2017 in books

Written by karen on January 8th, 2018

As I usually post each year, below is a list of the books I read in 2017.

The books are listed in the order I read them with my favorites in bold.

I had a goal to read 50 books for the year, but I cut myself some slack on that for a couple reasons. First, Brad and I both did Nanowrimo in November, which took a chunk of time. In addition, toward the end of the year, I started the Red Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson (thanks to MA); these are fairly big books, and I opted for finishing that instead of cramming in a few shorter reads at year end.

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  2. The Oral History Workshop by Cynthia Hart with Lisa Samson
  3. The Tree Bride by by Bharati Mukherjee
  4. We Are Stories edited by Margarita Ramirez Loya and her students
  5. Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto
  6. Revival by Stephen King
  7. Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry
  8. Heirlooms by David Masumoto
  9. Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka
  10. Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön
  11. Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
  12. The Innocent Man by John Grisham
  13. One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
  14. The Nix by Nathan Hill
  15. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  16. The Chamber by John Grisham
  17. The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart
  18. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
  19. Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
  20. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  21. So Big by Edna Ferber
  22. Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer
  23. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
  24. Public Library by Ali Smith
  25. Four Seasons in Five Senses by David Mas Masumoto
  26. Desert Sanctuary by Hank Messick
  27. Rebel Mother by Peter Andreas
  28. The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan
  29. Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow
  30. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  31. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  32. The Postman by David Brin
  33. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  34. The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick
  35. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  36. Ten Years on the Line by Mike Ligon
  37. Assignment Eternity by Robert Heinlein
  38. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
  39. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
  40. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  41. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  42. India Calling by Anand Giridharadas

What were your favorite reads this year?

As always, I’m on GoodReads. If you’re there, let’s connect!


First freeze

Written by karen on November 20th, 2017

This is the annual recording of our first freeze of the year.

It was 27 degrees when I went to work this morning. Brrr…

We’re hoping for a year of minimal cold and snow this year. (Last year was the first year since we’ve lived here that we had no snow at our house. I didn’t miss it.)


Free Book Boxes

Written by karen on October 16th, 2017

I am often looking for opportunities to get involved in positive community building work, and this year has been more a challenge than ever.

A project that I’m now spending a fair amount of time on is the Free Book Box project, sponsored by the Cochise County Library District. This was funded by a grant that I wrote and am now implementing. It involves putting 10 boxes around the more rural parts of the country where there aren’t public libraries to provide free books to people. (You may have heard of Little Free Libraries. This is similar except that our boxes are MUCH larger. Also we aren’t necessarily emphasizing returns or donations, though both are welcome.)

The books include adult as well as juvenile titles, in a variety of genres and in English and Spanish. The boxes are mostly outside and will all have 24/7 access.

One part of the project I’ve really enjoyed is working with community partners to host the boxes and with local artists to paint them.

It’s also been fun to procure the books. We’re getting them from a variety of sources, with some being donated and others being purchased. A great source for books has been various Friends of the Library groups, who operate used book stores.

Our first boxes are being installed this week. I’ll be interested to see what challenges and opportunities pop up along the way.

So far, this project has been very well received and a very positive experience. And it’s books — you can’t go wrong with that.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Written by karen on August 13th, 2017

Monsoons have been going strong for about a month now. The garden is now in a state at which I’m afraid to walk around it. The rains have led to waist-high grass and beds with viney crops growing a foot or more every day and weeds that are impossible to keep up with.

Along with the crazy plant growth, this time of year brings an explosion of bugs. As in my youth, I am bug-bitten and riddled with allergies, but still love the monsoons.

This morning, I went into the greenhouse to find about 20 of these caterpillars on one plant. There were none yesterday. Are they good or bad? I don’t know (but have since determined that they are eastern swallowtail butterfly larva and are not harmful but are partial to dill, which perhaps they mistook my parsley for…now that I think about it, I may know just the butterfly that laid these eggs. It was stuck in the greenhouse one night, and I freed it the next morning.). I didn’t want to kill them if they weren’t harmful, but didn’t want to leave them to continue to multiply, so decided to cut the plant (it was an herb going to seed anyway) and heave it over the fence.


It’s a good day to be solar

Written by karen on August 12th, 2017

(written on 8/10/17)

This morning I woke up and as usual, I checked my tablet for notifications. I found no Internet access. I checked the wireless, which seemed fine, and so went over to the office to check my desktop computer. No Internet access there either.

I spent a half hour or so resetting the router and trying all the things we do when we have Internet problems, but to no avail. Finally, I realized that we had no phone service either. That explained the Internet outage.

That isn’t completely unusual, but with no cell access here, I’d have to drive somewhere to call our local phone co-op to put in a service request.

In the spirit of mindfulness, I decided to do my morning yoga first. (Fortunately, I have a few yoga sessions saved offline for just this kind of times.)

After yoga, I hopped in the truck and drove off to Rodeo. I can usually get a cell signal there, but not today. I saw a few people congregated in front of the local café and so asked them if they had phone service. (Often phone outages here are very localized to a small area.)

“No phone. No power. Not here or in Portal or in Animas.”

Oh, that’s not good.

I had a couple work calls scheduled for this morning, so I decided to drive towards Animas until I could get a signal to at least text people to reschedule.

Once I got a signal and sent the texts, I called a friend of mine here to see how she was doing and to tell her what I knew about the scope of the problem.

“Forty-eight hours is what we hear.”

Oh, that’s worse.

On the way home, I stopped by the local post office, which is a hub of our community. Several people were there exchanging news, and I was able to confirm that 48 hours was the expected outage and that it was widespread. There had been a big storm north of us (ironically, we got no rain at all at our house), and 25 poles had been knocked out.

I let our postmaster know that if anyone had a “power emergency,” she could send them our way since we have solar. Yes, with solar, we have power, even though the rest of area is out. (This has saved us several fridge/freezers full of food as well as other inconveniences.)

Listening to everyone talk, it seemed like it could have been a hundred years ago. People gathering at a central spot to share news, tell stories, offer help, and laugh together.

One thing I learned is that even cell service would be ending soon, since the towers use power and apparently only have a limited power backup. (Imaging end times is a popular pastime here so this got my mind going.)

With big storms supposed to be rolling in this weekend (though I now have no access to a weather forecast), I wonder if it might be longer than 48 hours.

There isn’t a lot of work I can get done with no email or Internet, so today will be spent doing some offline projects and baking for the market tomorrow. (I already had the dough ready before this happened, so I might as well bake.) I’m also going to do some writing, send some postcards, edit some video, and of course, work in the garden. With no baseball or movies tonight, I’ll curl up with a good book, which I have several in a stack waiting for me.

This makes me reflect on how dependent we are on the Internet and more broadly on other infrastructure that we have little control over. It is simultaneously a little worrying and kind of quaint. For the next few days, I will hunker down here and live like everyone did not so long ago, glad for my solar power, for offline pleasures, and for my large stores of food and comfortable house.

(written the evening of 8/11/17…the end of day 2)

I had a lovely day yesterday, enjoying a relaxing and guiltless day of non-work. I finished two books I had been mid-way with and then read another whole book that was very enjoyable. (If the Internet doesn’t come back soon, I may catch up on my Goodreads goal.) I also baked for market, edited a video I’d been putting off, and organized some things.

I often imagine a dream life (“When I win the lottery…”) of no email and no phone, and this day of that lived up to my expectation.

I didn’t realize though how many times a day I consult the Internet for other things, especially living where we do. Checking the weather, reading the news, listening to music, looking up a new word or idea, chatting with friends. And I did miss all of that.

This morning, I got up and checked the phone, which was still out. I got ready for the market as I normally do on Fridays and drove into town. Going through Rodeo, I noticed lights were on, meaning power was back there. When I got to Portal, there were sporadic reports of phone service returning. By the time I left at 1:00, the library had Internet again.

When I returned home, phone service had returned but still no Internet. I reset the router again and tried to be patient. Finally, after a few hours, I called our local phone co-op and Internet provider. They said there were no known issues and passed me on to technical support hell. That began a cycle of troubleshooting questions and “escalations” that has as of yet not resulted in Internet service being restored.

What was quaint and enjoyable yesterday has now grown old.

Eventually, I imagine that our tall cowboy service guy will come out to the house and fix things. He seems to be the only competent person at our phone co-op, and we are fortunate that he is the one we interact with face-to-face when it comes to that.

Stay tuned….

(written afternoon of 8/12/17… day 3)

Frustration set in today.

No word from our co-op and no success after resetting the router every hour or so…until about 2pm when the Internet mysteriously came back on. There was no visit for our service guy, so the problem was something out of our area, as I suspected.

It’s good to be online again.

Now to catch up on the long list of things that has accumulated.


Rim to rim

Written by karen on June 17th, 2017

Our Grand Canyon trip was a great success. Most notable, our training paid off — we never felt hugely taxed, and after it was all over, we weren’t sore (unlike last time).

You might remember that we decided to do the trip in four days this time instead of two. That worked out well. However, leaving camp at first light to avoid the heat sometimes brought us into the next camp before 8am! That let us do a couple day hikes though, including Ribbon Falls and Plateau Point, which were both spectacular. It’s always nice to hike without the heavy packs once you’re used to them.

Ribbon Falls — cool on a hot day

Me on the plateau

We hadn’t been on the north rim before this, and it was very beautiful. Also the trail down from there had fewer hikers which was nice.

It’s always striking the range of people you see on this trail. We saw people who could barely hike (just doing a short day hike from the rim) to people who were running it rim-to-rim. We also met folks doing rim-to-rim-to-rim.

The weather was good. It was a bit windy but not as hot as the last time we did it. At the rim, nighttime temperatures were cool (40s), and we even saw a couple patches of snow. At the bottom, the high in the shade was 106.


31.5 total miles (including side trips)

starting elevation: 8327 feet

elevation at the bottom: 2445 feet

ending elevation: 6851 feet

Our team, getting ready to set off from the North Rim

More pictures here


Earliest edible tomato we’ve ever harvested

Written by karen on May 30th, 2017


Cochise Stronghold

Written by karen on May 15th, 2017

This weekend’s backpacking trip was to Cochise Stronghold, which is on the west side of the Chiricahuas from us and to the south of Texas Canyon (the one with the amazing rocks just off I-10). We hiked from the campground to the pass and then over to the west side. We backcountry camped there overnight and then headed back. We went with our friend Judy who will be going to the Grand Canyon with us.

It was a much more enjoyable hike than our last one. The hike itself was relatively easy and the views were incredible.

Here’s the data. (The difference in distances between the days is because we tacked an extra few miles onto Sat. before camping.)



Garden update

Written by karen on May 8th, 2017

I have about a half dozen little green tomatoes on plants. This is the earliest by far that this had happened. Chalk if up to starting with starts instead of seeds.

And the gourds are progressing along.

It’s been windy here this weekend so I’m hoping everything weathers it ok.


What’s growing?

Written by karen on April 27th, 2017

I love spring here. So many things are blooming, and our garden is getting in full swing. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s growing right now.

  • Asparagus is still producing, but it’s starting to tail off.
  • Lettuce, arugula, chard, and radishes are producing strong. We’ve been selling all of this as well. (Our farmers market got off to a great start last week. In the first week, we had more vendors than we ever did last year. This has been a goal of mine.) I’m trying to keep up with succession planting while it’s still cool enough at nights to germinate.

    Cherry belle radishes

  • Onions, garlic, and shallots all look great. We are looking for garlic scapes now and should see them any minute. This stuff will be harvested around June.
  • I’ve planted new green beans (mostly for market), tomatoes (not for market :), and peppers, and they’re looking good. I’ll be putting in cucumbers and melons soon.
  • We’ve replanted new artichokes since the old ones got eaten down to the roots last year.
  • The pomegranates are blooming nicely so we’re hopeful for fruit this year.
  • We’ve been eating strawberries and mulberries, and the figs and blackberries are greening up.
  • One thing I’m excited about this year is growing some gourds for a friend of mine who hopes to make them into drums. The seeds have germinated, and they look strong. Stay tuned for updates on that.
  • The hedgerow and its flowers continue to be a work in progress. This year with the new fence, I’m more optimistic. I also planted some hearty native perennial flowers near the house this year. (And I said I’d never do “landscaping!”) They’re really beautiful, and I’m surprised how much they brighten things up.

flowers by the house