I'm pretty sure this year, 2020, is going to go down as the year I was officially declared insane. I might actually have to buy a straitjacket and wear it before the year ends. How much do you think it will cost for me to turn one of my bedrooms into a padded room?
In the early spring we are heading down to California for a very quick, 2 1/2-day, 3-night, final visit to Disneyland. I say "final" because Nigel, who works for The Walt Disney Company, plans to retire this year, which means the end of inexpensive hotel stays and free park entry. Although I pretty much hate travel, I am looking forward to it, because...Star Wars!
The parks do such a great job with landscaping, and I'm very curious to
see what kind of plants they have put in that they think might evoke an
alien planet. Nigel was there last fall and texted me photos of the Star
Wars area, but that's not quite the same as actually having eyes on it.
There were some Grevilleas and Aloes, but one area that Nigel texted me
was full of ornamental cabbages. I'm not sure Nigel knew they were
cabbages, but he sent me a text that said "Look! Space cabbages!"
Look! Space cabbages!
In the early summer we're both hopping on a 9-hour trans-Atlantic flight and going to England and Scotland for 2 1/2 weeks of touring. This trip is a BIG DEAL, at least for me. The last time I was in England was at least 15 years ago, to visit Nigel's mum (who has since passed away), and the last time I was in Scotland (where my mum was born) I was in college, too many years ago to count. We plan to start out spending a few days in London, and then we're going to Yorkshire (where Nigel's parents are from) for about a week, followed by a week in Scotland, and finishing up with a few days back in London. I have a long list of gardens and historical places I plan to visit, including Kew, Scampston Hall, and the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens. Nigel spent his teenage and college years in Edinburgh, and he wants to show me his old neighborhood and the public school he attended. Nigel is an "old boy" of George Watson's College, which is what they call a secondary school. It's co-ed nowadays, but I'm pretty sure it was boys-only back in the olden days when Nigel attended.
So yeah. I hate traveling, and this trip is to another continent. On the other hand, I'm also excited to be seeing many great English and Scottish gardens, not to mention historical sites like the Tower of London and the Roman wall around York. We do not plan to rent a car. Nigel's eyesight is not good enough for driving, and I don't dare to even attempt driving on the other side of the road. Once we arrive, we plan to travel solely by railroad, London Underground, and on foot, which they say is better for the environment. (We'll just ignore that long-ass plane trip...)
Speaking of travel and being anxious -- I did something else just before Christmas that makes me wonder if I completely took leave of my senses. I volunteered to be part of a committee that will be hosting the Garden Bloggers Fling in the Puget Sound area in 2021. The other members of the hosting committee are Debbie Teashon, who writes the website Rainyside.com, Peter Herpst, who used to blog at Outlaw Gardener, and gardener Camille Paulsen, who is the business membership director with the Northwest Perennial Alliance. I'll be returning from England the day this year's Fling starts in Madison, WI, so I won't be going. Guess what? None of the other members of our team will be going either! I'm sure we have a lot of hard graft and sleepless nights ahead of us. Our plan is to share many of the gardens that were in my post All The Other Things Part I, as well as loads of others.
All of that means the real hard work on the Fling will probably start as soon as I get back from my trip to England. But of course, once Nigel retires at the end of the year, he can help me out. I can hear him now negotiating with bus companies.
The malaise that sets in at the end of every gardening season hasn't lifted as much as it usually does. Normally by January I'm back outside cutting back last year's spent perennials and working on making changes to the garden, but so far I still feel kind of blah. I didn't make any New Year's goals at the turn of the year. To be honest, before Christmas I was considering giving up blogging.
However, I have always wanted to be a writer, since I was very young. At one point I wanted to be a creative writer, and write science fiction, or mysteries. The blog does fulfill my need to write. So I guess I'll keep at it a while longer.
I'm also not getting any younger. My birthday always comes at the end of the year, so by the end of 2020 I'll be another year into my 60s, and creeping decrepitude.
Way back in June 2019 I visited Chicago for one day and visited the Lurie Garden, a bucket list item for me. I deliberately chose early June because I knew that was when the blue and purple Salvia "river" would be in its most glorious flower, and I wanted very much to see that. There are plenty of other fabulous plants growing there, that flower on and off all season. I think people who live nearby must be very lucky to be able to see the Lurie Garden at all times of the year, but then of course, I live near Heronswood, and I wouldn't trade that for any other garden.
Anyway, here's an image that I captured when I was there, that I'm sharing for my Wednesday Vignette this week.
Anna at Flutter & Hum hosts Wednesday Vignette every Wednesday. Check out her post here.
I've mentioned in a few previous posts, and in previous years, that I tend to get disenchanted with both gardening and blogging once Fall arrives (although Fall is in fact one of my favorite seasons, because of the return of the fall rains, which means I can haul in the hoses and sprinklers and stop artificial watering -- not to mention I sweat less, because hot weather and I are not friends). I've attributed this flagging spirit to a variety of things -- the fading of sunlight and its concomitant drop-off in Vitamin D, or the end of the gardening season, the dying of growing things, and the end of gardening activity, although that doesn't make a lot of sense either, since there is always work to do out there -- leaves to pick up, weeds to pull, plants to cut back, every month of the year in this climate. I've also sometimes attributed my end of year depression to the holiday season and its forced jollity.
But I recently read an article about burn-out and have started wondering if maybe that's it. Have I become so burnt out from gardening and blogging by Fall that somehow my mind and body have forced me to stop and engage in a kind of season of self care (i.e., enforced laziness)?
Anyway, for the last few months I haven't been doing much gardening or blogging. Mostly I've been reading and watching TV.
What I've Been Reading
I read a lot and I have pretty eclectic taste in books, everything from science fiction to mysteries to historical fiction to memoirs to popular fiction. No porn and no bodice rippers, although I don't look down my nose if that's your thing -- to each their own. Anyway, here's some of what I've been reading lately. Who knows? Maybe there's something in my list of what I read in the last few months that might interest you.
A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie This book was the latest (No. 18) in a series of English mysteries about Detective Inspector Gemma James and her Detective Superintendent husband Duncan Kincaid, and their combined brood of children and animals. I do read a lot of mysteries, and my list always leans rather heavily on stories set in Britain. I read a lot of series, set in either England or Scotland, as well as Ireland. I like Deborah Crombie's series, although she's an American, she never gets the details wrong.
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout When I first encountered the marvelously opinionated, delightfully prickly, slightly obese character of Olive Kittredge, it was as played by the talented actress Frances McDormand in Olive Kittredge, a two-part HBO miniseries. It was only after watching it that I discovered that the miniseries was based on the novel Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout, and despite the fact that the descriptions of her in the novel didn't bear much resemblance to Ms. McDormand, I'll forever hear her voice and picture her when I read about Olive. This year Strout released Olive, Again, a sequel that was just as wonderful as the first book. Like the first, it is actually more of a series of short stories in which Olive sometimes figures only slightly as a supporting character, and sometimes as the main character.
Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller I like historical fiction, and I discovered this novel through a review in the New York Times that compared Andrew Miller to Hilary Mantel, a perhaps more well known historical fiction writer (she wrote the book Wolf Hall about Henry VIII, upon which the miniseries is based). I found Miller's book engaging and the characters interesting, including a pair of proto-feminist sisters from the 1800s who nonetheless do not seem out of place. It's about an upperclass English army officer who returns from war broken and suffering, and decides to decamp from his family estate to Scotland, unknowingly chased by an assassin. The thriller aspect is rather lowkey, and the book has an open-ended ending, where you must decide for yourself whether the hero survives.
A Keeper: A Novel by Graham Norton -- Yes, Graham Norton, the British talk show host. And it's a really good book too. I enjoyed his first book as well, which was a cozy murder mystery called Holding, set in a small Irish village. At times, I could hear Graham's voice in the narration. This second book is also a mystery, sort of. Not really a whodunit, more of a how did this happen and why. If you like mysteries with a bit of humor and quirky characters, you'll probably like both of his books, although the second is somewhat more serious in tone than the first.
A pair of autobiographies/memoirs -- Between The Stops: The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus by Sandi Toksvig and How to Be Champion by Sarah Millican I adore both of these British female comedic television personalities. Sandi has been a fixture of British TV for decades, and Sarah has been on the British standup comedy scene for about 10 years now, and has had a TV show of her own (look for it on YouTube). Sandi recently took over hosting The Great British Baking Show (called Bakeoff in Britain). These books are very different from each other, but I highly recommend them both. You'll laugh, you might cry (a bit, especially at a few of Sandi's tales). Also, I read these two books in hard cover, rather than on my Kindle, because at the time they weren't available yet in the U.S. (I think they are now). I bought them from Amazon.co.uk.
The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan Susannah Cahalan is a journalist whose career was derailed for a time in the early 2000s by a disease called autoimmune encephalitis, which masquerades as a psychiatric disorder. She was in danger of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and being shut away in a psychiatric ward for most of her life (which might have been short), but for her family's insistence that doctors explore every possibility. She wrote a book about her experience, Brain on Fire, which I read a few years ago, and it was absolutely fascinating. Her current book starts out talking about other disorders that similarly can be mistaken for psychiatric conditions (such as syphilis), but eventually segues into researching one of the most interesting research projects in psychiatry, about which she makes some important discoveries. You can read an excellent review of this book here.
The Turn of Midnight By Minette Walters This work of historical fiction by one of my favorite British mystery writers is a sequel to The Last Hours, set during the Black Death in England, about a noblewoman who realizes that she needs to isolate her entire village to keep her serfs (who she cares deeply about) and family safe, and then recognizes how the desolation and deaths will affect society in the future, and makes a move to free the serfs under her care. When I first discovered Walters' mystery books I considered her the best successor to Ruth Rendell, but she took a long break from writing mysteries and then reappeared on the scene writing historical fiction.
Disney's Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World by Richard Snow Dang, that title is a pretentious mouthful. This book is about the creation of Disneyland in California and the invention of the theme park. I'm a Disney fan, the author is a Disney fan, although he does gather together a few Disney-bashing opinions in one chapter towards the end of the book. There's a good amount of print given to the landscaping that went into the park, and I was interested to discover that an esteemed garden designer, Ruth Shellhorn, contributed to the design of the gardens and pathways. There's also quite a lot in the book about the Evans brothers, who worked on the landscape design at Disneyland. You can read a little background here about the Evans brothers.
The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire (Book One and Book Two of a three-part series called The Interdependency) by John Scalzi Science fiction and urban fantasy make up the bulk of what Nigel reads, with a smattering of horror and auto/biography. He first introduced me to John Scalzi through Scalzi's blog, which is called Whatever (the subtitle used to be "This Website Mocks Fascists," but he recently changed it, now it simply says "Time to Register To Vote"). He's been blogging there for 21 years, about a wide variety of subjects -- sometimes long, thoughtful essays, sometimes just a picture of his cats. So what are The Interdependency books about? The story is set very very far in the future, when humans have moved far out into the galaxy. In order to move between stars, ships use a feature of physics called "The Flow," which at the start of the first book is beginning to collapse and mutate. Except no one really believes the scientists who are warning about the coming collapse, and politicians and businesspeople are jockeying to try to seize power and make money before the end comes. The final book in the trilogy is set to come out this spring.
The newest season of the science fiction show The Expanse recently
dropped on Amazon, and I binge-watched that. Have you seen it? This show
is based on a series of books by James S.A. Corey (actually a pseudonym
used by a duo of writers), of which I read the first three, a few years ago, when the show first premiered on Sy-Fy.
A week or so ago I downloaded a couple of Expanse novellas into my Kindle -- The Churn and Strange Dogs. I enjoyed The Churn better, it's a story about the life of one of the TV show's main characters, Amos Burton, when he was still a teenager barely surviving in Baltimore.
I also recently celebrated a birthday, and for my birthday Nigel got me a book about the TV show, The Art and Making of The Expanse, which I devoured in one night. It's one of those books that's full of rich photographs and behind the scenes info. One of the things I really love about the show is the number of richly drawn, tough, courageous, kick-ass women.
Here are some takeaways from the book with some info about some of the show's female characters.
Also, here's a link to a video on YouTube with some of Crisjen Avasarala's best moments (played by the phenomenal Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo).
And speaking of TV....
What I've Been Watching on TV
My husband Nigel (who is English) and I have a Britbox subscription, which we use for more than just watching Gardener's World. We also watch a lot of British shows on YouTube. There are a handful of game shows and panel shows that show up there on a regular basis. I mentioned a game show -- Only Connect -- in a previous post here.
We've been watching a game show called Pointless, which has been running on British TV for several years. Unlike Only Connect, where people compete just for bragging rights, these contestants can actually win money -- although not a lot. The goal is to make the least points possible, and the questions are easier than in Only Connect.
The show has a pair of hosts, Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman,
who work well together. Nigel and I get a kick out of listening to them
riff off each other, and occasionally rack up a few zingers. They've
known each other since university. Alexander is the affable host who
asks the questions and schmoozes the guests, and Richard pretends to be
knowledgeable and professorial, although he often makes stuff up just to
Reportedly Her Majesty The Queen is a big fan of the show. Sometimes Richard looks straight at the camera and addresses her. "Your Majesty, if you're watching..."
You can read more about Richard Osman here. Interestingly, he was a producer and one of the creators of the show Deal or No Deal, and used to sit in the room with the Banker during filming. Did you know Deal or No Deal started out on British TV? It was decidedly less glamorous in its original incarnation.
Another show that Nigel and I have been watching on YouTube is Richard Osman's House of Games, which is a game show for celebrities that kind of defies description, but I'll try. Each week for five days a panel of four celebrities compete to win a cheap plastic trophy by playing a series of very silly games where they sometimes have to answer backwards, or answer two questions whose answers rhyme with each other, or are anagrams of each other, etc., etc., etc. Richard hosts this show on his own, and asks all the questions.
Here's a sample.
Richard Osman's House of Games Series 3 Episode 11
There is also a version of Pointless in which celebrities are the contestants, and they compete to win a small amount of money for charity. Amusingly, it's called Pointless Celebrities. Here's a recent episode where Welsh actor Michael Sheen competed.
Through our Britbox subscription I also recently binge-watched an anthology show from England called Inside No. 9, in which each story takes place inside an address that is number 9, or in the case of one episode, on the 9th floor of a hotel. Some are thrillers, some are comedies, but every one features surprising plot twists and they all have that very keen English sense of humor. They are also very cleverly written, as in the case of the episode on the hotel's 9th floor, which was written in iambic pentameter, and had a rather Shakespearean-style plot, featuring unwitting twins separated at birth, mistaken identity, etc. I've never seen Black Mirror, but I've heard it favorably compared to that. Every episode features the character actors Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, who also wrote them all.
I can't link to any of the episodes, but there is an analysis of one of the best episodes on YouTube, which you can watch here.
Inside No. 9
There is a particular type of British show that Nigel and I love that just doesn't seem to translate well when people try to adapt it for American audiences -- it's called a panel show. Think of it as a game show crossed with the loosey-goosiness of standup comedy. Actually, one recent show that did come from England that worked in the U.S. was Whose Line Is It Anyway? I never watched it, either the American or British version. But we do watch quite a few other British panel shows.
TaskMasterOne British panel show that was recently recommended by the New York Times TV reviewer is TaskMaster. You can read about it here. It's another show with two hosts, Greg Davies and Alex Horne, who give five comedians a series of tasks that challenge their creativity and sometimes their ability to read and follow directions.
TaskMaster Series 1, Episode 1
Here's a short Behind-the-Scenes piece about the show.
On-set with TaskMaster
I could go on and on and on, recommending a lot of British TV shows, but I'm afraid you're going to find it tedious.
Oh what the hell, here's more, all panel shows.
Mock The Week (On Britbox)
Have I Got News For You (On YouTube)
Would I Lie to You? (On YouTube and Britbox)
As Yet Untitled (on Britbox)
QI (on Britbox)
Goodness, hope that didn't bore you to tears. Maybe finding out what holds my interest when I'm not gardening gave you a little insight into what a very strange creature I am (or maybe you already had an inkling about that...)