Holiday reads.

When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.
Jean Fritz

I’ve worked in a library for a number of years, and it is interesting to observe the patterns of circulation. Right now, of course, it’s all about the holiday books, and it appears that a lot of our patrons gravitate toward the Christmas-themed, cozier side of the the mystery spectrum, as well as sweet, versus really hot, romance novels. (Maybe they read the hot ones in January instead?).

I got to thinking about whether or not I have a particular favourite book that I like to revisit at this time of year, or even a genre that I like to sample during the holidays. Given that I read voraciously, and always have, I was surprised to draw a blank.  Thinking back on past years, I realize that I don’t change up my reading habits to accommodate the holiday season. I keep reading anything and everything that catches my attention.

Do you bring out any special books to read during the holiday season?  Are they ones you cherish year after year?  Are they Christmas stories, or non-holiday books that seem to resonate with you more at this time of year than at any other time?  Do you prefer a certain genre over another?  Let me know what you’re reading right now – or plan to read over the holidays – perhaps I will want to check it out, as well!  (Ooh, a library pun, gotta love it).

December blog fun.

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December first: the ice cleats are firmly affixed to my boots and I’m ready to take on the next ten months of winter! (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

I have a ton of really great stuff to share today – here goes:

New to me is this fantastic site: Plant Curator, a wholly-engrossing mix of botany and art.  I seriously could spend hours going through the entries.  This link takes you to some floral-themed art from M.C. Escher, but if his work isn’t to your taste, click on the menu headings at the top of the page to see everything the site has to offer.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 700,000 items, including photographs, maps, manuscripts and video – and it’s all free to everyone with Internet access.  Click over to the site to enjoy this treasure.

Another amazing treat: the over 10,000 cylinder recordings that have been digitized and are available for free from the University of California-Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.  These are priceless recordings from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and include music, speeches and readings.

These “shadow” drawings by artist Vincent Bal are just plain clever.

A huge shout-out to some amazing bloggers:

Laurie Graves, of Notes from the Hinterland, has just published her YA novel Maya and the Book of Everything – congratulations, Laurie!  Read about the book and how to order it here.

Have you ever felt this way about a book?  Yeah…I thought so.  Read Margot’s post on Death Defying Acts of Living – I know you’ll agree.

Adrian Thysse has posted some incredible footage of honeybee hive activity – while you feast your eyes on his work, remember that he wasn’t wearing any protective gear while filming!

A fantastic find:

Paul Martin Brown’s book Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (2006, University Press of Florida).  Truly, a valuable resource if you want to ID and learn about western wild orchids.  The keys are easy to use and Brown offers all the botanical info you need, plus notes on history and naming, as well as decent photography and excellent botanical illustrations by Stan Folsom.  Not a book everyone is going to have a use for, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend it.

And, finally:

I started a project over at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction that may interest you if you write flash fiction stories.  There is an open call for submissions now until December 25, so send in your work as soon as possible.  (If you’ve never written flash fiction before, give it a try – it’s a great way to have fun with really short prose).   Please pass along news of this call for subs to any writers you know!

Clipart credit.

Flowery Friday.

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This wasn’t planned, of course – it was a case of “I’ll just stuff this plant into that currently unoccupied bit of soil” – but the colour combination of ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus and yellow flax makes me smile.  Especially as it is now the end of November, and June, when I took this photo, seems like a very distant memory….

Ten reasons pumpkins are awesome.

(Excerpts of this piece were originally intended for another project but I thought it would be fun to share this today…especially as pumpkin pie is going to be a feature of so many Thanksgiving meals south of the border).  🍗 🍰🍷

More than just the ubiquitous feature of seasonal hot beverages and desserts, or decorations set out to greet trick-or-treaters and serve as the centerpiece on a bountiful Thanksgiving table, pumpkins are the fascinating subjects of myth, history, science…and sport. Whether you intend to eat, drink, grow, or hurl them, this list of pumpkin facts is guaranteed to help you get your festive groove on.

  1. One word: pie.

The heaviest pumpkin in the world was grown in Switzerland in 2014. It weighed 2,323 pounds (1,053 kilograms). The American record for heaviest pumpkin was set in 2015 by Gene McMullen, of Illinois. His massive prize-winner weighed 2,145 pounds (973 kilograms).

If you are looking to grow your own giant pumpkins, be prepared to supply them with plenty of cow manure, water, and sunlight. A goodly amount of labor is necessary to keep the vines properly pruned so that most of the energy of the plants are directed to fruit production – and so that the vines do not snap as the pumpkin’s girth increases. It is not unusual for pumpkins of the largest varieties to add an astonishing two inches (five centimeters) to their circumference every night.

The largest pumpkin pie was baked in 2010 in New Bremen, Ohio. It weighed 3,699 pounds (1,677 kilograms) and was 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter. There is no word on whether or not the world’s largest batch of whipped cream record was broken at the same time.

  1. They are mysterious.

Pumpkin, squash, gourd – what is the difference? It is all relative, really. All of these plants are part of the family Cucurbitaceae, which contains over 100 genera and 700 species (including melons). Botanists try to distinguish them all by categorizing characteristics such as leaves, seeds, and fruit, as well as their use. Most pumpkins are identifiable by their rounded, ribbed, hard skins – but then again, so are some gourds. And we should not refer to pumpkins as vegetables – they are, botanically, berries.

  1. You can hurl them with slingshots, trebuchets, or cannons.

If smashing pumpkins seems like fun (of course it does!), then why not go the whole hog and build a pumpkin cannon? Competitive pumpkin chucking (punkin chunkin) events are held annually all over the United States. The longest pumpkin chuck on record took place in Moab, Utah, in September 2010: the cucurbit flew 5,545.43 feet (1,690.24 meters) from a pneumatic cannon dubbed “Big 10 Inch.” Pumpkins-to-be-chucked must have thick enough skins to be able to handle the G-forces of the launch without breaking in mid-air, which would result in a disqualification.

  1. They come in many colors.

Do you think all pumpkins have orange rinds? Definitely not! While red pumpkins are not much of a stretch, ghostly white varieties such as ‘Casper’ and ‘Lumina’ are the new superstars of designer Hallowe’en centerpieces. The appropriately-monikered ‘Baby Boo’ is the tiniest of the white bunch, with a mere three-inch (7.6 centimeter) diameter. There are even blue pumpkins, of which the Australian-bred ‘Jarrahdale’ and the lightly speckled ‘Blue Moon’ are probably the most common. Orange-skinned pumpkins may have more beta carotene and other orange pigments than those sporting more exotic hues, but nearly all pumpkins, regardless of their rind color, have orange flesh.

  1. They are cooler than turnips.

The tradition of carving a pumpkin into a Jack o-Lantern for Hallowe’en has murky origins in Irish legend: a man named Stingy Jack twice tricked the devil and was not allowed into heaven or hell after his death. Forced to roam in perpetual night, Jack carried before him a lantern made of a carved turnip, its innards removed and replaced with a lump of burning coal. During the festival of Samhain, which marks the end of the harvest season and the entrance into the dark winter months, celebrants often carried lighted turnips, beets, and even potatoes. The practice was later adopted for Hallowe’en. When Irish and Scottish settlers arrived in North America, they found that pumpkins were a plentiful, native crop long grown by indigenous peoples. It was also obvious pumpkins were far better candidates for carving than turnips. It is only recently that pumpkin decorating has become popular in Europe.

  1. Canned pumpkin means more pie.

The sweet and tasty glop that we buy in the store is not actually the puréed flesh of the same cultivars of aesthetically-pleasing pumpkins we usually cut into Jack o-Lanterns. Pumpkin varieties that are slightly less pretty, but far more creamy and delicious (such as ‘Dickinson’), are usually used for processed pumpkin products. Eighty percent of all pumpkins in the United States are grown in the state of Illinois – most near the village of Morton, where 100,000 tons (90,718 tonnes) of pumpkins are processed annually. Ninety-five percent of all those pumpkins end up in a can.

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  1. There are lots of them.

While the United States grows a serious wagon-load of pumpkins – nearly all them sold during the month of October – China is actually the largest producer of pumpkins in the world. In 2015, China grew nearly 7,716,179 metric tons (7 million metric tonnes) of pumpkins and other squash, mostly for domestic consumption. The world’s largest exporter of pumpkins and other squash is Spain, which supplies most of Europe with cucurbits. Unsurprisingly, the United States imports the most pumpkins on the planet, primarily from Mexico. Much of this production is for processed (canned) pumpkin products.

  1. Mmmmm…beer.

Modern brewmasters are not merely jumping onto a seasonal bandwagon: pumpkin beer has a long history in the United States. In the 17th century, when sugar and malt were not easy commodities to attain, pumpkins were plentiful substitutes and pressed into service for beer-making. By the mid-1800’s, malt was readily accessible but pumpkin remained a staple of quality brews.

  1. They go well with cinnamon.

Since when did the flavor and scent of a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger come to represent the single ingredient “pumpkin” in cooking and baking, fragrances, home décor items, and those famous lattes? If you have ever eaten a piece of cooked pumpkin, you will notice it is pretty bland, and benefits from the addition of other ingredients to make it more pleasing to the palate. In the 1950’s, commercial spice companies recognized the marketing potential of premixing the home baker’s pumpkin pie spices for convenience – and the rest is history. Nowadays we sometimes forget that pumpkin does not actually contain any cinnamon.

1.They have many edible parts.

Each pumpkin contains an average of 500 seeds.This depends, of course, on the size and variety of pumpkin. Most pumpkins take between 95 and 120 days to produce seeds, so do not waste them – eat them! (Here’s a good recipe). Pumpkin flowers are also edible, but pick them sparingly if you want to harvest pumpkins later on.

(Wild)flowery Friday.

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Back in September, I came across this water-loving marsh smartweed (Polygonum amphibium var. emersum) along the recently-flooded shoreline of Beaver Mines Lake in southwestern Alberta.  It’s not a plant I was previously familiar with, but I did some searching and found that it is a member of the buckwheat family and a North American native, alongside a large number of other smartweeds. According to my reading, some smartweeds are considered invasive species in certain provinces and states, but none seem to appear on the Alberta list.  Do any smartweeds grow where you live?

Late bloomer – really late.

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I can’t say I’ve ever had anything blooming in my garden at this time of year – and this is the only plant that is. It’s November 16th and there is a single Scabiosa caucasica ‘Perfecta’ flower merrily swaying in the frosty, foggy breeze.  How sweet and beautiful is that?

Flowery Friday.

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Here’s a flashback to a gorgeous sunny morning in mid-June, and these new Supertunias from Proven Winners were really putting on a show in my garden.  What do you think of the brilliant green edge on ‘Picasso in Purple’?

(You can preview the 2017 collection from Proven Winners here).