Monthly Archives: December 2013

Best Books of 2013

Time for the annual list. This year, I read 162 books, and as always, it was fun to look back through them and choose my favorites.  Other than saving the very best for the end, they are in no particular order.

1) The Thinking Beekeeper, by Christy Hemenway.

510Ikh3JYAL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-41,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I am very seriously planning to become a beekeeper within the next couple of years, so I have been reading a ton of books and other information on keeping bees.  This one is fantastic; Christy tells you how to keep bees the natural way, working with the bees by allowing them to manage their hive according to their own wisdom.  Bees know how to be bees, just like quail know how to be quail.

2) Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh.

51g-qVtJyoL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Allie is quite possibly the funniest woman alive.  And she is also incredibly honest, and I now understand all sorts of things about depression that I never understood before.

3) The Outfit, by Richard Stark.

41Wp+qHo7AL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-65,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Richard Stark writes pure, brutal poetry.  I savor his writing.

4) Boot and Shoe, by Marla Frazee.

41H7jOzCkLL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-31,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_It’s pretty rare that a children’s picture book makes my Best Of list, but this is a pretty rare children’s book.  Every bit of it, from the illustrations to the words to the emotions, is perfection.

5) Wool, by Hugh Howey.

61lrCdT5rGL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-66,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I stumbled across this one as a free Kindle chapter on Amazon, and I’m glad I took the chance.  This guy is an amazing writer; you think you know exactly where he’s going…and then he slams you into the ground and stomps on your brain.  In all the best ways, of course.  I love authors who can do that to me.  The two sequels, Shift and Dust, also got five stars from me.

6) Poison, by Chris Wooding.

51iOjrE3W1L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_This one gets a little more meta than I’d like, and I’d probably not have included it on this list if it didn’t also possess the best creepy scene I’ve possibly ever read.  Seriously.  I’d have given it five stars and put it on this list if that scene were the entirety of the book.  It’s that good.

7) The Quarter Acre Farm, by Spring Warren.

61T9Vehyy5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA318_PIkin4,BottomRight,-18,16_AA300_SH20_OU01_Inspiring book on having it all…in your backyard.  I got so many ideas and schemes from this book!

8) The Food Lover’s Garden, by Mark Diacono.

51PuCajR0dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Another completely inspirational book…this one will make you seek out all the fruits and vegetables you’ve maybe never heard of – but have been missing out on.  I now have a kiwi, a gooseberry and a chilean guava planted in my garden, thanks to this book.

9) The Sleep Thieves, by Stanley Coren.

41AIaf0+MuL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-67,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A non-fiction that might possibly save your life.  Or at least, change it for the better.  Eye-opening and fascinating.

10) Once Upon a Flock, by Lauren Scheuer.

51WMgo-LiAL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-62,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_So charming, and the illustrations are marvelous.  Totally hit me in the heart…right where my own chickens live. This one probably would have been my pick for Best Non-Fiction Book, if I wouldn’t have read the below:

11) What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, by Jonathan V. Last.

51pUnS9Fz-L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Maybe you believe that “fact” that we’re in a population explosion, and we’re all going to run out of room and omg die if we don’t control our breeding…well, if so…you need to read this and get a dose of the truth.  That story about population explosion?  It’s been proven to be false.  Proven.  Yet people still believe it, when in fact the opposite is true.

We are all going to be in some serious trouble if families don’t start making more babies. In other places besides the US, they are well aware of this. In German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the government is actually re-training prostitutes to care for their elderly. Russia is basically committing national suicide – consider this: in addition to all the other factors affecting their population, they have 30% more abortions than births. This is…horrifying. Holocaust-level horrifying. Japan is doing so badly, population-wise, that the government is invoking increasingly more and more desperate measures to try to convince their citizens to reproduce before it’s too late. Even India is barely producing above replacement levels. (This I looked up myself, as it isn’t in the book.) And that level is dropping rapidly, not rising.

It’s a good thing I already know that humanity is not going to go extinct, or I’d be seriously worried after reading this book. Crazy, how we’re spoon-fed “information” (like population explosion) that is the exact opposite of the truth, and people just swallow it down. Maybe this book will open a few eyes.

Also appreciate that in the end, he gives some solid answers on how to improve matters. I particularly loved the section on colleges – so great!

This is my pick for my Best Non-Fiction Book of 2013.

And my Best Fiction Book of 2013?

12) Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater.

51KjJ3da-hL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-60,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_If you read my Best Books list for last year, you’re going ‘Wait, what? Wasn’t this your Best Book for 2012, too?

Why yes.  Why yes it was.  I loved it so much that I re-read a couple of months ago, and if anything, I thought it was even better.  I mean seriously…this author.  She writes so gorgeously, and she just tells you things, and you don’t believe her – until she absolutely stuns you with a massive plot twist you never saw coming.  Even though she straight-out told you.  That takes major writing balls, my friends.

I wasn’t going to make it my Best Book again, but then I thought: The Raven Boys deserves it.  I’m not sure I’ve been so completely blown away by a book since the first time I read Tolkien.

Dreaming of Spring

I am just so eager for Spring.  I just want to get my hands in the dirt again!  Like most gardeners, I am already placing seed orders and making plans and sketches of changes/additions I will making to my garden.

The quail are doing wonderfully.  They are so easy-care, and other than wild little Hattie (the female who successfully hatched eggs for me last summer) they are very gentle and sweet.  Hattie still gives me the Death Glare of Doom every time  she sees me and hides under a plant, but the other quail are completely at ease with me.  They don’t want to escape into the wild, so I can open their door at will and not worry about them flying out.  They just look up at me and start doing these cute little jumps of happiness.  My white male Peabody, thinks he can boss me around.  I open the door, and he marches right up to me, stares up into my face and starts demanding millet.  He’ll eat out of my hand – but he growls while doing so to make sure I know he isn’t inviting me to pet him.  He does prefer not to be touched. Some of the females are perfectly happy to let me stroke them, though.  Especially the Italians.  They seem to be especially placid and calm.

One of my upcoming projects is to build a third quail coop – for the little Blonde male (his previous name of “Imhotep” never really clicked with him, so now he’s known as “Loki”) and his future wives.  I’m going to incorporate it into the decorative part of my garden.  At some point,  I hope to branch out and start keeping Bobwhite or California quail as well.

The one bad thing about Coturnix, is that they don’t have the feather topknot on their heads.  These Bobwhite, though, aren’t they gorgeous?


Totally want a few!

On Christmas Day, I was commissioned to make a set of custom steampunk cats, and I will make just enough to buy that Brinsea egg incubator I’ve been wanting.  So it looks like I’ll be able to hatch Loki some girls of his own color type, AND hatch out my own Bobwhites/California quail (when the time comes.)

And it may come fairly soon, because I have to say, I am mightily impressed with how the quail are composting inside their coops.  I scatter some pine shaving over the dirt inside, and every so often after it starts to look dirty, I turn the decomposing shavings and quail droppings under with a trowel.  I noticed that, in the former Bachelor Pad (now the coop of Cinna and his wives) the soil is turning a rich, gorgeous black.  This is fueling my desire to build my future raised garden vegetables beds in a size that I can make an attachable wire top for.  Each year, I would attach to wire top to a different bed, and stick one of the the male/female quail colonies inside.  At the end of the year, I’d switch them to a different bed, and plant in the one they just composted for me.  I think it would work brilliantly!  Since I’m not going to raising these quail for eating (although I will be eating a couple of excess males very soon!) it’s nice to get something more from them besides eggs and cuteness.

I also need to build a duck coop/run this year, add lots more raised beds to the vegetable garden(s), and read up on beekeeping.  Yes, I am seriously considering adding a hive of honeybees to the yard!  This Spring, I am adding Mason Bees for pollination, but it would be wonderful to have a source of raw honey as well.

bees-on-honeycells-lgEventually, if I have a vegetable garden, fruit, chicken, duck, and quail eggs, meat rabbits, and honey, I’d be feeling pretty content.


Merry Christmas!!!

Here’s a couple of gifts for you.

For fellow chicken lovers:

And this for everyone else. If you aren’t a fan of this version of Sherlock Holmes, I despair of you.

The Desolation of Smaug

I just got home from watching the second part of the Hobbit.  And there are a couple of things I’d like to say about it (and I will talk spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want them.)

First of all, I like that Jackson split the book into three parts.  I like that he’s adding in all the extra action from Tolkien’s appendices.  I don’t even mind the entirely new things Jackson has added out of his own head.



I do object to Tauriel.  Why, Jackson, why?  I think it’s ridiculous when people complain that the characters in a book or film are all male.  Not every thing needs to have female characters.  In real life, there have been adventures where the genders are not equally mixed, so why the heck is it such a problem in fiction?  Writers should be able to have whatever characters they want in their own works.  For whatever reason.  I grew up reading the sorts of books that didn’t have a lot of females in them.  It never made me feel in any way inferior.  When I reenacted scenes from my favorite films and books, I just put myself in whichever role I fancied; didn’t matter if it was boy or girl.  So don’t be jamming girl elves in just for the sake of having a girl.


And if you do put in a girl elf, just make her a cool kickass character, please?  I hated – hated – the whole elf/dwarf/elf love triangle Jackson is brewing.  Really?  I can understand Kili getting a bit star-struck at seeing Tauriel (elves are seductive creatures, and it’s maybe his first time), but would an elven woman really be equally star-struck at seeing a dwarf?  Just because he’s the cute one, and “not as short as other dwarves”?  And a scene later, she’s all swoony over Legolas maybe liking her, and then crushed that Legolas’ dad doesn’t find her worthy of his son, then back to drooling over the not-so-short dwarf again.


Bah.  I hate love triangles at the best of times, but particularly when they are absurd.

I do want Tauriel’s clothes, though.  So there’s that.

Overall I’m just a little disappointed by this installment of the Hobbit..  Even the first one, though great, couldn’t quite live up to the wondrous splendor of LOTR – and besides the Dreaded Love Triangle, this second part also had too much of a good thing.  By which I mean: too much Smaug.  Those scenes under the mountain went on forever.  I get that Jackson needed something climatic, but golly.  Tolkien’s way was so much better.

Still, though, it was good.  I liked it.  I just wish I could have loved it.

Winter is Definitely Here

It normally doesn’t get that cold here where I live.  Sometimes we have a little snow, sometimes we don’t.  It normally dips a little below freezing for part of the winter, but not by much.

I love that about our winters.  I am not a winter person.  If it never got below fifty degrees, I would be very happy.

This year, though…wow.  Already we’ve had more than a week of really cold temperatures.  As in twelve degrees, which is highly unusual.  It’s made for some interesting times caring for the outside critters.  I hate having to deal with frozen water!

Fortunately, the animals themselves aren’t that bothered.  Chickens are exceptionally cold-hardy – temperatures of twelve degrees are nothing to them.  They sit around with their warm downy coats of feathers puffed up and complain because the ground is frozen and they can’t dig for worms, but they are perfectly fine.  I’ve gone into their coop late at night and their feet are toasty warm, and when I put my fingers into their feathers I can feel the heat radiating up from their bodies.

Really, the absolute worst thing you can do for chickens is give them artificial heat during the winter.  The temperature is not a problem (unless you live somewhere really cold, and have the wrong breeds).  The biggest issue is not enough ventilation – or too much of the wrong kind.

Chickens don’t mind cold.  They do mind cold wind, so you need to be sure their coop is protected from drafts.  Our coop has year-around vents surrounding the top of the coop.  Air can circulate, but it’s all above the heads of the chickens, so they aren’t in a draft.  If you don’t have enough ventilation, humidity builds up in your coop, and that’s horrible for chickens.  It dampens their feathers, so they can’t puff up and keep themselves warm.  If you ever have condensation on the inside of your coop, you don’t have nearly enough ventilation – and besides being cold, your chickens are at serious risk for developing respiratory illnesses.

Please, don’t use heat lamps.  Ever.  Besides being a horrible fire risk (I’ve already heard about a bunch of coops catching fire and burning up with the chickens trapped inside) it makes your Girls more cold, not less.   Chickens have a variety of techniques to keep themselves warm.  Besides puffing their feathers, they eat more to produce inner heat, and they can actually shrink the size of their combs to conserve heat.  They will do none of these things if they have a heat lamp, so every time they walk out from under it, they will suffer from the cold.  And if you happen to lose power, and your heat lamp goes off?  That’s when they can actually freeze to death!

Things like frostbite rarely (if ever) happen to chickens if you keep them out of drafts and damp.

My Girls are just happy it’s warmed up enough now that they can go hunt for bugs again!

The quail I was a little concerned about, since I am largely unfamiliar with how they do in cold weather, and the info from the internet was contradictory.  In the end, I covered one end of their run with tarps to make sure they had a draft-free area, and also made sure they had enough nest boxes (stuffed with shavings and hay) for everyone to go into if they wanted to be warmer.

They didn’t.  Even in the 12 degree weather, they spent the nights out in the most unprotected parts of their pens.  When I’d go out in the morning, their water would be frozen rock-solid, but they’d be happily walking and jumping around like always.  I couldn’t see the slightest difference in their behavior.  Such a relief.  Now I know I can treat them like chickens and not worry about them!

And the rabbits?  Again, we just made sure they had water to drink, and they were fine.  They also chose to sleep in their lower, more exposed, area, rather than in their lovely upstairs nest.

Crazy animals.  It just seems like they should be miserable, just because my fingers started aching with cold every time I was out there tending to them – but instead they just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to sit outside with them and have a nice chat…like we do in the summer.

Here are a couple of excellent links if you want more info about winterizing your animals: