Friday, December 31, 2021

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2021


In case you aren't familiar with Goodreads, it's an awesome site for book lovers:  book reviews, book lists, quizzes, challenges...all sorts of cool stuff.  

This year I challenged myself to read 50 books.  Don't get too impressed.  Working as a children's librarian, I tend to read a lot of middle grade novels and other books for older kids, which are generally a lot shorter than adult books (but not infantile fluff, as some snobs seem to think).  I also counted two audio books, five graphic novels, and two novels in verse, all of which take less time than most adult books.  But still, I'm proud of my success.

Some interesting stats:

Fiction was 74% (up a little from last year)

Of that, about 13% were science fiction or fantasy.  Exhalation, by Ted Chiang was the best.

About 19% were historical fiction or classics.  Tie for most memorable:  Soul Lanterns, by Shaw Kuzki, about the bombing of Hiroshima, and R.J. Palacio's Pájaro Blanco (White Dove) about a Jewish girl in hiding in WWII.   

I also read a strangely high number of contemporary books with some sort of speculative element.  My favorite was the wish-granting fish in an otherwise very realistic middle grade novel, The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner.  

Best novels of the year?     

-96 Miles, by J.L.Esplin.   A middle-grade novel about survival in the desert and the love between brothers. 

-Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech.  A fantastic middle-grade novel in verse from a boy who at first thinks poetry is stupid.  

-The Canyon's Edge, by Dusti Bowling.  A middle-grade novel in verse about survival in the desert and survival through tragedy. there a pattern here?

-The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennet, about identical twin sisters who choose very different paths.

Other favorites:  365 Days to Alaska, by Cathy Carr; How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O'Connor; A Place at the Table, by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan; With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo; The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré.   


A staggering 54% were about animals.  Go figure.  My favorite?  Wicked Bugs, by Amy Stewart (I read the young reader's version, not realizing until  I'd checked it out).

Favorite non-animal book:  Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Arizona Sister Butterfly

A beautiful butterfly I spotted at Workman Creek in the mountains between Young, Arizona and Roosevelt Lake in September.  I think it's an Arizona sister butterfly.

You can even see its proboscis curled up!  

There were so many butterflies in the area.  It was a joy.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Very Hungry Caterpillar Before:

Very Hungry Caterpillar After:

All done!  

I took the second photo almost three hours later, on the way back from my hike.  It's the very same stalk, more flower.  The caterpillar is a beauty, but he's indeed a very hungry caterpillar.  Poor flower.   

Spotted in September at Workman's Creek in the mountains between Young, Arizona and Roosevelt Lake.


Thursday, December 9, 2021

An Osprey with a the Middle of Phoenix

It's a little hard to see, but the thing in that osprey's talons is a fish!

I'd been birdwatching at a water source in the middle of the Phoenix metro area when I saw what I believed to be an osprey flying around.  He started diving dramatically, often pulling up at the last minute,  sometimes splashing all the way into the water and coming up empty-clawed.  It was awesome to watch.  But I started wondering if maybe he was young and inexperienced, or maybe just not a great hunter.

Then he made a gentler dive and maneuvered as if to land on the water.  But he came up with a fish!

With the fish in his talons, he started flying around and around, like, "Okay, I got the fish.  Now what am I supposed to do with it????"  Finally he flew out of sight.  

I waited about five minutes, seeing if he'd come back.  No luck.  So I got on my bike and rode around to the other side of the ponds.  I was about to leave the area when I saw something on the banks.  It was the osprey!  Eating his fish!  

Here he is, craning his neck back to look at me:

There was a chain-link fence between us, which wasn't conducive to good picture-taking.  He was quite distant, so I figured I could sneak up to the fence and shoot through it, but I apparently scared him, and he flew off.  But not before I hurriedly snapped the picture above.

I wish I'd been a bit more sneaky or just stayed where I was so I could watch him longer (and not harass him).  But still...and awesome experience! 

Here's a better picture of an osprey on a different day at the same place:

They're now one of my favorite birds.  So beautiful and so fun to watch.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021

 NaNoWriMo Rebellion Complete (sort of)

This year, instead of writing a 50,000-word novel from scratch, as is the traditional goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel WRiting Month), I dedicated the same amount of time to revising the first part and reworking/finishing the second part of a middle-grade novel I wrote during another NaNoWriMo.

I just finished the time/word count this evening.

I still need to write a few more scenes and revise the second part (which will, of course, require more revision of the first part).  But I'm pretty happy with how things have gone.  

Friday, November 26, 2021

Sacred Datura

Here are some close-ups of the fruit and the not-yet-blooming flower of the sacred datura plant (Datura wrightii).  The flowers are huge and beautiful when they bloom in the afternoon and through the night, attracting their hawkmoth pollinators.  

Be careful:  the plant is poisonous (and/or hallucinogenic) and can be irritating even to the skin.  

I took these pictures between Roosevelt Lake and Young, Arizona.


Monday, November 22, 2021

California Condors on Navajo Bridge, Arizona

I've always wanted to see a California Condor.  This largest of all North American land birds nearly went extinct in the 80s.  They captured all the remaining animals, bred them in captivity, and then began re-releasing them.  One of the main release areas is the Grand Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs area of Arizona.  I'd read that you can sometimes see them at Marble Canyon / Navajo Bridge.  When we stopped there this summer I thought, "Yeah, I won't see condors."  But I did!  

Sitting on the bridge.

Flying above us.


Here's 54:A male born in 2004, released in 2006.  

If you spot one and can get its number, ask at the information center to get the details.  I also spotted 2Y, a juvenile female born 2019 and just released last year, plus a couple of others.  

At one point four were flying in circles above us at the visitor center, a couple quite close for a time.  It was awesome.  Everyone there was just standing, looking up.  I loved it.  

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Jacob Lake, Arizona

Okay, I know this is about three years late, but was on a walk up near Jacob Lake in northern Arizona this summer, and I saw this broom just lying on the ground.  I couldn't resist. 

Here I am, sweeping the forest.  You're welcome.  :)  


Thursday, November 4, 2021

Chipmunk at Cedar Breaks

 Just sitting here eating.  Why are you taking pictures of me???

Picture taken in August

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Beautiful Cedar Breaks National Monument--like a mini Bryce with more pink and fewer people.  This is another of Utah's red-rock wonders.  There are no established trails down into it, but there are some nice ones along the rim, like the spectacular Ramparts Trail (use caution with the sheer drops).  Be careful too with the elevation:  over 10,000 feet at the park's highest point.  

How to get there:  We drove from Parowan down and then to Kanab, but you can also drive from Cedar City.    

(Photos taken August 2021)

On one side of the road:

On the other side of the road, at our picnic place:

More great views:

An ancient bristlecone pine at Spectra Point.  Some here are 2000 years old!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Reinventing the Wheel?

Yeah...some things have gotten a little more comfortable.  :) 

From a sort of outdoor museum of old farming equipment in Parowan, Utah.  

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

This was a very interesting collection of concept-driven science fiction short stories.  I found it strange--but somehow fitting--that most of the stories had some sort of indirect narrative structure.  We had a man telling the story to a caliph, a woman praying her story to God, a scientific record, a warning to future generations, a catalogue entry for a museum exhibition, and a journalist's essay.  The literary devices kept me a bit at a distance from the characters, but I really enjoyed them anyway.  

Sometimes Ted Chiang's stories reminded me of Asimov's.  And for me, that's high praise indeed.

Rating:  4.5 stars.  Thought-provoking and unusual.   

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech

I'm not a huge fan of poetry, to be honest.  At least not the opaque, hoity toity kind.

So I totally sympathized with our protagonist, a young boy who at first thinks poetry is stupid and that only girls write poems.

Over the course of the short novel--written in verse, of course--he slowly and adorably changes his mind.  

I smiled.  I cried.  I felt happy about good teachers and about kids who discover all the worlds they can unlock through the written word.    

It was creative and well-written, and I think it might help lessen some young readers' poetryphobia. 

Note: the poems referred to in the novel appear in the back of the book, but I wish I'd known that as I was reading.

I Love that Dog and I Love that Book.

5 stars!  (And I don't often give 5 stars to fiction)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

More good Middle-Grade Books I've Read this Year

 If you saw my posts for The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling and 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr, you'll know that I've been reading some awesome middle-grade novels (and graphic novels!) recently.  Though the two above are my favorites of 2021 so far, here are some other good ones:

Class Act, by Jerry Craft.

Though I didn't find it quite as funny, charming, and subtly powerful as the first book (New Kid), I really enjoyed this graphic novel about a kid navigating both 8th grade and the social/racial/economic divides between his friends.

I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but this is one that makes me want to keep reading them.

Which leads me to...

Pájaro Blanco (White Bird) by R.J. Palacios

I thought it was a bit misleading to call it a Wonder novel, and I had a few issues with the ending, but the main story itself was fantastic.

I started at a little past midnight and finished at 2:30 am.  Reading that long is not something I do much anymore--and I needed to get up at a decent time in the morning--so that's really saying something.

Warning:  because of the content, if you're a parent of a child reading this, you might want to read it too and discuss.

The Great Hibernation,  by Tara Dairman

So, I found rather a lot of plot holes in this book.  But...

It was very interesting watching these kids try to act like adults and keep society going, and I LOVED the creepy downhill slide into oppression.  Chilling...yet it rarely felt heavy handed.  Nicely done. 

I also liked the characters and setting quite a bit. 

A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

This book tackles big issues (bigotry, depression, finding belongingness when you feel caught between two countries).  But it also serves a heaping helping of good food and friendship.

The alternating first-person points of view needed to be more distinct, but the writing was engaging.  

Soul Lanterns, by Shaw Kuzki

Some of the writing in this felt clunky and pedantic--especially the parts with the kids 25 years later learning about their own history--but some of that might have been the translation.

The stories of the people who survived--and didn't survive--the nuclear bomb blast in Hiroshima were heart-wrenching and beautifully told.  I cried.  A lot.  It takes a really good book to make me cry.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Bryce Canyon National Park--Figure-8 Combination Hike

I LOVE Bryce Canyon.  Granted, it was the first time I'd been out of my home state since the pandemic began, and that made it extra special, but seriously...the place is gorgeous.  The pictures are pretty, but they don't do it justice.

Bryce Canyon from the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points

Hiking Route:  I only had time to do one big hike, and I chose a good one with a slightly boring name:  the Figure-9 Combination Loop.  I started at Sunset Point, walked along the Rim Trail to Sunrise Point, then headed down into the canyon, following the Queen's Garden Trail to the Peekaboo Loop (which I did clockwise, as you're supposed to do in summer).  When the Peekaboo Loop looped back, I took the Wall Street Trail back up to Sunset Point.  By then I was a little hot and tired,  but I didn't want to stop, so I walked the Rim Trail up to Inspiration Point.  

Queen Victoria in the distance from the Queen's Garden Trail

Hike stats:  Figure-8 Combination Loop Stats: 6.4 miles, 1631 feet elevation gain.  Add another half mile or so and a bit more elevation if you go up to Inspiration Point.  The elevation gain isn't exceptional.  What makes it difficult is the elevation you start at.  Sunset Point sits at about 8000 feet.  So, unless you live at high elevation, you'll find yourself out of breath faster than normal.      

Trail snaking between hoodoos on the Peekaboo Loop

Hiking time:  The NPS brochure recommends 4-5 hours for the Figure-8.  It took me just over 3 hours, including a short lunch break. This is the point where I normally feel proud until some hiking friend says, "I did it in 2 hours."  Anyway,  what matters is the enjoyment.  If you want to take 6 hours, then you'll just have 3 more hours of enjoyment than I did.  

The Wall of Windows on the Peekaboo Loop

Hiking stars:  6 out of 5.

Only problem:  It's not exactly isolated.  The Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop parts are quite crowded.  "Disneyland trails" I call them, because there are so many people.  However...the Peekaboo Loop was a different story.  There were people, of course, but in the whole loop (3.5 miles) I only met about six sets of people coming the other way and kept leapfrogging with one set of people going the same way I was.  By the end, we'd struck up a bit of a friendship.  Ahhh...trail life.

The slot canyon part of the Wall Street Trail

I really recommend a hike down into the canyon, even if you don't have time/energy/inclination to do a long hike.  Walking among the hoodoos and seeing them tower over you is a very different experience than seeing them only from above.

Options for shorter below-the-rim hikes:  Take the Queen's Garden train down as far as you want and then retrace your steps.  It's considered the easiest descent into the canyon.  Another good route would be the Navajo Loop.  

And of course do some along-the-rim walking too. 

Heat:  Try to start early, especially if it's a warm day, and carry plenty of water.  Many trails are quite exposed.       

Monday, August 30, 2021

Red Canyon, Utah

Red Canyon, Utah.  If this looks like Bryce Canyon National Park, that might be because it's right down the road, along scenic Highway 12 between Highway 89 and Bryce.  These pictures are from the super short Pink Ledges trail.       

There are a whole host of other trails near here that I want to try someday.  There's also a campground, a visitor center, and a bike path all the way to Bryce Canyon.  

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Arizona--Land of Variation

Here are a few pictures showing the amazing variety you can see in Arizona in one day.  These are from Sunset Point (rest stop north of Phoenix) to a lookout on the road to Page, just north of Bitter Springs.  This is a distance of only 200 miles, and here is only SOME of what you see:

Sunset Point--high enough to be out of the saguaros,
but with smaller cactus and brush

Between Sunset Point and Flagstaff--
greener than usual thanks to our actual monsoon season this year

Sunset Crater area, just north of Flagstaff

The red cliffs on the road to Page
(not technically the Vermillion Cliffs, I believe, but neighbors). 
Down in this valley is the beginning of the Colorado
 River's greatest carving job:  the Grand Canyon. 

Pictures taken on this same route (and a little bit north and south) on different days or different years:

Just north of the northernmost point above:
Horseshoe Bend, a short hike from the highway.

Approaching the San Francisco Peaks
(near Flagstaff) from the north
Also greener than I've ever seen it

Lake Powell, from a viewpoint off the highway
just north of Page

And an example of the area between Phoenix and Sunset point

And  I can't find a picture of the area that looks like a bunch of purple and gray hills of wet sand, some eroded so they look like elephant feet.  Such an impressive drive!