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i am a little church

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
–i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

~e.e. cummings

I know that I post this poem every year at this time, but it’s my favorite, so I’m just going to keep right on sharing it over and over again.  I love everything about it: the carefully chosen words, the beautifully constructed images, the rhythm of the lines as they roll on.  I’ve said plenty of words about this spare set of verses, so this time I’ll just urge you to read, read again, and enjoy.

Happy National Poetry Month!

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Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for March, 2019

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson – Somehow, despite loving popular history, I hadn’t read any Lynne Olson before last month.  I’m glad to have corrected that error now and can’t wait to read more.  Last Hope Island was fascinating and engaging.  Beginning with heart-in-throat depictions of the rescues of the ruling families and government dignitaries of occupied Europe – King Haakon of Norway, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and more – and continuing on to describe the role of the BBC, Britain’s warring intelligence agencies, and the daring of the nascent resistance movements left in the occupied countries, it was the most well-researched page-turner I’ve ever read.  (Well, maybe tied with Erik Larson’s Dead Wake).  The discussions of the intelligence failures, betrayals, and lack of support for and collaboration with the governments in exile made me heartsick; I said to Steve “This book is proof that there is a God, because without divine intervention I really don’t see how the Allies win that war.”

Old New York: Four Novellas, by Edith Wharton – I’ve been on a bit of a Wharton kick lately, and I loved these four novellas – especially the last one, New Year’s Day (the 1870s installment).  Each of the four novellas covers one decade – the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (although the 1860s story mostly takes place in the 1890s, confusingly).  I especially loved The Old Maid, in which two women conspire to hide a secret, and the aforementioned New Year’s Day, which was a heartbreaking story of a woman caught in what seems to be an affair.  I won’t say more, because you should read it!  It’s a slim volume but every page was a delight.  Fully reviewed here.

The Joy of the Snow, by Elizabeth Goudge – After loving The Little White Horse, I’ve been meaning to read more Goudge, and I thought her memoir would be a good place to begin.  It was.  Goudge describes her childhood and girlhood in lyrical prose – as with The Little White Horse, she is at her best when describing houses.  The Ely house, with its passage to the Cathedral green!  The garden at Devon!  The sweet country cottage in Oxford!  I enjoyed the rest of the book – despite Goudge’s well-documented tendency to get a little preachy from time to time; I mostly skimmed those sections – but the houses were the highlight.

Slightly Foxed No. 61: The Paris Effect, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – Although I am trying to make my way through an epic library stack right now, I am powerless to resist a new Slightly Foxed when it arrives at just the right moment, and this one did.  The best issues of Foxed – for me at least – combine books I’ve read, books I’ve been meaning to read, and books I haven’t heard of before but now have to track down; this issue was a perfect example of that alchemy.  I’m now itching to get my hands on Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals and In Pursuit of Spring, and to read the Nancy Mitford novels I already have on my shelves.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie – As I mentioned here, I’ve spent years wondering whether I had already read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or not.  It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but now at least I know I’ve read it once – last month.  One of Christie’s earliest novels and also one of her best known, it features a surprise ending that totally changed the mystery writing landscape at the time it was published.  (Well, it wasn’t entirely a surprise for me, because I actually figured out whodunit – although I didn’t know what the motive was until Poirot revealed all.)  Anyway, I absolutely loved it – the clues sprinkled liberally around, the little Poirot-isms, the narrator’s busybody sister… it was a delight from the first page to the last.

Three Men on the Bummel (Three Men #2), by Jerome K. Jerome – I’ll have a full review (for the Classics Club) coming to you next week, but just as a teaser in the meantime – J., Harris, and George are back and scheming up another epic Victorian vacation, this time a bicycling trip through the Black Forest.  Times have changed a bit since the friends went up the Thames – George is still a bachelor, but J. and Harris are both married and encumbered with several children, so their plans are complicated by the need to convince their wives to free them for a few weeks.  But they find a way and the reader is treated to a number of delightful and hilarious scenes.  Three Men on the Bummel doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, Three Men in a Boat, but it was good fun all the same.

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days that Changed Her Life, by Lucy Worsley – It’s terrible of me to borrow this Worsley from the library when I have Jane Austen at Home sitting on my borrowed-from-a-friend shelf, waiting to be read so I can return it to my dear Susan.  But I read this first anyway.  (Sorry, Susan!)  And while I’m sorry for being such a terrible bookish friend, I’m not sorry for reading Queen Victoria, because it was fascinating and totally enjoyable – not to mention a really neat and different way to approach biography.  Worsley follows the Queen through the prism of a day here, a day there, and we get to be present at all the important moments of her life, from her parents’ marriage before she is even on the scene, to her deathbed.  I have always been fascinated by Victoria and the age named after her, and I loved this.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown – I guess I was on an “experimental royal biography” kick, or else hampered by library deadlines (maybe a little of both) because I turned next to another royal biography, written in a different sort of style.  This one didn’t work as well for me.  It might be that Princess Margaret has never been my love language, or that this biography was a bit too experimental.  I liked the “glimpses” that consisted of actual quotes from the press or Palace announcements, or that read as more traditional biographical essays (and I did a tiny cheer every time James Lees-Milne turned up to thumb his nose at royalty) but the fictional stories about Margaret married to Pablo Picasso or one of her other admirers read as a little off, and I really hated the dream sequences where the author described his own nightmares about Margaret invading his study and looking at all his notes for his biography of Her Royal Highness.  Not information I needed.

The Glass Ocean, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White – I was intrigued by this both from the team-writing perspective (I am currently working on a team-writing project, although it’s going very slowly – my fault entirely, and my writing partner is being very patient) and because the story sounded cool.  Williams, Willig and White portray three women who are connected through history.  One is a present-day popular history writer who finds something potentially alarming in a trunk belonging to an ancestor who died on Lusitania.  The others are two Lusitania passengers – one the wife of a wealthy industrialist and one a conwoman and forger.  So this was fine, and it read quickly, but it didn’t entirely work for me and I felt a bit blah at the end.  But I’m interested in anything to do with Lusitania, so I did enjoy the descriptions of life aboard the ship.

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, by David Litt – I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, and especially since it spent the last couple of months sitting on my library stack, but other things kept pushing it down the list.  Finally I ran out of renewals, so it was time.  I loved it.  Litt had me laughing and reading passages aloud to Steve throughout the book, and he was such a breath of fresh air and just what I needed to read as my town collapses into a pit of angst over the Mueller report.  I especially loved Litt’s anecdote about falling out of a closet half-dressed on Air Force One, and his musings about how much less stressful his life would be if only he was Bo, the Obamas’ dog, instead of a speechwriter.

Whew!  Busy month there.  March is such a long month that I actually thought I had finished Thanks, Obama on April 1st and was shocked to look at my calendar and realize it was STILL March.  Anyway – it was a good month of reading!  I was busy with a lot of life stuff, including throwing Nugget a fourth birthday party, hosting family in town for said birthday party, and traveling on business – plus the usual whirl of play dates, library runs, and other kids’ birthday parties – but I managed to squeeze in some excellent reading around all of that.  I’m not even sure I can pick highlights, because I enjoyed so much of what I read this month.  Edith Wharton and Agatha Christie are always wonderful, and I loved the biography of Queen Victoria that I read, and a month where I get to read a new “Slightly Foxed” is a great month.  And now to April.  I’ve managed to chip away at my library stack, but I still have a lot to get through, and I am craving some time with the classics on my own shelves.  So many books, so little time!

Happy Monday, I suppose.  I could use one more day.  I know I say that every week, but it’s true.  Last week was so hectic that I feel like I need more recovery before I’ll be human again, but it’s not in the cards.  As I mentioned last week, I started off the week on a business trip.  I had to drive to a client site last Sunday evening, and I worked there until Wednesday, including pulling one day that lasted, with one break, from 7:00 a.m. until 3:30 a.m. the following day.  Yipes!  So my reading was slow early in the week, but I made up for it over the weekend.  I really should have put in some time on adulting sorts of things, like folding laundry, grocery shopping, meal prep, and continuing my decluttering efforts – but I didn’t.  I just… read.  I mean, I did other things too.  Actually, we had a pretty typical weekend.  Library – check.  Playground – check.  Birthday party – check.  (This time, it was the son of a friend from my old job; he turned six and had a party at a bowling alley.  Nugget won his first ever bowling game, and Peanut gorged on ice cream and cake and went to bed with a tummyache.)  We also added in a not-totally-typical activity: a walk to the Lee-Fendall House, which is a historic mansion and museum in our town, for a children’s “hands-on history” event.  The kids dressed as Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, like ya do, and they were obviously the hit of the event.  They got petted and squealed over by all the museum volunteers, and they loved every minute.  And now it’s back to the grind.  I have big plans for gardening and spring fun next weekend, but I have to get through five long workdays first.  Wish me luck…

Reading.  Thanks to blowing off all adult responsibilities and just reading all weekend (well, when I wasn’t parenting) I actually have a pretty productive reading week to report despite the business trip-induced snoozes early in the week.  I finished Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret while on my travel; it was okay, but a little out there for my tastes (rather like PM herself).  Next I turned to The Glass Ocean and read a bit while I was away, but more out of an unwillingness to ever be “between books” than because I actually had time for it.  It took me from Tuesday through Saturday, and I finished it feeling a bit underwhelmed.  In fact, the whole reading week would have been underwhelming, but David Litt’s White House memoir, Thanks, Obama, saved the weekend.  I blew through it from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Ended the weekend curled up with Moon Tiger, which has been on my library stack for six weeks now.  I’m not far enough into it to have opinions about the story, but the writing is lovely.

Watching.  I have something to report!  I’m still on my TV hiatus, recovering from an epic week in which my mom and I watched ten hours of television, but Steve and I had a date night on Friday and saw Apollo 11 at our local multiplex.  It was wonderful.  As we were walking out of the theater, I told Steve that I can’t remember the last movie I enjoyed that much.  The whole thing was fabulous, but what struck me most of all was the ingenuity and the sheer audacity of everyone involved in Project Apollo.  It takes some nerve to think, “Send a man to the moon?  When we’ve never left near Earth orbit?  And then bring him back safely?  Mostly using slide rules?  Shoot, let’s go for it!”

Listening.  The usual.  Lots of podcasts, and some Decemberists.  Nothing earth-shattering (or moon-visiting) to report here.

Making.  Well, I made a LOT of work product last week.  Including eighty pages of single spaced typed interview notes.  I know you’re impressed.

Blogging.  Another bookish week coming up for you!  On Wednesday, I will have my reading round-up for March, and on Friday, my favorite poem to share for National Poetry Month (and I know I share it every year, but at this point I think I can safely call it tradition).  Check in with me then!

Loving.  A couple of weeks ago (I think it was a couple of weeks ago, anyway, time seems to blur around the edges for me these days) I took Nugget to a play date at the home of a friend who had recently left his class and gone back to his old preschool.  The other parents offered me coffee, but I’m trying to cut back, so the other mom mixed up a pitcher of ice water with cucumber slices.  I felt like I was at a spa – well, a spa featuring playground sand and foot acupressure using matchbox cars – and it reminded me how much I love cucumber water.  I usually have sliced cucumbers around for putting in everyone’s lunches, so I’ve been tossing a few into my glasses of water and loving the refreshing taste.  It’s the little things in life, right?

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

(No spoilers ahead!)  I expect most avid readers have this experience at one time or another: the distinctly unsettling inability to recall whether or not one has read a particular book.  There’s the feeling that you probably have read it, at some point or another – but before you joined Goodreads or Library Thing, so it’s impossible to verify.  You dread it coming up in conversation, because you’ll have to confess your uncertainty: you might have read it, but then again, you might not have.  If the confession is made to other bookish folks, odds are they’ll understand.  But the general public is less likely to make allowances.  They’ll either assume it was a forgettable book, or they’ll think you scatterbrained.

For me, the book was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  I went through my early adulthood assuming I’d read it.  You see, the library in my small town was correspondingly small when I was growing up.  It has since expanded into a huge, beautiful building and added to the collection – happily for my town.  But when I was a kid, the library was housed in one or two rooms in the town hall, and the collection was fairly limited.  Once I’d tornadoed through the middle grade books and moved on to books for adults, choices were somewhat restricted.  Two authors the library had near complete collections of were Pearl S. Buck and Agatha Christie, so I worked my way through both of them.

Since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie’s earliest books and also one of her most famous, I’m sure the library had a copy of it, and I’ve been equally sure I read it in high school.  But somewhere, along the way, I started to have some doubts.  Whenever I heard Roger Ackroyd mentioned – in conversation or on podcasts – the speaker would invariably marvel at the surprise ending.  The more I heard about Roger Ackroyd, the more I started to think I couldn’t have read it after all.  Although I’ve forgotten the ending to every Agatha Christie I’ve ever read (except for Murder on the Orient Express, which is both extremely memorable in its own right and is also a movie starring Lauren Bacall, who I love) I figured if the ending to Roger Ackroyd was that shocking, I’d have remembered it.  So I must not have read it after all.

Torquay, home of Agatha Christie

After hearing The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I enjoyed, compared to Roger Ackroyd, I decided it was about time I read this classic crime novel I’d somehow – clearly – missed.  I spent the first half of the book enjoying myself immensely and completely convinced I’d not read it before.  Then somewhere after the midpoint, I started to harbor doubts about a particular character, and by about the third or fourth chapter from the end, I was distinctly suspicious.  Several pages before Hercule Poirot’s big reveal, I confidently declared “Oh! So-and-so did it.”

I was right.

I don’t usually guess the endings to mystery novels, least of all those crafted by the Queen of Crime.  One of the things I love about Christie is that she keeps me guessing until the end, and when all is unveiled, she never fails to surprise me – but once I know whodunit, I can easily go back and see the clues laid out for me, plain as day, and marvel at the construction of the mystery.  (My mystery novel pet peeve is when authors conceal a clue until the big reveal.  It’s only an ingenious puzzle if the pieces are there in broad daylight, to be assembled if you can.)

So why was I able to figure out the solution to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd?  I can think of three possible reasons:

  1. I’m smarter than I thought.
  2. I’m getting better at this mystery novel thing.
  3. I’ve read it before.

At least now I know for sure that I have read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  In 2019.  The proof is on Goodreads.  But had I read it before?  I don’t think I’m ever going to know the answer.

What books are you not sure you’ve read?

(Busted – that’s a picture from Chipping Camden, not from Rye, the village of E.F. Benson’s residence and, famously, his inspiration for “Tilling.”  But can’t you just imagine these windows right into a 1920s series about conniving social climbers in an English village?)

Prepare for social domination… domination… domination

E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels are classics of comedic British literature – such that it’s really appalling that it’s taken me this long to find my way to the series and read all the way through.  Benson famously resided in Rye (also home to literary luminary Henry James) in a stately city house much like the one where Elizabeth Mapp perches all-seeing in her sweet little bow window.  From that undeniably fertile ground, Benson has raised personalities such as Miss Mapp, unmatched in her conjectures and schemes; Lucia Lucas, cultural guru of neighboring Riseholme; and supporting characters such as Major “Benjy” Flint, Georgie Pillson, Godiva Plaistow, Daisy Quantock – and the list goes on.

Queen Lucia introduces us to Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas, her husband “Peppino,” best chum Georgie Pillson and frenemy Mrs. Quantock.  When the book opens Lucia is the undisputed Queen of her small village, Riseholme.  She is a benevolent ruler, treating her subjects to garden parties and evenings listening to Lucia play the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata – not the second or third, though, because they are really more “afternoon” and “midnight.”  She goes so far in thinking of their well-being that in the opening scene, she walks home from the train station after a visit to London, so that the villagers will have something to talk about when they see her luggage arrive home without her.  But there are revolutionary rumblings threatening Lucia’s throne – her frenemy Daisy Quantock has brought a “Guru” from London to teach her yoga and mindfulness.  Lucia quickly determines that she must “annex” the “Guru” before Daisy usurps her position as arbiter of all things cultural and/or interesting.  No sooner has Lucia carried off this feat than an opera prima donna arrives in town and begins hosting “romps,” and Lucia’s loyal lieutenant, Georgie, begins to harbor revolutionary feelings of his own.  What is a self-proclaimed village cultural ruler to do?

In Miss Mapp, we meet the denizens of Tilling for the first time.  Elizabeth Mapp reigns supreme over the high street – or at least, she’d like to think she does.  She certainly has a gift for seeing what her neighbors are up to and connecting the dots to ferret out all their disagreeable little secrets.  But Miss Mapp gets her comeuppance time and again – whether in the form of accidental twinning with her archrival “Diva” Plaistow, curtsying to a man she mistakenly believes to be the Prince of Wales, being threatened with false and defamatory rumors about drunkenness, or having nothing to do with a duel that comes to nothing.  Every time Mapp gets into a social scrap, the reader finds herself torn between rooting for her and hoping that she embarrasses herself – again.  Each of the characters surrounding Miss Mapp – from the ostentatious social climber Mrs. Poppit to the exhibitionist fishmonger – is a delight.

There are four more novels in the Mapp and Lucia series – and that’s just the originals, by E.F. Benson, not even counting the continuation of the series by Tom Holt.  I’m saving them for a future day – they’d make wonderful summer reading on the back patio, with a glass of lemonade.  The anticipation of the earth-shaking social tremors that are sure to happen when Mapp and Lucia encounter one another for the first time gives me the shivers.

A combined edition of Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp is available here (not an affiliate link).

Good morning from Virginia’s Blue Ridge!  I’m on a business trip to a tiny town near Roanoke and currently extremely relieved that it isn’t snowing like it was last week.  (Just as the trees were bursting into bloom all over NoVA, the practice assistant to the partner who assigned me the trip emailed me a picture of “what the weather is doing” in the town that was to be my destination: blizzard conditions.  Yipes!  But it was seventy degrees when I rolled into town last night, so I think I dodged a bullet.)  Unfortunately I have such a busy schedule that I don’t think I’m going to have time to squeeze in any hiking – I didn’t even bother to pack my boots.

Other than dreading my business trip – mainly because of the punishing schedule that was circulated on Friday – it was a pretty nice weekend.  Steve had to work again, so the kids and I mainly bummed around the house on Saturday.  We attempted to ride bikes to the playground, but had to turn around because nothing I did was going to convince them to ride the same speed, or even close enough together to allow me to keep them both safe from cars.  In the afternoon, Nugget and I made playground and library runs – pretty standard stuff.  On Sunday, we were all set to head out for a hike at Mason Neck, my favorite Virginia state park, when I realized that Nugget had a rescheduled play date – oops!  Plans quickly changed and Peanut delightedly curled up with a book and a blanket while Nugget and I headed to his friend’s house.  We had a lovely morning, walked to the playground near his buddy’s house, and went out for Mexican food.  In the afternoon, there was more playground-going, and I worked through most of my garden to-do list for March.  And then my workweek got started early as I climbed into my car and shoved off for my business trip.

Reading.  Evidently, I had a very Royals-heavy reading week last week.  From Monday through Thursday, I was immersed in Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days that Changed Her Life, the new biography from Lucy Worsley.  I thought it was such a creative way to approach a biography and I enjoyed every minute.  Next I turned to Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, not because I am on some kind of royalty bender (at least, no more than usual) but because of library deadlines.  It’s also a very creative approach to biography, but I’m not sure I am enjoying it quite as much as I enjoyed Queen Victoria.  I’m still reading the Margaret biography as of press time; I did bring my next book (The Glass Ocean) with me, but I’m not sure I will have time to finish with Margaret and start anything new on this trip; between the schedule while I am here, and trying to keep up with my other work, I’m expecting to be buried in my laptop the whole time.

Watching.  Nothing – I’m still recovering from my epic week of watching the entire second season of The Crown with my mom over the course of five days.  I did watch parts of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again while the kids were glued to it, but I’ve now seen it so many times I don’t really need to pay attention.  (It’s such a good movie.)

Listening.  Lots of podcasts, as usual.  I actually had a lovely drive out to the mountains yesterday evening, listening to Tea or Books? and the new-ish Slightly Foxed Podcast.  I’d been saving both for a long car ride – when I listen to podcasts during my commutes, it’s in snatches of a few minutes here and a few minutes there, while waiting for trains, standing in the coffee line, etc., and I wanted to play these episodes straight through.  They made the trip speed by.

Making.  Nothing at all.  I’d hoped to make a loaf of sourdough and a batch of olive focaccia at some point this weekend, but that didn’t happen.  I’d also hoped to make folded laundry and a clean bedroom, but that didn’t happen either.

Blogging.  It’s a bookish week!  On Wednesday I have two more books to review for The Classics Club – I actually read them months ago, but was saving the review until I could do the whole series in one shot.  It occurred to me that would be an absurdly long post, so I decided to break them out instead and do them two at a time.  On Friday, I’m sharing a book that I recently read and couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out if I’d read before.  Book deja vu?

Loving.  With spring springing everywhere, my bird feeder has been an especially hot spot lately.  I have a squirrel-proof variety from National Audubon Society (the squirrel-proof part is totally necessary in my neighborhood – they’re EVERYWHERE) and I love to sit by the window and watch the birds flitting between the tree, the fence, and the feeder.  So far we’ve mostly had our run-of-the-mill sparrows and wrens, but I’m always hoping for a cardinal or two.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Garden Tasks: March 2019

I’ve been feeling really inspired to get my hands dirty and get into the garden this season.  I’m not entirely sure why, because last year’s garden was such a failure.  We got a paltry handful of cherry tomatoes and a few herbs, and lost everything else to the neighborhood pests – birds and especially the squirrels.  But past failures aside, the garden is calling to me this year and has been for months – so I’m trying something new.  In addition to the regular garden updates I’ve been doing for several years now (which will begin in April) I am going to share my to-do list for each month in my little urban patio garden.

Here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in March:

  • Clean the weeds and moss out from between the patio bricks and take the waste to the local compost drop.
  • Filter out the detritus from Nugget’s sandbox (and order new sand, if necessary).
  • Buy seat cushions for the patio set and propane for the grill.
  • Salvage what I can from the rosemary pot and make dried rosemary for the kitchen.
  • Thoroughly clean the soil in the tomato and herb pots, take out dead leaves and roots, and mix in new container gardening soil to prepare the pots for planting.
  • Clean out the bird feeder in the front yard.
  • Weed the front yard and research ground cover.

A relatively short list for a relatively small garden!  March is mostly about preparing the space for planting in April, because I know myself – once the weather is warm enough to get the plants in the pots, I will have no patience for those preparatory tasks.  Better to get ready now, so that the fun can begin in earnest next month.

Do you have a garden?  What’s on your to-do list for this month?