Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Reivew: The Deathly Portent (A Lady Fan Mystery) by Elizabeth Bailey

In the past few months I have been the
gratified recipient of handful of
soon-to-be-released mystery novels. 
Mostly "girlie" mystery novels 
set in Georgian England and America 
(hint: American Revolution-ish). 

Historical fiction has always held a dear place in my heart, 
and so it seemed like a good way to break 
into mysteries - a genre I had thus far avoided. 
I was right. It was a comfortable fit.

The Deathly Portent, by Elizabeth Bailey, 
may be the last historical mystery I read... for a while.

Don't get me wrong - Bailey's latest mystery 
is a rollicking good time starring a sweet, rich, 
clever but rather naive English lady 
with a knack for identifying sneaky murderers. 

The elaborate cast of characters, 
a town full of suspicious English-folk, 
would be enough to please a fan of Dickens. 

The book has all sorts of intrigue. 
Gruesome murders, adultery, 
hidden riches, forbidden love, 
witchcraft, a sexy young pastor, 
dashing aristocrats, 
an overly-tragic heroine 
and more than a hint of lesbian lovers.  
What isn't to like? 

My problem with this novel is how slowly it progressed. 
This 359-page adventure might have 
benefited from shaving off 100 or so pages. 
This book's solid plot was dragged along for far too long.
There was too much wishy-washy 
yammering drivel for my taste,
and I'm one of those gals who 
enjoys a good group of gossiping ladies.
Some passages were far too wordy to enjoy, 
stretching each sentence until they bulged, 
overburdened with big words and and lacking in focus. 

(The same could be said for my writing,
but I'm not trying to publish this, just post it on a blog!)

By page 188 I was confident that I knew who 
the murderer was, witchcraft. 
I was confident that I that the
plucky detective, Lady Otillia Fanshawe, 
would come to this same conclusion
by interrogating this suspect's maid. 

On page 288, I still believed myself to be true. 
The plot, however, had barely progressed in those 100 pages.
It wasn't until the very end that my suspicions were proven.
I was right about the murderer and the way in which
Lady Fan would figure things out.

If I weren't so stubborn I would have 
cast this book aside and moved on to something fresh.

I was right about the murderer in the end, 
much to my chagrin. I had hoped that there 
would be some sort of mind-blowing plot twist. 
Elizabeth Bailey is an English writer to be respected and celebrated.
She's published about 20 novels, taught writing, directed plays,
and I'm sure that this one novel should not reflect her talent or career.

In the future I would probably peruse another 
installment of the "Lady Fan" series
but until then I need to cleanse my palate.

Some recommendations:
The India Black Series by Carol K. Carr
When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris

The Deathly Portent
by Elizabeth Bailey
Berkley Prime Crime Trade Paperback Original.
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Disclaimer: This book was received as a free review copy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Titillating Titles: Playboy Magazine at Curious!

I'm all wiggly from having too much espresso. 
Can't sleep. 
It's just after 11 p.m., and I've poured myself a glass 
of red rosé to try to calm myself a bit.

Tonight was the Playboy Photo Shoot at Curious!

Two days ago we were visited by a photographer 
who was scouting locations in East Lansing
for Playboy's rather popular Girls of the Big Ten issue.
He liked what he saw at Curious, and seemed
enthusiastic when he introduced himself. 
I felt like I blew it, as I slipped into my 
overly-friendly-to-the-tourist mode 
and handed him a map, 
telling him about the cool record shops in town 
We talked about who would have the best natural lighting, etc.

Unwelcome subconscious sabotage on my part! 

We had been approached by Playboy before, 
about 5 years ago - before my time.
They were interested in using us as a location 
for the same Big Ten feature.
Such a tease.

 So, when he said that Curious was "for sure" the place, 
none of us Curious-ers expected much of it.

The photographer came back yesterday... 
and he brought the production team!
They took a meandering tour 
through the shop's three floors
and decided that the shop's "character" was just right.

I wasn't sure how to feel about this whole Playboy thing. 
I've never really had a problem with 
the seedier side of Hollywood,
 but am not a in favor of  objectifying women 
or the blatant consumerism and billions generated by the 
over-sexualization of models and customers, alike. 

However, I respect and admire Helen Gurley Brown,
 and I've watched my fair share of The Girls Next Door.
I'm a Millennial. 
I recognize the popularity of sex 
and the gravitas of the Playboy label, one of
America's longest-running and iconic publications.
I wanted Curious to be the cool place!

I wound up spending some time upstairs with 
the Playboy people
(They would grimace to be called that, 
as they are freelance professionals.)
While up there I realized they were just 
normal people with extremely exotic jobs.
The shoot producer had a field day 
looking through our run of vintage Playboys.
She even found a few she had been looking for, 
including the 1988 Cindy Crawford cover that she says 
convinced her to start working for Playboy.
Those photos of Cindy Crawford 
are almost as stunning as the spread of her 
ten years later, after having children.

They couldn't quite decide where to do the shoot.
They liked the upstairs, with the big mirror.
The colors are lighter upstairs, more airy.
Too similar to the Ohio State barber shop spread, though.
The other option was the basement, 
possibly resulting in
our beloved green armchair 
making an appearance.
(Fret not, Green Chair Lovers!)

They left without coming to a decision.
There was a vague understanding 
that the production team and model 
would return the next evening to shoot, around 6.

Mark and I scrambled around the shop, 
chasing dust bunnies and scrubbing things.
Liz had the foresight to straighten up bookcases
on the ground floor and do some needed sweeping.

As per normal Curious procedure
no one seemed to know what the plan was this morning.
We had more than enough to keep us 
busy with the BIG BOOK SHOW looming over us.

As the clock(s) neared 6, 
each of us found a good enough reason 
to hover around on the ground floor, waiting.
The first cart-load of photo equipment 
finally crossed the threshold around 6:45.
After a brief deliberation, 
the photographer started setting up on the main floor, 
in General Fiction, of all places!

The shop cleared out pretty quickly 
(except for the customer we nearly forgot in the basement)
and some staff members made their escapes.
Curiosity got the best of me. 
I stayed.

It's amazing what a professional can do in a small space.
After a brief hunt for available electrical outlets 
and some strategic light placement in the aisles, 
they were ready. 

I made a helpful contribution 
when I dug up my favorite spare book-show rug 
 to use as an set anchor.
The photographer was relieved, 
and said it went well with the color palate.

At this time I encourage you 

to be awed and amazed 
by my obvious artistic and 
compositional talents.
Thank you.
Good thing they brought their own extension cord.
There was some concern about their strobe lighting
being too powerful for the circuit,
but we had no problems! 
Glitz and Glamour.
Their fancy camera and lights make it look way better
than my little Canon.
While we all waited for the model to show up 
(it was another hour, at least),
we played around with the "set" and 
Ray posed for portrait photos by the photographers.
I feel like I bullied it into him, 
but what a cool experience! 
It deserved a souvenir.
Maybe they'll include Ray in the spread!

The model seemed like your 
typical Midwestern, MSU college girl.
Friendly, petite, polite, highlights and a strong handshake.
She was wearing a cute "DEFYE" shirt when we met, 
and Liz lusted after her black stilettos.
She had never been to the shop.
Read books, people!

Curious has had more than its fair share
of media attention, this year.
Two weeks ago a student group
filmed a documentary,
and I gave a crummy interview.
Of course they used my photo on the cover.
We still haven't gotten around to watching it.

With Barnes and Noble closing earlier
this year, we've had dozens of professional
and student reporters coming in for our take
on the matter. We've also had a handful
of professional and student photographers
rooting around the shop, which is pretty neat.

The Playboy shoot was, as Liz put it, 
very classy and professional.
The production team members were charming, 
apologetic for "getting in the way".
I was just glad they let us hang out.
Ray, Liz and I awkwardly hovered around the 
front counter, making tasteless jokes.

Ray thought the model felt better having me and Liz there.
I'm sure he also felt a bit better having us around.
We spent most of the rather surreal evening
flipping through some of our vintage men's magazines 
with the producer and other photographer.
They schooled us about classic poses,
favorite artists and "cheesecake".
It was a good time.

From our vantage point 
we had a great view 
of the photographer's jean-clad butt. 
We couldn't help but giggle 
as we listened to his directions for the model. 
Peeking seemed like a rude thing to do.

The Curious Playboy.
I left right around the time the crew began
discussing the merits of East Lansing bars, 
or maybe doing some jello shots
and trying out the Marriott's jacuzzi.
Erm..... no. I'll have to pass.
But, thanks for the invite!

We should receive copies of the professional photos
taken of Ray sometime soon.
The producer suggested that we do a "book" signing
when the Big Ten issue is published, this September.

Sure, whatever will bring people into the shop.
We desperately need the business!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Urban Farming and Community Gardening in Lansing, Michigan

It all began about a year ago, in the sloppy, 
cold Michigan spring of 2011.
We had just moved into our current house 
and were rather pleased with ourselves.
We patted one another on the back and smiled, 
proud as could be.

"Look at us, all grown up, doing grown-up stuff."

The only difficulty with our lovely rental house was
the lack of gardening space. The house is beautifully landscaped
with plenty of perennials and shade-loving flowers,
which leaves little room for all of the vegetables
and other plants we would like to add.
Our very nice landlord had some concerns about
Sean and I ripping up her pretty yard, which is understandable.
But, how could we be self-reliant homesteaders
without our own bit of dirt to cultivate?

Around the time Sean and I were hitting this wall,
we heard from a friend that a new community garden 
was to be organized using empty lots 
rented from Lansing's Land Bank.
Part of Lansing's east side lies within a flood plain,
which has resulted in many vacant lots with rich soil
in a nearby neighborhood.

$10 a year, per lot.
Throw in lots of free seeds, 
seedlings, information and help. 
It sounded too good to be true...

One year later, we now know that it is true, 
and even better than we thought!

Here's Poppin' Fresh. We also have a second lot,
named Marvin's Gardens. (Get the reference?)

It took a lot of hard work, and some prescribed Vicodin
when Sean and I both threw out our backs pulling up 
sodden sod. The pain and temporary 
 inability to walk was worth it, in the end. 

Digging up all of that grass  to make the garden beds 
was the absolute worst part about this entire experience.
Once the Garden Project sent over their 
fabulous tilling machine our prospects looked better.

We have the equivalent of three city lots that we use for planting.
These empty lots are in an older, quiet neighborhood built upon a 
30-year flood plain. No new construction is allowed, 
so the houses are slowly being abandoned, 
eventually to be torn down by the city.
On either side of Poppin' Fresh are vacant houses 
slotted to come down this summer. When that happens, 
I expect we'll incorporate 3 or 4 more lots 
into our already large garden.

Last summer, our first main growing season, was a great success!
We have a core group of 5 - 7 gardeners 
who have invested an obscene amount of time 
and effort to make Poppin' Fresh what it is, today. 
Being close to MSU means there are countless 
students who sporadically show up to help out. 
In return, we send them home with a bounty 
of whatever is ready to harvest. Various student groups have 
come and gone, and we sometimes find 
ourselves short-handed when the demands of 
college keep the crowds at bay.

We function differently from the average 
Community Garden cooperative. Instead of each gardener 
tending their own small plot, we all work together 
on what may be better labeled as a Community Urban Farm. 
However, we don't follow the model presented 
by Urbandale, a production community garden/farm 
about a block away. They have a food stand 
and sell their produce to locals. 

They also have big fence. 
We're sort of against fences, but may need 
to construct one this summer to keep our livestock safe.

We're always a little unorganized, 
but Captain Kirk continues to surprise
us with all kinds of crazy ideas and amazing finds.
It looks like our next project will be a chicken coop!

In the last few months, we've acquired some major items:

 The Hoop House

Tons of pre-consumer compost from MSU  and Starbucks.
Piles in various stages line the left wall of the hoop house.
Our vermicompost (worms!) is doing especially well.

 Two New Zealand Rabbits (a buck and a doe).
Carol named them Thing 1 and Thing 2.
The number system might stick when 
they start breeding, next month.
((Update! More about the rabbits here!))

Seedling trays and pots, dozens of them, that were discarded.
We get free seeds through the Garden Project,
but everything we've planted so far this season comes
from left-over seeds - greens and herbs, mostly!

Sean's rabbit hutches, made from reclaimed MSU dorm desks.
Sean's constructing the roof right now!

One in progress, and one waiting for a new purpose.

A free chicken tractor from a nice stranger!

  Later this week we'll begin harnessing power from the sun. 
Captain Kirk's super-cool solar panel will be 
on loan to the garden for the next long while. 
This will allow us to ventilate the hoop house with fans, 
hook up a light and maybe a boom box. 
We may also need power to heat the chicken coop this winter,
if we don't keep it in the warm hoop house with the rabbits.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Flowers & Bunnies

 I've finally discovered a great place to 
pose and photograph those pretty paper flowers I made.

The fireplace mantel, of all places!
I set up a colorful array of flowers last month
 in an attempt to fight the winter blues.

So, I've just updated my Etsy store with these new 
photos and am hoping to add a few more listings soon.

I'll be premiering these flowers at the BIG BOOK SHOW!
Didn't I already mention this, though?
More about it later.

Now that Spring is truly creeping back
into the landscape, Sean and I have been
busy at The Garden.

Captain Kirk came through with a big surprise this week,
which as invigorated us even more.

If you live in the Lansing area and are itching
to get your hands dirty (or pet something soft),
you should consider joining us out at The Garden.
Get in touch with me, and I'll let you know
about some upcoming Work Parties.
We're a very welcoming group, 
and our numbers fluctuate between 4 and 20 
gardeners, depending on the time of year. 

Traditional community gardens are made up of
many individual plots maintained by their respective gardeners.

We're different.
We share!

If you show up and help a bit, 
we send you home with some tasty produce.
Simple as that.

Also, happy Centennial Anniversary
to the Girls Scouts of America!
 in Savannah, Georgia is one of my very
fondest memories. That city is gorgeous.

Russ, Sean and I biked the Hawk Island loop
of the River Trail this morning.
My ears nearly froze clean off of my head,
but otherwise it was perfect weather.
8.6 miles. Whooh!

Alright, we're off to our neighbor's tea party,
and then are headed to The Garden to work
and listen to MSU beat the crap out of Ohio State.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


So, Audrey, what have you been up to?

A nasty cold struck me down early last week, 
and it has taken me more than week to fully recover.
I'm almost there.
Spring is coming, 
or so it feels since I last worked at the Garden.
That was the first day I began feeling better.
It did me a good to go work in the hoop house
and dig in the dirt for a few hours.

Derf, hungry for Spring.

 Books have been my friends these past two weeks.
I have about 15 pages left to read in my first 
Orson Scott Card novel, Seventh Son.

The next few books in my line-up:
The Garden Intrique by Lauren Willig
Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

This morning I finished one of a few projects
that have kept my hands busy while I was stuck indoors.
It's a rag rug made out of some brightly-colored bed sheets.
At first it seemed complex, but this crochet circle is
so utterly simple to make.
I want to make another!

 Measures approximately 40 inches in diameter.

Feeling crafty?
 You can get the gist of it by watching this video.
If you need a little guidance, let me know.

Sean came home from work today with this:

Looks like tonight will be Bananapalooza, Version 2.0.
Time for a few loaves of Banana Bread
Maybe Russ and the guys will be kind enough to 
take one with them on their spring break adventures.
Stop by our place in the next few days 
and I will force-feed you muffins until you flee.
I will hunt you by your trail of delicious banana-flavored 
crumbs and offer you one more, "for the road."

Some other weird things that happened to me
this week include being interviewed for a
student-made documentary about Curious, 
 nearly killing my two African violets (again), 
playing on Facebook far too much, and 
gearing up for the quickly-approaching
in Lansing on April 1st. (No fooling!)

My question:
Who are you, reading this?
Blogger offers a faint picture of 
my "readership" with the statistics page,
but in this time of increased internet-identity awareness, 
I wish I knew a bit more about who is behind 
the handful of hits this blog accumulates.