Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sunbonnet Sue's more sophisticated sisters

There we were, sitting around the now defunct My Favorite Quilt Shop, admiring a baby blanket that had been brought in to be quilted on the long-arm. It was good-sized with many, tiny hand-stitched Beatrix Potter images on pure, pure white fabric. Just perfect for the precious little darling to barf on as it is not machine washable, it is not even dry-cleanable. Whomever attempts the hand washing will have a good party-time trying to keep all those silk embroidery flosses from running.

& that brought us to the question what does the quilting world need more of? The answer was obvious: porn.

The second part of this story actually belongs before the first. I loathe Sunbonnet Sue. Even well executed, the pattern just looks clunky to me. I know she is the darling of this, that & the other thing. I know she has a long & celebrated history. I know & I know & I do not care. I am with Lisa Boyer on this, the most interesting thing about her is what might be under that bonnet. Only one quilt pattern of hers (Sunbonnet Sue's, not Lisa Boyer's; I love Lisa Boyer's patterns) ever interested me, ever. It is on the Quilt Index right here. I had once toyed with a Sunbonnet Suicide quilt, but there surrounded by Beatrix Potter's wholesome goodness & the completely over the top efforts of a grandma-to-be the idea was born: Sunbonnet Sue's More Sophisticated Sisters.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, M***** said "if you can get that in the local quilt show, I will give you $50". Some one call Mrs. G because I plan to collect.

Step one-acquire the images. Many lifetimes ago I was helping a public-sector-entity set up an internal organ (I just love that term-it means newsletter) & I ordered a quantity of clipart books from Dover. In error I was sent a completely inappropriate volume. I phoned them, they sent the right one out & never asked for the wrong one back.

Step two-remember I have the images. There was a need to teach a person how to digitize images for embroidery. I think. Maybe not. Anyhow, I remembered I had this clipart & A***** said she would like to embroider a particular one on her hand- towels. Something like that.

Step three-tidy the images for embroidery. For the last quilt show, I had scanned two 30's era quilts (yes, scanned the quilts, in my scanner, maybe a 6x6 block at a time, good sized quilts) to create line drawings of the embroidered images to sell at that quiltique. It was a monster of a project & hardly worth the effort EXCEPT I learned how to speed-clean a scanned image for embroidery. Also, I now have a slew of nursery rhyme figures & other random G-rated sketches for redwork embroidery in case I undergo a major personality change but retain my original hobbies.

Step four-taunt the world with my project while not actually moving forward. I think this step is self explanatory, really.

Step five-shut up & do the work. This is where I am now. I W*I*L*L be done in time for the TreeCity Show in May. I will submit it & I am dreadfully afraid that the organizers of the show know me well enough to hang it.

I think this just might be my only New Year's resolution.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yesterday, an egg

Our chickens stopped laying umpteen days ago. I really do not remember when, at least two bookclubs ago. My timeline can be vague.

Yesterday, when I went to the henhouse to clean the floor of the main pen, I saw a small well in the hay I had given them for warmth. & there was a good sized, not lumpy or weird, a pale green egg. Have I said before what steady birds ameraucanas are? Well they are. Not too fussy, not too aggressive, not too anything, actually.

We are down to eleven hens, four of them are ameraucanas from the last batch (May 2007), one of them an ameraucana from a previous batch (the long-lived Big Buff. The remaining birds are a mixed bag: one cuckoo maran, one sumatra, two lakenvelder, one leghor, etc.

It is hard not to order more ameraucanas this year, but it helps knowing some of these will be around for a while.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Good King Wenceslas

As many of you already know, Good King Wenceslas is best remembered for looking & then seeing & finally acting on the Feast of Stephen. Today is the Feast of Stephen.

Saint Stephen is recognized as the first christian martyr (I would have thought this was Jesus, but I would be wrong). He was born a Jew, preached largely among Jews & died at the hands of Jews. It was Saint Stephen who first blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. (ACTS7).

But it was not this that brought Wenceslas to Saint Stephen's Day; Stephen's 'day job' was the care & oversight of the poor. When he had free time, he wrangled with the scholars of the varied temples, explaining how they had been chosen by G*d, but he was fed up with them (G*d & Stephen both, fed up with the Jews, that is).

As apart from his society as Stephen was, having left his people & joined a new group of outsiders, Wenceslas was in the thick of his. He was in fact the center of it. He inherited a kingdom deeply divided. His grandmother, also a saint, had been murdered at his mother's order. He was himself murdered on his brother's.

History has credited Wenceslas with extra efforts in the care of the poor. It was a big part of what got him killed. Tenth century Bohemia was a particularly barbaric place. Many of the nobles believed their riches were a direct sign from G*d that they were right & good & that those who had nothing were chosen by G*d to have nothing. They did not enjoy paying Wenceslas's taxes knowing he used some of the funds to feed & clothe these less fortunate.

While he reigned, Wenceslas was in negotiation with everyone, inside the realm & out. When modern historians talk about the Balkans being at war for one thousand years, they are talking about a war that dates to the time of Wenceslas & before. He made deals wherever he could; whether he would have honored them is a different question. He was struck down in the doorway of the church in which he sought sanctuary.

Saint Wenceslas Day, if you are interested, is September 28th. It is also a national holiday: Czech Statehood Day. We may have only heard of Wenceslas because of a song written 150 or so years ago, but in the his part of the world, he has been a very big deal for a very long time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Connecticut

It is never like the movie. We go every three or four years & I do not remember the last time it snowed. It has been pretty damn cold though!

Also my parents' house is nothing like that one (or the one in Bringing up Baby, which is the same house). The truth is, I have never managed to sit through Christmas in Connecticut, but I love Bringing up Baby, so I feel qualified to comment on the house.

I doubt my mother has made it through Bringing up Baby because of her antipathy for all things Katherine Hepburn. As it happens, one of my two favorite christmas movies stars Katherine Hepburn. I watch The Desk Set every year, often more than once. My other favorite christmas movie is Comfort & Joy. Mostly, these movies take place at christmastime, christmas happening is the background, but that is the whole christmas involvement.

This year, we were planning to spend christmas in CT & a white christmas was expected. After multiple days of snow & more on the horizon, all our flights were canceled & we will spend the holiday here, uselessly. I know my mother is very disappointed. & we are sorry not to see people. But I was genuinely dreading a white christmas. I have lost my taste for all things cold: I drink hot tea in summer, I do not even like ice cream unless it is on a plate with a warm piece of pie. It is 54F right moment & that is plenty chilly for me.

So far, I have planned a small holiday dinner for christmas day. On christmas eve we are going to Stephen Foster to see the light display. Previous new years days have been spent at Homasassa Springs (where my mother saw her first bald eagle in the wild). Maybe it is time that we stopped putting plastic snowmen in front yards that will never see snow & start observing this season not as a shadow of what our great-great-grandparents may have had in the old country but what it is now, right where we are.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shortest days

I know you do not need me to tell you that all the religions in world history have some kind of rebirth/light thing this time of year. There, I told you anyway.

When I was a child, the shortest days meant waiting for the school bus in the dark & getting home from school barely before dusk. & that was only if you did not have detention. Or whatever might put you on the 'late bus'.

Now shortest days means more time outside, in the sun. Most of the year, the sun is too much for me & my lily white skin. I have been an avid consumer of SPF45 ever since I moved to New Jersey (it was not that the ozone layer is thinner there, but that I was more up-close-&-personal with suntan victims circa 1990; I still have nightmares), but I manage to get at least one sunburn every year. This time of year, though, it is never as bad.

Perhaps there is something to that whole earth moving around the sun in an elliptical orbit, etc. Anyhow, the sun is not as strong & does not last as long & mostly that is OKay with me.

There are only a few downsides (for me, remember this is about me). The horses get very confused about when they should be fed. I try to keep it to every 12 hours, but that means that one of these will be in the dark. They stand at the back gate waiting for me to get out there every night for at least an hour. There is no convincing them that sundown is not dinnertime.

Also, the chickens stop laying, or at least slow down. Sometimes they will start up again by New Years, but somehow I do not think this will be one of those years. I will be lucky to see eggs by March.

I consider these more-than-fair trades for the real upside to these shortest days down south: A is happier. He is the last person to admit those long dark days bummed him out, but they did. Here it is rare for him to leave before dawn (although not uncommon for him to return after sunset). He has breakfast every morning in a room with wall-to-wall windows on three sides & there is no doubt it is a better start to his day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Glamour don't

It will surprise no one that I often go to downtown N******* wearing sweatpants, sweatshirt & maybe nothing else. Shoes I suppose, but that really is it. This is because I like to get to the feed store before most people have finished their chores. The wait is shorter, also all the parking is on-street & I cannot parallel park to save my own life.

So I roll out bed, brush my teeth but not my hair & head into town. Every time I am guaranteed to encounter at least one person worse off than I am. Once time I met a distant neighbor who had stopped to get feed on her way home. That is she wass having a morning-after-the-night-before & thought to herself "I need animal feed. I shall get it right now". While she did remember her errand, she did not remember her shirt & we all had a farmers-wife-meets-Madonna-circa-1982 morning. I later learned this was not the first time & I also know it was not the last. I thought everyone seemed pretty calm, if a bit smiley while they loaded up her truck.

Earlier this year I accidentally joined a McCain/Palin rally in this manner. I pulled through the one stop-light in town but could not get past the gun store becasue the rally was in the parking lot (I really do not have to make this stuff up). In the end I had to wind my way through the neighborhood behind the main street & park more than a block away.

So there I was wearing my usual uniform: filthy garden clogs; sweatpants with reflective striping (a la the local prison system, but that is not where I get them, honest); a sweatshirt on which I had spilled my own special cocktail of fish oil & turpentine, a paste commonly used to treat white line in equine hooves. This magic elixir never really washes out, but several tratments with bleach will take the edge off of the smell. All around me were smiling happy famlies with "NObama" signs strapped to their strollers. They were all clean & pressed, dresses hats & gloves, I kid you not, for some of the older ladies, ties for most of the men.

I made my way to the feed store & there, waiting in line were two other people, total strangers dressed almost exactly like me (cowboy boots instead of clogs), sporting that same fresh-from-the-farrier smell. I wish I had a picture so I could put that black box over our eyes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lemon tree

W***** went to join her husband for a week or so; I was left in charge of the Lemon Tree. She has a long-standing before-my-time arrangement with T***** to check on her birds every day so there really was not much else to do, although the lemon tree & the henhouse are less then 25' apart.

Technically, of course there is nothing to do vis a vis the lemon tree; she just told me to take whatever fruit ripened. This was an easy task to do as I walk by the lemon tree when I check the water pump to the horse trough. Did I mention she still has grass & we do not? Well she does & we don't so the mares are spending every third night or so at her place.

So far I have garnered six lemons. I could have taken more, there were certainly plenty that were almost ripe but I am having trouble thinking what to do with even just the six lemons as it is. I plan to make banana bread, that is two lemons at the outside.

I think I might try my hand at lemon curd. I like it, especially between the layers of a light white cake. I am definitely going to try lemon curd. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alien abduction

One morning last week, the lead story on the the 'first name in news' or whatever they are calling themselves these days, was alien abduction. The gist, so far as I can tell, is that the stories must be real because they are so consistent. This also clarifies the existence of mermaids & the streets of London being paved with gold. Thank G*d those are true; I was worried.

I do not remember how old I was, "In Search of" was still in primetime if that helps, when one of my brothers turned to me & said "Isn't it amazing that all the advances we have made in 50 years (remember dear reader he said this before even cable television) & those silly aliens are still flying in that outdated saucer-spaceship using the same antiquated medical equipment" Indeed, that was amazing. It remains amazing.

I have about five minutes of TV-news watching ability. Then I just cannot take it anymore. The combination of tabloidism & cannot-get-off-my-shiney-hiney-&-get-a-real-story just wears me out. I have understood for a long time, my whole adult life even, that the point of TV-News is to sell us whatever is in the commercials; this is the same point of all TV programs. Accept it. Move on. I am even tired of the people who complain about product placement. Yes, that happens on news programs, too, look at the coffee mug logos, the golf-shirts, the suits, the jewelery. Grow up. Move on.

What I do marvel at is the level of boredom a person has to have to actually watch entire news programs. I do not mean to mock people who are interested in 'the news'. I am mocking the people who think this is where you get it. If decades of alien abduction stories have taught us anything it is that whatever comes to you in your own house under the auspices of for-your-own-good is bad Bad BAD.

"But where Oh Useless One will we get our information if not through the sacred box?"

How about this: wash yourself (this includes your clothing), open your door, walk out into the world. Look at the sky & behold WEATHER. So as not to become overwhelmed, you should probably turn around & go back to bed.

When you feel up to it, take a few steps (or drive a few miles) to your local public library. I know, I know books are scary but they have ushers, called librarians, that will take you safely through. While you are there you can fall into your old bad habits of watching & surfing but you will do this sitting near people you almost certainly do not know. & chances are pretty good at least one of these strangers will be convinced that something completely off-the-wall is absolute fact. Do not panic: my own library has several copies of alien warning type materials & yours will, too.

While you are there though, take a look at some other things. Maybe a newspaper from another country. Or maybe the local bulletin board. & maybe you will learn that while the global economy is not good, ballroom dance classes are very well attended (what is up with that, really?). Or you could take a break from cyber-stalking the Obama children & instead join a local harpist singing holiday songs (I am not making this up, if you are free 12/14 drop on by)

You know what, never mind. Instead, I have decided that we should all stay inside glued to a machine of some kind (I call shotgun on that most powerful of oracles: the coffee maker). I will soon begin marketing my own line of "I would rather be Useless" t-shirts. Places your orders NOW.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Girl fight

I have no idea how or why but tonight when I checked on the ladies, Teensy had Butterscotch head-down in the corner of one of the broody-hen boxes & was ripping feathers out of her neck. I made enough racket & Butterscotch got away.

Butterscotch is one of the ameraucana hens, big but not biggest, smart but not smartest. A nice middle-of-the-road bird that I keep ordering because A cannot get over the blue-green eggs. They are fine birds for a backyard henhouse: non-setting, placid, with plenty of variety even in a small flock of five or six.

Teensy is a different bird of a different place. She was one of the many sumatras ordered by one of our chicken-syndicate partners. She & another sumatra were so small they could easily get out of the small gauge chicken wire that covers my peep-house. Teensy spent part of her first days inside my cleavage until she was big enough to stay in the peephouse with the others. Yes, I really like chickens. When the time came for the sumatras to go, I asked to keep her. & until this episode she was a fine bird.

Sumatras do not suit my flock, technique or territory. They are small enough to be vulnerable to hawks (a big problem here), independent enough to want to find their own perches (outside of the protected henhouse). Their eggs are also small, & not even two of them make a standard size. I usually use hers to supplement the cockatiel food. When I put them in standard cartons, they rattle around & get wedged & then crushed on the other eggs. Sumatra feathers are lovely up close, deep glossy black & almost iridescent, but to most people they look like petite & yet pudgy crows.

Butterscotch outweighs Teensy 2:1, easy. & yet, as soon as my racket faded, Teensy hopped off the night perches & back on Butterscotch again. Butterscotch tried to get away & then just sqawked while Teensy tore into her.

This is not the first case of poultry aggression I have heard of: I read that turkeys might peck each other to death if left to it. No apparent provocation between birds that had hatched in the same incubator & been together ever since. I have seen what my own hens have done to the random jay that tried to steal from their feeder (it was not pretty).

If Teensy & Butterscotch had been doing this for more than 1/2 a day (I last checked them after lunch), I would certainly have seen more damage. Maybe Butterscotch did something provocative...I wonder what poultry trash-talk would sound like: your mother is schmaltz?

In the end I put Butterscotch in the larger broody-hen box, a former rabbit hutch with extra small gauge screen to keep out snakes. It is well filled with hay so she will be warm & I grabbed either Vermeer or Mondrian, one of the lakenvelders anyhow (it was dusk & they can be hard to tell apart in full sun), so she will not be alone. In the morning, they can push the door open easily & hop back into the main henhouse, but there is no way for a bird on the outside to get in at her.

Hopefully by morning their little feathered brains will have forgotten all about this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hens & horses & dogs & bugs

As I have already blogged, I have begun to shop for chickens in earnest. My own birds have more or less stopped laying & this is the youngest batch to do that; they are not even two years old.

This does not present huge problems. We do not need all that many eggs for ourselves & eggs are not even the primary reason we keep chickens. Eggs are not even the secondary reason we keep chickens. Big Buff has not laid an egg in almost four years & she runs no risk of being made into chicken pie.

First, I have chickens because I like to watch them. I like to watch them run in their completely-not aerodynamic way. I like to watch them get off the ground & bumble through the branches of the magnolia. I like to watch them fight over one bug while a dozen other bugs fly away.

Which brings me to the second reason I have chickens: bugs. My first horse, Captain, had terrible hoof problems, as did another, RedBud, who arrived soon after him. Both were in not-great shape when they arrived & the least of their problems was intestinal worms. This is a common, treatable problem in all horses. But to poison the worms, you need to poison the horse & you need to do this either as a low dose daily or a high dose monthly. Usually, this is no big deal; the poison it takes to make the belly inhospitable will hardly bother a healthy horse; these two were already in poor shape.

My solution was chickens. One dose of poison & then turn them on to grass with a flock of chickens. The horses eat the grass & deposit manure. The chickens break up the manure piles looking for.....bugs. They do not care if the bugs arrived with the pile or were attracted later; the upshot is fewer flies in general, much less larvae in the grass & less need to poison the horses. I suspected it would work & I was shortly proved correct.

Chickens & horses together was a win-win right here, before the eggs, & before I discovered the other reason to keep hens with horses (more on that later). What I had not factored in were the other bugs they would deal with.

We, right now, are experiencing the Super Tick. & I do not just mean me & my dogs, I mean you & yours as well. Topical treatments, pills, & house&lawn sprays work well enough, but they can make the dogs sick or the people that live with them sick or kill all your houseplants or the list goes on. When ticks are not attaching themselves to dogs, you know where they like to gather? In old dried leaves, or crevices, like between a patio edge & the lawn. You want to know what chickens like to do? Stir up leaves & scratch at crevices....& peck any specks they find.

So, if you were almost completely grossed out by the chicken beak piercing piles of manure to find bugs, maybe the idea that much of your farm fresh eggs used to be ticks will put you on the road to a cholesterol-free diet. Unless of course you limit yourself to battery-chicken eggs. Do not read up on their lives though, or eating what-used-to-be-ticks-&-manure will start to look pretty tastey.

Friday, November 28, 2008

James of the Marche

I really cannot do any better than the introduction from the calendar itself: "Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop!" That his day should fall on what is traditionally the day we overspend, following the day we overeat is one of the first gifts of this holiday season.

James of the Marche has more or less the standard saint bio. He studied, he fasted, he founded something or other. But instead of the usual (school for young women, shelter for plague victims orphans & other abandoned people, ministry for lepers, etc.) he established the Montes Pietatis. Interest rates were high & the working poor needed to be able to get a loan. & so he created this nonprofit organization that accepted small/portable items as collateral on short-term loans.

I have to admit, I do not usually think of Franciscans having this much sense. Charisma yes intelligence yes passion yes but common sense. Not so much. & I admit I was wrong. They are selling t-shirts on their website. That makes a whole lotta sense (I am sincere; more people read t-shirts than pamphlets).

Like it or not, the whole pawnshop idea makes sense, too. & it always did. The problem with pawnshops is not that they exist, it is who might pawn (maybe a thief) & why (maybe to score). In the inevitable time & place where an ordinary person needs a leg up, grandma's old rings will not feed the family, unless they can be pawned. It does seem to run headlong into that whole "teach a man to fish" thing, but not everyone can fish everyday.

Another interesting thing I learned about pawning in general is that while James of the Marche is the father of the pawnshop, pawnbrokers have their own patron saint. You will never guess who it is.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey on top

Have you ever learned that there would be unexpected Russians at your Thanksgiving dinner AFTER you had gone to the market one-last-time, stuffed the bird & were already cooking it? I would love to know what you did & here is what I did:

So there I was, in my teeny-weeny kitchen with the biggest bird my oven would hold (12 lb). I had a large, deep roasting pan, but the rack I used was still too tall; the top of the rack was higher than the edges of the roasting pan, making for very precarious sliding basting. In the end, this was lucky.

I scrounged through my fridge & found the ingredients for ....ratatouille. I often make a ratatouille in the days after T.day, as it matches the left-overs so nicely. & so I cut up the zucchini, onions, carrots, yellow squash, garlic cloves & even some small-potatoes-that-had-not-been-mashed into bite-sized chunks. I poured a container of broth into the bottom of the roasting pan & added these veggies.

For the next two hours, every time I basted the bird, I stirred the veggies. When it was done, I scooped it all out with a slotted spoon. Some of the vegetables (potatoes in particular) were so soft they slid back into the pan. & that was fine. The veggies I did gather I put into a large serving bowl & put aside with the other bowls of stuffing etc. to hit the table soon & I turned the rest over to A to make gravy. & it really was the best gravy.

In the end there was plenty of food, even with unexpected guests. They brought with them a Russian version of three-bean salad (I am not kidding) & borscht (I am really not kidding). Thanksgiving has always been a one plate meal in my house: as many servings as you can stuff in your face, but just the one plate. Well, a small second plate for dessert, but no soup course. In the end, I think we had the soup in coffee mugs, all my bowls having been commandeered for cranberry sauce, gravy, etc.

I felt just like one of the unsung women of the Thanksgiving myth looking at corn pone, asking herself "spoon or fork?"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three French hens

As I get closer to the arbitrary date I have chosen for the ordering of my chickens (January 6th for Chickens of the Epiphany), I am deciding on which birds this time. & I have narrowed it down to three French hens:

The Salmon Faverolle: A utility fowl according to the catalog, but I think they are rather decorative. They have coloring like a calico cat & no butts. W***** has had a few ever since I have know her. She loves them, she replaces them, but she never seems to get more than three at a time. Maybe they are divas; I will have to ask. They seem mild mannered enough. & rather petite but not bantams.

The Crevecoeur: V****** is partial to Polish which also have a goofy feather-headpiece. But I am thinking I like these more. If Cher were a chicken, this is the chicken she would be. Also, the catalog says they are non-setters which is my preference. This business of having to hunt for eggs across five+ acres & then fight a setting mama for them is, well, for the birds. Sorry but there it is. They are classified as strictly ornamental. I should find out what this means exactly.


Mottled Houdans: These just might be the best of both worlds: crazy feather heads & extra toes. What else could I want in a bird?

You can see I still have some deciding to do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spaghetti pie

This is the final month of hurricane season here but winter weather is just heating up (!) for most of the rest of the country. & so I am bringing you that we-got-no-power classic: Spaghetti Pie.

It had actually been a while, as in a decade, since I even thought about spaghetti pie, but my bookclub was reading My Latest Grievance & it takes place mostly, well pivotaly anyhow, during the blizzard of '78.

Ah the olden days. I remember Ella Grasso telling all the people to stay off the roads, including you poseur, workaholic junior high school teachers, & the trees completely covered in clear ice so you really could see the branches & bark, & the lovely power lines weighed down with snow, frozen to the street. Good times.

So if you have no power for days & days & days, & you have packed the contents of your refrigerator in the snow & you have access to open flame (preferably in the fireplace but any old hibachi will do) what can you eat? Why spaghetti pie, of course.

The ingredients are easy:

Cooked spaghetti. You can boil water over your fireplace if indeed you do not have any leftover in the fridge. Rigatoni also works. Or ziti. Macaroni is getting a little fussy, but I cannot think why it would not work, too.

A jar of supermarket spaghetti sauce. Ordinarily I would say jazz this up, but you may be all jazzed out after boiling spaghetti over an open fire. I once dated a guy who added mustard to the mix, but "shhh!" its a secret.

Grated cheese of some kind. Hard cheeses are easier to work with, but do not walk away from mozzarella, or anything that might crumble.

Whatever else is in the fridge that has not gone bad. I mean WHATEVER: cold cuts, zucchini, an eggroll, half a can of tuna, raisins, baby spinach, whatever so long as you avoid foods that would ordinarily be but have not yet been cooked (i.e. baked chicken good, raw chicken bad).

- Mix together your spaghetti, spaghetti sauce & grated cheese. Mix it well. Use your hands.

- Use most-but-not-all of this to cover the bottom & sides of your baking dish. Set aside what is left.

- Mix your whatever ingredients together. It helps if things are more or less bite sized. Chop the zucchini, tear up the cold cuts, really mince the onion unless you are OKay eating an entire chunk of onion in one bite.

- Fill the spaghetti-crust with the whatever.

- Spread the remaining spaghetti-mix over the top.

-You can bake this in an oven at 350 for 40 minutes. Or more. Or less. Or hotter. I would not recommend cooler. You can bake it in a dutch oven over your open flame. You can even use tin foil instead of a baking pan & make minis to bank around your fire. It does not take much, just enough to heat & melt so the spaghetti hangs together. Mostly.

Bon appetit.


//PS: I think it is good to LEARN while I BLOG. Today I learned there is no adverb form of the verb "to pivot". Ah language, how I love thee. So flexible.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jurassic gigolo gets jiggy

If emus were into Barry White it would have been impossible to get any sleep around here. As it was, A had to proceed with caution whenever he moved in or around the emu yard because CleoPatton has been In The Mood. For reasons I would rather not consider, I am not his type.

It begins with the man-dance. Which is really more an exaggerated man-walk. He walks past you, looking at you, stops, turns & articulates each feather in a sweeping wave pattern & marches back. This goes one for several weeks. That's right, weeks.

If you let him, he will peck-bite your arms, your head & eventually the back of your neck. I am told it does not hurt. I would not know because I am not that kind of girl. No one will be surprised to learn that my husband is. A keeps trying to convince me it is amusing & I should just do it. I should be more worried that apparently he wants to swing with birds, but I just cannot seem to be bothered.

As things progress, CleoPatton will eventually get down on his haunches & start creeping up behind "the object of his desire" & mount it/her/you. I am happy to report that A does draw the line at this. Unfortunately, CleoPatton just stands & begins all over again. Once you have allowed him to bite the back of your neck, he will not take no for an answer. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

While CleoPatton goes through these motions, Antonelle, his patient partner, could not care less. At least I do not think she cares; facial expressions are a tough read on emus. She grooms her feathers & wanders off. She comes back later, sees he is all worked up & A just will not, well you know. So she gets down on the ground & he moves in on her, no preliminaries, done in 30 seconds. This is a good woman. I would not put up with that myself, but the world takes all kinds.

On Friday, CleoPatton would not come out of the emu yard when I opened the main gate. Antonelle hung back, but stood alone. This is two-times unusual. He always wants to wander the front yard, she always stays within eyeline of him. So I went looking & found....16 eggs. He did eventually move out through the gate, but the sound or flash of my camera brought him running back. By Friday night he was sitting on them & will not be lured away, not even with apples (apples are how I get them to do anything; they will go anywhere for apples).

Last year, no one sat on the eggs until December 30 & in the end it was her, reluctantly; he just was not ready for fatherhood. We thought we had more time to get some of them away from him, but there is a very real possibility we will have a dozen or so emu babies in February.

If anyone is interested on this variation on lawn flamingos, give me a call.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Michelle Obama

I should be embarrassed to admit it, but I am learning that one of my favorite things about Obama-watching is wondering what Michelle is going to wear this time. & I really truly hope she resists whatever cookie-cutter stylist Hilary went to just before she cut off all her hair.

& that brings me to: Sarah Jessica Parker et al. For years we (me, A, others I am sure) watched Sex In The City & asked ourselves "What the HELL is she wearing?" I get that it is supposed to be cutting edge NY fashionista etc. Fine. But feathers? Really? After Labor Day? The show had long-gone from HBO when I finally did get it: it is supposed to be a fantasy & that is what women fantasize about. This business of living with a physicist & working with oilmen, lawmen & cowboys has meant that I was apart from all female contact for more than a decade. I am still relearning the culture.

In my world, the women either dress exactly like men (& by that I mean they are also commando in jeans & flannel shirts) OR they are reinterpreting men's business fashion through the filter of a lesbian undertaker. On the periphery are the female students; they were a mystery to me when I was a female student & have not gotten any clearer since. I do not care how cute your ass is, an ace bandage is not a dress.

& now there is Michelle Obama. I think I might have found my new fashion guru. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but she has a certain something. I especially liked the red dress with the black that sort of wrapped around...do you know it? Actually, it was only in Googling a picture of the dress for this post I learned that other people HAVE noticed her clothing. & the response has been my absolute favorite kind: mixed.

I have found her just in time, because I think I might be too old to continue dressing like Eleanor Roosevelt. Well, maybe not just yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Man in a Miata

Every other Monday, I meet C****** at the local bookstore/cafe for lunch. Way back when, C****** was my Little Sister. Now she is a grown-up, works two jobs, bought her own house & we lunch every other Monday.

& every other Monday, starting at about the garden store & the theater, but never too far past the corner of 34th with all those schools & churches (seriously, is it me or does that one corner have three schools & three churches?), I find myself driving next to the man in the Miata. It was months before I noticed him, I am sure, but once I did he was impossible to miss ever again. This stretch of road is not long. It is not even the length of a city block & yet, there he is, more often than not. Usually passing me on the right (as it happens, I probably do not belong in the left lane, but the right lane is right turn only at the light & I do not want to turn right; I am thinking he probably did turn right which is what put him to my right. Got it? Right.).

You may have gathered it is a rather congested stretch of road, what with my having so much time to observe & you would be mostly right. Also, he kind of interests me. Please understand, this is a university town. A semi-conservative, very southern, football-is-king university but there are still a lot of you-only-see-them-in-a-university-town style oddballs out there. There is the lady who rides her bicycle with the two very well behaved dogs on leashes & her bicycle basket full of doggy bowls & bottled of water but no other worldly goods that I have ever noticed. There is the patently homeless man who wears a heavy '70s style anorak all year round, zipped up, often with the hood up over what has to be 15 lb of dredlocks. There are the Jesuses, too of course. I do not mean Jesus freaks, well not in the usual sense. I mean the long haired, glassy eyed men wandering around wearing white robes & rope sandals.

Side bar about the Jesuses: has anyone else noticed they seem to have territories? There is the Butler Plaza to the Archer Road overpass Jesus & the Downtown Plaza Jesus... I am almost certain they are not the same Jesus.

The man in the Miata is not one of them. But rain or shine, well drizzle or shine anyway, summer & now winter (56 F this past Monday, brrrrr), he has the top down. & he wears a driving cap. & this brings me to what has really been troubling me: how does he keep the cap on? & more importantly, what level of commitment to this look does a person have to have to do what they have to do to keep this cap on?

The temptation to swerve into his lane & see what happens is not very strong, but it is growing. Or I could write a note, beforehand of course, tape it to rock & just drop it in the backseat when we were in traffic. It is hard to do that anonymously, though. & also, if I asked the question, how would I get an answer?

I will drive by the man in the Miata a week from next Monday, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cranberry sauce

I made cranberry sauce this week-end & this is how I make it:

Cranberries from a bag NOT A CAN A BAG

Rum & lots of it

good old fashioned Water

Cloves, as in cloves of cloves, not cloves of garlic. I am sorry to report I know someone who thought cloves meant cloves of garlic. Very weird cranberry sauce & yet, still edible. I think she still makes it but with less garlic, even today.

Sugar: white sugar, lite brown sugar, dark brown sugar, the color of your sugar is up to you

Cinnamon stick because ground cinnamon really is just too much. Afterward you can use it to stir your cocoa, mmmmmm!

Mace. no, really. Outside of Trivial Pursuit this might be the first time this has come up for you, unless you are from The Nutmeg State. Here is the trivia: what two distinct spices come from the same plant? nutmeg & mace. Mace is the inner covering around the kernel in the nutmeg seed. Many cooks think nutmeg & mace can be used interchangeably. They are wrong but if it is not important to you, just use nutmeg. It is hard to use too much mace; it is very easy to use too much nutmeg. Also, if you are subbing with nutmeg, you might want to think about a pinch of red pepper. Less than a pinch, a few grains, really. Or you could just use mace.

Cornstarch, just in case.

-Boil the water, 5 fl oz or 1/4 pint-British or 2 cups or enough to cover to your first pinkie knuckle the bottom of your pot.

-Add the cinnamon stick, 3 whole cloves, maybe 4, never more than 5 & a full pinch of mace & the sugar. 8 oz is the upper limit for the sugar & you want to stir it slowly as it melts & use your nose. If it starts to smell like an old diabetic in a nursing home or the farthest, best concealed corner the stoners hung out at your high school STOP even if there is still sugar left in your measuring cup. White sugar will give you this smell faster without quite so much flavor on the other end. If you are using nutmeg instead of mace, use less than even a pinch; that is take a pinch & rub your fingers together without opening them over the pan.

-Once the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat & bring to a low-but-constant boil for 8-10 minutes. Never stop stirring. I find the best way is to find some music that is 8-10 minutes long. Let me recommend: any two tracks from Joao Gilberto's Joao, almost any three songs by Sister Hazel, Aaron Copeland's Hoe-down twice & then 1/2 way again, I think you get the picture.

-Remove the cinnamon stick & the cloves. Do this with something that will let you knock the liquid back into the pot or you will have a sticky mess. I suggest toothpicks used like chopsticks or a slotted spoon. Put the cloves & cinnamon stick directly in the mug you will use for your celebration cocoa.

-Add the cranberries, the whole bag. If you are lucky enough to be able to buy them in bulk about a pound will do. You should have rinsed them first & let them dry, perhaps in that lovely cast-iron-&-enamel colander you put on your gift registry at Williams-Sonoma & have not used since the wedding. Or you could gather them in a thin kitchen towel, rinse them & use an elastic to close the towel & hang it from the kitchen faucet. They both work.

-Keep stirring & add the rum. How much rum? Well....the original recipe said 4 oz but that is more a guideline, really. Keep back just a bit for the cornstarch.

-Cook for ten minutes. Stir a lot, but once the cranberries have been well coated, you can relax a bit.

-While you are relaxing, take 2 tsp of cornstarch & dissolve it in the rum you held back. 2 tbs of rum is plenty, but more works, too.

-Stir the cornstarch in with the cranberries, keep stirring two more minutes on lowered heat.

-Scope into clean-Clean-CLEAN jars & tighten those lids. They will seal just fine for the few weeks until Thanksgiving dinner. If you are a worrier, pour boiled water into the jars & let them sit a minute. Tip them out & turn upside down until you are adding the sauce. I find rum helps. Not with the cleaning but with the worrying. It probably makes things more sterile as well, now that I think about it.

The day will come when you can get the heat & the sugar just right & you will not need the cornstarch. This may actually happen on your first try, but you won't know for sure until you open those jars again. When you get that perfect balance, cut the cornstarch, keep the rum.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Saint Carlo Borromeo

Today, Election Day in the US, is also the day of Saint Carlo Borromeo. That is, November 4th is. It is important to remember that November 4th has belonged to Carlo Borromeo for a while now (he was canonized in 1610). But that it should fall on Election Day, that is just sweet.

Carlo Borromeo was from a poor/rich family in Milan. His father was a Count, his mother a de'Medici. Every article I can find bends over backwards to make sure we are all clear she was a de'Medici from Milan & not one of those Florentine poisoners. Her younger brother was also a pope, Pius XI, but the similarity ends there I am sure. Also, CB is only one of only a handful of cardinal-nephews to be canonized, so nepotism could not have played a role.

Carlo Borromeo is one of the better documented saints I have come across. Michael Chabon could take his life story & make quite the swashbuckler a'la Gentlemen of the Road. CB was very big on 'reforming' or 'counter-reforming'. I get confused: which came first the reform or the reform? Anyway, his reforming gave him many adventures.

I think my favorite reform was creating the Golden or Borromean League. The function of this group was to expel heretics, by armed force if necessary. Coincidentally, one of his allies in this league made his living supplying mercenaries to the pope. Gotta love those reformers.

His reforms were not always widely welcomed. He was shot at by the Brothers of Humility. Apparently the humble were armed, even in the 16th century.

I truly do not know where to go from here. The links abound, but they all turn back in on themselves so maybe I will just move on to his patronage. He is the man you call upon for help with all manner of stomach ailments, ulcers, colic, intestinal disorders, etc. although the only vaguely health reference I found in my very cursory search was that he had a speech impediment. How this ties into the whole digestive tract thing I really could not say.

He is also patron of apple orchards, which was a new one on me, lots of church admin-type stuff & starch makers. I think maybe this guy is just too well documented. Some where in the masses of material there is no doubt a story that loosely connects to an orchard-dwelling starch-maker with irritable bowel syndrome, but I do not have the time to read everything that has been written about him. Also, it is either all the same or all false or both or neither & I cannot tell which. The only thing I know for sure is he had a profile only Goya could love.

This overload of information, misinformation & myth reminds me of something, but my head hurts & I cannot think what that might be.

Happy Election Day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This is the time of year I like to rip-off Frida Kahlo

Earlier this week, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" was on & I loved every moment. Then began the seasonal descent into madness culminating on Dia de los Muertos, which I love just as much. I used to think the bible-South did not really observe Hallowe'en but I have learned it is like the seasons: it is subtle, but the change is there.

I reminisce about the drag queen parades of my young adulthood with the fondness usually reserved for Louisa May Alcott/Currier & Ives ice skating memoirs. O' callow youth, ba-blah, ba-blah. I am so fond of drag parades that I am always disappointed that drag races will not include the same cast of characters. I never thought they would, but still I can dream...

The earlier Hallowe'ens of my memory are blissful & free, when packs of costumed children roamed the neighborhoods & hardly a prank was played. The great apple-razor/poisoned candy hoaxes were not yet upon us. It was indeed a Golden Age.

& then there is a gap. Not having children (& not being a drag queen) I more-or-less lost track of this holiday for many years. Right up until the year after we moved here. That year, Hallowe'en fell on a Sunday (as it did again, 5 years later). For those of you that missed it, there was, I swear to G*d, a movement to trick or treat on Saturday instead so as not to sully the sabbath with this pagan ritual. Oy. Now that I think about it, I am not sure why football is permitted on Sunday. After all it a sanitized re-enactment of brute force acquiring territory through the carrying of a symbolic pig skin. But that is probably just me being difficult.

At around the same time, I discovered Frida Kahlo. Not that she was missing. Or that I had not ever heard of her or seen her work before. But something fell into place & I found my inner Frida. Every year, I take this reminder to enjoy these last flowers of the year, wear every outlandish article of clothing I own all at once & generally stop worrying about what other people think. I have decided against taking up smoking though. & I think I will try to avoid divorcing A just to marry him again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I ignore idiots

Well, I try to anyway. I am rarely successful. I find stranger-idiots harder to ignore than idiots-I-know.

The first stranger-idiot that really stuck with me was about 25/30 years ago. It was actually a pair of idiotic moments, juxtaposed idiocy if you will. I was in the medium sized NE town in which I grew up & I was stopped at a light (on Jerome Avenue near Dr. Merkelson's office, if you want specifics). There were two blacks boys (i.e. african-american youths) slouching their way across the street & a little-old-lady going bat-sh*t on the horn of her car. You think you know who the idiot here is but I bet you are wrong: the boys were in a cross-walk & she was trying to make a right run on red. Flash forward, a car full of teenagers honking their brains out at an old man with a walker jay-walking through the same busy intersection. In the second one they are all idiots. Even the passengers on the back seat of the car.

What sticks with me is my conviction that every participant in these little vignettes each left the scene absolutely sure that they were not idiots & the other guy should probably just die. Except for the first two boys; I do not think they had the vaguest idea she was beeping at them. They were so right they could not see that she thought they were wrong.

Even if I did know where the people were & could ask them, I doubt even one of them would remember the moments I remember. I am fairly certain that at least two of them are no longer above ground, but that is the extent of my knowledge. I am equally certain that the unremembered fed their own absolute version of reality.

This brings me to a very recent idiot, also in traffic (yes, I file my idiots: idiots in vehicles, idiots by the side of the road, idiots who think their bicycle helmets will protect their entire body, etc.). She was walking back & forth across University Avenue, in the crosswalk, so I guess that makes it better, having a very involved, emotional conversation with someone on her cell-phone. Oblivious to the traffic around her, she talked & gestured & paced.

I obviously do not ignore idiots; I cannot even forget them. Apparently I archive idiots. I need something else for 'I'. Lets go back to "H'. I will pretend I am Eliza Doolittle & say: h'I h'am 'aunted by h'idiots. No, that is just stoopid.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ginger binge & the big bamboo

I have made veiled (& not so veiled) references to "edible ornamentals". The first of these I ever grew was ginger & it is not a pretty story, but here it is: Once upon a time a good sized root of ginger, purchased at the grocery store fell behind the crisper drawer in our fridge. A long time later, I mean a really long time later, I noticed a funny green shadow & pulled the drawer all the way out & there, in the deep dark cool of the fridge I had grown a healthy crop of ginger.

I have an undeserved reputation for having a green thumb & it is stories like this one that feed it. The reality is, I throw a little bit of everything all around & what takes, takes over. When planting new things (as opposed to relocating volunteers) I do try for plants-that-will-not-kill-a-mammal. As a general reference I use this book, but recently picked up a few more at the Friends of the Library Book Sale.

Besides ginger (& we have a lot of ginger: blue ginger, pine cone ginger, butterfly ginger, peacock ginger), I have also planted some bamboo. I put in Arrow about not-quite three years ago & it seems to be following the pattern I was told: the first year it sleeps, the second it creeps & the third it leaps.

When I first ordered the bamboo, bamboo-loving friends of mine warned me about the invasiveness of arrow bamboo. The director of the local botanical garden tried to talk me out of it until I assured him I understood just how invasive it was. I felt comfortable, though because my local expert told me it was an excellent winter fodder for horses & he was right. It is also a favorite for emus, although he probably did not know that at that time. & he agreed it would be a good food source for when I got my elephant. C**** has known for years that I have been wanting an elephant.

This year I am thinking of expanding my bamboo collection. Something to screen us from our ever-encroaching neighbors perhaps. Or something really big & weird. I am leaning towards Alphonse Karr because I like the stripey-ness but I still have not made up my mind.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sarah Palin is not Hilary Clinton in drag OR I have not voted Republican since Lowell Weicker moved to the Green Party & I moved to New Jersey

I was stuck in the waiting room of the small animal vet clinic that gets so much of my disposable income, when I came across the Time Magazine article with the reference to Palin's behavior towards banning books. Not being a regular net surfer (seriously) I missed the firestorm surrounding the faux list of books to be banned etc.

I was never going to vote McCain/Palin even before Palin came on board. What respect I had for John McCain is long gone & I DID once respect him. I even felt bad about the Stephen Colbert interview on his campaign bus in 2000, although I already knew I would vote for Gore. Just because I respected him did not mean I agreed with his positions. Remember positions? & voting records? the idea that we might choose a candidate the reflects what we think ought to be the priorities & solutions & not necessarily the candidate endorsed by Keanu Reeves or Chuck Norris or Van Halen (& let me assure you that last endorsement made me scratch my head; at least it was reluctantly given).

But all that aside, by the time this posts I will have already voted because we live in one of those early voting states; it is much fun to tell that to the phone banks that call in the final two days, as in "wow I did not know that about your candidate. I wish I had before I voted for the other guy last week". I love early voting. I can cast my vote a full two weeks before everyone else & renew my library books at the same time.

But back to Sarah Palin. The next time I saw her smiling face was on a newsletter from three (3), yes three different animal welfare/rescue/whatever e-mail lists I subscribe to. & this was the gist of their message:
Our 501(c)3 status does not permit us to endorse any particular political candidate or party. This is a picture of Sarah Palin. She is wearing fur. It might be from an animal she shot herself. Maybe even in the face. This is a picture of the Palin family with an animal they shot in the face. //they included the pictures, of course but I wanted to give you the option of whether or not you threw up while reading my blog.

It is absolutely true that I was living in New Jersey when Weicker was elected Governor of Connecticut. It is also true I voted for Lieberman AGAINST Weicker in the election that lost him his Senate seat (but freed him up to be governor, right?). It was one of those decisions actually made in the voting booth, which I just do not do anymore. I was sorry almost immediately. I am still sorry. At night when I cannot sleep I worry that my mother is still mad about it & well, she has a right. After all I voted for the new guy & then moved out of state, sticking her with himself for far too long. I also voted for Michael Dukakis, but I know that just barely makes it better as far as she is concerned. My mother remembers Prescott Bush & well, we don't need to go there.

In New Jersey, we had Christine Todd Whitman. Now SHE just might be Hilary Clinton in drag. I wonder that the McCain campaign did not wander up to her, if the point was indeed to hook those disgruntled Clintonites. Also, she also has that maverick brand, what with falling out with Cheney (Cheney! I ask you, how can that not balance out her pro-choice stance?).

And then Houston, Texas (I blame A for this tour of places-you-do-not-want-to-live-in-the-US), we had Kay Bailey Hutchison. I do not remember who I voted for/against her except that even at the time I knew he did not have a chance. Ann Richards (who I did vote for) lost the Governor's race to George H. W. Bush & we all know how that turned out. I guess I can see how the McCain campaign passed her by: Sarah Palin is way-more photogenic & I think that might be part of the strategy. I would have said her indictment on misconduct etc. might have been the deterrent but we all can see that could not be the case. Besides, she has won two elections since then.

Or maybe it is the whole Maverick thing. I admit I do not quite get that. A political party, a dominating political party is convincing people that they are against the standard party line? I had a room mate that used to mock the college students that shopped at the army surplus sales on campus: "Dress unique, wear a uniform."

Joseph Leiberman could have been Hilary Clinton in drag (notice how I am avoiding references to lipsticked pigs right here where it would do double duty). That would have been a Maverick-move! Sure all the anti-semites would not vote for him, but they would hardly vote Obama either (it has been my experience that most racists are equal opportunity racists).

If the McCain campaign had even an ounce of sense, they could have sewed it up right there. & then my mother would REALLY be mad at me. But they didn't & I don't know why. According to this same Time Magazine article, McCain was being pressured to choose Mitt Romney. I can only imagine this is the same think-tank that choose Dan Quayle.

So who am I voting for, you ask? You must be kidding. Even if I would tell you, you should not listen. Make up your own damn mind & vote early if you can.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Way down 'pon da Swanee Ribber

I had lived here for several years before it finally registered that the Swanee Ribber in Old Folks at Home was the Suwannee River. What can I say, I had only ever seen Suwannee on a map & I did not know it was pronounced Swanee.

This weekend is the weekend of the annual quilt show at the Stephen Foster State Park & as this posts, I hope to be on my way. I am told, in the way of all things Southern, that it is not nearly the show it used to be; Faulkner was not kidding when he said the past is not dead it is not even past. I don't care that they never managed to secede, the American South is another country

Whatever: as the quilt show exists today, it is one of my favorites. There is nothing high-falutin' about it. They take anything & they get everything & it is all hung together in the buildings that house Stephen Fosters piano collection (yes, you read that right) & the oh-so-vintage diaramas of his songs (really, they are a favorite thing of mine).

A funny thing about the park & the pianos & the (current) Florida State song, Stephen Foster never spent any time here. I am always fascinated by the 'historical' or 'cultural' sites that are manufactured (have you ever been to Plymouth Rock? It is a rock. It is probably not even the right rock, for those of you who remain convinced there was a rock at all).

It is not as though there is not plenty of true history here that is interesting. I realize that it would be hard to build a major tourist attraction out of Rosewood, which I did not know it was just a few towns over until I was drove through on the way to Cedar Key & then I was happy to be distracted from the brain tumor I almost certainly do not have but I was kind of hoping I did (a diversion for another post). But the Zora Neale Hurston Festival should be getting more attention than those old pianos.

I suppose what we venerate says more about who we are at that moment than who anybody was (or was not) that we are building the monuments (or cultural centers) around. & I while am enjoying the quilts at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center, I will always be within a few yards of someone who is enjoying how much better the show used to be more.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I am thinking honey bees

When we first moved into this house, the cedar trees in the backyard had only just begun to suffer the twin assault of drought & blight. In those days, they looked like green furry fat people dancing whenever the air moved. By late September, they looked like green furry fat people with pink hairdos. This is the time of coral vine.

Each Winter I collect multiple recycled yogurt containers of seeds. In the Spring I dig out every plant I find in the yard & they all to good homes. The cedar trees are all but gone. In the meager limbs they have left, many hives worth of bees are gorging themselves on the abundant coral vine.

I am very allergic to bee stings. & wasp stings. & hornet stings. & fire ant bites. & these are just the insects I know for sure. The appeal of honeybees is strong, though. & this year, the coral vine has covered the gate I use several times a day, I pass right by bees so heavy with pollen they pull the blossoms over. Not one of them has ever paid me the least attention. I used to do all the things I was told to avoid their attention: no bright colored clothing, no perfume, no shampoo that smells floral, no fragrant fabric softener. The list goes on. & I need not have bothered. A honey bee would no more mistake me for a flower than I would mistake a honey bee for a ... well I cannot think of anything. Trust me, a honeybee knows what is & is not a flower.

I was given this advice while I still worked in downtown Hartford. Perhaps in the confusion that was Bushnell Park in the early '90s a honey bee could think I was a flower, but honestly none ever did. In fact, I never saw them go for the carousel horses either & they look (& smell once they've had a few candy-coated kids pass by) way more flowery than anyone I ever met.

I am not sure, but I suspect these horses have been out up for the winter. Here, we are still in the throes of summer: the yard still needs to be mowed (I have not, of course, Sunday we put Becca in the yard for a peaceful graze & will again later in the week), the cotton plants (yes, I planted cotton) have only just bloomed & only one has formed the familiar cotton-head, it is late afternoon & 89F as I type this. But I am itching to reread the bee book & I just might have to get the getting started with honeybees pamphlet from IFAS.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saint Denis & companions

Today is the day of Saint Denis & Companions. I admit it was the companions that piqued my interest. I was of course immediately diverted by the legend of Saint Denis carrying his own head back into a village north of Paris following his martyrdom. The idea of a of headless body roaming the countryside had such a 'chicken' quality I needed to know more.

In the usual way of these things, the stories of several men have morphed together, been well-seasoned with fiction & mixed in a great big bowl of time. The general gist seems to be Denis founded a church, converted many with the zeal of his preaching, his success made others jealous & so he was martyred in a manner that removed his head from his body.

I admit, under ordinary circumstances I would have lost interest, but I remained intrigued by the Companions. While named right there in the day, the index does not discuss the companions at all. My mind wandered to other companions.

The first famous companion I thought of was salt-sucking creature in the original Star Trek. I discarded this as unlikely; everyone knows the salt vampyre inhabits another galaxy & besides it probably could have convinced the jealous priests/whomever to keep it around. Also, it is companions, plural. How many salt vampyres are we supposed to accept?

& so my mind wandered to other companions. Maybe they were not human & that is why they were not named. But then Saint Francis of Assisi's day (last week-end as it happens) would doubtless have included animals, too.

Or maybe they were somehow expunged. Something was undesirable about these companions. Maybe they included his wife & children. The cult of Denis dates back to before the period that the church had acquired considerable wealth. Part of how the church hung on to property was preventing priests from marrying & entailing land & goods to their descendants.

A more undesirable companion to the 21st century church might be a homosexual lover, but they have not been very thorough about removing same-sex references to other saints. Saint Aelred has been out of the closet since before closets were invented. The more widely known Saint Sebastian is considered the patron of homosexuals & has been for a very long time, whether the church put this on his letterhead or not.

Besides, the church's behavior has always been more lenient toward the homosexual priest than the priest who wants to marry a woman & raise a famiy, so it is very hard to imagine that this is the reason for the Companions anonymity.

It took a bit of digging (!) but I eventually found that the Companions are the two other men martyred with him & buried in the same grave. It was so passive, I wondered that they were included in the day at all. It seemed so small, in the grand scheme of things & so ordinary, like the ridiculous three-on-a-match superstition.

Then I remembered Henry Hector Munro & his famous last words. Just before being killed by a WWI sniper, he said "Put that damned cigarette out". & then another mind, another voice was gone.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The chicken is dead, long live the chicken

Recently Snowbird, a fluffy white ameraucana hen, disappeared from the yard. She arrived as a peep Memorial Day week 2007. She looked quite a bit like a previous ameraucana we called Lemon Chicken (LC was very yellow as a youngster, but bleached to white as she aged), but nothing like in temperament (LC chased dogs, to the bitter end as it happens).

Snowbird was much too large to be bothered by the small hawk that likes to lurk near the barn, but all together defenseless in every other way.

I felt bad, of course. She was one of the calmer birds. She was still laying an egg or so a day. She was not prone to picking fights with the others & mostly peacefully wandered the yard, scratching & pecking & being a chicken.

Had she gone to an egg factory, seventeen months would have been her best-case life-expectancy. After being pumped full of hormones to maximize egg production, packed into very tight spaces (debeaking is often necessary so they will not injure each other), denied adequate rest periods (the lights are turned on roughly 2/3 to 3/4 longer than they are off, tricking the birds into laying more eggs), at seventeen months she would have been packed off to a processing plant to be made into tv dinners or dog food or whatever.

This factory chicken will never see grass, almost certainly not spend any amount of her life in sunlight & the bugs she will encounter will not be of the cricket or worm variety; they will be bacteria. Healthy, abundant bacteria because the conditions she lives in are too unsanitary not to breed germs with vigor.

Snowbird's life was roughly the same duration, but could not be more different. Her days were spent in either a very airy henhouse (which they all consider a punishment) or roaming the yard & pastures. She was particularly fond of a nest she made in the feed room from bits of last year's hay & spent the hottest of the summer days in that shady, cool place.

It is foolish to make a pet of a chicken. The free-range life they enjoy makes them vulnerable to every sort of predator & it is unusual for us to have any given bird more than three or so years. The exceptions here are Spotter & Big Buff.

Spotter is the ancona I have written of previously, Big Buff another amauracana. I learned this summer why they are so long lived. A fox was hovering outside the emu yard, clearly wishing he had the nerve to steal one of the hens roosting in the oak tree above the emus themselves, but he did not.

I heard the rackets, ran the fox off & herded the girls to their henhouse. & there on the rafter at the top of henhouse I found these two old girls. When they knew there was trouble, they took themselves immediately & without too much panic to the safest place on the farm: high in the henhouse in the middle of the pasture supervised by a donkey. Donkeys are the only equines that naturally look for trouble. Big, elegant stallions will run from a small barking dog, but a mangey old donkey will run toward a dog large enough to reach his throat & throw it ass-over-teakettle if he can get a good enough grip.

I do not know why everyone does not keep chickens. There is nothing so easy as a small yard & a wooden hut insulated in winter with hay bales ($6.50 will buy you enough hay to keep five birds well-warmed for more than a month). This idea that they are mean or dirty or difficult is one of the many scams played on us by Big Food & I do not know how we fell for it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hapless husbands hurry home

A has a favorite joke: a doctor, a lawyer & a physicist are having an argument which is better a wife or a mistress. The Doctor says: a wife, she can keep your life organized & remember all your patients when you see them & generally be a helpmate. The lawyer says: no a mistress is better. She is around only for what you want, you don't have to spend every free minute with her & when you separate, you don't have to worry she will take half of everything. The physicist says: you really need both. Then you can tell your mistress you are with your wife, your wife you are with your mistress & go to the lab & get some work done.

That was the whole post, but I thought I should make a bit of an effort. So I will add this: my bookclub has observed that I lean towards entrees that can be made in one pot. The other quality they share is being able to sit, in a warm oven for 'a bit' if someone is running late. Or has no idea what time it is. After all, are you really running late if you don't know you are late?

I think that really is it for this post.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saint Jerome

When I said that I rarely heard about the saints in real-life I forgot about Saint Jerome. He is the patron of libraries & librarians & today is his day. But more to the point, he comes up at the very beginning of the first Ghostbusters movie (which is how I heard of him in-real-life).

According to Saints Index, he is best remembered for his bad temper; I am sorry to disagree but he is best remembered as the delusion of Alice the Librarian's Uncle. Before that, he was the 'bald man' trigger in the movie Compromising Positions that solves the case. Two 1980s movies with people who either think they see or are Saint Jerome & since then nothing, so far as I have come across.

I probably should not be so delighted with myself for remembering Saint Jerome. Or rather, not-quite-contemporary references to Saint Jerome. But along with himself, libraries have been lost in the digital shuffle. Or have they?

Earlier this year, there was a vocal minority (I think it might just be one person) who was advocating the dissolution of the our local library on the basis that books are cheap & so is the internet, the money & volunteer hours would be better spent elsewhere. Sure it has won awards & is so well supported by community donations that there has been money to spare helping Katrina-victim libraries & other projects, but why not toss the whole thing & free up that valuable downtown real estate? If you want to ruffle feathers in a college town, suggest closing the public library.

This is not the first asinine library encounter I have had. Several years ago I was doing work for a large government institution in Ohio & my contact person there was a librarian. The title on his paperwork was something else, but his nature was librarical (that's right: librarical. It is like rabbinical only librarical), making him very well suited to his job.

He also volunteered at his local library & he told me the following story: a group of people who thought they had more public support than they actually did made a move to ban Harry Potter books from their library shelves. The first books had been ordered but had not yet arrived (did I mention this was a while ago). They lost, but enough influence was brought to bear that the order was canceled & the district did not feel they could purchase the books: funds were limited & would be better allocated to more widely circulated materials, blah ba blah bablah. They would however be happy to accept them as a gift.

Talk about a flood. Many members of the community decided to take this opportunity to stock the shelves with books that had been left off previous purchases without any discussion. I personally donated a copy of what I fondly call The Users Manual & I hope it is still there today.

Even further back, I was once sitting at a fund raising table for a library, in front of a grocery store when I got an earful on the topic "public libraries are communist institutions". That I gave as good as I got (our first library was founded by that well-documented capitalist Ben Franklin & so forth on the history of the American Public Library) remains a shining moment in my self-aggrandizing memory.

I have a bad librarian story, too: my high school librarian Sophie Brophy (not quite her real name) refiled all the Mark Twain books under Samuel Clemens because That was His real name. At least I think that is why.

She also used to sneak up on me when I was tutoring, jumping out from behind whatever she was hiding behind & scaring the crap out of me. In retrospect I realize she was trying to catch us making out (we were not, I would tell you if we were) but at the time I thought all the henna & home perms had rotted her brain.

Saint Jerome, as I believe I have already alluded, was bald. & I take it back about him not being remembered as difficult. Every librarian I ever encountered was difficult, just usually in a good way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

In the year 5768

The first big thing I did this past year was break my leg walking out my front door around 8/8:30 on the morning before Thanksgiving. No I was not drunk.

My parents had taken A's car to Orlando for a heart-breaking family errand & we were taking my truck to campus, where I would leave A & pick him up later. He had turned around in the yard (we have no driveway) & was zooming towards the gate when I stepped out, turned to pull the door shut behind me, felt & heard a *pop* & hit the ground.

I had planned on shopping for last minute Thanksgiving dinner ingredients. A had planned on reviewing a grad student's thesis & finalizing an exam to be given the following Monday.

Instead, we went to the ER. & then to my own GP. & then back to the ER because somehow, they had given me crutches for a person shorter than me (I was like a dolphin with crutches, just sort of flopping around).

The orthopedist was not available until the following week (there was one in the hospital, but as it was not a life-threatening break he was not called) so I went home with an elastic bandage & a splint for five long days. Although some family members filed strenuous objections, this turned out to be a good thing. If they had to decide what to do while I was still swollen, I probably would not have been given a walking boot.

This one event has more or less defined the year. When I have not been in recovery: no walking, no feeding the animals, no carrying anything, no nothing but sitting around, climbing the walls-in my mind of course. In reality, no climbing.

Although the bone was declared "mostly healed" (I swear, that is what the man said) in late March, I find I am still living with the fallout: I rarely sleep through a night - this was never a problem before, but now I wake up when it would be time to take a pain pill. Which I am not still taking & did not take after the first 48 hours. Me & pain pills & crutches even of the correct size were just not a good idea; I lose my balance every day several times a day, just standing there & when my muscle tighten, they lock for several seconds in panic. This whole physical-panic-thing is new for me. & I am not enjoying this window into my life when I am in my 80s.

The reality is that with discipline I will be my same physical self again. After the break, I never had to cope with the loss of my income because of this injury. No animals went unfed & if chores did not get done it is entirely possible I would not have done them even if I could have. & still, I look back on this as a disruptive, destructive, year-changing (if not truly life-changing) event.

I am sure other things happened, even to me, this year, but right now I am having trouble remembering any of them. I broke the small tip off of a small bone. It was not fun. It slowly got better.

Shana Tova Umetukah