Further Adventures in Domesticity

I’ve had quite the preserving week.   The first thing, started during the week because I saw bags of key limes for $1.79 a pop and had to do something with them, is the above key lime pickle.    It’s basically a preserved lemon, but with Indian spices.   It’s percolating away, and should be ready when I get back from my trip at the end of September.

So Saturday, I moved on to storing the bounty of both my garden, and the CSA.   Yep, that’s ten jars of pickled jalapeno slices, which will take the place of ten cans of green chilies.    I will say, this is probably the biggest bang for my buck of any preserving I’ve ever done.   Pickles are so much faster than jam, and I used green chilies in lots of random recipes.

And last, these jars of sunny goodness (still resting), started their lives as local peaches at yesterday’s farmer’s market.    I used the Quick Peach Jam recipe from the Ball Complete Preserving book.    It’s a little more sugar (ok a lot more) than I prefer, but I did have some liquid pectin I needed to use up, and the quicker part of the recipe title did catch me.

This smelled amazing cooking.    And the little bit I had leftover to sample was also amazing.   I think I’m going to be completely selfish, and keep these little beauties for the BF and me.


Queen of This Realm – Jean Plaidy

It’s a measure of how fascinating a character Queen Elizabeth I was that I managed to finish this book.

Strike 1:   When I bought it (several aeons ago, admittedly), I thought it was a scholarly book.    When I picked it up to read it, and found that it was a fictionalized memoir, I was somewhat disappointed.

Strike 2:  It’s in the first person viewpoint.    About 75% of the time, first person narration drives me batty.     This book was firmly in that 75%.    There was something about the voice of this Elizabeth that just wasn’t regal enough.    I had a really hard time getting past that.

But, this is the story of Elizabeth’s life, and it is a pretty fascinating story.    That really kept me going.

Knitting Notes

And here is my Evenstar Shawl, in all its unblocked glory, finished just this morning.

I have laid in a stash of extra blocking pins in anticipation of blocking this – there are tons of little scallops on the edging, and I wanted to make sure I could block those properly.    Which, speaking of the edging, man was the fun to knit.    I was averaging about two pattern repeats a night, so it did take a while, but it was so cool to do.

So right now, unstretched, it has about a 22 inch radius.    I can’t wait to see what I can get that to when I block it.

Burning Brightly – Mercedes Lackey

Lavan Firestorm is a Herald mentioned in passing in the main Valdemar books, having been the last person before the present day of that world to have the Firestarting gift.    This book is the story of how he discovered his gift, and became a Herald.    It’s not a pleasant story, because Lavan was severely bullied, and that brought out his gift in a way that would scar him forever.

I did read this book a while ago, when I was new to the Valdermar stories, so it was technically a reread, but it took me a while to recognize that I had read the story before.     I think this is because this is a very typical tale of the bullied child that lashes out at his bullies, for good or ill.    This time around, I was struck by how quickly this story goes.     Though there is some lovely detail about Lavan’s home life, and then his life at the Herald’s Collegium, there is a definite overarching tale here, and it’s paramount to Lavan’s story.    Lavan will earn the name Firestorm, and the story marches to that inevitable end.

Songbook – Nick Hornby

This is a book of essays about songs that have particularly interested Hornby at various points of his life.    The essays may not concern the song directly, but are sometimes about what that song may remind him of, or of feelings or events that that song is forever linked to in his mind.

It’s an interesting format.   I didn’t know all of the songs, but I can definitely identify with having songs take on a whole other meaning, based on where you were when you first heard it (or what you were doing the summer it was overplayed on the radio).    I suppose this format may not be for everyone, but if you love music, you can probably appreciate this book.

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman writes really excellent young adult historical fiction, where she really gets inside the head of a young person from some past historical period, and does it in such a way that they don’t feel too modern, but still firmly belong in their own time period.   Up until now, what I’d read of hers was set in a more medieval time, but this book is set in America, during the California gold rush.

California Morning Whipple’s parents had always dreamed of going West, so much so that they named all of their children in that theme (California being the oldest, but there’s also Butte, Prairie, and Sierra).    When her father dies of pneumonia, California’s mother channels her grief into living their dream, and the family suddenly finds themselves transplanted from Massachusetts to California, where Mrs. Whipple will run the boarding house in the brand new town of Lucky Diggins.    California hates it.

The town is so new that most people still live in tents, and there are very few children about.   Plus, there’s no school, or library, which California had loved in her old home.     Desperate to return there, she decides that she no longer wants to be known as California, but decides on Lucy, one of the characters from her favorite book.     But Lucy is still only twelve, and not entirely in control of her own destiny.    So she needs to be make the best of the situation.     And it’s a very interesting situation.

Cushman paints a really vivid portrait of this gold rush town and the inhabitants.      Lucy is also a really great character.    She’s young, but very much capable of trying to decide her own destiny.    I really enjoyed this book.    Cushman picks great subjects, and brings them to really interesting life.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

The last week of July was my vacation with the BF, and since he had a family reunion, we headed over to Vermont and the adjacent area of New York.  (My personal vacation is coming up in September, and it’s completely awesome – as I’ll be able to post about in October.)

A lot of the vacation was family based, but we did get some relaxing in, as well as some interesting side trips.

Side trip #1 was on our way over, and was to Pomfret, Vermont.


BF has been trying to track down one of the lines of his family tree, which has dead ended in Pomfret.    So we visited the probate court in Woodstock (the nearest big town), the Pomfret library, and the Burns Cemetery.      The cemetery is one of those classic old New England cemeteries, with the really old graves (well, old by American standards) and the really interesting headstones.     What’s really cool about this particular cemetery is that it’s still in use.

The other fun thing we did (this one was with the family) was a dinner cruise on Lake George.

We took the Lac du Saint Sacrement, which is behind the Minnehaha in this picture.     That was a lot of fun.    It’s a decent buffet dinner, and you can then stand out on the deck, where pretty much anyone that’s home when the book goes by wave as you go by.

The other fun thing we did that I didn’t get pictures of, was a driving tour of Northwestern Mass, and the roads around Bennington, VT.    Basically, we wended our way around side roads that BF wasn’t sure he’d ever been on, or knew he hadn’t been on in ages.      It was a really lovely drive – there’s some stunning scenery up there.     We were also amused to be able to contrast that section of MA’s Route 2 with the section closer to Boston that we usually drive on.   (Seriously – you’ll find it hard to believe they’re the same road.)

So it was a nice week, and a nice way to end July.

Fool’s Run – Patricia A. McKillip

So, as I’ve probably mentioned any other time I’ve written up a McKillip book, is how she will throw you into the middle of a fully built up world, and you’ll just be along for the ride, picking up clues to what the heck’s going on as you go along.    What makes this book different is that it’s science fiction (definitely the first she wrote, maybe the only one).    I really wasn’t sure how her style, which works really well in fantasy, would translate to science fiction, but it does work.    I’m still not entirely sure what the entire mystery entailed, but it was an interesting journey to see what I could see.

The story centers on the Underworld, a satellite built as a maximum security prison for Earth’s worst criminals.    The one anomaly is Terra Viridian.     She killed over a thousand people one day in the Desert Sector, and was clearly insane while doing it – talking only of a vision, and that there needed to be light.    But the government needed a scapegoat, and Terra was pushed through a trial and sent to Underworld, never to return to Earth.

Seven years later, and several things coincidentally happen at once – a scientist wishes to test a machine on Terra to see if he can understand the visions she claims to have.     Underworld’s Rehabilitation director has decided to stage a concert, to bring some normal sounds to the Underworld.    The leader of the band that’s chosen happens to be friends with a patroller who has been searching for Terra Veridian’s sister for seven years, to see if she knows why Terra did what she did.    The band’s cuber can’t travel in space, so they enlist the help of the Queen of Hearts, the most famous cuber on Earth, who has never revealed her real name.    These stories relate, but you have to keep reading to find out how.

I do think McKillip’s story style works better in fantasy – I needed a little more detail to make this book make sense to me, and I don’t think there would have been a way for the author to get that for me.     I’m definitely glad I read it, but I’m also glad she focuses on fantasy.

A Countess Below Stairs – Eva Ibbotson

Anna Gravinsky was born before the Russian Revolution, the only daughter of a Count from St. Petersburg, and though she could have grown up spoiled, she grew into a charming girl beloved by everyone who met her.

When the Revolution comes, Anna’s father is killed, and she, her mother and her younger brother flee to England, where they move in with her old governess.    They’re able to send Peter to school, but there’s not enough money to set Anna up.      Responding to an ad, she takes a job as a temporary maid at Mersham, which has a new Earl, just back from the war, and needs help reopening the house.    The Butler and Housekeeper recognize that Anna is noble, but she’s so eager to work, and quick to learn, that they agree to take her on.

From here, the story could be incredibly derivative – the new Earl is young, and handsome, and is immediately taken with Anna, and Anna is taken with him.    But he’s become engaged to the girl that nursed him through his injuries from the war, and naturally, that girl turns out to be horrible, but he’s too much a gentlemen to go back on his word and end the engagement.

What makes this story work is the side characters – both the other servants, as well as the family members and friends of the Earl.   The story becomes positively mad cap by the end – I actually laughed out loud at one point and had to explain to the BF that I was not going insane, since he was watching a rather serious tv show at the time.    You will not at all be surprised by how this story ends, but you’ll thoroughly enjoy getting there.

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education – Michael Pollan

Any American gardener should read this book – it’s the story of Pollan’s evolution as a gardener at his New England farmhouse, but within this evolution, he explores quite a bit of what makes gardening here in America both the same as other places, and also very unique.

One of the things he brings up, that I had never thought about, but could instantly see, is that the American garden (and by garden, we’re often speaking about larger grounds of a home), abhors fences.    If you look at the front lawns of suburbia, they flow into the next perfectly manicured lawn, and if you put up any sort of substantial fence or hedge, you’re absenting yourself from this landscape, and even if only subconsciously, your neighbors will look down on this rebellion.    I’ve always had a thing against hedges in the city, and I think I understand part of why now.    But he also points out that this lack of fencing can be traced back to the Puritans, who believed that this land was given to us by God, and you can’t fence that off.    And it’s that viewpoint that has governed a lot of how Americans relate to land up to the present day.

There are a number of other really interesting chapters, but my other particular favorite was one about the variety of seed catalogs you can find in America.    It’s now a bit dated (the book was published in 1991), but even with what was out there then (which I remember looking at from what my mother received), there’s a lot of things I had never thought about that you find out about regional identity and class viewpoints from these catalogs.    I’d actually be really interested to see what he’d say about the catalogs out there today – in the book, Johnny’s Select Seeds is a relative newcomer, and they’ve been around for a while now.

I really enjoyed this book.    I don’t think I was expecting to have a gardening book make me think this much – there’s a lot of information to chew over in here, though I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, coming from the author of The Botany of Desire.