Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Kirkus Prize

You know I can’t resist a good book, and with the shorter days upon us, I’ve been on the lookout for an engaging story to snuggle into for some fall reading. On my quest for something brilliant and extraordinary, I stumbled upon 18 new writers whose work is being considered for the first-ever Kirkus Prize, one of the newest literary awards for fiction, non-fiction, and young adult writers that pays a whopping $50,000 to the winner in each category.


I have to admit, I was intrigued to see what a book of that caliber might look like. I discovered that the Kirkus Reviews magazine has been reading and reviewing submissions since 1933, and their magazine, website, and e-mail newsletter act together as a sort of marketing liaison between writers, industry professionals, and readers.

To become shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize, authors had to have a starred review from one of the magazine’s reviewers to be passed on to judges for further consideration. The judges have narrowed it down to the top six in each category, and the winners will be announced on October 23, preceding the start of the Texas Book Festival in Austin. In the spirit of the universal team of book lovers, I’ll happily volunteer to explore the winner in the fiction category and report back.




Move over, Frank … it’s Pumpkinstein

In a laboratory deep in the heart of Fillmore, California, a mad scientist named Tony Dighera gave a face to a monster pumpkin … literally.


Photo by Tony Dighera

Tony’s monstrous pumpkins are organic, but that’s not the reason they’ll fetch up to $125 apiece. That’s because these pumpkins aren’t carved, they’re grown into little likenesses of their muse, Mr. Frankenstein himself. Tony came up with the idea to create plastic molds that fit around the pumpkin plant when the fruit’s still small.


Photo by Tony Dighera

But his vision wasn’t … small, that is. He grew over 5,500 pumpkins in his first season on his 40-acre organic farm near L.A. For over 30 years, Tony worked as a tractor operator for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. But his real love was farming, and in 2003, he bought his small farm and struggled to make ends meet as an organic farmer. Then, inspired by a photo of a square watermelon grown in Japan, Tony got the idea to grow his vegetables in shapes, starting with square and heart-shaped watermelons, then imprinting logos onto melons for Whole Foods, then trying his hand at creating a monster. And that’s translating into a monster business … Tony sold his entire crop to suppliers for $75 apiece. Let’s see, roughly 5,000 x $75. Monster math, I mean, monster mash.



Going Green Merit Badge, Expert Level

The adorable, always humorous MBA Jane is my way of honoring our Sisterhood Merit Badge program, now with 6,065 dues-paying members who have earned an amazing number of merit badges so far—8,688 total! Take it away, MBA Jane!!! MJ 

Wondering who I am? I’m Merit Badge Awardee Jane (MBA Jane for short). In my former life   

For this week’s Cleaning Up/Going Green Expert Level Merit Badge, I burrowed myself into my abode for a couple weeks and buckled down in some serious green projects. See, there’s a nasty piece of carpeting in my bedroom I’d been ignoring for quite some time, and I’d been feeling guilty each time I ran my dryer when there’s perfectly excellent sunshine right outside, and, well, suffice to say, I needed to spruce up my green living a bit to earn this badge.

I rolled up my proverbial sleeves (and the literal ones, too), donned my cutest and hardest-working apron, and got to work.


Here’s what I accomplished with a couple of afternoons, some know-how, a little grit and determination, and several slices of Gluten-free Apple Cake:


  • I yanked and pulled, tore and ripped, pushed and shoved, rolled and kicked, and in all other ways, completely and utterly abused the poor carpet. No, I wasn’t beating it clean; I was removing it altogether. I could have gone the cleaning and out-gassing route, but let’s be honest, I’m more of a dismantler than a … uh, mantler. You know what I mean. And also I wanted an excuse to buy an adorable little shag rug for right beneath my bed to squish my tootsies into each morning. Call me shallow.
  • I bought a length of clothesline and squinted my eyes at my backyard. To be honest, the front yard would have been slightly more perfect in my quest for line-drying clothes, but I kind of figured my neighbors didn’t want to stare at my unmentionables fluttering in the breeze. I’m selfless like that.


Short of waving my magic wand and making two trees line up perfectly in my backyard, I was stumped. I stood, feeling dejected, in my wide-open space, with my coil of rope in my sad hands. Then it came to me. The laundry room window lined up perfectly with my one lonely pear tree! Voilà! I was back in action. I rigged it up just like they do in all the old-fashioned movies with shots of the cities. You know the ones that go from apartment to apartment, sometimes slung right over the streets? With my clever pulley system, I am feeling several shades of grand. I even feel a little like a Disney princess somehow, and I must confess to singing to the squirrels and chipmunks and birds as I line up my yummy-smelling laundry to dry. Another point for the backyard and the neighbors, as my singing voice is … well, unique.

  • I also needed a new coat of paint in my pantry (holiday baking is here, my pretties), and so I took advantage of my green streak to purchase a couple of small tins of non-toxic paint. My cinnamon-colored pantry with ginger-colored trim is begging for a batch of Christmas cookies right now.


  • I arranged my best go-to books about greening up your life in alphabetical order, and then let my friends and neighbors know they were available for borrowing. My books, not my friends and neighbors. Rent-A-Friend? Ha! I may be onto something there. But in all seriousness, have you seen this?


The next part of this badge (hey, it’s the Expert Level, dahlinks—it takes time) was to donate six hours to a friend in need of greening up. But first, let me bask in the glory that is my shaggy rug, munch another piece of cake, and finish crooning to the woodland critters.



a tiny town with a big harvest

What do you think the village of Morton, Illinois, might be famous for?

Yes, this town of some 16,000 residents, a bedroom community of Peoria, was ranked one of the “10 best towns for families” in 2013 by Family Circle magazine.

And yes, it gained some infamy that same year when one of its neighborhoods blocked a Habitat for Humanity home from being built for a hearing-disabled veteran because they didn’t think the vinyl-sided home would fit into their brick-house community (after donations poured in as a result of the story, a brick house was built in its stead).

Is Morton, Illinois, the home of Morton Salt?


Morton University? No, those are both natives of Chicago, about 150 miles to the northeast.

Think fall … think round … think orange!

Morton is known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World.


Photo by Frenchtowner via Wikimedia Commons

Not only are several thousand acres around Morton growing pumpkins, but the Libby pumpkin cannery calls Morton home, canning up to 85 percent of the canned pumpkin in the U.S. So much pumpkin that the cannery runs day and night for about 13 weeks each year leading up to Thanksgiving. About 200 local farmers grow millions of pumpkins … not the kind you’d especially use for carving, but Dickinsons—tan-colored, oblong, thin-skinned pumpkins known for their rich flavor.


Dickenson pumpkins, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

And each September at the beginning of pumpkin-harvest season, Morton holds their annual Pumpkin Festival, a 4-day event that attracts 100,000 visitors to the tiny town for events like Pumpkin Bingo, a pumpkin-decorating contest, a parade with over 100 entries where participants and spectators alike are encouraged to wear orange, and as many pumpkin-laden treats that residents can dream up … and visitors can eat up. And, of course, a pumpkin-pie eating contest!


Photo by Mike DelGaudio via Wikimedia Commons

Next year, try growing flavorful Dickinson pumpkins (can you believe it’s an heirloom variety?) for your own pies—find heirloom seeds at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.




Hear Ye!

Welcome New Sisters! (click for current roster)

Merit Badge Awardees (click for latest awards)

My featured Merit Badge Awardee of the Week is … Sherrilyn Askew!!!

Sherrilyn Askew (Sherri, #1350) has received a certificate of achievement in Garden Gate for earning an Expert Level Putting Away for Winter Merit Badge!

“I have canned tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, cucumbers (ad nauseam), pears, apples, pumpkin, and plums using either the water-bath method or the pressure canner (my grandmother’s). I posted in the chatroom about my canning endeavors. I dehydrated chicken and a variety of vegetables and herbs for later use, and froze countless blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Using my dehydrated chicken, vegetables, and herbs, I made chicken soup in the crockpot. Using canned pears and frozen raspberries, I made a fruit strudel for dessert. When my folks came over midday, they helped clear the contents of the dishes.

Having things already partially prepared makes preparing meals so much easier, especially during harvest season when time is a hot commodity. My mom even paid me a compliment.

My goal has always been to have a home that smelled as good as hers always did. Hers always smelled like home-cooked food. She told me I had succeeded, and it was wonderful.”