Saturday, March 28, 2009


I admit, I have been trolling for a saint for a while. I just had not found anyone who really captured my interest & I tend to go underground around Saint Patrick's Day anyhow. But the other morning I tripped across Saint Guntramnus. Here is a guy I can sink my teeth into. Most of what I found was not in English, making for tough research. I can read French passably & other languages with a dictionary close by, but that was too much like work so I thought I would just wing it.

First of all, Guntramnus was more or less a typical medieval monarch & not so much a catholic. Or maybe he was a Catholic for his time (I maintain that Louis was canonized for his extensive killing of Jews). The strange stories abound but my favorite is he divorced his wife (no real reason given), she later fell ill &, when the doctor did not cure her, Guntramnus killed him. With his bare hands. Well, a knife to the throat. You can see how he came to be the patron saint of murderers.

Guntramnus was apparently very very sorry afterward, so at least one site assures me he is the patron of REPENTANT murderers. By the way, his wife's name was Mercatrude. I almost want to get a new cat or goat just to name her Mercatrude.

There are other amusing anecdotes about Guntramnus. & then there is the stuff between the lines. He was a king & both his brothers were kings. I am sure they were just charm-all-around & no one touched a hair on any prior king's head. He is credited for keeping his nephews (one from each of his brothers) safe from multiple dowager queen's wrath. If I am reading correctly, the dowager queens in question were the boys own mothers. What happened to their fathers is not so well documented.

For anyone wondering how the boys were in Guntramnus' care in the first place, the terms guest/ward/hostage were more or less interchangeable in those days. If you are still confused (& maybe unclear how three brothers could all think they were king), let me recommend The Lion in Winter. Incidentally, Guntramnus is also the patron saint of guardians.

The last Guntramnus factoid I wanted to share was that in addition to repentant murderers & guardians, he is also patron saint of divorced people. He shares this with Helena (mother of Constantine) & Fabiola. Considering the church only very reluctantly even recognizes divorce & often only by granting annulments, I was pleased there were still patrons to choose from, even among the *divorced*: the guy who is also patron saint for murderers OR the mother an emperor & herself an empress & patroness of same OR the patroness of almost every marital victimization you can name. Like I said, choices.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Picking your poison

Along the edge of our driveway, is a single flowering tree, a tung tree. Eating even one seed can be fatal, making it an unusual choice for a horse farm. The tree itself progresses from lovely flowers through a long season of broad green leaves to a short winter with an unusual silhouette. This tree, about 5 1/2 feet tall when I planted it, was a rescue in its own way. The person who had originally bought it & planted it learned it was poisonous & dug it up. A mutual friend brought it to me.

Her reasons for removing the tree were straightforward, she, like me, has horses on her property & she did not want to risk them. A difference between us is I knew it was poisonous when I planted it. This meant I could plant it well away from any animals that might be tempted, in a place where every dropped seed would be visible (the seeds of the tung tree are not small), any shoot from them easily pulled.

As a result, I can safely enjoy this beautiful tree. & so can the first bumble bee of the season & a variety of ants. What is the expression, one man's poison is another bug's bounty?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Locals only

On Saturday the first part of my vegetable seed order finally arrived. Yes, this is late. I placed my order by check well over a month ago only to learn the company I have dealt with for many years is so swamped by orders they are running 3 weeks behind.

Except for the part where my seeds are running late, I could not be happier. This means more people are at least thinking about gardening & where their food comes from. As for the lateness, I am lucky to live in Florida; if my vegetables go in a month late I am not really going to lose so very many harvest days. Yes, I will lose some, but it is not like I run a vegetable stand.

Besides, almost everybody already knows that I have grave doubts that my plants will last all that long, even in off-the-ground planters. So I am starting many many seeds & handing them out to anyone who wants them in the hopes that some of the produce will make its way back to me. & if it does not, that is not the end of the world either.

So, if you are local & would like some heirloom tomatoes (mule team & costoluto genovese) or hot peppers (yellow scotch bonnets & red peter) or would like the seeds for some hybrid tomatoes or hybrid mild peppers that were sent with a 'sorry you are having to wait message', drop me a note. The eggplant, more tomatoes, & the gourds (long story) should be here by the end of this week.

I am afraid this is open to locals only; I am sorry.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pea soup

When I woke up yesterday, well it was still quite dark, actually. But by the time there was light, there was also fog. I know for many people, fog in March is no big deal. For me, it is a reason to celebrate.

Fog is almost the only chance water will gather at ground level & give the dusty dusty ground some relief. It is also welcomed by all the animals, but especially the big birds. They would not come close enough for a clear picture, the fog obscured them better than any photo-screw-up I could manage, but they are just past this barn, standing with all their feathers articulated, their heads angled up, their tiny wings stretched leaning into the wave of water-in-the-air.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spoiler alert: I do not have much respect for people who worry about 'my fair share'.

Several weeks ago I received a Facebook flair from that read: Why do politicians who don't pay their taxes get to spend mine?? Most of the time I ignore this kind of stuff. This is hardly the first "keep your government paws off my hard earned dollars" sentiment that has been expressed near me. This one got my particular attention because the person who sent it does not pay taxes, has not had a job in ?years? & is able to collect a (justified) disability check because of all the people who do pay taxes & the programs those taxes allow to exist.

It put me in mind of a conversation I had many years ago with a computer programmer I worked with. He was complaining that his lifestyle was not an improvement on his parents & that this was the first time in our country's history that this had been so (I am guessing parents in the 1920s & their children who were adults in the 1930s would argue, but none of them were in the room at the time). He was measuring success by the square footage & overall opulence of his home & how many years he had to drive his car before he could afford a comparable new one.

& so I asked him a question (which I thought I already knew the answer to, I admit):

when his wife was recently pregnant, an as-far-as-I-knew perfectly normal pregnancy, did she take advantage of the regular visits & services & medications provided for by our insurance? If such a thing had been available to his mother, would she have considered it a ++ in her quality of life? He never did answer, but I am guessing the answer to both was YES. I later learned the pregnancy had not been normal, there had been a major issue & the issue itself had been discovered during a routine ultra-sound. My point is, maybe quality of life should be measured in more than just the room in which a person watches the best TV that person can afford (or finance).

You don't need me to tell you the latest twist on this particular complaint is "why I am paying for that guy's ____; I lived within my means, why shouldn't he"? It has inspired me to compile a list of things we pay for (well, A pays for mostly ) that on the surface anyhow, mostly benefit some other guy:

School taxes - Let me be clear, we are happy to pay these & think they should be higher. We both believe society as a whole benefits when kids are not roaming the streets like packs of wild dogs & even the career grocery-bagger can read. But the fact remains that people with children have the option of moving their children to a private school & redirecting a portion of public school funds away from this general society benefit & we do not.

We cannot decide that we would rather our school taxes were applied to a local homeless shelter that keeps parents & children together & also provides schooling for both the parents & the kids, but our neighbors can & do get back some money from school taxes & pay their church instead (which has a school their children attend). This is actually twice-irksome; as school taxes here are based largely on local property taxes & these neighbors do not own the house they live in. This means they have not paid in as much in school taxes as they are able to redirect away from the school district.

Health care premiums - Under a previous healthcare provider, we, a married couple with no children, paid the family rate. That means our basic monthly cost to have health insurance was exactly the same as the guy down the hall who had five kids (this was a real guy, by the way. In our small office there was one unmarried man, one married man with five kids & two married men with two kids & us. There was also a married woman with no kids & a married woman with one kid, but they were not on our health plan). All of us (all nine of us, from the first part of the example) were in reasonably good health but the fact remains the consumer of 7/9th of the resource paid 50% of the tab. How many times would you split a dinner check that way before you said "Damn it I had a house salad & you had lobster!"

If you decide you want to spread the cost over the whole office, we paid 1/5th of the bill while using 1/9th of the initital resources, but it was actually bigger than that. In the larger group one child was autistic, one spouse had breast cancer & one employee had multiple back surgeries, but we all had the same monthly fee & deductible. In short, we paid the same amount into a basic plan that we did not use nearly as often. I know because I was the one reviewing the bills that pre-natal care was an option our office elected to pay for (increasing the bill to everyone) & allergy shots were not. Guess which one of these would have been more use to me personally.

We have since changed our provider (nothing to do with this discrepancy) & are now in a plan that is structured differently, although it does still favor families with two children; after that it is pay-per-head. I laugh when I hear people balk at the bill for socialized medicine; as far as I am concerned we have been paying for a form of socialized medicine all this time.

Airfare - our combined weight is, well, lets just say less than 320lb. (& the average weight for men & women in the country is 167.2, so apparently we are absolutely normal). I don't know about you, but I have never been on a commercial flight when at least one person did not weigh in the ballpark of 300lb. I guarantee you, that person did not pay more for a ticket because of body weight. & yet that person will certainly use (fractionally) more resources, every time they fly. I know some big people (I am related to some big people, I love & respect some big people), & I know they gamble that there will be an empty seat next to them (or between them) & that they will be able to take up more room without having to buy that second ticket.

On one memorable flight, a very large stranger was very angry with me because I would not let him raise the arm of the seat between us & squeeze over. He had trouble accepting he had gambled & lost (are there really people who are OKay with being plastered to one side of their seat so someone they do not know can press in on them?).

Many airlines also used to let you take a baby under a particular age at no charge on a flight, so long as that baby sits in your lap. There was a time I flew regularly & I dreaded being pinned in the window seat with a parent & lap-passenger; every time this happened I missed my connection waiting for mom (it was always mom) to juggle the baby & their luggage. Before you assume I did not offer to help, ask yourself how many dry cleaning bills have you have offered to pay after your kid gorped all over the suit next to you; no one ever offered to pay mine. Several did, however, complain loudly that the flight attendants could be more helpful or plentiful... Counting either pounds or heads, most of the time the average Joe Flyer is getting the short end of this deal & has more or less accepted it.

This one has been bothering me more lately because I often fly with a little dog. She rides in a carrier at my feet. That carrier counts as a piece of luggage in my total luggage allocation, so my only other bag costs extra on some airlines. I would be OKay with this (I guess) if I was not already paying the airline over $100 extra per flight to fly the little dog in the first place. There is an element of 'luxury tax' here, I understand that. What I cannot fathom is the passenger-with-baby already getting a reduced ticket who thinks everyone should pay more so she can have more help personally.

Clothing - that's right, clothing. I wear a size 6.5/7 shoe (sometime as a 7/7.5 if the toe is really, really pointy). I have a good friend who wears a size 11. Her shoes use more material, weigh more (therefore cost more to ship), but cost the same as mine. Ditto on jeans, dresses, blouses, etc. Even at my chubbiest, I have never worn the national average size: a ladies 14. But generally I pay the same price off-the-rack as a person who wears an 18. Next time you are shopping, line up a size 10 against a size 18. Depending on the garment, it will be a minimum 1/3rd larger & probably more.

Food - we actually spend a lot less on food than most people because I do not cook beef; I just cannot take the smell, & we do not eat pork (meat being the big part of most grocery bills). But we do pay the taxes that pay the subsidies for these foods to be shipped from large feed lots to processing plants to our grocery store. I confess, this is one why-am-I-paying-for-that-I-never-use-it policy I would like to see change & I do make every effort to buy anything I can locally (not just food, but books & anything else I can. After food & books, there is not much we buy, now that I think about it). Still, we are paying part of the bill to ship a lot of other people's food in.

I realize this all seems like small change but it adds up. & 360+ days a year, I do not mind (OKay, I did mind Fatso bitching about the arms of the seat cutting into him & suggested that next time he buy two seats & maybe this flight he would be more comfortable in the toilet). But really, I do not mind. I do wish, though that before people started ranting about not wanting to pay part of someone else's bills, that they would consider there may already be some one out there subsidizing theirs.

& if that is not enough to make you think twice, there is one group of people in this country who routinely pay higher taxes (often because they are in higher income brackets), have far fewer children than average (& thus are not using either the schools or family health care services they are paying for), & are rarely married (& so pay more in living expenses generally, which is a double-factor here where there is no income tax, but there is a sales tax) & often do not qualify for any spousal benefits, even if they are not living alone.

Rarely married outside of Massachusetts, that is. What happens to the rest of us the day the gay community says "you know what, you are right it is not fair that we have to pay your bills. So we are setting up our own financial system to meet only our needs. Tah"?

//For the sake of this entry, I started looking up our actual numbers. Using the per head model for health insurance alone (if we had paid 1/9th of the office's total monthly bill instead of 1/5th), we would have saved at least 2k every year (or the insurance company would have made a lot more off the whole office). As for the nickel&dime stuff, I bought fabric to make myself a skirt recently: 1.75 yards at $11 per yard. The same pattern size 18 called for 3.25 yards. At this point I decided it would be better to stop.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not-lawn not-care

I never really understood the vast expanse of green grass between the house & driveway with the curving ambling walkway to the front door. It has a look-but-do-not-touch quality; it makes me want to be somewhere else. As to our 'yard', I admit that I am letting the wild borders creep further in every season. Officially this is because our place is a lot of work for one person (A does everything he can & everything I cannot, but as far as routine animal & ground care goes, this is a solo operation 30 out of every 31 days). But there is also my complete lack of desire for that crushed green velvet lawn with sculpted borders look. I like looking out my back door & seeing actual wildlife, cute & brutal.

We were living in Houston, an apartment in Houston, when I bought my first copy of my gardening bible. I have lost track of how many copies I have purchased since then (I give them as gifts, I lose them in the sheds, I once deliberately composted one but only after leaving it on the hood of my truck during a thunderstorm). The emptiness of the perfect neighborhoods struck a very deep chord with me, surrounded as I was by homeowners who would pave their front yards & then spray paint them green; it made it easier to hose off the oily muck that dripped from the sky & it looks just as nice as astroturf, right?

In a wildlife friendly (not to be confused with a friendly wildlife) backyard, the key is to have not quite wild & not quite yard spaces. Because our property is shaped like a bowling alley, the edges where these merge are not all that far from the house. We have had many close-up years of squirrels & bunnies. & now we have a pair of young hawks. Like I said, cute & brutal.

This time of year, before the rains, I have trouble bringing myself to mow what lawn we do have. Every week I leave it another new drought-tolerant plant appears. I find it hard to kill them in favor of something I cannot achieve anyway (I draw the line at the alternating weed killer/fertilizer weeks that a North Florida green-year-round lawn entails). I will mow this week, though. The back yard anyhow or the stinging nettle will be waist high. The front is a different story.

The front would be a great dry dust patch if it were not for these volunteers, & when I look at them, I just cannot agree that pile-cut green grass would be more attractive. Besides, by the time there is enough rain for the grass to grow, these will have peaked, seeded & died back of their own accord. I think the front will be left to it's own life cycle for another month or so.

There are people who are certain my whole approach to not-lawn care is just an excuse to be lazy & they are half right. The other half is that I really do prefer a yard that has seasons, especially in this part of the world where the changes can be subtle. The third half is just that I think Sara Stein was right.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A useless vacation OR Spring broken

I have been taking an accidental vacation these past two weeks. No, I did not fall (again) & break anything (again), I just cannot seem to plug in. I go through my usual motions, I show up, but do not quite connect.

This week has been Spring Break week here at the university, which makes for much easier parking. We spent a day at a botanical garden south of here I have never visited. It was my favorite kind of vacation, a day spent with A doing something new but not very taxing & sleeping in my own bed on both ends.

It took me more than a week to recognize spring fever; I do not feel like I really have the right to spring fever. After all, I am hardly pressed to do anything I do not want to (except those things that cannot not be done; I would not want to take a break from say brushing my teeth or cleaning my ears). Still, spring fever it clearly was. This morning I woke up with actual mental energy; it was a nice change.

& now I will buckle down & finish those blog entries with recipes & updates & puzzles &....tomorrow. I will do it tomorrow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What would Jane do?

My bookclub is imploding. The short version is there are six members, four of whom would like to read at least a few books that four others absolutely do not want to read. Those of you who can do math know that adds up to more than six. I admit I am one of the first four. & one of the second four. & one member is neither.

So I am asking, what would Jane do? & by Jane, I mean Jane Austen.

For those of you who do not know (cave dwellers, perhaps), Jane Austen is just the most important thing in bookclubia since sliced bread. Since before sliced bread even. & the reason I look to Jane is she managed to dash off several novels, still making the charts approx 200 years later, while being the general dogsbody in her brothers' households. That is she managed these timeless insights into middle class (regardless of where on the social scale they actually ranked themselves) minds while living the most thankless of middle class lives. She wrote her masterpieces sitting in the middle of Regency equivalent of a rumpus room while the kids force-fed dog food to the baby & their mother, too distracted by American Idol said "Jane, deal with that." & deal with it Jane did. & then she went back to writing.

I am not sure what Jane would do about my bookclub. Write a satire perhaps? Now that I think of it, there are a lot of books about suburban bookclubs, hmmmm. What I have decided to do is take a nap. Certainly not what Jane would do, but I am so much more like that faux-overwhelmed middle class housewife than her more worthy sister-in-law.

But what would Jane do while she was writing that satire? Pick herself up, brush herself off & move on to the next book club (or brother's house; she never seemed to run out of brothers). It is not like she had any choice. Neither do I, frankly. If I could no longer find anyone who was interested in talking about books I think I would curl up & die.

Jane also might take up minting new words, as well. Regular readers can add "bookclubia" to "librarical". I expect all of you to use them in a sentence.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My world IS flat

I do not remember when I started flattening things. But I do remember when I started doing things with the results. We were living in Joisey, more or less at the Route 46/I-75 junction. In this complete absence of anything not man-made I was fascinated by the variety of foliage in the drainage ditches. Within a couple months I would pullover & randomly press plants I found ANYWHERE. Lucky for me, A has absolutely no problem flying across lanes of traffic so I can hop out & get a snip of leaf or bloom or bark.

Earlier this year I made my return to the Herbarium on campus to begin the cross-reference of the Wood Collection. An herbarium for those who do not know is a library of plant specimens. It was here I learned there is a right way to press plants (& I was mostly doing it) & a wrong way to record information (& I was doing that, too).

I was fortunate to have access to the images I did when Kathy & I made this quilt "Floristic Inventory of Kanapaha Botanical Gardens" (originally exhibited at the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2006) & compulsive enough to record the information from the source labels on the back (with legend).

It has been a few years (wow! years) since I saw this quilt, it has been traveling off&on & I do not own it, so I do not see it between trips, either. As I look at these old pictures I wonder that A never once suggested that perhaps I needed a psych referral. Instead he listened patiently while I explained the intricacies of digitally recreating the shadows behind the native grape for reproduction on fabric. Lucky for him he can sleep with his eyes open.

Seriously, what was I thinking?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In which I use a large flightless bird to predict an obvious outcome to a well documented weather pattern

Antonelle & CleoPatton cannot seem to get enough to drink. Last year (& the previous year), one maybe two full buckets of water a day was typical. Actually, it was not because I would tip their buckets out twice a day & there was always water to tip. Now 3-4-5 refills are not unusual.

A has done quite a bit of research on emus (he used to worry about them being to cold or too hot & then he just got interested). I have done rather less.

When the birds arrived they were under fed (they are still small for emus & probably always will be; M****** says they are only frightening as opposed to truly terrifying), so my job was to "put some groceries on them" as horsey-folk might say. & so I started making my own mix of poultry feed, oyster shell & a few varieties of bulk calories. They took to it right away.

I also read the chapter on flightless birds in Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle. It was helpful, arguably because it was free of any agenda or prejudice, at least as far as large flightless birds go. Also, Darwin obviously spent a lot of time researching other, similar birds trying to understand what he saw & that research helped me, too.

In his reading, A learned that emus conserve water efficiently & uniquely (among ratites only rheas seem to handle things the same way). The short version is they are able to pull moisture from the air around them to a significant degree (we mostly have to actually drink it). They can then use the moisture to regulate their own hydration & colling (& heating, which is actually the more remarkable bit).

My hocus-pocus contribution is: if the emus are that thirsty, there most be something drier than ever before hanging about them (I like to mix theories together, here I have combined a complete lack of understanding of energy conservation in flightless birds with a Victorian theory of miasma vapors. John Snow is probably spinning in his crypt).

& so I am predicting a worse-than-previous-years fire season here in Florida. & so is everyone else. But I did it differently.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lively ladies lose their lunch

My nieces visited for a day last week. They had never been here before & I thought the best way to introduce them to useless ranching was to take them through my normal chores.

1st: we fed & watered the emus. As an extra treat (for the emus), I chopped some apples-past-their-prime into small chunks. They go crazy for those.

2nd: we gathered eggs in the henhouse. We were a little late, so at least one egg had been cracked. Many hens clicking eggs around in one nesting box will do this. We threw the cracked egg against the back wall & watched the cannibals scramble for a beakful.

3rd: we moved Becca, the old Appaloosa, around the round pen a bit. In this cold weather, she gets very stiff & it helps to have her warm up, even if she is not always in the mood. Also, this meant the girls could do a little horseback sitting (you really could not call it riding).

4th: we collected some seeds from the Coontie. Zamia floridana is a cycad native to Florida. For whatever reason (neglect!), mine seem to do better than others through the winter & I always have an abundance of seeds to share.

After (& during) this arduous list of duties, we admired the horses & goats, walked to the back fence to see where the smoke was coming from (& got to meet the firemen who responded to our call), checked on the early azalea blooms, stared up at the redbud tree, stalked the barn cats, & of course, tested the trampoline.

I am told that the ride home was a lot like the end of a pub crawl; the one that managed to sleep it off felt much better than the one that did not.

I am thinking maybe I need to get Mike Rowe out here so he can see just how filthy doing nothing-at-all can be.