Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Like her previous novel, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has another bestseller with The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. Named one of the best books of the year by The NYT Book Review, time, NPR and other outlets, this is the story of a young woman growing up on a fabulous estate far from the rest of the world. Her father is a researcher; he may also be insane, because he’s experimenting with animal-human hybrids. This is a story about isolation and social injustice, but it also offers some romance, a vibrant setting, action scenes–and monsters. Reviewers have called it unsettling and eerie, and it is, but it’s also hard to put down. Recommended.

Irresistible Shed Makeovers

artist shed, courtesy of Lowe's

Courtesy of Lowe’s

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote for HGTV.com about transforming an ordinary garden shed into –well, whatever you like. Turn it into a she-shed, a yoga studio, a place to paint or just a personal escape. Click here the to explore all the possibilities.

Roadtrip to the World’s Largest Working Wildflower Farm

Texas Bluebonnets at Wildflower Farms

Recently I visited Fredericksburg, TX, home to WildSeed Farm. This beautiful place is considered the world’s largest working wildflower farm, which means you’ll see tractors, workers harvesting seeds and much more amind acres of Texas bluebonnets, poppies, Indian paintbrush plants and more. Follow this link for a virtual visit: https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/wildseed-farms-texas-hill-country/

MAGDALENA, by Candi Sary

I’m happy to share this excerpt from MAGDALENA, a new novel by Candi Sary. The excerpt and images are courtesy of Regal Publishing House.

“Magdalena once told me she knew how to cure sadness. She read on that little phone of hers that we all need fifteen minutes of sun every day and without it, depression could set in. Those of us here on the peninsula barely get fifteen minutes a week. The fog comes in over the cliffs in the morning, creeping through town, shrouding all neighborhoods with a thick graveyard effect. We don’t have an actual graveyard, but the landslide all those years ago took enough lives and left enough ghosts behind to bring on that kind of fog. If it does lift around midmorning, a heavy cloud cover still stays most of the day, keeping things gray. I’d always thought my sadness came from the unfortunate things that happened in my life, but according to Magdalena, my gloom might simply be a lack of vitamin D.”

Author Candi Sary

Author Candi Sary

“From the day she got the phone, she stared into it constantly, seeking answers to all of her questions and even finding new questions she would have never thought of on her own. She fed on its information like meat.

“’Mushrooms,’” Magdalena said. ‘We need to eat mushrooms.’ The girl was my only visitor. When she spoke, I hung onto her every word. ‘If we eat enough of them, we’ll get the vitamin D we’re missing from the sun.’

I didn’t question her. For weeks, I based all my meals around mushrooms. I made mushroom casseroles, salads, risotto, soups, but I’m not sure it changed me. I’m not sure it changed her. How many mushrooms would it take to replace the sun? I wish I could ask the girl, but she’s gone. Three weeks ago, I lost her for good.

I pull up my sleeves and roll up my pants. My arms and legs are so pale in this light. They look like white maps with long blue roads leading to nowhere. The lighting in my house is soft enough to disguise my pallor, but here in the rest home, the deficiency is glaring. I quickly lower my sleeves and pants again.

‘Focus, Dottie.’ My command is quiet.

“I swallow down one of the tiny white pills and sit up straight in my chair. Pen in hand, I look around the dismal room I currently share with Mario. It is a holding cell for the dying. We aren’t dying like the old people in this nursing home. But our town is small. They had nowhere else to put my husband after the accident a decade ago. And they had nowhere else to put me after the devastating incident at my house last week. So now we live together again in room eleven with the beige walls, the brown and yellow floral comforters on our beds, and the slim, dark wood secretary desk beside the bathroom door. The old desk is where I currently sit as I tap my pen on the blank page, trying to gather my thoughts.”

You can find MAGDALENA on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop and wherever other fine books are sold.

SWEETBITTER, by Reginald Gibbons

Author Reginald Gibbons, courtesy of JackLeg Press

Reginald Gibbons is the author of eleven books of poetry, including CREATURES OF A DAY, a finalist for the National Book Award. His new novel, on sale Aug. 1, 2023, SWEETBITTER, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. I’m pleased to share an excerpt; thanks to his publisher, JackLeg Press, for allowing me to post this prologue, book cover and author photo.

“This is an adventure story and a romance, but in Gibbons’ hands, it’s that and much more. Exquisitely rendered and deeply felt, this is as astute and absorbing as fiction gets.” — Booklist

PROLOGUE
“Many generations ago Aba, the great spirit above, created many men, all Chahtah, who spoke the language of the Chahtah, and under- stood one another. They came from the heart of the earth and were made of clay, and before them no men had ever lived.


“One day they all gathered and looking upward wondered what the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds were made of. They determined to try to reach the sky by building a great mound. They piled up rocks to build a mound that would reach the sky but at night the wind blew from above so strongly that the rocks fell down. The second day, too, they worked, building the mound but again that night the wind came while they slept and it pushed down their work. On the third day they began yet again. But that night the wind blew so hard it hurled the rocks of the mound down upon the builders themselves.


They were not killed, but when daylight came and they crawled out from beneath the rocks that had fallen on them and they began to talk to one another, they discovered that they could no longer understand each other. They spoke many languages instead of one. Some of them spoke the original language, the Chahtah language. Others, who no longer spoke this language, began to fight with those who did. Finally they separated. The Chahtah remained, the original people, and lived near nanih waya, the mound they had not been able to complete. And the others went north and east and west and encountered more tribes.”


“In this way or some other, all the peoples of the earth were created, each from some substance and thus of different appearance, and at times struggling against each other. This is what the Chahtah told to a white missionary. But this was only a little of what the Chahtah knew. It was not for that man to know everything. And then he wrote mistaken things about them.”

Excerpted from SWEETBITTER by Reginald Gibbons © 2023 by Reginald Gibbons, used with permission from JackLeg Press.

How to Grow Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Trees

Turn the juice from Meyer lemons and Key limes into delicious drinks and desserts.

This dwarf Key lime tree is studded with juicy, full-sized Key limes. Courtesy of Gardens Alive! van Bourgondien Photography

I’m hungry for something that’s sweet, yet slightly tart, with a refreshing, summery taste. In other words, I’m thinking about lemon meringue pie, strawberry jam flavored with tangy lemon juice, and a gorgeous Meyer lemon tart with a gingersnap cookie crust. Lemons and limes are the gems of the citrus world, as far as I’m concerned, fruits that cost way too much at the supermarket. This year, I’m growing my own.
 
In my Zone 7b garden, winter temperatures can average as low as 5 to 10 degrees F. Meyer lemons are hardy in Zones 8 to 11, and Key limes overwinter in Zones 9 to 10. So how do I plan to grow and harvest all those juicy yellow and green fruits?
 
It’s easy. I’m growing my dwarf Key lime and Meyer lemon tree in containers that I’ll move indoors when the mercury drops. I had a Meyer lemon for almost ten years before an unexpected freeze caught me off guard in 2018, and my tree perished. (It was in a large pot that I forgot to move in time.) Until then, it flowered and fruited beautifully, giving me enough lemons to last all summer and perfuming my cool basement when its flowers opened.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree Courtesy of Gardens Alive!

 
This spring, I’m starting over. My dwarf Key lime tree promises to give me golf-ball-sized limes while topping out at just two feet tall. I could plant it outside if I lived where the winters are warmer, but it’s ideal for my container garden. It’ll start bearing in one to three years, and while it’s self-pollinating, I’ll put it outside every summer to let the bees help. If I planted it in the ground (it prefers loamy, sandy soil), it could reach four to six feet tall and wide.
 
Of course, I had to plant another Meyer lemon too. It’ll get a little taller, hitting four to six feet high in a pot or six to ten feet in the ground. When it blooms, the flowers will release a sweet scent that can fill a room. Little green lemons follow and soon ripen to an orange-yellow color.
 
I’ve read that the original Meyer lemons were imported from China, but today’s trees are a kind of cross between regular lemons and oranges, which accounts for their tangy, slightly sweet flavor and good disease resistance. The fruits are thin-skinned and juicy. I’ll need a little patience because I know it can take up to two years for a Meyer lemon tree to start bearing. Like Key lime trees, it’s self-pollinating.
 
If you’re planting lemons and lime trees in the ground, give them a spot with at least six hours of sun a day. If you live where the summer heat and sunlight are intense, Meyer lemons like morning sun and some afternoon shade.
 
You can these trees in garden soil or a commercial potting mix but be sure the soil drains easily. Keep the crown of your trees just above the surface of the soil when you plant. Then gently firm the soil over the roots and water.
 

Citrus Alive Citrus Fertilizer
Citrus Alive! fertilizer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!
van Bourgondien Photography


When you water again, give your trees a good, deep drink. Shallow watering, especially if you do it often, encourages roots to grow near the surface where they can dry out too fast.
 
A sign of overwatering: yellow or cup-shaped leaves. Underwatering: wilted leaves. My best advice is to watch the weather and adjust as needed. Give your trees more water when it’s hot and less if it turns cloudy, overcast, or cool.
 
I fertilized my original Meyer lemon tree each spring with citrus plant food, and that’s what I’ll do with these new trees. A special citrus fertilizer has the extra nitrogen they need. I’ve also started using a Four-Way Soil Analyzer that gives me info on light levels, my soil’s pH, and how moist my soil is. It even tells me about the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in my soil.
 

4-Way Soil Analyzer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!


My old tree didn’t need much pruning, although I cut off any shoots that grew below the graft union (the knobby spot on the stem). I didn’t know for a long time, but it’s okay to remove the thorns.
 
I never had to spray my first Meyer lemon for diseases, but if I was trying to prevent fungal or bacterial disease, I’d use a bio-fungicide like Garden Sentinel. It’s fine for organic gardening and comes ready to use or in a concentrated formula.
 
I’d love to hear how you use your Meyer lemons and limes in recipes. Please share a link with me in the comments!
~Lynn
 
 
 

Black Petunias: Black Magic For Your Garden

I know, I know. This petunia doesn’t look very black in the photo. It’s more dark purple. But I promise–when you see it in person, it looks like black velvet.

You know what they say about a little black dress. Every woman needs one in her closet.  But black flowers in your garden? Aren’t black blooms usually dead blooms?

Well, no. I recently found a basket of gorgeous, near-black petunias at our local Home Depot, and they were so velvety and unusual, I just had to bring them home. But they aren’t completely black. It’s hard to find truly black plants, and many are just very deep, dark shades of purple, purple-red, or blue.

I’m telling you, so when you look at the pictures of my petunias, you won’t wonder what I’m talking about. That’s because my “black” petunias, when photographed in the sunlight, look purple. But when the light is right, they’re dusky and mysterious and beautifully, velvet-black. Each bloom has a pale yellow star in its throat.

I  don’t know the variety name, or I’d share it.  It’s possible that mine are ‘Pinstripe’ petunias; click here to see for yourself.  I don’t think I have ‘Phantom,’ which is sold by other seed sellers and garden centers, because the yellow markings look too wide.  But I bet if you look around, you can find something similar.

If a dip into the world of inky plants makes you yearn for more, check out a book called Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press). The author covers black pansies, lilies, agapanthus, hollyhocks (like the ‘Black Watchman’ heirloom hollyhocks in my gardening book), and more, all of which might persuade you that black is the new green.

I’m not ready to convert my garden, with its springlike palette of pale blues, yellows, pinks, and rose-red, to all-black, but it’s fun to try something really different–and that’s how gardeners are. We always want someone to visit and ask, “Where did you get that?”

Update: Thanks to Gary, at PlantCareToday.com, who wrote to tell me that King George III sent Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, to explore Argentina. While he was there, he collected samples that were used later to confirm that petunias and tobacco are related. Learn more about petunia care here.

Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.

The Nebraska Sandhills: Tanking

As a travel writer (I contribute to the Travel Channel), I get to take some pretty cool trips now and then. Recently I visited the Sandhills of central Nebraska, where we did something you can’t do in most places: we went “tankin’ “.  That’s Nebraska-speak for floating down the river in a tank once used to feed and water cattle.  (Yes, it floats just fine!)

This photo is pre-launch. Once we climbed into the tank, we sat on benches inside, and had room for a cooler packed with sandwiches, fruit and cookies. A picnic on the Middle Loup River = unbeatable summer fun.

The water’s not very deep here; maybe 4 feet in spots. It was shallow enough that one of us to get out and give us a shove when we got stuck on a sandbar. The tanks drift with the current, so paddling is optional.

The sun coming through the cottonwood trees on the bank was glorious. If we had had more time, we could’ve pulled our tanks onto the shore and picnicked there. Floating was so peaceful and calming. Nothing but the sounds of songbirds and the gurgle and bubble of the water.

See the sand on the bank? That’s why this region is known as the Sandhills. There’s very little topsoil to support trees, but the sandy hills, which cover about 1/3 of the entire state, are home to mixed prairie grasses.

More to come in part 2!

Paw-some Gifts for Pets! (You Know Your Dog Wants These)

Courtesy of West Paw Design

Human friends, writer-grrl has been researching Christmas gifts for furry friends like me. If you need  ideas for your favorite doggie (and after all, we deserve a buncha nice stuff, because we are soooo cute and loveable), then check out her list, below.

(Santa, please note: I want all this stuff and a whole lot more….wags, Miss Paws)

Shaggy dogs are adorable–but sometimes they can’t see well because their long fur flops over in their eyes.  Tame your dog’s bangs or dress up your favorite bow-wow with a bow. Your Dog Advisor has a list of useful, cute hair accessories for canines. (No, human hair clips don’t usually work. They’re prone to slip out of your pupper’s soft fur.) Choose from simple, utilitarian clips to bands to bows. Miss Paws is such a diva. She wants a bow studded with rhinestones, lace, or satin rosebuds. 

Scratch right here…puh-leeze. Itchy pups may be allergic to their bedding, especially if it’s woolen. Otto likes this Organic Bumper Bed with its easy-to-wash, removable cotton cover. These comfy sleepers are stuffed with recycled plastic, which means they’re Earth-friendly, too. Available in five mix-and-match colors, and sized extra-small to extra-large.

Thanks to West Paw Design for this image. This is Otto, on a West Paw bumper bed. Such a hottie! ~ Miss Paws

Born to run? What dog isn’t? When you’re clenching a leash in your hand, your poor doggie can get jerked along. Canines recommend this Patento Hands-Free Leash, which lets you pump your arms naturally. That lets your running companion (moi, Miss Paws) run at a more natural pace, too. The leash attaches to a nylon wristband with a mini-pocket for your keys or a handy dog biscuit. Reflective stitching on the leash keeps us more visible at night.

Patento Pet USA makes this hands-free leash, sold by Petco stores. Image courtesy of Patento Pet USA.

Humans, I–Miss Paws–am a “power chewer,” which means that writer-grrl spends a lot of money trying to keep me in toys. If you’ve got a chewer in your pack, it can be tough to find—well, a tough toy. Tux is a toy made of a super-strong, FDA approved material. I like it when the humans stuff my Tux with a treat, but it’s also fun if they just throw it for me to catch. Sold by WestPaw, with a one-time free replacement if I do manage to gnaw it up…and I’m working on it.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a snuggle-bunny kind of pup, check out this soft, plush Owl toy. It’s featherless, with a sewn-in squeaker that guaranteed to keep you happy and annoy your humans (LOL–it’s not really annoying). These plush toys are stuffed with 100% recycled materials and they’re machine washable, so your human won’t be grossed out after you’ve got it all nice and slobbery. Best of all, it’s certified safe by third party testing.

Light up the night, so we can see where we’re going! This Dog-e-Lite leash is just what we need for our evening walks. It comes with an LED flashlight that slips onto the leash, so humans can keep one hand free (that makes it a lot easier for them to reach down and scratch behind our ears). Solar technology lets the light recharge in the sun or under artificial lights. I like that eco-friendly stuff, and writer-grrl likes not having to buy expensive batteries.

Okay, that should start my list to Santa. Writer-grrl, are you listening?

~ Miss Paws