Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fiction Corner

These hot muggy days it's sometimes a pleasure just to sit in your air-conditioned house and read a book, isn't it? The last couple of novels I read were the authors' second books, and both were very good. Jennifer Vanderbes wrote a novel a while back called Easter Island.

It was one of those novels that tell two intertwined stories from different times. It was fascinating and informative, and I learned quite a bit about Easter Island and what happened to that society that had erected the enormous figures.

Now she has a new novel called Strangers at the Feast. Again, anthropology figures into the plot in a way, but this one is set in the United States and takes place on the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving. The tale turns tragic and is a grim indictment of where the American dream has gone wrong ... gone wrong ... gone wrong. The book touches on many aspects of family life, the changing role of women in U.S. society, the issue of eminent domain and unbridled development and materialism, and the familiar gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Jenna Blum is the author of an excellent earlier novel about a woman who finds a way for her and her child to survive in the midst of the horrors of World War II in Europe -- Those Who Save Us. It was very well written and engaging.

Now she has a new novel called Stormchasers. It's set in familiar territory--Minnesota and the Plains States. It's about twins who haven't seen each other for 20 years. The brother is bipolar and he's a stormchaser. The sister is a reporter who joins a stormchasing tour to try to find her brother while doing an assignment for her paper. As with many novels where the intricacies of family life are important, there is a deep secret between the twins that emerges from the shadows.  The scenes describing the tornadoes the group is chasing are vivid and dramatic indeed.

I am in the middle of reading Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

I haven't read this author before, but I am thoroughly enjoying her writing. The book is so very very English and utterly charming.

In our reading group, we've been doing Corduroy Mansions, the new McCall-Smith series set in London -- what fun! I just rented the DVD of the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series HBO episodes to view a second time. I love all his books.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Read the Latest!

Susan is in the news! Well, sort of. I'm featured in a very nice interview done by Emily Orpin on Handmade Spark. It's a good mix of information about personal stuff, jewelry making, and Etsy selling. Use this link to read it.

Also, I just published a new article on Spark about what I do when I get an Etsy sale. You might enjoy reading this as well.

Meanwhile, Eleanore keeps putting up great "earrings in the garden" photos on my Etsy site. If you haven't seen these, please take a look and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Butterflies Are All Around!

It's been difficult to do much in the garden lately with the heat advisories we've had in east central Illinois. Our helpers have added mulch to the raised beds on the east side and mulched the paths. I'm not sure how they did even that without collasping with heatstroke!

Some of the annuals, especially the vinca and the salvia, are bravely blooming like crazy in their heatstruck pots, but some plants are showing signs of fatigue. The shrubs are holding up well, however, and the tall white panicles of the Hydrangea paniculata tardiva are still quite showy.

This is the peak time for a visitor to the garden who doesn't mind full sun, blazing heat, and high humidity: the butterflies! A friend of mine lives in the western part of the Carolinas border in an old apple orchard where she gardens extensively. She sent me the photos I'm including in today's post. Thanks, Viv!
I've always loved butterflies for their colorful patterns, their grace, their reminder of the precious but brief gift of life itself. There are lots of plants that attract butterflies to a garden. Butterfly bushes, for example, of the genus Buddleia are wonderful for bringing them in with their long slender clusters of purple or blue blossoms.

We used to have an entire row of them along the east side outside the fence. Every year I would prune them down to about 10 inches in the early spring, but last year someone doing some cleanup work for us cut them back to the ground in the fall and, sadly, most haven't returned. Fortunately, we have a nice dark purple one (Black Knight) near the front door and a new dwarf one in a raised bed, just added this spring.
In an earlier garden at another location, I had some of the annual bloodflower milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), and when we moved some plants, the seeds traveled with us. At one time, they were all over the garden -- and so were the Monarch butterflies as a result. It was delightful. Too bad the plants reseeded so heavily that we had to do some weeding and wound up losing them. There are two hybrid milkweeds that are well behaved: Asclepias tuberosa. I used to have one, a nice short orange version of a prairie plant, and there is a yellow one as well called "Hello Yellow."
A number of different butterflies show up here in the garden from time to time. The Tiger Swallowtail, with its extravagant sharp-tipped wing ends, like the one in Viv's photo is a frequent guest. We also have lots of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, the small sulphur yellows, and the little Cabbage Whites. We still get Monarchs, but not as many as we  used to. I don't know if that has to do with the corn pesticide that affects them being used in fields around here or not. The darker Eastern Swallowtail visits too at times.
Of course, back when my husband and I were still nimble enough to keep them from jumping over the fence, we used to take the cats into the garden and they loved to chase butterflies. But the butterflies are very quick and the cats were usually disappointed after a brief but exciting moment or two of pursuit.

One time David and I saw a Giant Swallowtail in a nature preserve on vacation. It looks just like the Tiger but very very large and impressive.

Some of the same annuals that attract butterflies also attract hummingbirds: salvia, petunias, fuschias, callibrachoas, as well as perennials like lilies and the dropmore scarlet honeysuckles, among others.

Butterflies are the incarnation of summer delight, aren't they? Do you have butterflies in your garden?