Friday, July 29, 2005

Bear's breeches and friends

A few more of my pictures to tide you over until our project at work ends and I have time to write actual blog content again.

Bear's breeches, also known as Acanthus Molus - strange flat flowers that look like they could open up and talk:



Hollyhock, up close - I love the pollen in this shot:


White dahlias:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More hiking pictures

Good doggiedoggie whose person was fishing - boy did he want to come talk to us, but he was tied to this rock:


The hills of Cutthroat Pass:


Cutthroat Lake, where Brett napped on a big rock and I read a book:

Sign of a good marriage


One of the things I did right was to marry someone who loves books. Who else but Brett would happily put up with the fact that I take a book nearly everywhere, from baseball games to the top of perfectly beautiful mountains (at left) which could be enjoyed very nicely without the presence of reading material?

As you can see I'm paying no attention to it at all because I'm absorbed in The Birth of Venus, and thinking about medieval Florence.

Could I imagine myself married to someone who thought this was weird? No way, man.

Garden news

Summer is slipping away (where did July go?) and I'm spending more and more time in the yard. Yesterday, I came home from work, attended to a few things, and then spent two hours happily taking care of the back garden -- staking up the white dahlias and monarda, pulling out a few things that have shriveled up in the heat, snipping out tomato suckers, counting the lemons on my Meyer Lemon tree, watering, pruning, and otherwise amusing myself. Sounds like work but the time just flies for me when I'm out in the yard.

Today I went to work but all I could think about most of the day was how much I wanted to get home and deadhead the roses I noticed on the way out to the car this morning. And how I need to buy compost. And how I should water the flowers across the street again. And... and... as I've said before, it's a sickness, this gardening obsession, and we're at the height of virus season right now.

The bee balm (left), which I dragged over in a pot from the old house, bloomed two days ago! At exactly the same time, a whole strand of it that I never knew was there bloomed in the back garden bed. Once again, I mentally bless Ingrid, the house's former owner and gardener, for somehow planting almost every plant I dearly and truly love.

Across the street, the giant bee balm with the big red flowers -- my favorite, but it's immense and wouldn't fit over at the new place -- has been blooming for a while now, probably two weeks. The house painters carefully worked around it, even though it was blocking their way.

Another thing I was surprised to find yesterday is that the wisteria in the back is reblooming (picture at right). I didn't know they did this! I've got three of these giants growing around the new house, and while I love them, I must admit that constantly having to cut them back is getting old. They grow about three feet a day, it seems like.

I was urged to cut their tendrils back weekly, but I'm doing it more like once a month now, and it involves scary things like balancing precariously on the railing over the outside basement stairs to reach the tendrils that are snaking up towards the roof.

Someday, I'll be killed by slipping off that railing with big giant clippers in my hands.

The tomato plants are doing phenomenally well - I've never so many green tomatoes or such healthy looking tomato plants. Even the full size plants are just covered in big green tomatoes, and one of them has an almost-ripe one. The silver fir cherry tomatoes out front are just starting to blush orange, every day a little more. I've been watering them religiously this year and hope that I can avoid last year's horrible cracking problem by not over- or under-watering them for the rest of the summer.

Let's hope - I can taste them already!

Friday, July 22, 2005

New birdbath

Here's my beautiful new birdbath, made by our friends Dave and Andrea who own and run Dragonfly Forge, here in Seattle. It's in the backyard, under the cherry tree, and the sparrows have already been seen enjoying it.



I love having things in our home that were made by friends.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Is this obsessive?

I like to start my days, especially work days and particularly days in which I don't want to go to work, by watering all of my outdoor pots. I find the quiet ritual of making sure each of my plants has enough water to get through the hot and dry summer day ahead to be quite calming and centering, almost a zen-like activity. After carefully visiting each plant, I generally feel ready to start my day.

Yesterday, though, I counted as I was making my rounds.

I have 46 pots with plants in them.

Is this crazy?

A rough breakdown:
  • 7 of the pots have tomatoes in them
  • 4 have rosemary topiaries
  • 6 or 7 have various varieties of mint
  • 3 have large fruiting things - a Meyer Lemon that has nearly 20 little lemons on it, each about the size of an olive, and two columnar apples with nary an apple in sight yet
  • 4 have various ornamental grasses
  • 2 have plants which really should be in the ground - 1 hosta, 1 hydrangea
  • 2 contain sprawling scented geranium monstrosities that I no longer really enjoy, but which have made it through two winters now and seem to deserve to continue to live
  • The others can only be filed under "miscellaneous" - probably 75% herbs and 25% flowers.

Valencia rose, and other garden tour pictures

This beautiful thing is a Valencia rose, which I photographed on the West Seattle Garden Tour last weekend, and which I now reallyREALLY want for my own garden.



Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

A few other pictures from the tour:

Beautiful color combination - pink astibles and lilies:


Toad lily, up close


A view I could live with:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back to the carnage story

I just noticed today that Jude, of the long-toothed hinterland dweller blog had posted about the lack of conclusion to my carnage story - you know, the one where we came home and found huge amounts of fur all over the basement floor and four suspiciously innocent-looking cats blinking up at us?

Well, problem is, I didn't have anything interesting to post about that -- we never did figure out what happened there. No blood. No little bird or mouse corpse or body parts. No one seemed injured. No one developed an abcess a day or two later. No ongoing vendettas.

Someone partied in the basement that day, and someone lost a WHOLE lotta fur. That's all we can tell you.

We did, however, catch a small rat later that night in a trap. Ugh. Think there's a connection? Think he was so abused by the cats all afternoon that he was reeling around the furnace room in a daze, his usual survival mechanisms barely functioning, and suddenly thought, "Oh! Someone left me cheese to make me feel better! How nice!" And then -- curtains.

Four cats and we have to use traps to catch rodents. C'mon, kitties, do your job.

Friday, July 15, 2005

More on Dan Brown

Or, more specifically, more on bad writing.


Lest this is forever lost in comments, I wanted to pass along this link Mike Pope provided to a dissection of Dan Brown's terrible writing: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000844.html

Excerpt:

I don't think I'd want to say these things about a
first-time novelist, it would seem a cruel blow to a budding career. But Dan
Brown is all over the best-seller lists now. In paperback and hardback, and in
many languages, he is a phenomenon. He is up there with the Stephen Kings and
the John Grishams and nothing I say can conceivably harm him. He is a huge,
blockbuster, worldwide success who can go anywhere he wants and need never work
again. And he writes like the kind of freshman student who makes you want to
give up the whole idea of teaching.


Interesting blog about how to purposely adopt the rules of bad writing to sell science fiction: http://www.ansible.co.uk/Ansible/plotdev.html

Excerpt:

Well, by this stage, you're probably bouncing up and down in your seat with barely-continent excitement, thinking, "Wow, am I really going to learn to write like Stephen Donaldson?" I have to let you down as gently as I can and say no, it's not quite as easy as that. You have to remember that Mr Donaldson's spent years learning to produce a book so flatulent you have to be careful not to squeeze it in a public place. All I can do in the time available is to offer instruction on the first and most important element of crummy writing, which is (as my title suggests) bad plotting.

And for those of you with an academic background, this post ("How To Write Like a Doctoral Student") is entertaining: http://ocean.otr.usm.edu/~ddavies/gerald.html

House painting

As previously mentioned, we're having our old house (Mom and Dad's new house) painted.

Not a real dramatic change, for two reasons:

1) It's likely to be a rental house for a while, so we decided to go classic with the color choices rather than following our hearts and painting it purple.

2) We ran out of time for choosing something more drastic. We really wanted a yellow, but exterior paint samples are pricey, and after the first few we tried weren't quite right, we decided to go with the blue that everyone agreed on.

Old - platinum gray:


New - hamilton blue:


There's a big debate going on about the brown steps, but honestly, I like them.

On a side note, I can't quite figure this out, but I think the painters are weeding my planting beds over there. Every bed they've had to stand in to paint a wall (such as the small beds on either side of the porch) have been drastically overrun with weeds when they started and pristine and clear when they finished. Is this deliberate? Man, I can't thank them enough, if so.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The scene of carnage

Here's a conversation I'd not like to have too often, but had to have shortly after arriving home tonight:
Me: Honey? Come see this.
Brett: (surveys the scene below, a widespread swath of gray fuzzy things across nearly half of the basement.)
Me: Either something ate a bird down here today or someone had a very large fight
with someone else.
Brett: Someone ate a bird.
Me: But there's no blood.
Brett: Check and see if it's fur or feathers.
Me: It's fur.
Brett: Hrm. Let's go do a nosecount.
It's a little hard to sense just how MUCH fur there is from this picture, but multiply this by about another ten square feet, with each of these being a huge tufty swath of soft belly fur:


None of our animals have obvious injuries, but we're going to have to keep an eye out for limps or fevers for the next few days. Someone really ought to be nearly bald after losing this amount of hair. Unless... dare we hope? ... unless they all ganged up on Trooper, and he was the loser in this battle.

Or unless they ate a mouse, the remnant parts of which we have yet to locate. I'm heading downstairs now to look for a corpse.

Sometimes, I wish we just had a poodle.

An update on our lives

It's got to be time for an update, no?

Things here are going quite well.

  • Mom and Dad are happily ensconced in their new house across the street and seem to be doing fine. To be honest, they make that house look a lot better than it did when we lived there - their stuff actually fits in there with enough room left over to look spacious. When we lived there, it looked almost (but not quite) like it was inhabited by chronic hoarders -- you know, the types who secretly save forty years of the local newspaper in their basement?

    Having them here has been really good! It's quite pleasant to come home in the evening and go sit on the porch with them for a while. They're getting to know the neighbors and the neighbors' kids and the neighbor's dogs, and Maddie (one of our cats) has adopted them. We've instituted a weekly Saturday morning brunch at Pete's, the local diner.

    They're also finding their way around impressively well even though Seattle impressively well even though this town is about a gazillion times bigger than Cridersville. One of the many nice things about our neighborhood, though, is that almost everything you need is relatively nearby - perhaps a little driving, but not too much, and never on the highways.

  • Work? Well, lets just say that Brett and I are busily trying to plot an escape to Hawaii for September. A long, long term project we've been working on for three years is finally coming to an end, and we are crispy with exhaustion. The prospect of being less desperately busy in the office this fall sounds very, very good. I hope that pans out.

  • The garden? In brief:
    • The weather is finally cooperating. After six straight months of winter, summer finally broke on July 11th. Now it's sunny and hot. (Well, Seattle hot. As my parents have pointed out, hot here is what Ohioans would consider "cool.")
    • My thousand green tomatoes are beginning to show color. I am hopeful that this will be the year I get more than five full-size tomatoes.
    • Over the weekend, I planted six sunflowers across the street to replace the seeds the crows ate, and weeded, and laid nine bags of mulch. This took six hours, but was oddly satisfying work. I have about three times that much more to go before the front yard is all done.
    • On our side of the street, I acquired and planted three things I've been coveting for some time -- blue basil (one small plant), one big, red bronze-leaf dahlia (Bishop of Llandaff, see a picture here) and two snow-white Casablanca lilies, which are just about to bloom. I love lilies, but only the white ones. Can't wait to smell them!

  • I'm in the midst of finding a ticket for my nephew Andrew to come spend his customary week here in August. Andrew and I are great pals, having spent a lot of time together when he was young and we both lived in Connecticut. He's now a few months short of sixteen, MUCH taller than me, and the size of a linebacker, but he's also a really great kid. And thus begins our annual campaign to convince him to go to college at UW in Seattle.

Yes, we're just after everyone to move to Seattle, aren't we?

Have we tried to talk you into it yet?

Don't worry, we will...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Trooper tries to get into our house

Roses

A small red rose on the east side of the house, bordered by rosemary:


Our lone Orogold rose in the back yard flowers one blossom at a time, in the darkest corner of the yard.


A closeup of the texture of the petals:

Herb garden

I posted a lot when we moved into the new house about how I was't going to dig up anything in the back yard until I'd lived there for a year, and so I was going to concentrate on putting in herbs in pots.

Here's a picture of the results of that effort:


On the bench: orange and chocolate mint, lemon balm, stevia, rosemary, last year's lemon verbena

On the ground: bay, rosemary, chives, more rosemary

Not pictured: big container of parsley, dill, and oregano in the window box; curry plant in a pot on the deck table, five basils I tucked into the existing beds

Saturday, July 09, 2005

First tomatoes of 2005


An additional item of news - we have eaten our first home grown tomatoes. The first six of the Sungold cherry tomatoes ripened this week - we ate a few on Thursday and the rest of them today.

Sungold is probably my favorite of Seattle-weather-resistant tomatoes. It's a indeterminate cherry type, with yellow-orangy fruit that is SO UNBELIEVABLY SWEET that I'm not sure I have ever once made it back into the house with its just-picked fruits without eating them all en route.

They're that good. There's no keeping them around.



My other six plants are looking great - all of the plants on the porch are prodigiously covered in massive amounts of green tomatoes, and one of the three out back is fruiting wildly too.

It remains to be seen if we're going to get enough hot weather to really ripen them all up, though - it's been a cool, wet, cloudy summer so far. The cherry types should do fine, but the big ones not get there.

Reading lately

A few interesting things I've read in the last few weeks:

  • Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett
  • Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy
    These two are closely related, and I read them back to back. Truth and Beauty is a nonfiction work by one of my favorite fiction authors, Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant), about her friend Lucy Grealy, who died several years ago from a heroin overdose. As with all of Ann Patchett's work, it's brilliant and moving and spare and gorgeous. As soon as I finished it, I had to go out and buy the counterpart, Lucy Grealy's book about her own struggles with identity, Autobiography of a Face. Also compelling.

  • Freakonomics, Stephen Levy - fascinating nonfiction book along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink or The Tipping Point. Economic theory used to explain everyday questions such as "do teachers cheat on standardized testing?" and "why, if crack dealers make so much money, do most of them live with their mothers?" and "what really caused the decline in crime in the 90s?" Excellent, and a fun read. The only other downside to this book was that I kept realizing as I read it that I'd already seen huge portions of it in various magazine articles.

    Alas, I already loaned it out to someone and forgot who I gave it to. Hopefully, this one will come back to me.


  • The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler. Not fantastic, not memorable, but okay. It came after the first two books on this list, which were rather intense, so this made a good palate-cleanser, but I had hoped to be more interested in it after reading the fabulous reviews it's gotten.
  • Angels and Demons, Dan Brown - finished this in about two days. And I'm wondering -- why do I keep reading this guy? His books are so blatantly manipulative that I feel irritated reading them, but I have to admit that they're still oddly fascinating. What truly irritates me about each of his books is their unrepentant pedantic-ness. He seems to approach his books this way:

    - Think of a controversial topic that's still relatively mainstream and which most people will have heard of: for example, the relationship between Mary Magdelene and Jesus (DaVinci Code), or the Illuminati vs. the catholic church (Angels and Demons).

    - Do exactly one HOUR of internet research to garner facts that you can build your plot around.

    - Spend most of your book inventing situations in which your main characters (always a male) can spend pages and pages explaining the results of your one hour of research to a naive secondary character who just knows nothing about it (always a woman). Boy do I not love all that highly transparent exposition.

    - Throw in a few murders and some interesting architectural settings, make the main characters globe trot, and (of course) have them end up deeply attracted to each other. Ta da! Commercial success. It looks so easy!
  • Also halfway through a couple of Ursula LeGuin books which I can't seem to read for very long at any one time - reading The Left Hand of Darkness, and Changing Planes. Both good, but they take levels of concentration I haven't been able to muster recently. And the first one is boring me, but I'm still trying to finish it. This is probably a doomed enterprise.

  • Flipping through about five different gardening books I got at the local library branch today when I took my parents up to get library cards. If I love any of them I'll be sure to post.

And that's about it for me recently. Any recommendations for what to read next?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Trooper, part two

Remember my nice ode to Trooper (seen at left), the nice neighbor cat, a month or so ago? Poor, pathetic Trooper, who needs love and attention and care?

I take it all back.

Trooper has now injured at least two and possibly three of our four cats and cost us hundreds of dollars in emergency vet bills. Sure, he needs love and pathetically tries to get it from the humans next door. But in the process, he's incredibly aggressive to the animals that already live here. His days of receiving kindness from us are over.

Now we squirt him with the hose on sight. And he looks even more pathetic and miserable about it, and I feel guilty, but STILL.

The injured:
  • Cassie - taken to the emergency vet last weekend with a fever of 104 and an abcessed bite wound the size of a medium tomato on the middle of her back. "From the location of it, I'd say she was running away from whatever bit her," the nice emergency vet said. They did minor impromptu surgery on her to open it up and drain it and sent her home with a messy sore and bright pink, liquid antibiotics that we're supposed to be getting down her throat twice a day.

  • Max - taken to the emergency vet last night with a fever of 103 and a pronounced limp. They examined him, shaved parts of him, and found many fight wounds on the front shoulder above the leg he's favoring. Diagnosis: infected scratches. If we'd waited longer, would have caused more abcesses. He got a shot, and came home with bright orange liquid we're supposed to get down his throat twice a day.

    As a side note: Why, why, why, can't animal medicines be clear? Or white? Most of it ends up on the walls anyways. Must it be neon?

  • Phoenix - not sure about this one, but a few weeks back he had a sore shoulder that we suspected had been bitten - he was all wet there right after a fight with Trooper. However, it healed up without a vet trip. Hallelujah.

Sure, this could be some other animal - they could be at war with a particularly nasty racoon or something. But Trooper is a biter, and most of these have been bite wounds, and he loves to beat them all up.


The only one who's unharmed so far is Maddie (at right). This is probably because she's busy ingratiating herself with my parents, whose house she really really REALLY wants to live at. She spends all of her time sitting on their porch looking through their front windows, trying to get invited in.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

What I've Been Reading Lately

A few interesting things I've read in the last few weeks:
  • Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett
  • Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy
    These two are really a pair. Truth and Beauty is a nonfiction work by one of my favorite fiction authors, Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant), about her friend Lucy Grealy, who died several years ago from a heroin overdose. As with all of Ann Patchett's work, it's brilliant and moving and spare and gorgeous. As soon as I finished it, I had to go out and buy the counterpart, Lucy Grealy's book about her own struggles with identity. Also wonderful. I highly recommend this pair of books.
  • Freakonomics, Stephen Levy - fascinating nonfiction book along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink or The Tipping Point. Economic theory used to explain everyday questions such as "do teachers cheat on standardized testing?" and "why, if crack dealers make so much money, do most of them live with their mothers?" and "what really caused the decline in crime in the 90s?" Excellent, and a fun read. Alas, I already loaned it out to someone and forgot who I gave it to. Hopefully, this one will come back to me.
  • The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler. Not fantastic, not memorable, but fun and light. It came after the first two books on this list, which were rather intense, so this made a great palate-cleanser, but I had hoped to be more interested in it after reading the fabulous reviews it's gotten.
  • Angels and Demons, Dan Brown - finishing this now. And I'm wondering -- why do I keep reading Dan Brown? His books are so blatantly manipulative that I feel irritated reading them, but I have to admit that they're still oddly compelling. Perhaps I'm jealous of his commercial success, but really what irritates me is the pedantic-ness. He seems to approach his books this way:

    - Think of a controversial topic that's still relatively mainstream and which most people will have heard of: for example, the relationship between Mary Magdelene and Jesus (DaVinci Code), or the Illuminati vs. the catholic church (Angels and Demons).

    - Garner a few facts that anyone could gather in about an hour of internet research. In fact, I'm guessing this is exactly how he does his research.

    - Spend most of your book inventing situations in which your main characters (always a male) can spend pages and pages explaining these concepts to a naive secondary character who just knows nothing about it (always a woman). Boy do I not love all that highly transparent exposition.

    - Throw in a few murders and some interesting architectural settings, make the main characters globe trot, and (of course) have them end up deeply attracted to each other.

    Viola - commercial success.

    It looks so easy!

Also halfway through a couple of Ursula LeGuin books which I can't seem to read for very long at any one time - reading Winter, and Changing Planes. Both good, but they take levels of concentration I haven't been able to muster recently.

And that's about it for me recently. Any recommendations for what to read next?

The travelers

The travelers after lunch on Monday, July 4th -- from left to right, this is Mom, George, Marilyn, and Dad.

This truck is bigger than my house

Mom and Dad's moving truck showed up this morning, unexpectedly four days early, appearing right before I left for work. (Thankfully! I was able to delay going in and stay for a while to help out.)

The truck was bigger than the house. Honestly. Mom and Dad were the third of four loads on the truck, which enclosed 4500 cubic feet of space.

The view from Mom and Dad's house

Our old house could almost have been picked up and put inside the truck, whole.


The view from our side of the street - at least three of the houses across the street are fully engulfed by this massive truck.

But yay! Furniture is here early! That's a nice plus. We all kept saying, "Well, maybe they'll come early" after the Friday estimate came in, but no one really believed it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

I should've followed up to that last post...

...and noted that Mom and Dad and Uncle George and Aunt Marilyn showed up just fine on Friday and we spent a nice weekend with everyone. But it's been very busy since they got here and I haven't had much time to sit down and write about it. I will soon.

In the meantime, rest assured that no one was kidnapped by aliens in Montana or anything.

More soon!


And, happy birthday to Phoenix, who turned 13 years old today. The country celebrated his special day, as they always do, with fireworks.

Luckily, this does not go to his head. He's a very humble cat.

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