Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Love is all around

Love IS all around. & when I say love, I mean sex. & when I say sex, I mean gender. That's right people, it is garden time here at Useless Ranch.

First let me say none of my vegetables survived the Great Chicken Massacre of ought-nine. The chickens are fine, but they successfully annihilated all the little seedlings. I knew this would happen; I want a greenhouse.

Fortunately the G*******s have an overload & there is a box of vegetables on the counter they brought over on Saturday still being explored. When Baby G arrives I may have to conduct mid-day raids, perhaps leaving eggs in my wake. But that is a story for another post.

What we do have is an abundance of other plants. The gingers are exploding, the gladiolas, which really should have peaked by now, seem to be pushing even more blooms, the beauty berry grew almost two feet in a week. A week!!!

& then there are the shy but ever growing oxalis. My mom sent me some many years ago; I think they are her house plant of choice. I was watering the pot under the hose, lost control (I am a vigorous waterer), knocked the pot over & lost a few of the corms at the fence line. It has been an oxalis nursery ever since. If you move to a new house, get a new job, make remotely ornamental garden noises you are likely to be slapped with one of these.

They are hard to kill, easily recover even if you think you have killed them but best of all their flowers & leaves follow the sun in a day-long arc. This is actually how I tell time in my world.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Evil empires in wood

I am ssssssllllllloooooooowwwwwwwllllllllyyyyyyy working my way through the card catalog that is the only current record of all the wood specimens at the herbarium. This is how it goes:

-I take a card.

-I figure out which of two-five numbers on it refers to the herbariums own number.

-I look through the drawers, boxes, etc. (some in the room I usually work in, others in "the old wood room").

-I find the probable specimen & then I use something else to confirm I am indeed looking at the specimen referenced (a collectors number, a genus or common name, etc.).

-I mark the back of the card with the correct herbarium number so that when I get run over by a truck & all the computers simultaneously erase their databases, my worthy successor will know what has & has not been checked.

-I sit down at the computer & start recording the information from the card. Would you believe this is where it gets time consuming?

Not all of the cards are organized along the same lines. It is safe to say there are five major systems & I could not even guess how many minor ones. They mostly record the name of the specimen; collector's number &/or name or not; the date the specimen was collected or not; the location from which the specimen was collected or not or maybe the name &/or location of the organization that provided the specimen. All of this would be as nothing if each card had this information in the same order. They do not.

Still some systems have distinct hallmarks, frequent places from which specimens are collected, frequent co-collectors. Certain record keepers always put particular information in particular places & I have started to recognize their handwriting. & typewriters. But still I would be lost without GOOGLE, GOOGLE translate & WIKI-Species. There are a slew of more specific archives on-line but often my question can only be handled by a cross-reference between all three. For example when Sandwich appeared on one card for a particular variety of palm only this trinity could help me figure out what Sandwich was the person who collected the plant? the collection in England from which it was donated? Nope. Sandwich was the island on which it was native, the only island on which it was native. & in the very valuable index this would have been almost impossible to find out because not only has the palm changed names but so has the island.

It would be easy to get bogged down in the stories of the specimens. It has happened to me before. I spent a sad month in 2006 mounting plant pressings gathered by a father & son team in October & November of 1941. Then there was a gap until the father alone started to submit specimens again in 1944. He collected on off until the early 1960's, but always alone. There is a lot of information in what is missing on those old typed labels.

For the past couple of weeks it has been beautiful wood specimens from some of the most frightening places on earth. These are the places nightmares are made of. The first was a row of wooden blocks labeled "Queensland". It would be easy to assume Australia but it would be wrong. This Queensland is long gone from western thought, except perhaps in Orwellian Literature classes. The second were specimens all collected in South Africa in the 1950s. The third was the single specimen from Rwanda.

I am sure none of what happened was anacardiacaea's fault. It is just a plant, a good-sized family of plants in fact. A family that includes poison ivy. & pistachios.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chicken ferry

I have not forgotten I have a blog or how to blog, but I am spending my days ferrying 23 baby birds from a rabbit hutch in the big henhouse to a chicken tractor in front of the emu yard. In the realm of "I have not posted lately because" this is probably an entirely new idea. I also have a 24th bird, like the 24th hour, surrounded in mystery bad luck, good intentions & special requirements.

In any case, I have not forgot I have just run out of time (or rather been unable to finish what posts I started). So instead I am posting this now with the promise of more soon.

I hope everyone had a happy solstice.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The devil's plaything

That is what they used to say about idle hands; they are the devil's plaything. I have no talent for idle hands myself. I am not saying my hands are always productive, I am just saying they are always active. If I do not have something to do with my hands I will eat &/or make annoying tapping, snapping noises &/or shuffle papers &/or surf channels &/or & so on.

Apparently I am not the only one in my family with devil's-plaything disease. Yea, it is a condition, like restless leg syndrome only you do not have to be overweight to have it; also an over-the-counter pill like Tylenol PM will relieve the symptoms temporarily. But the best cure is to do something, anything with your hands. You could knit (like mom), bind quilts (which I have finally started to do) or.......whittle. Just like Lewis Black always said we could.

My brother started whittling ...uhhhhhmmmm... a while ago. I wonder who thought it would be a good idea to give him something sharp, but that ship has sailed. He now has a collection of blades that would make a neanderthal drool.

For the longest time he made mostly chess pieces. At least that is what he told us he was making. We did not care what he was making so long as he was not the unabomber. We were not really all that worried he was the unabomber; the first bomb was sent when he was not even a teenager & he has a great disdain for copycats. Still, you have to wonder about a kid who starts listing his life's ambition as 'to rule the world' in elementary school.

Now it is little objets. My parents have an emu sitting on an egg, my sister a red wolf & we got this guy.

In addition the devil's-plaything, my brother also has two dogs. Well, one dog & another that is visiting. For a year+ by now. Apparently that is also a family disease.

// I have previously taken some flak for implying everyone with RLS is overweight. Maybe they are, maybe they are not. I can say that I took a quick look at several (more than 5) "fact sheets" & the first non-prescription prevention &/or cure was always lose some weight. Aside from the pharmaceutical spokesmodels, I have never seen a person who claimed to have RLS that did not also outweigh me by at least 150lbs & usually more. & I am not the skinniest person you ever met. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Newt no more

Newt the foster dog has gone to his new, permanent home. It was earlier than we expected but as he got healthy he got dominant & a 20lb dominant terrier & a 65lb pitbull-mix with a high threshold for pain was not working. Poor A ended up at the ER & Newt needed to go into solitary.

The good news is (& it really is mostly good news) he was here long enough for something permanent to be arranged. He is now living with his dad's fiancee who loves him & has just wrapped the semester so she has time to deal with him. A month ago, she was too crazy-busy & he was not healthy enough for less than 24/7 supervision.

Would I do it again? Probably. But no terriers, I forgot how much they did not suit me. & no newly altered adult males; this is good life advice, too, frankly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nine from twenty five

I am only just getting to the quilt blocks I garnered in the Feb'09 quilt block swap. The rules were simple (I thought), send 5 of the same 6" finished/6.5" unfinished 9-patch but-you-choose-which-specific-block in blue&yellow with an optional white, as well as a stamped self-addressed envelope to me to arrive by a particular Saturday. I would swap (give you 1 each from five other sets of 5) on Sunday & mail them back on Monday.

By & large these directions were followed with a few snafus. For example I did not know that a larger envelope could be mailed cheaper than a smaller envelope if the smaller envelope is thicker (perhaps has five folded quilt blocks that could lay flat in a larger envelope) & neither did a few others who included smaller envelopes for the return. Still most mistakes were innocent enough.

Others were probably also innocent, but stood out none-the-less. I think my favorite was the person who sent three blocks (not five), two of one pattern, one of another & then when I got in touch with her about the missing two blocks was very cranky & "did not want to be bothered anymore". She had no problem bothering me though when she only got three swap blocks back; she was expecting five. & she did not like those three & wanted her own back instead. Oy.

But I digress. Mostly it was fun & we did it again in April & have another pending in June BUT I still had done nothing with the blocks I got in Feb. So about a week ago I buckled down & began.

The first issue took me a bit by surprise. My fault I suppose because I was expecting blue & yellow blocks to be, well, blue & yellow. I do not care about the odd green or whatever that is part of the fabric so long as the overall effect was blue &/or yellow. Instead I have one block I would have to say was brown with a yellow leaning & another that was orange. I put those aside & adjusted my thinking to work with fewer blocks. I was originally planning for 25 blocks in a 5x5 grid: two sets of 5 for my 2 swapped sets of 5 + a few I got as "thank yous" for organizing the swap + my own 2 swap blocks + a few more I had thought I would make when I got around to it. Instead I went down to 9 (3x3) & in the end, I did not use ANY of my own blocks. As for the not-quite-yellow blocks: they are both lovely & will find their way into other projects I am sure. I mostly feel bad for those people when they got back a whole envelope full of sunshine-yellow.

The second issue was not entirely unexpected: because it was a swap there were going to be some size inconsistencies. I was very impressed with how accurate most of the blocks were. The ones that were a shave smaller than the 6.5" unfinished dimension were, not surprisingly, those with more individual pieces, as with each seam comes another chance to go a bit deeper than 1/4 inch. Still, most were spot on 6.5" (by my ruler) & the ones that were smaller were all still at least 6" unfinished. Actually, only one was smaller than 6.25". & because this particular problem was expected I had already planned a solution: I bordered all of the blocks in varying widths of plain old white to bring them to a uniform size (roughly 7.25"). My hope was it would look like grout, but only you can tell me if it worked.

The third issue was getting some size back: I had lost more than 1/2 the expected dimension in taking away 16 blocks but I was not interested in a wall quilt or table topper or anything so small. & so I put each block (with the white grout) on point in a yellow&white tile looking print. Very busy. But at least it still had a tile-feel, by my eye anyhow.

Then I realized that because the background yellow&white tile-type fabric was so busy, these blocks would never work bumped up against each other. That is when I decided to border them in blue & white. But it was late & besides I really did not want to buy any fabric (aside from the yellow&white tile-like fabric for setting on point, which I bought before this project really gelled because it was clearance & I just liked it). To the scrap bag I went...

A few years ago I made my step-father a broken dishes quilt in blue & white so I had plenty of blue & white scraps. What I did not have was any one fabric in sufficient quantity. Soooooo:

I know it is way too busy for most people, but it kept my hands busy for a little while (a good thing) & my brain busy for an even longer while (a very good thing) & it used up more scraps than you could imagine (which every quilter knows is the best thing of all). I had no plans for the quilt itself, but when I showed it to A he liked it. Turns out he likes yellow. I should have been clued in when he asked that our garage be painted yellow. Again. & all the barns are painted yellow. But I missed it. What can I say, I am a blonde!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Three tips for the bride who wants her OWN wedding

I am the last person who should be giving advice on any aspect of wedding planning. This is probably how I happened to work, ever so briefly, as the facilities coordinator (i.e. the booker of weddings) at one of the nicest places around. & in the end I left for reasons that had nothing to do with bridezillas. They really were not that bad. Even more astonishing, if you google my real name, I still come up in connection with this job & it is all good.

While I was in the middle of wedding-central, I could not help but notice that almost everyone had the same wedding over&over&over again. & the dream of every bride was to have her OWN wedding. For those of you who go around calling this 'our' big day, let me burst that bubble. I never laid eyes on the groom of at least half the weddings we booked. Grooms want you to: not spend so much, not drag him into arguments with his mother, not drag him into arguments with your mother, not spend so much & calm down. Also, they would really like it if you could not spend quite so much.

Let me suggest a few small changes that will make your wedding yours without increasing your bottomline:

Ditch the Wagner
For my own wedding, this was never on the table because of that whole anti-semite thing, but frankly everyone of us has also been Handeled up to our eyeballs. I suggested Baby Elephant Walk to a relative & she did not speak to me for a month; I really did not mean anything by it. Also, it was Mom's idea originally, so there! Forget the jumbo implications & just listen to it, it is charming.

A has said he wishes I had told him what I really would have wanted because he would have wanted it, too: the Theme from Peter Gunne. OKay, your heart is set on classical, even though you never listen to it any other time in your life. Fine. Let me suggest the next runner up by Bach. Frankly I have been to plenty of weddings where the best choice would have been Night on Bald Mountain, but brides get very tense when you tell them that. If you want original & traditional (I could not believe how often THAT request would come up) what about Come Haste to the Wedding? Anyway...tip number one: make a musical decision that is your own, not Bride Magazine's, yours.

Lose the dress
That's right you heard me: get off that wedding dress wagon. Instead find a dress you like. That does not highlight your ass (back interest, puh-leeze). A normal dress. Less than 100 years ago it was perfectly acceptable for a bride to wear her dress out for evenings, etc. If you do not believe me take a break from your wedding planning schedule & read some Edith Wharton: she will give you a whole new perspective on married life, regardless which book you choose.

I am not suggesting that you need to go 'theme'; I do not mean get married in jeans or scuba gear or both, unless you want to of course. I just mean $ for a dress you wear once? & then fantasize about passing down to your daughter? Who (maybe) does not exist yet? & may not be speaking to you on her wedding day? Perhaps, because you made such a big stink about her wearing your dress? Here is it...tip number two: a wedding dress is not an investment.

Postpone the honeymoon
It never made any sense to me: get together all the people that are important to you (& a few that almost certainly are not), make a major change in your life that means you will see all of them less & then leave. Why not take this opportunity to spend some time with them? If you think you will get to do this at the reception you are delusional. Besides, after your wedding you will want several days comatose, you can do this at home. A went to work the day after we got married (I was unemployed or I would have, too). We took a vacation later when we knew we would get more out of it. I am not saying never have a honeymoon just that you will enjoy it more if you are still speaking to each other. Or not still mad about the cheese plate (suddenly we are kosher, what got into her?). & so tip number three: take a break before you take a honeymoon.

In the fairness of full disclosure I should tell you I never walked down an aisle. There was no music. A saw my dress before the wedding; he bought it for me as a birthday gift, in a shop in NYC & it was not bride-specific. There were no fancy decorations. We were married by a judge we did not meet with before & have not seen since. There were no friends & family there. Our reception was about two weeks & almost 2K miles later. It still took.

Happy 15th to me & mine.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What would Cotton do?

Not Big Cotton, Cotton Mather. For those of you unfamiliar with this man well let me just say you are clearly not from New England. If you were you would have taken at least one class field trip to one colonial settlement/settlement recreation & his name would have come up, trust me. If that field trip had been to Salem, his name would have come up more than once.

In ?sophomore? history class, Mr. DeVito asked why New Amsterdam outpaced Boston as the premier harbor in the colonies. He was looking for some answer that included the Hudson River, but I still say it was Cotton Mather & his ilk. The Dutch might be drunk & disorderly but most people would still rather do a little business with them than with the we-left-England-because-the-local-religion-was-too-easy-on-SINNERS that settled to the north. I do not remember what grade I ended up with, probably a reasonable one; Mr. DeVito never seemed to mind my sideways interpretations of the textbook he had used for years.

How could that possibly be relevant today you ask? Because a good idea is always relevant. I have written before that earlier this year the city-next-door voted on whether or not to remove anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian & transgendered people. & I cannot help but think, that is exactly what Cotton would do.

& I am glad they voted to leave those protections in place. Not just because I think it is the right thing to do, but because I think a big part of why this county is doing much better than most of the rest of the country (& so much better than the rest of the state) has a lot to do with the attitudes present that drafted the original protections. I am as sure as I can be that if you create a community people want to live in, people who could live anywhere will want to live there, too. & a good sustainable system really does take (absorb, require) all kinds.

Back to Cotton Mather. It is easy to look at a picture of him in the simple cut of the black robes, other muted colors of the puritan dress code & that inexplicable powdered wig, see him prosecuting the Salem witch trials (witches, really?) & decide he was a pompous hypocrite & anyone who listened to him was a gullible fool. & you would be wrong. No matter what you think of the man, no one can doubt his sincerity; he never asked anyone to adhere to a standard he did not cleave to himself. Among his followers were the high & the low & everyone in between. When you consider how much damage most people with as-good-as-absolute power manage to wreak, Cotton Mather does not look like such a bad guy.

& so I do not think What Would Cotton Do? is such an absurd question. Even though I think he was wrong-wrong-wrong: his belief that poverty (for the other guy) was a gift from G*d- wrong; his failure to educate women & most men- wrong; his conviction that the potential rescue of anyone's immortal soul made OKay to torture anyone else on this earth- wrong. Truly, the list of wrong ideas almost never ends with this guy. BUT he was prepared to do everything in his power to keep his people safe in this life & the next, whether they wanted him to or not. & each & every one of his many ghastly mistakes was well intentioned.

Maybe the point is not to do what Cotton would do, but to imagine what we can do better. Keep the ethic, lose the prejudice.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Another saint I know more from obscure not-quite-contemporary pop-culture references than actual sainthood is Saint Boniface. You remember in Auntie Mame when Patrick is taken from her & enrolled in 'Old Saint Boney Face"? Well that was the Saint Boniface Academy & this my only personal Saint Boniface reference.

That Old Saint Boney Face would be the school of choice for bankers, bank trustees & well, more bankers (according to Patrick Dennis,) is very apropos because as far as I can tell Boniface is the man who brought religious bureaucracy to the Germanic tribes. That's right, its his fault.

Born somewhere in the British Isles (different regions take credit, or not), the biggest chunk of Boniface's career seems to have been conversion clean-up guy. After the initial missionary had gone to the world where-ever, converted a few with his own personal magnetism (never underestimate personal magnetism), Old Boney Face would follow with greater resources & really start packing them in. I had to laugh, I cannot help it; to me Boniface is the union-buster saint.

Boniface is the patron of brewers (he went native to a degree while among the Germanic tribes?) & file cutters (I am at a loss). He is most closely associated with his most famous visual aid: while in the hinterland, he blundered on a group of tree worshipers (not general tree worshipers, but an actual specific tree that they worshiped). Without a word, he cut down the tree as a demonstration that his g*d was bigger than that g*d. The crowd's response was mixed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An offer almost anyone can refuse

One of our chicken-syndicate participants has dropped out. Through a series of trades, swaps, barters & impulse purchases, she has more viable eggs already in the incubator than she needs chicks & cannot face the thought of more & so we have...

Wait a minute! I bet you are all asking yourselves what is a chicken syndicate? Well, there is a minimum order of 25 birds (it is a survival thing) but no one really wants 25 birds. On the other hand, three or four or five of us can easily split 40+ birds. & so we started ordering together about 6 years ago. maybe seven. We do not order every year & everyone does not order every time, but around January the phone lines start buzzing.

So we have more Salmon Favorelles en route than we actually need. I will of course step into the breach & make them my own. I did order some for myself, though. Plus the extras just-in-case. This is why I am asking around: who wants to take a couple off my hands? They are already paid for (& would run to a whopping $3 each if they were not). I think the next town over permits two hens per family generally & quite a few gated communities have come around. As for the smaller towns to the west, north & south well anything goes really.

The chickens would: take care of any bug problems you, breakdown your garden post-harvest, & give you roughly an egg or so a day (between the two of them) & probably more. They would need a place to live, I suggest an old rabbit hutch, with hay in the enclosed part for nesting. The liftable lid makes it easy to clean, too. A has made henhouses out of a number of salvaged things: the peep-house is an old air conditioner housing (the vents are PERFECT for letting in air & cannot get clogged like the fine mesh needed to keep snakes out, the nesting boxes out of the drawers from former bathroom vanities (e handles are great for pulling them in & out without disturbing the birds...too much) & the old bird bos out of the packing cases from a ?microscope? or some piece of equipment that came to the lab.

They would also need a fenced yard (or fenced garden portion of a yard) they can safely cruise for an hour or two every day or a day or two every week, some extra feed (a 50lb bag runs less than 8 dollars & will last a while, longer if they can go out every day).

Best of all, SF's are among the stoopider chickens. & like stoopid people, stoopid chickens are too much fun to watch. If you are local & think you might be interested, let me know. They will be too small to leave the flock until say Labor Day - Hallowe'en-ish but living so far south, they will winter just fine & start laying around the New Year.