A Walk on the Wild Side

The east side of the house is sometimes a treasure hunt. I don't go over there often (until the blueberries ripen) and most of the plants aren't visible from the front, so in spring I'm often surprised by what's in bloom.

This lorapetalum is stunning with its pink flowers and reddish-bronze leaves. It's related to witch hazel.

One of my favorite native plants is the trillium. They're abundant in the forests of western Oregon but are typically hard to grow in gardens. This plant was rescued from a logging area and has thrived here for years.

This is the only kind of snow we get here in Portland these days - pink cherry blossoms tossed by a strong breeze drift in the gardens and on the street curbs. It's beautiful to see them floating on the wind.

Bleeding Hearts. Spring has arrived.

Read More!

The Sunday Salon: Short Stories #2

The Sunday I can't believe it's Sunday again. And that it's already time for another round of short stories. Hooray! After spending so many weeks (months) with a 1,224 page tome (War and Peace), reading short stories is like a walk in the park after running a marathon. (I haven't completed the marathon yet, but the finish line is within view. Go, little turtle!)

Today's short story treasures:
  • From Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (which I did not finish last week after all): "This Blessed House." Mismatch and miscommunication are the themes for this Indian couple, married just four months and setting up house. Lahiri captures their differences with such humor. There's a resignation when they each realize just how mismatched they are. I can't wait to get her new book - coming soon to a bookshelf near me!
  • From Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor: "Cheating at Canasta." A beautiful vignette of Mallory, an Englishman returning to a Venice restaurant to honor the request of his wife who has Alzheimer's. How is it I've never heard of this Irish author? I was drawn to this book by its title; canasta has a sentimental place in my heart, being the first "adult" card game I learned as a child. In a wonderful twist on the concept, Mallory cheats at the game so that his wife will win. More of Trevor is in my future.
  • From Delicate: Stories of Light and Desire by Mary Sojourner: "Armageddon Coffee" - how could I resist that title? I "discovered" this writer several years ago with a couple of collections of her essays: Bonelight: Ruin and Grace in the New Southwest and Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire. She writes beautifully of sense of place and the environment in her essays and, as it turns out, also in her short stories. ...I see the perfect line of the Peaks against a brilliant midnight sky. I am using that pure beauty like I used to use Tanqueray.
  • And what's short story day without one from The Portable Dorothy Parker. "You Were Perfectly Fine." She can say so much with so few words. Very funny.

This week I also finished Fifth Business by Robertson Davies and read one of Per Petterson's novels, In the Wake. He wrote Out Stealing Horses, one of my favorites last year. I hope to get reviews of both of these up in the next few days. I started reading Wild Life by Molly Gloss yesterday -- I really love it so far, but it's looking like it may trail into something bizarre. Like Sasquatch.

I've been spending far too much time futzing around with my blog. I feel like a finicky teenager, changing her clothes ten times before going out for the evening. I've gone from LiveJournal to Blogger to WordPress and back to Blogger, where I've tried out six or seven templates. I finally found a template here that I'm happy with, so the whole survey thing may be a moot point. I know, I ask for your opinion and then I ignore it. I am fond of this layout though, and have many more options for widgets and customizing here than I do at WordPress. So there.

I hope you're enjoying your Sunday - may you go into your week filled with good literature, peace of mind and much humor. Namaste'. Read More!

First harvest!

I thinned the lettuce patch today and got a basket of baby lettuces. Which will go right into my salad bowl in a little while. Lettuces are Red Sails and Buttercrunch, my favorites. Always tasty and hearty and beautiful in the garden and the salad bowl.

Radishes were hiding among the peas - I didn't think they germinated, but today I noticed these little red things in the pea patch. They'll add some zest to the salad.

The crimson clover is lush in the unprepared beds; beans and peppers will go in here when the weather warms. When the clover blooms, it's a gorgeous pinkish red - but the blooms take nitrogen away from the soil, so it's a tradeoff. This won't go in the salad - but it's sure pretty to look at while I munch on greens. Read More!

Help my blog find a home

I'm still trying to find a landing place for my blog. I started out on Live Journal but didn't like the obnoxious ad banners. I like it here at Blogger but I'm not wild about the templates. I've been experimenting over at WordPress and have a layout I like - but I haven't figured out how to get my random Library Thing widget to work or add my visitor map, both of which I really like having (but do visitors really care if they're there?).

So...tell me which of these layouts you like better - this one or the one over at WordPress. And let me know if you have any preferences in general between Blogger and WordPress. Thanks!

Edited to add: The votes are in! I'm staying here with Blogger. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

Cartoon from ZDNet
Read More!

More laundry

After my laundry post last week, my sister Nancy sent me a couple photos of our Grandma, Norma Vena Quein Grayum, who was an adventurous and bright woman. Grandma and Grandpa spent their honeymoon in 1915 hiking through the Rocky Mountains.

This is Wash Day on the trail. Note the kettle heating on the right.

She's part of the long line of laundry-hanging women I am connected to:

Read More!

Every Day is Earth Day

Be good to your Mother.
On Earth Day this year, Call for Climate.
Call your senator or representative.
Ask them to enact tough and fair climate legislation.

Andi over at Estella's Revenge is doing a book giveaway for Earth Day. Visit the Sticky Post and sign up for a chance to win The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming!

Read More!

The Sunday Salon - Pajama Day!

The Sunday Yesterday was National Hanging Out Day (actually having to do with laundry, but you may interpret as you wish), and I am declaring today Pajama Day. It's cold and cloudy, with the prediction of rain/snow mixed. I see no reason to put clothes on and I intend to snuggle in with good books and the Sunday Salon.

Informal survey: Do you say 'paJAHMas' like 'java' or 'paJAMas like raspberry jam? (Ohhhh- now I want coffee and scones.)

You say pajamas and I say pajahmas
You say Ms. Clinton and I say OBAMA!

My reading today is a mixed bag. Since Jhumpa Lahiri's new book, Unaccustomed Earth, is on order, I decided it was time to read the rest of Interpreter of Maladies (why did I wait so long?). I'm also reading the new issue of The Sun magazine, more of Anne Fadiman's At Large and At Small, and hope to get another big chunk of War and Peace read (less than 350 pages to go - the average size of a novel) . Oh - and I'm 3/4 of the way through Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, a book that sneaked into my reading pile last week that I'm thoroughly enjoying.

I used to be quite content reading one book at a time, but lately I often have 3 or 4 going. My former reading self couldn't imagine reading 2 or 3 novels simultaneously - maybe a nonfiction or two along with a novel. I'm not sure what shifted, other than my To Be Read pile (aka Mount TBR) has become unmanageable and I feel the need to tackle it in chunks. Or maybe I'm just enjoying the heck out of reading these days and I don't need to analyze it.

Since winter-like weather has returned I like to keep this memento of last week's spectacular spring days close by:

My suggestion: grab your favorite books, a cup of tea or coffee, put your PJs back on and settle in for the day. And enjoy! Read More!

Hanging Out

There’s nothing like slipping between sheets that have hung on the line the first spring-like day of the year. Usually I will be tired and freshly scrubbed after working in the garden all day. The scent of line-dried, sun sweetened sheets is like a soft lullaby, and I drift off while visions of summer breezes dance through my head.

Last weekend the weather was warm and dry enough to use the outdoor clothesline for the first time. As I pinned the sheets to the line, I thought about the long line of laundry-hanging women that I am pinned to. Of course, modern appliances have eclipsed the clothesline for the last century or so, but there are those who are dyed in the wool clothesliners (my partner is one and I am becoming a convert). With fuel costs being what they are and climate change an ever growing concern - to paraphrase Joni Mitchell - we've got to get ourselves back to the clothesline.

It's a simple task, but satisfying and even a little meditative when I get into the rhythm - pluck an item from the basket, shake it out, pull the clothespins from the bag, pin them on the line; repeat; repeat; repeat. My mind drifts to beaches, and tea with friends and the good sleep I will have that night. The smells of the neighbor's fresh cut grass and apple blossoms float around me. Finches and robins serenade me. (I appeal to them not to decorate the clean laundry.)

Sometimes the clothes come off the line feeling rough; I usually cave in and toss them in the dryer (on fluff) for ten minutes to restore the softness (OK, I'm a weenie). I did find this information about just such a dilemma in Umbra Fisk's column on the Grist website:
Oh, crunchy dungarees are the worst. Some suggestions for reducing stiffness: use less detergent (a good idea in any case), snap out the wrinkles when hanging the clothes, hang in a partially shady spot, hang on windy days (see if you can set up your system to take advantage of prevailing winds), and position clothes with the heavy part on the bottom (e.g., pants with belt loops down).

I did a little research on the history of clothespins. Up until 1853, patented clothespins were awkward and impractical. Then David M. Smith of Springfield, Vermont invented a hinged clothespin with two wooden “legs." Smith's patent letters explained:
By pushing the two superior [upper] legs together the inferior [lower] ones are opened apart so that the instrument can be safely placed on the article of clothing hanging on the line. This done, the pressure of the fingers is to be removed so as to permit the reaction of the spring C to throw the inferior legs together, and cause them to simply grasp the piece of clothing and the line between them. This instrument unlike the common wooden clothes pin in common use does not strain the clothes or injure them when it is used...[and] it cannot be detached from the clothes by the wind as is the case with the common pin and which is a serious evil to washerwomen.
I just never thought of it that way.

Collection of clothespins from the Smithsonian
(Photo from the Smithsonian website)

Did you know that some communities prohibit hanging laundry outside? It's an aesthetic thing. It's also a ridiculous, bordering on criminal, thing, especially when energy conservation is of the utmost importance now. There are some advocacy groups that address this issue - one of them is Project Laundry List.

And I bet you didn't know that April 19th is National Hanging Out Day (not to be confused with National Coming Out Day).
Every year, on April 19th, Project Laundry List joins together with hundreds of organizations from around the country to educate communities about energy consumption. National Hanging Out Day was created to demonstrate how it is possible to save money and energy by using a clothesline.
Unfortunately, if I hang clothes on the line tomorrow, they'll freeze solid!

Here's a lovely poem by Amy Benedict about hanging laundry.

Wood on cloth on cord

by Amy Benedict

If I'm to be caught in a wave of terror
My whole sky life, wiped out
Blown to a tiny, dirt speck end
Vaporized into my next life
Without the long goodbye
The eye to eye pull kiss ending

Then catch me hanging sheets out in the sun

Out in the yard with the worms in the dark
Beneath the green, beneath my feet
With the sounds of this small city murmuring around me
The smell of clean, of apple, of breathing earth
The memory of love pressing, sighing, sobbing
Airing out the rhythm of rising and falling
Of giving in and letting go
And rising again

Finding just one edge to secure
Wood on cloth on cord
Forming a waving wall, a flag, a sail
Catch me hanging sheets out in the sun
Exposed, unveiled and holy

Read More!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Book Review

Author: Winifred Watson
Persephone Books
I have such mixed feelings about this book. Written in 1938 (republished in 2000, complete with original drawings), it follows an extraordinary day in the life of the otherwise drab Miss Pettigrew. She is desperate for work when she mistakenly shows up looking for a governess position at the flat of Miss La Fosse, a singer/actress. Miss Pettigrew gets caught up in a whirlwind of activity far outside her experience, and at each conflict that arises for Miss LaFosse and her friend, Miss Dubarry, Miss Pettigrew saves the day in spite of (or maybe because of) her lack of experience in social affairs.

It is difficult for me to disengage from my feminist self and read a book like this in its historical context -- a story where women use all their cunning and play games to win a man. There's also a fair amount of racism in the novel that made me uncomfortable. It's not as though there were no redeeming qualities to the book - but so much was based on appearance and clothing and money and getting the man and putting up with behavior from men that is inappropriate and women fawning and fainting over men. I'm just not tolerant of that so much!

It is a charmingly written Cinderella tale with a lot of action and a bit of suspense. (3/5) Read More!

The Sunday Salon: Poetry #1 - The Backyard

Good Sunday morning to all. I had hoped to have a wide variety of poetry read by this afternoon. But the weather and garden have other plans. Yesterday it was as though someone flipped the Spring switch -- leaves and flowers have popped out everywhere, bees and flies are waking up (and disturbing mid-afternoon naps), the grass is suddenly too long for the push mower. Best of all, it was warm enough to start the morning on the deck with a cup of coffee -- and to end it that way too. After the sun went down the air was heavy with the scent of fruit blossoms and neighborhood barbecues.

Days like this, I feel like Dorothy, her house landing with a thump in Oz, the door opening from black and white to blazing color. Song sparrows and robins welcome me to Munchkinland. I follow the yellow brick road to the garden, which is starting to look like the Emerald City with all its greenery.

So instead of reading poetry this weekend, I am seeing it, smelling it, hearing it in the trees and flowers and birds.

What I observed in the backyard:

Crows build a nest high in the fir tree 2 blocks south;

Plum blossoms fall, catch a small breeze, flutter over the garden like fairies;

Squirrel contemplates how to get to the feeder hanging from the apple tree; she hangs upside down on the ropes and twirls as if on a carnival ride;

Blue jays in the forsythia fight -- or mate; sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference;

At dusk a hummingbird fills up on currant flower juice;

In the walnut tree, a robin tries out her entire repertoire; always the last to bed and the first to rise.

I am embraced by the heavy scent of fruit flowers after nightfall.

I freed the lettuces and chard and brassicas from their greenhouse yesterday -- rather like sending your child off to the first day of school. Tempting to get up in the middle of the night and do slug patrol. The soil is rich and soft and loamy, due to all the good compost, the "green manure" (crimson clover) and the shredded leaves that protected it through the winter. This no-till method builds the soil year after year and doesn't tear it up with 'tiller blades. It's also really easy to pull up the clover (and add it to the magic compost pile, of course). And it doesn't have to be completely dry to do the planting (an important consideration in Oregon).

I will get to some poetry later today; probably under the apple tree in my lawn chair, after our writers' group meets. On the stack are Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Harris, Dorothy Parker, William Stafford, ee cummings and Emily Dickinson. Meantime, there are carrot and beet seeds to plant. I hope your Sunday is as luscious as mine!

Read More!

The Sunday Salon: Essays #1

The Sunday

It's Essay Sunday! Boy, have I had fun with this one. So many good essays out in the world.

I was supposed to be out of town on a retreat this weekend; but I came down with a sore throat and decided not to chance staying in a "rustic cabin" (read: *cold* *damp* *moldy* - it is, after all, Oregon). So I ended up with a couple of bonus reading days, and the sore throat isn't so bad now.

I was rather amazed at how many books of essays I have on my bookshelves. Of course, there is an infinite amount available on the internet too. So finding good reads was not difficult.

  • From At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman: "Coffee." Fadiman is unparalleled as an essayist. She is bright, erudite, researches exquisitely and almost always injects a good amount of humor into her essays. Her other book of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader was one of my favorite reads last year and a must-read for book lovers. At Large and at Small hasn't grabbed me as much, but every essay I've read from it is stellar. Coffee lover that I am, this one spoke to me (with "a certain...velocity"). In describing learning how to use a French press, Fadiman writes, "The whole process involved a good deal of screwing and unscrewing and trying not to make too much of a mess. Truth to tell, it was a lot like sex, and as soon as you'd done it once, you wanted to do it again and again and again."
  • From The New York Times Sunday Book Review April 6th (online version): "There Will Be a Quiz" by Joe Queenan. Very funny essay about the increasingly popular reader guides popping up on the back pages of trade paperbacks. Apparently some of these are written by freelancers - Queenan quotes a few astonishingly inappropriate questions and then comes up with a few of his own, e.g.: "Wuthering Heights: If Heathcliff were alive today, would he mention Cathy’s death on his Facebook page and change his relationship status to 'It’s complicated'?"
  • From Writing with Intent by Margaret Atwood: "Napoleon's Two Biggest Mistakes." Thought this would be appropriate to my War and Peace reading. Turns out it's also appropriate to the current US administration's imperialistic wet dream. Atwood writes of Napoleon: "He had laudable motives, or so his spin-doctoring went: he wanted peace, justice, and European unity. But he thought it would be liberating for other countries to have their stifling religious practices junked and their political systems replaced with one like his.... Present leaders take note: ... your version of what's good for them may not match theirs." And from the same Margaret Atwood collection: "Letter to America" (in which the Canadian author decries the usurping of civil liberties and the milieu of fear in the US since 9/11) and "Writing Oryx and Crake."

  • From The Best American Essays 1992: "On Seeing England for the First Time" by Jamaica Kincaid (originally published in Transition). This is also an essay about imperialism, from the perspective of the conquered. Kincaid, born in Antigua, writes with searing poignancy about the juxtaposition of being taught allegiance to "proper" England, yet living a reality that is very different. She writes, "The space between the idea of something and its reality is always wide and deep and dark...the existence of the world as I came to know it was a result of this: idea of thing over here, reality of thing way, way over there." And: "...who are these people who forced me to think of them all the time, who forced me to think that the world I knew was incomplete, or without substance, or did not measure up because it was not England; that I was incomplete or without substance, and did not measure up because I was not English?" This is a remarkable essay that is an example of the justified anger Barack Obama referred to in his recent speech about race.

I'm also reading I also read another Kazuo Ishiguro novel - The Remains of the Day. Couldn't put it down, even though it's almost all monologue in very proper English. He is a phenomenal writer! Such consistency of voice in the narrator. I love "discovering" a new author. I will definitely read the rest of his books. (4.5/5)

And I've made significant progress on War and Peace this weekend. My little turtle is on the move!

Next Sunday: poetry!!!! Something I confess I rarely read and often struggle with. There, I said it. I am gathering some of my favorite poets for the experience. Well, I'm gathering their books, not the actual poets.

Read More!

Blooms and Blossoms

It seems like such a miracle to look outside one morning and see that the fruit trees have blossoms on them. The mornings are still frosty, the rain and wind come in torrents, but the delicate blossoms hold on stubbornly with the promise of juicy goodness.

Cherry blossoms will bring the first tree fruit of the season, sometime in June. We have to be quick to pick though -- raccoons and various birds will be watching carefully, too. (Raspberries and strawberries race the cherries for the first taste of sweetness - who will win this year?)

We have two Italian plum trees, and they've been loaded with fruit the last couple of years. Ants are the critters to watch for here - they love to suck all the juice out of the plums!

The cherry and plum trees are relatively new to the yard. The Old Wise One is the lovely apple tree. She provides wonderful shade in the summer, though her apple bounty has been pretty minimal the last couple of years. Maybe she's peri-menopausal. Here she's framed by the neighbors' gigantic English walnut tree (we benefit from the shade in the summer and the walnuts dropping into our yard in the autumn - and the squirrels love it).

The Red Sails lettuce is doing beautifully. I plant this variety every year - it's beautiful and tasty and quite hardy. We'll be eating thinnings in a couple of weeks. Here's a future salad:

It'll be awhile before we'll be adding peas to the salads, but they are making some progress.

Can you guess what this plant is?

Read More!