Friday, May 30, 2008

The Editor

The new-hire, a young editor, was just getting settled into his cubicle, where he had a good view of the desk of the editor-in-chief, who was a bigwig at the newspaper. As the day progressed, the hireling noticed that the chief editor would reach into his front shirt pocket occasionally, pull out an index card, glance at it, tap it back into his pocket and go on with his work. Just before the end of his shift, the hireling had an opportunity to meet his new boss, and he worked up the nerve to ask about this odd habit with the index card.

At his question, the editor-in-chief pulled the card out of his pocket and showed it to the hireling who read, "i before e, except after c."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jack London

I admire Jack London. Just read this fantastic description of Wolf Larsen from The Sea-Wolf,
"Pacing back and forth the length of the hatchway, and savagely chewing the end of a cigar, was the man whose casual glance had rescued me from the sea. His height was probably five feet ten inches, or ten and a half; but my first impression or feel of the man was not of this, but of his strength. And yet, while he was of massive build, with broad shoulders and deep chest, I could not characterize his strength as massive. It was what might be termed a sinewy, knotty strength, of the kind we ascribe to lean and wiry men, but which, in him, because of his heavy build, partook more of the enlarged gorilla order. Not that in appearance he seemed in the least gorilla-like. What I am striving to express is this strength itself, more as a thing apart from his physical resemblance. It was a strength we are wont to associate with things primitive, with wild animals and the creatures we imagine our tree-dwelling prototypes to have been -- a strength savage, ferocious, alive in itself, the essence of life in that it is the potency of motion, the elemental stuff itself out of which the many forms of life have been molded."

After reading that, can you say you don't know what Wolf Larsen looks like? No, you don't know the color of his hair, his eyes or what he was wearing, but DAMN, you do know what the man looked like!

London is just at good at portraying action. A couple of paragraphs later in that same book, he describes the dying moment of a man who's been lying on the deck for some time.

"The captain, or Wolf Larsen, as men called him, ceased pacing, and gazed down at the dying man. So fierce had this final struggle become that the sailor paused in the act of flinging more water over him, and stared curiously, the canvas bucket partly tilted and dripping its contents to the deck. The dying man beat a tattoo on the hatch with his heels, straightened out his legs, stiffened in one great, tense effort, and rolled his head from side to side. Then the muscles relaxed, the head stopped rolling, and a sigh, as of profound relief, floated upward from his lips. The jaw dropped, the upper lip lifted, and two rows of tobacco-discolored teeth appeared. It seemed as though his features had frozen into a diabolical grin at the world he had left and outwitted."


One more indulgence (It is my blog, after all!). In the next paragraph, London describes the captain's tirade at the man's death. In addition to more of London's descriptive genius, it demonstrates his dry humor, which permeates much of his writing, and I can't resist copying it.

"Then a most surprising thing occurred. The captain broke loose upon the dead man like a thunderclap. Oaths rolled from his lips in a continuous stream. And they were not namby-pamby oaths, or mere expressions of indecency. Each word was a blasphemy, and there were many words. They crisped and crackled like electric sparks. I have never heard anything like it in my life, nor could I have conceived it possible. With a turn for literary expression myself, and a penchant for forcible figures and phrases, I appreciated as no other listener, I dare say, the peculiar vividness and strength and absolute blasphemy of his metaphors. The cause of it all, as near as I could make out, was that the man, who was mate, had gone on a debauch before leaving San Franciso, and then had the poor taste to die at the beginning of the voyage and leave Wolf Larsen short-handed."

Haha! Love it, love it, love it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stream of Life

The same stream of life

that runs through my veins

runs through the world

and dances in rhythmic measure.


It is the same life that shoots in joy

through the dust of the earth

into numberless blades of grass

and breaks into tumultuous waves

of leaves and flowers.


It is the same life

that is rocked in the ocean

cradle of birth and death

in ebb and flow.


I feel my limbs are made glorious

by the touch of this world of life

and my pride is from the life throb of ages

dancing in my blood this moment.

-Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941

Former Poet Laureate of India, Nobel Prize 1928

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gardens and Dogs

Gardens and dogs don't go together naturally. Not only do dogs dig, they also make trails, and they trample and break plants. However, I love both, dogs and gardens, so I (with the sturdy help of my mate) find a way for these to coexist and thrive. We have subdivided the acreage around our house with a makeshift system of fences and gates to keep the flowers up and the dogs out.

It would require a great deal of space to describe all these fences, gates, their locations, functions, and the directions they channel traffic, so I won't try. I will explain, however, that my own garden, that small, variable, personal plot where I indulge my whims and overwrought sympathies on this species or that, is carved out of a larger lawn we call 'the dogyard.' But even this 'dogyard', the last garden-free sanctuary of our 3 (soon to be 4 again) dogs, is not immune to my gardening urges.

Here, though, in the wild acre of Canis, I have to limit myself to the hardiest plants because they must not only stand up to the rough treatment of the dogs, they must survive without additional water and only occasional care from me.
Within the dogyard, there is a sturdy structure like an arbor, but not so delicate a thing as that word implies. It looks something like the symbol pi on steroids. On this 'arbor' (built by aforementioned sturdy aide), we grow a wistaria that nothing can kill, not even the late frost of last year, which we thought was truly the end of it at the time. (I'll have to blog about my mom's wistaria nightmares some other day.) We also have a grapevine tucked against the fence, another plant that refuses to die. I'm not sure one can kill a grapevine. There's a bamboo, which should be spreading, but the dogs and the lawn mower have managed to keep it in place, much to my chagrin. There's a cypress tree, which only survived its first few years because I surrounded the ground about with wire to keep the dogs from digging it up, although that was hell on the lawn mower if the driver forgot it was there. (There's a tale with this magnificent cypress, but I'll save it for another day.) There are two rose bushes, not the domestic, big-thorned kind or even the weedy type that grow to the size of cottages. These two, one yellow and one red, are the type with tiny thorns sprouting evenly and thickly like poisoned hairs along their stems. As the cottage type do, they sprout babies from spreading roots and expand that way. These two always stand within a ring of unmowed grass and weeds because one doesn't dare reach in with a hand due to the thorns and even on the lawnmower you don't want to get too close because the thorns rip at your pants or, worse, your bare legs. They are stupendous, however, when they bloom, and require absolutely no care so they're perfect for the dogyard. Even the dogs avoid them.

Last, and the reason I even started this post, I have a cold frame (also constructed by reliable mate) in the dogyard. (The grapevine is to the left of the frame. It died back last winter, but is coming up again from lower on the stem.) Notice the wire over the top of the cold frame box. It serves two functions. First, it's the support for different covers, plastic or garden fabric. Second, it keeps the dogs from digging out the frame. When we had a large and boisterous puppy last year, the large wire wasn't enough to keep the rascal out, and I had to cover the cold frame with the smaller mesh, leaning against the fence in this photo. In the autumn, I plant lettuce in the frame, and it usually stands empty in the summer. This spring, though, I got creative and decided to fill it with bright marigolds. These are still babies, but they have been in long enough to root themselves and flower. I expect them to fill and grow out the top of the box by the end of the summer, stamping a yellow-gold square on the dogyard.
(...and all this talk because I wanted to post a pic of my marigolds in the cold frame.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Honeysuckle in the Morning

I've trained two vines of red honeysuckle to grow beneath my second story bedroom window so I can watch the hummingbirds and orioles from my bed.
Outrageously, honeysuckle and roses bloom at the same time!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Egyptian Walking Onions

These are my Egyptian Walking Onions. The blue flowers in the background are flax, and the purple flowers are a magnificent sage bush at the height of its bloom (which has the bees giddy). These are called Walking Onions because they form onion bulblets at their tips (just forming in this picture) which fall of their own weight, bending the stalk to the ground, where the bulblet roots and forms a new plant, thus 'walking' to a nearby location. Left to their own, they'll cover a large area, walking in this fashion. I contain the group by weeding them out and eating them and by mowing along the edge of their bed.

They're awesome, yes?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Three Birds


Monday, May 19, 2008


...visited our pinks early in the morning.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Magical Iris


With love, Morning Angel

Friday, May 16, 2008

Royal Guard

I subscribe to Art of the Day, which sends me an email from self-representing artists each day. Most of it is blech, but every once in a while, a piece of work jumps out. Here's one!

It's by Dottie Cooper Katz, and I love it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Library

I've been entering my books into a widget called LibraryThing, which I've added to this page (see over to the right). I've wanted to catalog my books for a long time, and this widget is perfect for doing that. Once they're entered, I can sort by name, date, author, subject, etc. Really nice for a bibliophile like me. Also, I can share my library with my family and internet friends!

The widget is entirely too simple to use (good), but my books are not so simple to find (bad). Simple enough when I enter a book I've bought from Amazon or Barnes & Noble in the past 10-15 years, but not so simple when I try to enter a copy of The Hobbit that I've had since 1975. There are a LOT of editions of that kind of book! I've done my best to stick to the correct copyright dates, but if some are fudged, I'm not worrying too much. I've picked the closest to my edition, trying not to give the impression I have a book that I don't. My trouble is that my books are from just about any source possible.

Some books I got from my parents' library. Mom is a voracious reader and always has been. That's what people did back in the 30s without TV and so on; they read. Dad, too, is a literate guy. He has a master's in English literature. Between the two of them, I grew up with mounds of books of all kinds of subjects, no holds barred actually. I read Louis L'Amour in between helpings of Shakespeare and Dickens. I read Corbett and Kipling and fell in love with India. I read Jonathan Bach and became a pop philosopher in my teens. I read Tolkien, of course. Even more influential, I read Heinlein! I read gardening memoirs for breakfast or Jane Eyre on the bus to and from school. I snuck out of bed at night to hide in my closet to read, read, read, novels of Pearl Buck and Hemingway and London, field guides of rocks and birds, poetry of Dickinson and D. Thomas (who remains my favorite poet), fantasy of Stewart, sci-fi of Asimov, satire of Swift, philosophy of Hegel, classics of Twain and older ones bound in red leather, even smut I found in a parking lot, anything! I devoured my elementary school library, then ate up the one in my high school, too.

I acquired quite a few books during my college years. The best part about college was that I got to read for class and there was a huuuuuge library right in my path to the student union!!! I read my textbooks like they were novels. It didn't matter whether it was physics, calculus, biochemistry or geology. They were words and sentences and paragraphs, and it was all interesting to me. I also pursued sci-fi more intensely in college. That's when I met Mr. Card and Ender. Nevertheless, Thorby was my first, and I won't ever forget that thrill.

Some of my books are from yard sales. Mom was once an avid garage-saler. Along with my grandma and my sister, the four of us spent Saturdays scrounging. Mom would buy boxes, literally, of books and then she would read through the boxes. When I finished a book and was looking around for my next prey, I could go in the living room where she kept a box near the couch and rummage until something caught my eye.

Of course, some of my books are from used bookstores. Nothing better than to sort through the racks of discarded treasures and find something like my copy of Petra by Iain Browning. Though as I said above, these books are sometimes old editions and now bothersome to enter in the LibraryThing. Wichita, unfortunately, isn't a great place for used bookstores. They run for a while, but nearly always fail. These days, I'm mostly an Amazon hound where I can buy used books for just as cheap. (I have four books en route. :P)

Please enjoy my listings. Every book I enter I have read and many I have studied or read more than once, sometimes more than twice. I can't get them all entered at once, naturally, but I'll be adding over time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Old Speckled Hen

When we were in Edinburgh, we first drank Old Speckled Hen. We found it on the pub menu in Amsterdam as well and had a bottle or two. But in Amsterdam, Heineken is the undisputed King of Beer, so I drank more of that. I can report that Heineken tastes better in the Netherlands than it does here. Below is a link to a bit of history on Old Speckled Hen, actually an English beer.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fire and art

Paleontologists debate whether a piece of charcoal found in a cave is incidental or represents a hearth. They want to know whether, like them, ancient man lit fires.
This horse is found in a cave in Loubens, France. In 1974, the cave was privately owned and permission had to be obtained to see the grotte. A quick search on the internet didn't yield much information about the site or this painting. Perhaps the cave is still privately held. The one image of this horse I found was courtesy of Douglas Mazonowicz. My impression is that Mazonowicz's reproduction is in The Gallery of Prehistoric Painting in New York City. Mazonowicz, who traveled the world studying cave art and making precise and comprehensive copies, said this about the Loubens horse in his book, Voices from the Stone Age, "Without doubt, this is one of the most charming cave drawings so far discovered. ... Every part of the animal's outline is expressive, a perfect interplay of lines that provides a remarkable sense of movement." I agree.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

The endless commercials, ads and junk mail for holidays, the scramble of Americans to buy useless merchandise with money they don't have (on credit) are so imbecilic and pathetic that I am embarrassed by my fellow humans who spend the money and angry at my fellows who make fools of the aforementioned!

The way we celebrate Mother's Day in this country makes buying a gift for our mothers into an obligation. It's a chore we have to put on our to do list, not to be forgotten lest the wrath of mother fall on our heads. I've felt that way, too. The problem is that there is a designated day to love my mother. I don't need a day. I love her all the time, my dad, too. The other problem with setting a day aside is that we can put off showing our love the rest of the year. Then the day comes, and we haven't thought about Mom for months, and we need to buy something on the run so she isn't hurt. To me, Mother's Day is the 'anti-love your mother' holiday.

Even though I despise Mother's Day and every other holiday trumped up as a merchandising blitz, which is all of them, I still continue to make an effort for my mom, although no one can make me buy her a worthless trinket.

Instead, I usually honor Mother's Day
1) with a visit--truly that's what she wants most in the world from her daughters so I could probably stop at that (The nice thing about a visit is that I get to talk with my dad, too.)
2) with a token--something she can brag about on the phone with her sisters or my sisters. Sometimes I bring her a bouquet of flowers from my garden. One year I knew she wanted a piece of my red honeysuckle, so I potted a volunteer of that for her. Once, I brought her a load of the dirt I make. (Don't laugh. She swoons over my homemade dirt!) Last year, I went with work gloves and helped her clean out a neglected garden bed. That was one of our best years, I think, because we shared something we both love. (By the way, I do that when it's not Mother's Day, too.)

Despite my anger and frustration at consumerism, which spikes on holydays, Pete Rahon managed to inspire me this year! Today he posted flowers for a Mother's Day card on his blog. His message was beautiful and sincere and had absolutely nothing to do with buying a useless product with false money and false intentions. Pete restored my faith in Mother's Day!

Too bad I don't think even Pete's love can fix Christmas.

(Forgive this one rant. I'll try to let it stand for the rest of the holidays as they come around.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mom's Day

Painted this today as a gift for my mom.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Firth of Forth

What more can you say?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Two Blue Mushrooms

We've had storms here. Thunder in the night and downpours. Showers during the day. I've been turning nudes into fairies and angels.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My favorite flower is...

...the iris.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Brandywine Blossoms

Home grown tomatoes. Mom has been planting tomatoes since before I was born and selling them from a roadside stand for as long as I can remember. She likes Celebritys. They are a dependable performer with quite a few resistances bred in, but mostly it's the variety she found works for her, and she just never switched. There are, these days, bigger and better tomatoes, but she swears by Celebrity. The time of her life to try new things is past, and she'll plant Celebrity till she dies. I wouldn't be surprised if she did die in those tomato rows, and I'm sure nothing would make her happier.

That's how I want to go, dead in the garden. In fact, it's where I request to end up, cremated and spread in a garden, preferably among the tomatoes, with the compost. If they'd let you bury people just any-ol'-where, that would be even better, but there are laws against it.

Unlike my mom, I don't have large acreage drenched with the Kansas sun and swept clean by the winds. She plants tomatoes by the hundred or so, but I put in about 5 plants, and I experiment with varieties. This year I planted 1 Celebrity (a nod to Mom), a Beefsteak, a yellow (because they're pretty canned) and two Brandywines, which are heirloom varieties.

Brandywines. I never planted them before, but I have longed to. I never could justify ordering 1 or 2 plants because of the shipping. This year, though, my grocery store had a few on their racks, so I snatched a couple plants and tucked them into the spots on my garden map labeled 'tomatoes.' In the process, nudging out reliable performers (with disease and pest resistance) I might have planted in that prime real estate.

Ahh, but Brandywine! The name alone makes me heady. Planted, and then, walking through on my morning rounds, teacup in hand, sun just filtering through the eastern trees, and there is a bloom on the Brandywine! The first of my tomatoes to blossom, beating out Celebrity and Beefsteak, which don't even have a hint of a bud yet! How could I have known?! I read nothing about Brandywine being an early tomato, but there it is, not just one bloom, but two, and there are more buds at the node. In fact, it's PROLIFIC with buds.

If only...if only these intrepid plants of mine will go the distance, but I mean to set my heart to it, to help them along, to set their fruits and, finally, to drop one of those wine-hued tomatoes into my hand. Not even to eat it at first, but just to hold it tender and ripe in my palm, glowing and bountiful. After I've gloated sufficiently, then only then to taste it...

Now I'm fantasizing, and not even with caution! Windstorms may bow the Brandywines to the ground. Hail may shred the leaves to the stem. White flies may suck out their vigor. My heart will be broken for sure if I don't settle down to earth and follow my father's advice, "Don't count your chickens until they've hatched."

I won't, Dad, but imagine the possibilities!

German Wire-haired Pointer

This is Bella. She's the mom of the future puppy we hope to buy. Isn't she gorgeous?!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Millais' Ophelia

When I was in Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh Museum. (Say Gogh as though clearing phlegm twice from your throat for each of the g's, then you'll be pronouncing it like the Dutch!) The museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's work, and I saw them all. They were, to say the very least about them, pure genius.

If you have not visited art in the original, you are missing out on an intensely satisfying and inspirational experience. Trust me--art on the internet, or even in fine picture books, does not compare to the originals in color, brilliance, size, textures, emotion. When you look at a great original, you virtually FEEL the artist touching you with his hand, his eye, his soul!

So it was with Millais' Ophelia. I knew about this painting, Ophelia, and was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam while Millais' exhibit was on display. Pretty much near starving and exhausted from hours of the Van Gogh, I went to look at it. Now I have to digress to explain that Shakespeare's Hamlet is my favorite of his plays. Usually just thinking about Ophelia can get me teary-eyed, so you can imagine how I felt in front of this huge canvas, the colors so vibrant, the details of the flowers and background absolutely sublime. It doesn't come across in digital reproductions, but the background is painted with such precision that it is almost photographic, yet not so photographically perfect that you can't also tell that the hand of the artist was involved.

Then there's Ophelia herself. Millais used a model suspended in water to perfect her pose. The story is that the model caught a cold from lying in a tub so long. Millais has painted her just as I imagine Shakespeare wrote her. In the play, great tragedy has fallen on Ophelia. Her lover has scorned her and has also murdered her father whom she loved. It is more than the gentle maiden, Ophelia, can bear, and she is driven mad. In this state, she wanders into the countryside, innocently picking flowers. Shakespeare tells us she fell, but the suggestion is also there that she floated away from life which is tragic. Millais paints her with her hands poised as though she has not accidentally fallen, but has relinquished life. Her face seems vivid with life, so you imagine she is not dead, but has surrendered to the flowing water, the day. In fact, he paints her almost as a Christ figure, innocent and sacrificial. Hamlet's sacrifice.

Needless to say, I did tear up while looking at this painting, but I was not the only one!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Marguerite Porete

Marguerite Porete was a mystic of the late 13th/early 14th century. She wrote a book, The Mirror of Simple Souls. While other mystics criticized the corrupt officials of the church, Marguerite went so far as to criticize the institutionalization of the church. She believed she could have a relationship with God outside an institution. In other words, she believed her soul transcended the rituals, rules and dogmas of the church. Here is what she wrote in the The Mirror of Simple Souls, regarding virtue:

"Virtues, I take leave of you forever. I will possess a heart most free and gay.... I was once a slave to you, but now am delivered from it. I had placed my heart completely in you, you know well. Thus I lived a while in great distress. I suffered many grave torments, many pains endured. Miracle it is that I have somehow escaped alive. This being so, I no longer care. I am parted from you. For which I thank God, good for me this day. I am parted from your dominions, which so vexed me. I was never more free, except as departed from you. I am parted from your dominions, in peace I rest."

The church repeatedly arrested her for distributing the book, but she kept doing it. She was finally arrested and imprisoned for a year and a half, but she wouldn't testify to her accusers. She was burned at the stake for heresy on June 1, 1310.

For Persephone

I found this interesting pose of a young woman and tried to replicate it myself. Seeing it digitally with fresh eyes, I notice places where I should have added shading, and I don't like the color in areas. The face, I like that. She looks thoughtful anyway.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day

It's the first of May, terribly windy and may reach 90 degrees today. Welcome to Kansas.
This is me in my gardening regalia, straw hat, long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans and gloves. Wise farmers, too, wear long-sleeved shirts to work outside in this state. The cloth shades your arms, protects from mosquitoes, prevents sun burn, and is cooling when the wind evaporates your sweat. It's all about the wind. ...all about the wind here.

I own no less than 5 straw hats, each suited for different functions. This is my windy day hat because it fits tight to my head.

And blue jeans...the ones in this picture are my favorite pair, faded blue, button-downs, a bit too large which lets me bend and work.

Gloves. I'm wearing a blue cloth pair here because I was doing light work, but I usually wear a green and black pair at $22 each + shipping from Smith & Hawken. Gloves are my primary tool in the garden. I weed, dig, scoop, haul and basically DO everything with my gloves. The Smith & Hawken pair I've discovered have all the features I find so essential. There's a soft patch of fabric along the thumb with which I can wipe sweat from my face, reinforced fingertips (very important) and ventilation across the back. They also have a velcro closure to fit snugly around my wrists so soil and insects don't slip down into the gloves (which is awfully annoying). I buy two each season.