Octagons.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may recall that I work in a library (although, as of very recently, I switched branches in the city, transferring from the one that I worked at for nearly eight years).  I’m not a librarian or a library assistant so front line customer service isn’t part of my duties, but I still get a chance to talk to some of our patrons…and sometimes I just can’t help smiling at what they have to say.  Take this morning, for example:  a young mum asked me for books about shapes for her three-year-old girl.  We browsed the board book spinners and came up with some great titles, including a really sweet one featuring Snoopy (I’m a total softy for Snoopy and naturally assume everyone else is as well).  I thought I had the search wrapped up tidily as the mother flipped quickly through the books, but she turned to me with a sheepish grin on her face.  “These are great,” she said, “but my daughter is really interested in octagons right now.  She just loves octagons.”

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Well, I don’t blame her, really – octagons are very attractive shapes and quite satisfying from a mathematical perspective.  And the word is seriously fun to say aloud.  But I have yet to see a board book featuring octagons.  Actually, if anyone out there is writing board books for a living, please throw some octagons into the next “shape” book you pump out, would you? (I found this rather interesting title at work a few weeks ago, and if it exists, octagons shouldn’t be a complete stretch).  I know a certain three-year-old who would be really impressed….

If you have children, what words or concepts most captivated them when they were toddlers?  Do you remember any ideas you were fixated with as a child?  I can’t recall if I had any obsessions with certain words when I was that age (my Mum might remember!) but I know that even as I got older, I was constantly trying to reinvent the English language – it wasn’t that I mispronounced words (although I occasionally did that, and still do), it was that I was always deliberately making up new words, and renaming things around me.  The various cats we had over the years had so many inventive-yet-utterly-ridiculous monikers, it’s no wonder they never came when they were called.

Oh, wait….   😉

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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.

November blog fun.

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Somehow we’ve already reached the eleventh month of the year…I must have had either a wicked caffeine buzz or slept through the rest of the months because I have no idea how we arrived here so quickly.  Time doesn’t just fly, it moves at warp speed.  (“Warped” speed may be more apt in my case).

If you’re in need of a five-minute breather (yup!), I’ve rounded up a few links you should/will definitely! enjoy:

“The Hidden Dangers of Botany” will have all the avid gardeners giggling and nodding in complete understanding.  We totally do this, don’t we?

They aren’t flowery, but these absolutely incredible photographs of wild horses made my jaw drop.  The word “breathtaking” doesn’t do them proper justice.

And here are some equally outstanding photographs of birds eating, fighting, looking after their young, and generally just looking spectacular doing their thing.

Finally, the photos from the finalists for the 2016 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards are hilarious and charming.

Some stuff I’ve posted elsewhere:

A super-yummy Pumpkin Pancakes recipe on Grit.com.

A bunch of book reviews (should really be book “mentions”) on The Door is Ajar:

Annnnnndd….my flash fiction story “The Architect” was just published online by 365 Tomorrows.  Plus, Herb Quarterly‘s Winter 2016 issue (on newsstands now) includes my article “A Garden Bounty: Propagating Herbs By Cuttings and Layering.”

Hope your week is amazing!

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Garden horror.

Procrastination is totally a good thing.  You always have something to do tomorrow, plus you have nothing to do today.

                             ~Some random Internet meme I found while procrastinating on social media.  

Shhh….don’t tell anyone…I’m supposed to be working on an article due in a couple of days.

But I’m thinking about Garden Horror instead.  (See yesterday’s post if you are blinking at the screen and thinking I’ve finally totally lost it).

So, ahem, I thought of a few titles for as-yet-unwritten Garden Horror novels (which also ties into yesterday’s post – please do go check it out if you haven’t already).  Of course, these may sound eerily (see what I did there?) familiar to some of you:

The Slug Also Rises

Apocalypse Bough

Close Encounters of the Larval Kind 

The Drawing of the Tree 

The Turn of the Yew

The Tell-Tale Bark

The Call of Kudzu 

Okay, I must be getting back to work…the ball’s in your court.  What Garden Horror titles can you add to my list?  Make me laugh – the article I’m at this very moment feverishly churning out at a breathtaking rate of speed is about plant propagation, and we all know how very unfunny that topic is.  

Title.

A couple of weeks ago an editor e-mailed me a response to a piece I had submitted, of which the gist was: I like what you’re doing here, but your title doesn’t quite fit the situation you describe in your work. Either change the situation or change the title – it’s up to you.  Of course, I took the easier (but possibly more stressful) route and spent a day and a half agonizing over potential new titles, one of which was ultimately affixed to the published work.

Coming up with suitable titles is probably one of the most difficult parts of writing for me. If I’m writing an article – about composting, perhaps, or dividing perennials or buying garden tools – I tend to simply give a really brief statement about where I’m headed with the content. So far, I haven’t had to apply the heavy-handed sass that might yield that special click bait edge. “10 Deadly Secrets Your Lawnmower is Harbouring” isn’t really the sort of thing I write.  Yet.  These are lean times.

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I usually fare better when it comes to fiction, because the story tells me what it wants to be called (yeah, that doesn’t sound quite right now that I read that back but we’ll go with it).  Because I often write humour, my titles have contained puns (“Johnny Cache Steps Out”), snippets of clichéd sayings (“…If You Were the Last Man on Earth”), or slang (“Sheeple”). Still, the titles are usually coughed up at the end, when I’ve gotten the text down.  The only time it can get a bit shaky is when you have to scramble to meet a deadline and your story is ambiguous with its choice.  You don’t want your title to come across reading like a label hastily slapped on a shipping container (well, I guess it depends on the story).

Blog posts are even worse.  Take today’s title, for example.  It’s short and to the point, and definitely conveys what the writer wants it to, but it’s lacking a certain grittiness that would just nudge it over the top.  I’d chew on it a little bit more, but I’m suddenly inspired to write some horror flash fic about lawnmowers….  (Garden horror – that could seriously be a sub-genre, am I right?).

Are titles a struggle for you?

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Neither flowery nor prose-y. Aiming for “cute.”

Something has been bothering me lately. I think it could be argued that my blog lacks a certain critical “cuteness factor.”

*shamelessly inserts photo of fuzzy, adorable baby duckling*

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I believe I have that taken care of now….   😉

Bananas for books.

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Kids and books can be a hilarious combination.  As most of you know, I work in a library, and one of my favourite things is to see children having fun with reading and enjoying a good story.  Last week, I was tidying up the toys in the play area and I heard a mother reading aloud to her young son, who was about three or four years old.  She was telling a story about farm animals, and she came to a part where she questioned her child, “What animal says ‘moo’ and gives us milk?”

The little one thought about it for a moment (I figure he was pausing for dramatic effect), and then shouted mischievously, “A GORILLA!”

I burst out laughing, and the mother was just in stitches.  You really have to wonder how kids come up with these things!

I think most libraries nowadays have a Reader’s Advisory program, which patrons can use to find new authors, books, and materials they otherwise wouldn’t know about.  They’ll obtain this information by talking to a librarian in their local branch, checking the Hotlist, browsing through display areas, or surfing the home page or blog on the library’s website.  Sometimes I hear patrons soliciting the opinions of other patrons – they’ll see someone with a particular book in hand and simply go up and ask them about it.  Everyone is always happy to offer an opinion on a book.

Case in point:  a couple of weeks ago, I was putting away some board books in the children’s area, when I overheard the greatest book recommendation ever.  One little guy – he couldn’t have been more than six years old – was enthusiastically broadcasting to his younger brother the merits of a certain volume he had picked up.  “You’ll LOVE this book!” he exclaimed.  “It has a booger in it!” *

Children’s book authors, take note – that’s the magic stuff, right there!  Five stars!

*(Subject matter, not actual object. Ewwwww…).

 

How do you get your book recommendations?  Do you check out book reviews on the web, or ask other readers?  Do you pick up books from the displays at your local library?  Are you part of a book club?