Monday, May 31, 2010

When Will It Ever End?

Memorial Day, in the United States, was begun just after the Civil War as a day of remembrance for those who died in that conflict. It now honors all U.S. military who died in action.

Here's a translation by Arthur Waley of a Chinese poem from about 124 B.C.

Fighting South of the Castle

                                        They fought south of the castle,
                                        They died north of the wall. 
                                       They died in the moors and were not buried.
                                       Their flesh was the food of crows.
                                       "Tell the crows we are not afraid;
                                        Crows, how can our bodies escape you?"

                                        The waters flowed deep
                                        And the rushes in the pool were dark.
                                        The riders fought and were slain:
                                        Their horses wander neighing.
                                         By the bridge there was a house.
                                         Was it south, was it north?
                                         The harvest was never gathered.

                                         How can we give you your offerings?
                                         You served your Prince faithfully,
                                         Though all in vain.
                                         I think of you, faithful soldiers,
                                        Your service shall not be forgotten.
                                        For in the morning you went out to battle
                                       And at night you did not return.

Two thousand years later -- not much has changed.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Working on the List

I have a huge, multi-headed list of Things That Need To Be Done Around Here and one of those things was to re-pot all my potted plants.  It sounds a lady-like occupation that might involve a pot or two of ferns or African violets but the truth is otherwise. Some of my potted plants are twenty or even thirty years old  and some are too heavy for me to lift. 
Justin brought me this nice load of composted manure from our pasture and John helped to haul out the large ficus trees and the junipers from our deck. Everything got the treatment, from this rosemary to the huge bay bush to the calamondin and, yes, some ferns. 

This rosemary isn't nearly so rootbound as some poor junipers that had been in the same pots for six years.  I hacked and root-pruned mercilessly -- I just hope they all survive the treatment. I think they'll enjoy being able to stretch out a bit in this lovely new soil.
And speaking of lists, this quote from Robert Heinlein caught my eye when I was reading the weekly compendium of comments on A Word a Day.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.


That's a pretty long list. I might manage a dozen -- and I know that John could do some that I couldn't. 

But plan an invasion? Hmmm. I'll have to work on that. Right after I learn how to program a computer and fight efficiently.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Second Grade - 1924 - Sepia Saturday

My mother was an only child and my grandmother kept wonderful scrapbooks documenting her every achievement.  I love the clothes and the rather jaunty young teacher in this first photo, taken in 1924 in Lakeland, Florida.

And just look at the rainbow fairies, ready for the May Day celebration! Mostly a glum bunch -- but my mother (front row, second from right) looks optimistic.

The scrapbook contains samples of Virginia's school work from each grade -- this was in an envelope marked first grade. I'm amazed -- and fairly sure I never learned cursive ('real writing' as we called it then) till third or maybe even fourth grade.
For other Sepia Saturday posts, go HERE.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Spiderwort and the Lewd Arum

I stopped in at my favorite plant nursery on Wednesday to  pick up some eggplant starts and was seduced by this gorgeous chartreuse-leaved spiderwort.  Sure, spiderwort grows wild around here but it doesn't look like this.
Spiderwort's 'real' name is Tradescantia, in honor of the Tradescants (father and son), English naturalists who introduced the plant to England back in the early 1600s.
Their friend John Smith (yes, the Pocahontas one) brought them many plant specimens and tradescantia virginiana was probably one of them.
And here below is the lewd arum -- aka Arum Dracunculus. I've posted about it before -- it has a way of calling attention to itself. It looks like Thus Spake Zarathrutra should be playing but it can't manage that. Instead it emits a VERY strong odor of rotting carrion to attract the flies that will aid in pollination.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dissipation and Riotous Living

Freed from the laptop -- I've not yet heard back from Herself (my editor) -- I have embarked on a course of Riotous Living. 

Sooner or later I'll have to deal with Under the Skin again -- anything from a total rewrite and expunging of characters (no, I haven't forgotten having to get rid of Myrna Lou in The Day of Small Things) to quite a bit of tweaking.  But until I hear back from Herself, I'm squeezing in as much fun as possible.

Normally I don't watch TV or movies. But, as I mentioned before, we're going episode by episode through "Foyle's War" and I'm loving it.

And on Tuesday night we watched the latest version of Pride and Prejudice. Now there's dissipation for you!

I almost know this book by heart. I've read it any number of times and listened to it on audio recording.

This latest version took a lot of liberties -- condensing action, shifting settings, and generally livening up the overall feeling.

I was prepared to be annoyed -- and they did leave out some of my favorite bits. But there was a freshness to the retelling of this much-loved story that made it a movie well worth watching. 

All the casting was excellent -- Mr. Bingley was played very differently from previous characterizations -- he's always seemed a bit one-dimensional -- this Mr. B. was much more memorable.  Donald Sutherland was an inspired choice for Mr. Bennet and Dame Judi Dench was a magnificent Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The unctuous Mr. Collins is wonderful. And Keira Knightly's Elizabeth is just right, and Matthew Macfayden reanimates the often wooden Mr. Darcy.

And if the ending smacks of a True Romance magazine story -- somehow I found it highly suitable.

Who knows? I might even watch another movie.

And though I have even more books piled in the corner of my room (the ones I can't discuss) I treated myself to a non-mystery for a few more hours of reading pleasure.
I really love Neil Gaiman's writing. And I've always enjoyed good Young Adult literature. So I popped into Accent on Books and collected this wonderful story of an orphan boy raised by ghosts.  Also highly recommended. Here's a good write-up.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Garden Daze

Monday and Tuesday were a blur of garden activity. I finished planting the little box garden below. . .
And, with John's help, the lower bit of garden was finished -- corn, beans, more lettuce, beets, and nasturtiums sowed, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers set out -- whew! That orange stuff along two of the tiers is plastic netting to deter the crows from pulling up the corn when it sprouts.
John is my hero. Not only did he put out soaker hose for the tomatoes, the blueberries, and the raspberries -- he also mulched them all.  This, after making scones for breakfast and pizza the night before.  Is that a great fella or what?

 For one brief shining moment, the garden is in good shape -- now I can turn my attention to the rest of the yard -- which is in need of major tidying.
But there's always time to enjoy the flowers . . .

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pumpkin Soup Now?

Less than a week ago it was raining and rather chilly. Perfect weather to have soup for lunch!

I usually look for leftovers to turn into cream of whatever but there was nothing suitable.  There were, however, several cans of pumpkin on the pantry shelf and a big container of turkey broth in the refrigerator. 

I began, as I begin most dishes, by sauteeing some chopped onion and garlic in butter (olive oil would be better for you). When the onion was wilted, I removed it and the garlic to a bowl and sauteed some chopped red bell pepper -- just slightly -- then put it in the bowl.  I added a bit more butter, a little curry powder, and flour (in an amount equal to the butter) to make a roux, then stirred in some broth till the mixture thickened.

Next I added the pumpkin (and this is pure, unseasoned pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling) to the broth mixture, and dumped the sauteed vegetables back in. Some might choose to puree the soup at this point but I like the texture of the onion and red pepper. (Add more broth if you want a thinner soup.)

And some might choose to stir in some half and half or cream or plain yoghurt. All tasty but not really necessary. Salt and pepper to taste -- depending on how salty your broth is, you may not need to salt.

It's a wonderfully comfortable soup for a chilly, rainy day.

And several days later, when we were hot and sweaty from working outside all morning, the leftover soup was equally delicious served very cold with a dollop of sour cream and a dusting of hot paprika.  A quesadilla on the side and it's a meal!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

4 Mamas -- 3 Babies

The days aren't long enough for all I want to do -- just a few quick pictures here: a bearded iris and a shy garter snake like a folded ribbon . . .
I wish I knew what this odd iris is -- a bearded iris? It has the right form -- the three upright standards and the three falls. But it's much smaller than other bearded irises and has, somehow, a more primitive look to it. Does anyone have a clue?
And here are the mommas and babies.  If you click on the picture, it will take you to a web album where it will be a little video of them all bustling about.

This is the story: Justin and Claui have four banty hens in their chicken tractor. One of the girls decided she wanted to be a mother and began brooding a clutch of eggs. But, as there is no rooster in with these girls, her brooding was doomed to failure.
So Justin took four eggs from our Ameracuanas -- who share their coop with a fine Buff Orpington rooster that delights in making sure that their eggs are fertile -- and put them under the broody hen. 

Twenty-one days later, three eggs hatched and she was a mama. But the other three hens, several of which had tried to sit on the eggs too, were pretty sure that they were mamas too.

At this point, Justin and Claui can no longer be sure which hen was the original broody. The bantys seem happy to share the chicks. And the chicks always have a mama handy to hide under.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Iris Viewing

When my Japanese iris begins to open, I remember a college friend of mine telling me how, when she was visiting her family one summer (her father was an admiral, stationed in Japan,) she was taken to view the iris. It has always sounded like a wonderful way to spend a day.

I went exploring via Google to see if this custom endures and found the following: 
Within the heavily wooded grounds of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, you can indulge in the ancient pastime of iris viewing amid beautiful birdsong. Here, in the shrine's serene Inner Garden, meandering ponds have been planted with different varieties of irises, which burst into glorious displays of white, yellow and purple blossoms in the month of June. Irises were a favorite of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The practice of viewing the flowers was probably imported in ancient times from the Imperial Court of China. The blossoms are especially beautiful in early morning and late afternoon.
I love to imagine elegant kimono clad ladies  -- a rainbow of silks floating above the siken iris petals. Was there  samisen music? Were tea and sweet, soft daifuku served? Did the iris viewers compete to see who could compose the loveliest haiku? 

Ribbons of iris
Beneath the grey rain -- till the sun
Lifts them to the sky.

Here's an iris viewing experience from the Kamo Iris Nurseries in Japan -- just right for a virtual Sunday stroll . . .

GARDENS IN JAPAN: Kamo Iris Nurseries (Featured on October 31st,2005) 
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Elite Motors in Tooting -Sepia Saturday

It's Martin's (Square Sunshine) fault.  Back on May 1, he posted a picture of a motorcycle for Sepia Saturday and I responded by telling him of my Great Adventure that began at Elite Motors in Tooting (near London.) And he sent me a link to the first picture -- that's Elite Motors as I remember it. Not exactly sepia but about forty years ago.

It was mid-May and my husband  and I flew to London via Icelandic Air (the cheapest way to get there) and made our way to Tooting where we took delivery of out brand new BSA 650 Thunderbolt, purchased through an export scheme which meant we didn't have to pay the tax if we took it out of the country in a certain amount of time.

Imagine the bike below with side carrier boxes over the rear wheels, a knapack on the handle bars, a duffle bag containing all our camping gear, and two people in scruffy, low tech garments. (We were so envious of the leathers the 'real' bikers wore.)

As we made our cautious way through London traffic, a rowdy bunch shouted at us "Where's your 'arley Daividson?" and asked if we were on our way to the Isle of Man.

The following three months were heavenly. We  headed south toward Devon and learned about caravan camps, clotted cream, pasties, shandy, baked beans on toast, and the innumerable differences in our common language.

We walked through Stonehenge in the early morning, before the tour buses arrived; we camped at a farm where the apple blossoms fell on our tent; we stood in a bluebell wood one night while bats flittered about our heads . . .
I'd already been an Anglophile, thanks to P.G.Wodehouse, P.L. Travers, C.S.Lewis, Kenneth Graham, J.R.R. Tolkien. T.H. White, Elizabeth Goudge, and many, many other authors whose England I'd absorbed. And it  would have suited me fine to spend the whole three months we'd allotted in touring my spiritual home. 

But we had determined to see as much of Europe as time and budget allowed. (Yes, we had a copy of Europe on Five Dollars a Day. And by camping and eating in restaurants only rarely, we came close.) 

In three months time, we managed to visit quite a few places --

Spain  where the sparkling wine at an amazing 25 cents a bottle in one camp was a joy contrasted with the eerie sight of the a lone Guardia Civil with his machine gun in the middle of nowhere. And France, where I fell in love with Marie Antoinette's Petite Hameau and we lingered for days in the charming town of Loche -- home of Agnes Sorel (and her wardrobe malfunction.) Oh, the fresh baguettes! And the excellent butter and cheese! Who needed restaurants?
It was the trip of a life time -- on to Italy (Venice Rome and Florence), Austria (Salzburg and the salt mine at Hallein but not Vienna, alas, Merisi), Switzerland, Germany (Munich and the Black Forest,)Belgium (probably the friendliest of the countries we visited.) Holland (and how amazed we were at the diversity of the people there and the food from exotic lands) and so back to England.

We returned to Tooting where the nice folks at Elite (we loved the fact that the mechanics wore ties and long white coats like doctors) took the bike and arranged for it to be shipped to us in the States.  Where, a few years later, we sold it for more than we'd paid for it -- the trip and the deal of a lifetime.
Where are my pictures of this odyssey? On slides . . . somewhere. But in my head they're clearer than any slide could ever be. Thanks, Martin, for reminding me of the Great Adventure!

(For more Sepia Saturday posts from all over, go HERE.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Before and After

Weeding is such a satisfying activity!  My little box beds were full of the weed called devil-in-the-garden and it was crowding out the lettuce that was the rightful occupant.

I planted snow peas along that wire support weeks ago but not a single one did I see. There were, however, quite a few volunteer tomato plants -- I'll take what I can get!

There! That's better. the next step is to thin and spread the lettuce plants out . . . another day.

 It's always pleasant to stagger to the house after a long day in the garden and then look down and gloat over what was accomplished. And lucky me! There are more weeds waiting in the main part of the garden below -- as well as tomatoes, peppers. squash, and cukes to set out, corn and beans to sow . . . 

And, of course, more roses to smell! 
 The yellow rose by the greenhouse door . . .
A chorus line in scarlet . . .

And Her Majesty La Reine des Violettes . . .

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