Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Sisters' August Reading Challenge

 My reading life in August was surprisingly rich. I read more than usual, despite it being a busy month. I won't list all the books I read this month, just the ones specifically for the challenge.

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1. Enjoy a graphic novel.

Charity - March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

This delightfully illustrated graphic novel tells the riveting story of John Lewis. In his own words he tells of growing up as an African American in the south. As the Civil Rights movement sweeps across the US, Lewis grapples with what his part should in in the history unfolding around him. I was so happy that my librarian suggested this book or I may have missed out!

Gina - When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Omar and his brother will never stop searching the thousands of faces at the refugee camp to find their mother though it has been years since they had to flee their home in Somalia because of war. This graphic novel depicts the life and dreams of a refugee boy. I found myself moved to tears, but didn't realize until I finished the book that the author was telling his own story, and he now lives with his family near me. Note: The author is Muslim and this book contains mention of his religion.

2. Read a mystery.

Charity - Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
I'm scared of crime novels. Too much blood and murder and you can count me out. But I do love Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, so I started this book with caution. Friends, I loved it! Lord Peter Wimsey had me laughing out loud and the plot had me reading feverishly. I'll be making a trip to  my local library for some more of Sayers novels!

Gina - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
One of my goals in this reading challenge is to read some of the many unread books on my shelves. This was one of them. For years I've wanted to figure out why Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time (behind the Bible and Shakespeare). And Then There Were None has been called the best mystery book ever written. The plot feels impossible, bordering ridiculous, and certainly morbid but by the end I was in awe of Christie's skill in fitting together the pieces.

We both enjoyed listening to The Literary Life podcast episode on the detective novel. This episode discusses why the years after World War 1 were the Golden Age of the detective novel, including the roles of both Sayers and Christie.

3. Choose a book of the Bible and read it several times this month.

Charity - Revelation
For the past two years I have been writing a summary of each book of the Bible as I read through it. But I have to read each book several times before I can accomplish that goal. This month found me at the last book of the Bible. As I read it again and again, I was struck by the faithfulness of God and His incredible calling that He has given to the Church. I keep asking myself, am I a faithful part of the Bride of Christ, waiting and working in delighted expectation for His coming?

Gina - 1 Thessalonians
I chose Thessalonians since that is where I happened to be in my Bible reading. I found that the Bible app on my phone (Tecarta) has numerous Bible translations that I could access through free streaming. I read through the book several times choosing various translations. I found myself looking at familiar verses in new ways.

4. Read while sipping a cold drink.

Charity - I finished locking up at work and grabbed my Cold Brew Green Tea, compliments of a shift as a barista. At home in my quiet house, I settled down to finish one book and start a new one. The Perfect afternoon refuel. 

Gina - My older children have been sometimes making a pot of coffee and chilling it. I've enjoyed starting mornings with a glass of iced coffee and my Bible

5. Send a book quote to a friend.

Charity- I took the "send a quote" seriously. In my mind it meant snail mail, though I could have done it by text. It was a great excuse to send a friend some encouragement!

Gina - I hadn't even considered snail mail until Charity mentioned it. I couldn't let my little sister beat me and since I wanted to send a few cards anyway, I looked through my quote journal to find some appropriate quotes.

Charity and I have never taken so many photos together, and we are having such fun doing these book photo shoots each months. We typically do no planning, just grab a book sometime we are together and find the nearest person to shoot some photos. Thanks to our sister Darla for being willing to stand on a ladder in an alfalfa field for us!

Saturday, August 14, 2021

My No-Till Mulch Gardening

I grew up with a traditional garden - plowing in the fall, tilling in the spring, and tilling/hoeing between the rows during the summer. In Pennsylvania, bare soil means weeds. I spent countless childhood hours fighting weeds in the garden. The work didn't hurt me, but the battle with weeds wasn't enjoyable and the weeds always won. 

When I married, Ed introduced me to mulching. We collected grass clippings from our yard and used them to mulch the garden. Sometimes we also layered cardboard and newspaper. I was amazed at the difference. Covered soil results in far fewer weeds. But it was always a fight every spring to get enough grass clippings to cover the freshly-tilled soil before the weeds grew. We usually loss. 

Over the years I have read about mulch gardening - a method of keeping your garden covered in mulch and not tilling the ground so weed seeds are not exposed. There was an older woman (I can't remember her name) who wrote about mulch gardening in Organic Gardening magazine decades ago, and I found a compilation of her articles. Lasagna Gardening was a popular book that came out twenty years ago. And Back to Eden has made the method popular in recent years. 

I've experimented with various mulching methods through the years, but got more serious the last two years. I'm hardly strong enough to handle our tiller and though my brothers are willing to help, it would be nice to be able to garden without always asking for help.

We have a large yard with many big trees so I started by layering grass clippings and leaves on sections of the garden. In the spring, the mulch had settled and began to rot, and I dug holes in the mulch and directly planted things like tomatoes, broccoli, and pumpkins. I had nearly no weeds. Success! 

But I wasn't sure how well I could plant seeds in mulch. 

Last fall I covered the whole garden with at least a small bit of mulch. This spring I did no tilling. Using a hoe, I pulled aside the mulch and planted onion sets, beans and corn seeds, and vegetable plants directly in the mulch. I had a large amount of finished compost from my compost pile that I added to the planting rows as well.

I was able to plant the entire garden with only a hoe - no tiller needed.

The result has been a lovely garden with almost no weeding. I'm still learning what ingredients such as lime that I'll need to add to my garden to increase its fertility. As mulch decompose, it can lock up certain nutrients which is why some people allow their mulch to rot before adding it to their garden.

Garden in June

After the strawberries were finished in June, my brother tilled under some of the old strawberries, and I planted some late beans and corn. These tilled areas immediately grew a fine crop of weeds. The contrast between the mulched and tilled areas was significant.

Potatoes were another experiment this year. I often have volunteer potatoes grow in the spring from potatoes that were missed in the harvest. I decided to have purposeful volunteer potato patch. 

When we dug our potatoes in the fall, I sorted out some of the small potatoes. We tilled one end of the garden, made rows, and planted those small potatoes. We then covered this section of the garden with leaves and waited for spring.

This spring the potato plants emerged.

Potato patch in June

Not every potato grew, so we had a few skippers in the rows, but it was a lovely potato patch, with no work at all in the spring.

Last week the potato plants were nearly dead so we started digging.

I first pulled out the plants, and since we had not hilled the potato plants, the potatoes were right at the surface under the mulch. This made digging potatoes much simpler, but it also meant that quite a few of the potatoes had green skin from exposure to the sun. The mulch from the fall had rotted down too much to protect them.  We should have added another layer of mulch in the spring to protect the potatoes from the sun. The green on potatoes is poisonous, but we'll cut off the green part and eat the rest of the potato.

But despite our dry weather, the potatoes were a great size - some larger than my hand. We are getting about a half bushel per row (my rows are short), which I think is about average from past years.

When we finish digging the potatoes, I plan to sort out the small potatoes and plant next year's crop. I'll try to be more diligent in adding another mulch layer in the spring, but otherwise, this experiment worked well enough to repeat.

I love gardening, but hate weeding, and mulching allows me to maximize my favorite parts of gardening (planting and harvest) and minimize the least favorite. I look forward to learning how to make this method work better for us.

Have you tried mulch gardening?

Monday, August 2, 2021

Sisters' August Reading Challenges

 August is a busy month for many of us. Our family attempts to do some traveling and harvest the garden during the same month. So Charity and I planned some lighter reading challenges for this month. 

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Enjoy a graphic novel.

Yes, this is your excuse to read comic-style books. This genre has published some excellent books recently, including some wonderful nonfiction titles. I'll list some examples, but perusing your local library might reveal some more treasures. Don't think that these are for children; these are meant for teens and up.

The Unwanted by Don Brown - Don's written several great  books - this one on Syrian refugees.

Catherine's War by Julia Billet - A story based on the author's mother's survival as Jew in France during World War 2.

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Henrix - Amazing graphics contrast Hitler and Bonhoeffer. You might not agree with Bonhoeffer's choices, but this is a fascinating way to learn history.  

2. Read a mystery.

When I recall my childhood reading, I remember the hours spent with the Bobbsey Twins, Boxcar Children, and the Happy Hollisters. I loved these stories of siblings who worked together to solve a mystery. Give yourself permission to read a "who-dun-it" in August.

Some examples: 

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - There is a reason these books are classics. Since he wrote short stories and longer novels, you can find something to fit your available reading time in August. Or listen to it on audio.

A Death in the Family by Caroline Duford - A cozy mystery in an English manor.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin  - A middle-grade mystery that hooked me as an adult.

The Lake House by Kate Morton - Why are so many delightful mysteries set in England? Note: Adultery plays a big part in the plot of this book.

3. Choose a book of the Bible and read it several times this month.

You can listen to it on audio, choose a different version to read each time, or somehow focus on one particular book. A short book or long - your choice.

4. Read while sipping a cold drink.

Take the time to slow down and enjoy a moment of rest.

5. Send a book quote to a friend.

This can be a verse, favorite quote, or line of poetry. 

Hope you enjoy reading in August.


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