The iris have been blooming for about two weeks now, which is a tried and true indicator of when the weather is finally warm enough that you can put all your frost sensitive plants into the garden. Here on the southern coast of Maine, that usually coincides with Memorial Day, which is when I usually venture out to my favorite local garden center and pick up seedlings for the garden.

This year, since it’s been warm early, I actually went after work on Monday (and could have gone anytime in the previous week), which was nice, because I was able to avoid the crazy Memorial Day crowds. My haul is above.

I’ve decided to go pretty easy on the side garden, since it’s so hard to fit anything else in there, and also pretty hard to find sun-loving annuals that don’t need constant watering. I bought one flat of zinnias, and two flats of moss roses, which I’m trying out this year. The moss roses are succulents, so I’m hoping I can not have to water those very often.

I’ve also set up a mini herb garden in the side garden with mint (which I already had), parsley, oregano, sage, thyme and cilantro (which I was able to get from my mother, since it’s self-seeding in her garden). I was smart this year, and put them in individual pots, which means I should be able to bring them all inside for the winter.

For the back yard pot garden this year, I added a new heuchera with orange foliage, a cranesbill geranium with lovely, feathery, purple foliage, coleus in orange and red, and my regular impatiens. Unfortunately, in the fit of industriousness my landlord had when he was getting the unit downstairs ready for new tenants over the winter, he hauled away the two oak logs I was using as plant stands, so I don’t have quite as much height in the back yard garden as I would like (the impatiens in the strawberry pot in particular are suffering from the lack of extra height). I’m going to try to find a substitute for the logs, but I haven’t had much luck yet.

This morning, I started cleaning up the side garden. It was already quite weedy, so I pulled out an entire bucket of greenery, which included a bunch of the ivy, which really needed cutting back this spring. I started re-mulching, but only had most of one bag left over from last year, so only got about two thirds of the bed done. I’ll hopefully be able to pick up some more mulch today, and since I have tomorrow off for the holiday, I’m hoping to be able to finish neatening up the bed tomorrow. I also need to take a look at the annual hacking of the beach rose bush, which is already fairly out of control.


War for the Oaks – Emma Bull

Read for the Once Upon a Time IV Challenge.

Eddi McCandry is a musician in Minneapolis, playing in band with her boyfriend, Stuart. Neither the band or the relationship are going anywhere, and she breaks off her connection to both after a particularly bad night. Against her friend Carla’s (the band’s drummer) advice, she walks home, in an effort to decompress, and is nearly mugged by what turns out to be an evil faery.

It turns out, Eddi has been selected by the Seelie Court to serve as their mortal representative in a war with the Unseelie Court. Before she knows it, she’s acquired a full time, live in, bodyguard (a phouka), and in an effort to find a job that she can bring him to, forms a new band with her friend Carla, and several other people who may be more than they appear.

This is a fun book. The details of the setting in Minneapolis are lovingly drawn (and I suspect, very authentic). The two faery courts are interestingly portrayed, with the two queens being very well brought into the 20th century, yet still retaining their fey-otherness. On a side note, the book was published in 1987, and the author lovingly describes Eddi’s wardrobe at times, which brought me back to the world of bad 80s music videos, in the very best nostalgic way.

The faery war isn’t actually a huge feature in the story. It looms in the background, and effects the lives of Eddi and her friends, but only one large battle is featured, and I confess I wouldn’t have minded a little more faery-warfare. However, the life of Eddi’s band is well-portrayed, and is an interesting enough story on its own to make up for the lack of fey-warfare.

Forts of the Piscataqua River

In the interests of finding new and different things to do on a Saturday where we have nowhere special to be, the BF came up with the idea of making a list of state parks, and trying to visit as many as possible this summer. So we started this Saturday, at pretty much the southernmost tip of Maine, at the Fort McClary State Historic Monument in Kittery. What we didn’t know is that the fort itself doesn’t usually open until after Memorial Day, but one of the local reenactment groups was doing a French and Indian War encampment, so we were able to go inside the blockhouse, and there were lots of random people in pre-Revolutionary War costume walking about. Definitely a good weekend to pick for a visit.

From the blockhouse, we could see a lighthouse, still on the Maine side of the river, and another fort, this one on the New Hampshire side of the river. So we decided to visit both.

We headed further into Kittery, and found ourselves at Fort Foster, which is owned by the town of Kittery. It’s a fantastic park. There’s a pier where you can get a great view of the nearby lighthouse (there’s actually what appears to be a keeper’s house on a tiny islet nearby the lighthouse islet, which is the picture directly above. The lighthouse was a bit too far out to photograph well.), two extremely decent beaches, and a number of trails through the woods and around marshland and swamp. There are picnic sites galore. If we lived closer, I suspect we’d end up spending a lot of time there.

We happened to arrive at the lowest part of an extremely low tide, so there was quite a bit poking out of the water that’s not normally visible, which was interesting to see.

Our last fort stop was Fort Constitution, in New Castle, NH. It takes a bit of driving to get there, as you have to get all the way back out to Route 1, and then drive all the way into New Castle. The fort’s on a Coast Guard base, so there’s actually a blue line painted across their parking lot, and you have to park outside the grounds, and walk on that line to get to the fort. Quite the experience. There’s a nice little lighthouse on the grounds, which is unfortunately covered in scaffolding at the moment, so no pictures.

There are actually two more forts down the coast in New Hampshire, but it was late enough in the day that we weren’t able to visit those.

I do need to make a side note on our food for the day, because it was a great food day indeed. We had lunch at the incomparable Flo’s Hot Dogs. For an afternoon snack, we happened into Terra Cotta Pasta, in Kittery. The owners are the nicest people you will ever meet. They do a tour of the place for first timers, and send you home with a free pound of pasta (and the array of choice there was mind boggling flavorwise). They had a noodle cake with a mildly spicy chili aioli behind the counter, which we got as a snack. It was absolute perfection. And, it turns out they’ve open a store in South Portland, so we can get them locally. We finished out the day at the Steakhouse in Wells, which has to have the best steak in Maine. It’s always a bit of a wait, but it’s always so worth it. I got a surf and turf with filet and scallops that was divine. Needless to say, we pretty much stuck with bread and water on Sunday to make up for the largess on Saturday, but it was a great food day.

Knitting Notes

Work is progressing on my two current knitting projects. (I recently bought a laptop, so I have to confess to spending some of what is normally knitting time in front of the tv doing file clean up on the laptop instead.)

I don’t remember if I mentioned before, but I started on the Barrow socks as Magic Loop socks, but I only had a circular needle in that size with a 47″ cable, and that was driving me crazy, so I switched over to DPNs instead. I’ve been enjoying the pattern. It’s much less complicated than it looks, but still interesting, and this yarn has been nice to work with.

The Claudia hat is going well, but I’m now to the boring ribbing section before the crown, so I’ve basically just been doing a row at a time, here and there. Granted, I’m now pretty far away from the kind of weather necessary to wear this, so I’m not in any hurry to finish it.

I’m definitely holding off on starting any new projects until I can finish at least one of these, in the interests of keeping my knitting basket a little lighter.

The Dying Earth – Jack Vance

Read for the 2010 TBR Lite Reading Challenge.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on The Dying Earth for years now (I have all the other books written in this particular world, but for some reason, the first was the hardest to locate). It’s one of those seminal earlier works of science fiction (or science fantasy as the blurb on this edition labels it) that people seem to either love, or hate. I’ll admit I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to all the hype. Thankfully, I seem to be on a good run with books I’ve already heard a lot about, and I really enjoyed reading these tales.

The book is a series of short stories, some very loosely related, that take place in a far future Earth, where an ancient red sun travels through a deep indigo sky. There are nameless ruins of ancient civilizations across a landscape completely unfamiliar to our own, and the people are no longer quite as they were in the dim recesses of the past. There’s magic, which is possibly science, and many other strange and wonderful things. What makes this book is the language. I hesitate to compare Vance to Patricia McKillip, because their style is not the same, but his way with words gives me the same kind of pleasure I have reading McKillip’s work. It’s like a word painting, and everything is vividly drawn.

My favorite story is probably the last in this book: “Guyal of Sfere”. Guyal is a young man with a thirst for knowledge, and when his father is no longer to satisfactorily able to answer his questions, he sets out on a journey to the far north, to find the Curator of the Museum of Man, who is thought to have the answers to all questions. His journey brings him through a variety of landscapes, with encounters with many different peoples, each more unexpected than the last. With the gorgeous prose, it’s an incredible journey to read.

I would definitely recommend this book. It may have been published in 1950, but it’s a timeless world that I can’t imagine will ever be dated in the way that some older science fiction has become. I’ll also add that I’m not the kind of person that easily enjoys poetry, or very poetic prose, so I have to imagine that if I can enjoy Vance’s writing, which could be seen as poetic, it can’t be bad enough to scare off other poetry-phobes like me.

Graceling – Kristin Cashore

Read for the 2010 YA and the Once Upon a Time IV Reading Challenges.

Every person that’s read Graceling, every blog that I follow that’s reviewed it, has had nothing but the best things to say about Graceling, so I started this book with high expectations. I’m very happy to say it didn’t disappoint.

In the Seven Kingdoms, some are born Graced, marked by eyes of two different colors. Their Grace may be something simple, like an extra ability to climb trees, or it could be something much more completed. The Graced are brought up in the Court of their kings, and it’s the kings’ right to use the Graced as they see fit.

Katsa is the neice of the king of the Middluns, and is Graced with superior fighting abilities. No one can beat her in a fight, and her uncle has used her to inforce his will for years. Fortunately, Randa isn’t too bad of a king, and doesn’t abuse his power over her too much, but some of the other kings are not so kind. Katsa and some allies have started a Council that rescues people from the abuses of the worst of these kings.

The story begins as Katsa is rescuing the father of the king of Lienid from the king of Sunder’s dungeon. As she makes her escape, she encounters a Graced Lienid fighter. Though she could kill him, she leaves him alive. What she doesn’t know is that this young man is the youngest son of the Lienid King, and he has been tracking his grandfather. Prince Po finds his way to the place they have hidden his grandfather, and convinces Katsa to join him on his quest to figure out who would want to kidnap an old man who has power over no one.

I loved this book. The various assorted characters, but especially Katsa and Po, were beautifully drawn. Katsa’s journey of discovering her true gifts was completely touching. I’m really excited that the author is writing more books about these characters, because I need to read more about them.

So, I’ve totally bought the koolaid. This is my favorite book so far this year, and I think everyone should read it.

Flowers at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

Yesterday’s weekend wander was to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay. It was the perfect day for it – a little on the cool side with clouds approaching but staying away until we left. We also got there early enough that the gardens weren’t clogged with people. I was excited to find more rhodys in bloom than when we went last year, though some had gone by already, because it’s been such an early, warm spring. There were also still a ton of wildflowers (see the last post), which had mostly gone by in June last year.