Sunday, July 27, 2014

Goofy stuff I have to keep

The ceramic art shown here is a water pitcher. The leaf on the cow's back is a handle to cover over an opening where the water is poured in. The tail is a handle. The water pours out of the cow's mouth. It was a gift from my parents after it became clear country life was assimilating us (especially me, since Husband was assimilated before we ever moved).

"It's strange that the water comes out of the cow's mouth," Mom said during a dinner.

Husband said, "Would you rather have it come out the other end?"

And with that, the pitcher's place was sealed in family lore--and on the mantelpiece.

Next to the cow is a thank-you note I was given in a train station in Torino, Italy. I was serving an LDS mission and had received the surprise news that I was being sent across the country, where the new Padova mission was opening up. (Those of you who are familiar with Mormon mission areas in Italy will know the boundaries have changed again since that day in 1990.) Missionaries usually learned if they were being sent to a new area during transfer day each month, but this news came mid-cycle, and it was a bit of a shock.

The other missionaries gave me a great send-off at the Torino train station, including the note from Elder Baer, a talented kid I never saw again. But I remember that he played piano, and in addition he penned some verses that included these lines:

A beacon of humility, 
You radiate tranquility...

It's flattering and embarrassing to be the inspiration for a poem like that. Mostly flattering. Enough that I kept that card through multiple moves, tucked away in a mission photo album and mostly forgotten. But when the World Cup was going on it brought back memories of Torino, because Italy hosted the World Cup in 1990. And then I remembered that goofy note with its homespun poetry:

Continue shining forth your faith
And lift this lowly human raith. *

*race--but it didn't rhyme.

Now really, could a commercially-produced card do better than that?

What goofy things do you hold onto?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Larry's Garden

I was lucky to visit the garden of one of the most knowledgeable gardeners in town a couple of weeks ago. He spilled his secrets to a small group of us about garden management, nourishing plants, saving seeds, even telling the difference between an heirloom tomato plant and a hybrid if you've lost the label.

Like me, Larry has enjoyed better produce from the garden than he could buy from the supermarket. Unlike me, he has learned how to make a wide variety of plants succeed in a high desert environment. (Disclaimer: Husband is the real garden guru at our place. But I've learned a ton from him and good neighbors.)

In the first photo, Larry is holding pea pods grown from hybrid and open-pollinated seeds. It's probably no surprise that the larger pods came from certified hybrid seed, or that they tasted sweeter than the open pollinated peas when he let us sample them. A self-sufficient gardener likes to know that she can have a crop year after year, but Larry warned that sometimes when you save seed, you might also be saving a pest problem if an insect has left its eggs or larvae behind.

You can save a seed and plant it whether it's open-pollinated or hybrid, but only the open-pollinated seed will consistently produce a plant that is like its parent. If you want to get started saving seeds, harvest them from the best plants in the garden.

There are some open-pollinated, non-hybrid seed that produces great results. Popular seed varieties that have been passed down through the generations are called heirlooms (not all open-pollinated seed is heirloom, but all heirlooms are open-pollinated). These plants are the source of debate in some gardening circles. They may lack some of the pest and disease resistance that is bred into hybrid varieties. That said, in our climate we've had great success with the pink Brandywine tomato. We love the fruit, which sometimes grows so large that one slice covers a whole sandwich. It's prolific and seems to handle the pests from this part of the world as well as anything else we plant.

One thing it won't do: wait until you get around to harvesting it. It needs to be picked as soon as it's ready or it turns to mush on the vine.

Hybrid tomato blossom
So how do you tell if a tomato plant is a hybrid or an heirloom if its marker got lost? Larry said to look at the blossom. And while I've helped grow heirlooms for years, I'd never thought to do that.

Heirloom tomato blossom
A hybrid blossom is small and compact. An heirloom blossom is much bigger (and out of focus in this photo--sorry. The photos in this production are brought to you by my iPhone and iPad--I really should have brought a better camera.)

I have always bought Brandywine seed, even while knowing it was an heirloom variety. Tomato seed are messy and I've lacked the confidence in myself to save them, but here's what Larry does:

He pulls them from the fruit, puts them in a bottle, adds water and leaves them in the sun for a few days. This process ferments the casing around the seed. Then he rinses the seeds and dries them on a paper towel.

Heirloom seed typically doesn't germinate as well as the hybrid stuff, so he plants it a little heavier than commercial seed. Sometimes it germinates better than expected and sometimes not as well. That's why it's good to have gardening friends that you can share seedlings with.

To the left is the crop he grows the most of: garlic. He harvests not only the roots but also the seed, which is saved for future plantings.  The seed will produce one clove in a season; a single clove will produce a bulb over the same time.

I asked and Larry confirmed it: He doesn't have a vampire problem.

Side note: If you've wondered where I've been... everything is fine. In fact I am enjoying the summer a lot, which explains the sparse posts.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Scent of early summer

I've written about it before, but most of you weren't following at the time, so I'll say it again: blooming alfalfa is one of the most wonderful perfumes on Earth. I'm pretty sure it went into the formulas of strong 80s-era scents... the kind you could smell from the other end of the hallway.

Most farmers don't let alfalfa bloom. It loses nutritional value when it flowers. Perhaps this field is destined to be seed someday. I felt like curling up on it and going to sleep, like my cats in a bed of cat mint. (I didn't.)

And speaking of things I've done before, it wouldn't be summer without at least one shot of ripening wheat. This probably won't be my last. It's amazing how good grain looks, in every stage of its development. And it smells good, too. My last long bike ride was a feast for the nose.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cover Reveal: Truth is Relative

The cover art is in, and now I can honestly say:

Truth is Relative is will be available August 5. Thanks, Caitlin Willey, for a better cover than the one I dreamed up in my head! Soon the world will be one quirky mystery richer.

You can sign up to review it here. Honest reviews only!

For updates, you can like my official author page on facebook.

Let the party begin.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tin Cup Pass in the Spring

The first time I saw Tin Cup Pass in Idaho, it was around sunset. Well, that was one of the first times, anyway. We ended up going back and forth because people we traveled with were having car trouble, so when I saw the sunset on the water of Blackfoot Reservoir I was too preoccupied to halt the car and dig out the camera.

Add that to the list of photo regrets...

But it's pretty in the spring during the day, too. Who'd have thought a sagebrush field could look so green?

This time we didn't even need to talk about it. Husband just pulled over so I could get out with the camera. This is becoming a favorite stretch of lonely road.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

West Words Wednesday: The Electrician's Code

Full disclosure: I read Clarissa Draper's latest mystery in exchange for an electronic copy of the book. The fact that I spent the next three days immersed in the world of MI5 was just a bonus. (American friends, MI5 is kind of like the British FBI. It's also a darn good TV show, if you're into suspense--and if you don't mind seeing Americans as the bad guys now and again.)

The Electrician's Code: An Evans and Blackwell Mystery blends old fashioned police work with MI5 analysis: specifically code breaking. The plot heated up pretty quickly, and it had me turning pages until the end--which, by the way, I did not see coming.

The book becomes available on Amazon on June 24.

Here's the teaser:  

An elderly man with only one leg is murdered and left in a pool of his own blood outside his house. To add to the mystery, a note found in his pocket says, 'Why Run Backwards You'll Vomit.' London Detective Chief Inspector Theo Blackwell can't understand the motive for killing the old man, or the meaning of the cryptic message. 
Later, a woman is stabbed on her doorstep. The two seemingly unrelated cases have two things in common: apparently random victims and suspects with alibis. 
As DCI Blackwell works on solving the cases, he requests the help of code-breaker Sophia Evans, who is battling a personal and tricky case of her own.

The cases happen in two different worlds. Blackwell's backdrop of police investigations was more comfortable for me to inhabit, even if it did involve murder investigations. 

The MI5 world carried some emotional baggage, and the characters who lived there were dealing with some severe guilt. Evans was a smart, conflicted woman who had obviously faced some hard choices, and there were more to be made before the end of the book.

Blackwell's world revolved around getting justice for victims. I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes--he was a decent, fair man. His partnership with Evans was voluntary, and her skill broke the case. The unraveling of the mystery was as compelling as the suspense.

I came into this series without reading the first installment, and I was able to follow the plot with no trouble. I want to read the first book to better understand the tension between the characters, though.

Reader's advisory: There are some grown-up situations, rough language and closed-door sex. These were handled tastefully, and they didn't detract from the plot for me. But be warned: that first scene is pretty disturbing, and you may wonder for a while if it relates to the rest of the book. (It does.)

The one thing I wished for as I closed the book was a more fully-drawn ending, especially in one of the action scenes. But the mystery delivered what I came for: a story that entertained me while it made me think.

Four stars out of five.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why should the Tetons get all the attention?

We've spent the last few days driving over Wyoming mountain passes. Here are some scenes from Togwotee.

And another from a dirt road heading toward the Absaroka range...

So... with scenes like these, why do the Tetons get all the attention?

Here they are in the distance, from a vantage point where winter is still hanging on.

And here they are, closer up. I don't think it's possible for the Tetons to have a bad picture day.

Emails from home

Most of our email is pretty mundane. Once in a while, though, the immediate flavor of country life sings amid the shopping lists and communications to the office. Here are some stored on our home computer, written by people in our house and edited for privacy.

Some of the terms are softened for a family audience, but not by much.

Your evil kitty just woke up your son by urping up a mouse on his lion blankie.

You know you live in a small town when…

...Fifty-year old people born and raised in town are ‘new comers’.

...You are more afraid of locking yourself out of your house than of being robbed.

...The library has a different schedule on every day of the week.

...You are darn proud that your town has a library. Incidentally, your library account is handled not by a card but by a number that the librarian types into her computer. You have trouble remembering it, but the librarian can always tell you what it is.

...You can honestly say, "The Mayor is in front of the house fixing his manure spreader."

Good news: We caught another mouse.

Bad news: We have at least one more.

Good news: He must be hungry and he thinks of traps as a food source, since he robbed the bait of an un-sprung trap, finished the bait of the sprung one, and ate an eye from his dead brother.

Hope you're done with breakfast.