after all.) and of course, the annuals all needed replacing.

Thus, while I was in Provo Tuesday, I stopped into Home Depot and picked up a few things. Just a few--considering what I wanted to come home with, anyway. Looking back, I didn't really get amazing prices on the plants. I'd do better to stay home for the majority of my plant purchases, though I did get a water hyacinth for my pond and a hydrangea for my newest flower bed, but those are the exceptions.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday looking at all the new plants and trees for sale in town and found my hands itching to buy, buy, buy. Maybe when my next paycheck hits the bank.

So I spent most of the day in the yard cleaning up weeds and planting my new babies. 53 annuals (including my basil), 21 or so perennials and a tree later, not to mention thirty or so gallons of weeds hauled away, and I'm done for the day.

One of these days I'll have to start thinking about my vegetable garden.

Thankfully, my irises are starting to come into bloom. This is the first blossom of the season.

Unlike writing books--a process which eventually comes to an end--a garden is in constant need of work. (I know, I know, rewrites on a book sometimes seem to be endless.) There are always new plants to add, dead ones to replace (that happens a lot in my yard), new beds to add, and of course, the constant weeding. Someday there will be mowing to do too, but though we've been in our house over a year, I don't see it happening before the snow flies. And possibly not next summer either. We're taking this landscaping stuff one bite at a time, and grass is several projects down the road.

Meanwhile, I haven't been to the nursery just up the highway yet. I wonder what they've got in stock? Maybe a road trip is in order.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Lure of a New Notebook

I’ve been having a great time at the UAEMT conference in St. George this weekend as I’ve learned plenty about all kinds of subjects from ambulance safety to triaging at multiple casualty incidents to hands-on experience in a mock disaster at Tuacahn High School—which was a really great experience for everyone I spoke to from the most seasoned participant to the brand-new EMT who passed her final tests earlier this month

I’ve also loved that the schedule is quite a bit more open than at other conferences, like my regular writer’s conference which keeps us hoping from dawn until well past dusk (it is held in March, though, so the days are still pretty short then).

So tonight we made a side trip to Staples to pick up a few supplies and browse. I’m a fabulous browser. I can browse for hours and never buy a thing, or well, not much of anything.

Of course, I drifted to the notebook section. I don’t know what it is about notebooks. They’re just sheets of paper with lines (usually) and sometimes they have colored paper. What’s so exciting about that, anyway?

I haven’t been able to figure out my obsession for them, but every time I end up in a store that sells them, from Staples to the dollar store, I always end up wandering down the notebook aisle, pulling them out, feeling the covers, flipping them open to check and see what they look like inside. Are the lines light blue, purple, or green? Do they have flowers or other decoration on them? It doesn’t seem to matter; I always want one.

If you think about it, blank paper is full of possibilities. It can become a shopping list, a character sketch, a drawing of monkeys and elephants (The drawing could be nearly anything if I’m the one wielding the pencil as the scribbling is practically indecipherable), or a to do list. I can do almost anything with a blank piece of paper.

However, I’ve nearly stopped buying the little notebooks. It doesn’t seem to matter how careful I am, after I use a dozen sheets of paper, or fewer, I always lose the things and somehow they stay in that hidden abyss of socks and left shoes for months. When it’s somehow deposited exactly where I put it last, eons later, the information in it isn’t going to do me any good, even if I could discern the cryptic notes that made so much sense when I wrote them down.

And when if I do know exactly where it is, it’s never where I am when I want to make a note. It’s in my purse at home when I’m at work, or I left it on the desk at work when I’m downtown, or maybe it’s sitting in the back of my car when I went somewhere with my darling husband in the truck.

Tonight I bought a couple of tiny composition notebooks that will fit in my back pocket so I won’t be without them day or night. We’ll see how long it is before they end up in the washer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ready for a Girls Day Out?

A writing forum that I belong to had a discussion this past week about the many other talents we have besides writing. There were photographers, seamstresses, artists, musicians, and many other talents in our group--and less than a third of our group actually responded. One of the talents I've been exploring over the past few months is making glass totems to decorate my flower beds and brighten up corners while I wait for flowers to come up and fill things in. I love walking around a garden and getting surprises like bird baths, fountains and statuary among the greenery, so I've been scouring stores and playing with different pieces, trying to get just the right look.

By the time I finished filling up my own beds, I was rather too hooked to stop, so my sister and parents talked me into doing a table at the Girl's Day Out boutique Kristi put together for this weekend. This bird feeder totem and the plate flower pictured here are only a couple of my many projects that will be for sale. I'm going to try and post these pictures, along with other projects I've worked on this year onto my web site over the next couple nights.

The boutique will be held at the Fitness Center in West Valley city at 5415 w 3100 S from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are going to be over 20 vendors covering everything from scrapbook supplies, jewelry and accessories, clothing, cakes decorating, DVD slide shows, to pet supplies and much, much more. There is no charge for entry, so if you've got a little time on your hands and live in range, you should stop on by and check it out.

Sadly, I'm going to have to miss the boutique, as I have an EMT conference in St. George this weekend that I signed up for before I learned about the boutique. But I have a wonderful family who are willing to help me out. My parents and two of my sisters will all be there with their own goods and are going to run my table for me.

I wonder if they'll take payment in chocolate chip cookies?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bleary eyes in the clinic

It's been a busy couple of days for our ambulance service between two transfers up north and two calls to people's homes. Then you add in regular life, work schedules, the health fair most of us made time to help with yesterday, etc and you have a to squeeze in time for sleep.

Two of the people on the call and transfer last night--between the two trips we were up pretty much all night--had to work again first thing in the morning, something I'm very glad I did not have to worry about as I spent the entire morning in bed and now feel reasonably human again. But it made me think of the poor doctor who was on call in the ER.

In small towns the clinic doctors are usually general practice doctors--and I'm not talking about towns with 20,000 people, though many big-city dwellers may think that's small. These doctors also take turns being on call in the ER, which means if your doctor is on call when you go in for an appointment during the day, you could be delayed quite a while so they can take care of emergencies. It also means that most weeks all of our doctors are pretty much guaranteed to have at least one night of very little sleep sandwiched between work days of taking care of check ups and rashes and all of the other fun things they get to do in an average day.

This is just a general thanks to all those small town doctors who struggle to find time for themselves and their families around the varied needs of their communities. The long shifts and hectic schedules of doctors in big cities isn't much better.

And next time you go to a doctor's appointment and find your GP running late and a bit bleary eyed, remember he or she might be running on nothing but caffeine and a prayer, and a little understanding could go a long way.