Saturday, January 24, 2015

long dry spell

On January 17, 2014, the California Governor's office released this statement
With California facing water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today proclaimed a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for these drought conditions.
Drought conditions indeed! 

I posted only two items on this blog during the thirteen-month period from December 2013 to January 7, 2015: 

  • fring 2013 (December 3, 2013) celebrated the after-Thanksgiving rain of that year; and
  • when media collide (February 9, 2014) contained absolutely no references to gardening or water. 

Oddly, during POSToccupations' long dry spell, I remembered the 'fring'* piece as being my most recent one, possibly because I visualized the accompanying photo of tiny jade-tree blossoms.

In 2014, heavy rains came right after Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, filling and refilling our rain barrels. No longer feeling like T.S. Eliot's "old man in a dry month, waiting for rain," and thinking "thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season,"** I ventured out to find not only the violets one would expect, but also morel mushrooms! Here was something I felt motivated to tell the world about, and so I wrote my first blog post of 2015 at last.

Weather pundits warn that California's drought is not over, in spite of the heavy rains. Water-saving measures abound: days and hours (minutes!) of watering time are severely limited, cities pay $2.00 per square foot and more for residential lawn removal, and courses in xeriscaping appear in college extension catalogs. People joke about the 'water police.'

Meanwhile, big drifts of California poppy seedlings have appeared in our cactus and succulent bed and, for the first time, in our parking strip. I have committed myself to keeping them alive until they can bloom and set seed for 2016. 'Gray water' from the washing machine will make this happen, and possibly extend the morel season through St. Valentine's Day.

Is there a metaphorical equivalent of 'gray water' that a person can call upon to keep blogs flourishing? Time will tell. In Tree at my Window, Robert Frost spoke of a parallel between "inner" and "outer" weather. I have thought of a parody -- Drought at my Doorstop -- but will endeavor keep the dryness at bay.

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* fring is the word I coined in 2010 to indicate the spring-like season (the first spring) that starts with Southern California's normal fall rains.

** Gerontion (1920), first and last lines.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

a mushroom chronicle, part 4

So far, this chronicle has been devoted to the crocheted mushrooms I've made as yarn bombs. Clumps of three are still flourishing in our garden and our neighbor's garden, while single specimens may be found in pots and baskets from New York to Beverly Hills.

Today's mushroom chronicle takes us in a new direction -- to the live morel mushrooms which mysteriously appeared in our small herb and veggie garden after the post-Thanksgiving rain. Informed of their wholesomeness by diligent Internet research, we have consumed two or three small batches (sauteed in butter with garlic) and are eager for more. 

These specimens, photographed on January 4, look like they'll be ready soon:

I posted a modest announcement of the find on the California Message Board at on December 8: "Since the recent rains, we’re seeing morels in our Culver City veggie strip.Miffed at the total lack of responses to my post, I sent a more explicit email (with photos) to and hope to see evidence of it on their map, which shows only one Southern California sighting in 2014 (January 7 in a Laguna Woods planter, along with wood chips and roses).

Egotism was not the only reason for my surprise at the absence of accolades from the on-line morel community. Morels are such a rare and valuable commodity that I expected to be inundated with congratulations. "How valuable are they?" you may ask, especially if you don't live in one of the states where morels are seriously hunted every spring. In May (only May, it seems) morels are available fresh on line for $36.00 a pound at Wiebke Fur and Trading Company of La Crosse, WI. Dried, they are available year-round for $37.99 an ounce at D'Artagnan, a purveyor of truffles, caviar, and other costly foodstuffs, imported and domestic.

Though Steve and I have lived in states where morels grow wild, neither of us had tasted them until they appeared in our garden. We water them with our reclaimed rainwater and hope to keep them thriving for a long time.

Now I'm thinking about how to crochet some morels.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

when media collide

This new year I set a goal of reading at least six books in hard copy in addition to the uncounted ones I read on my beloved Kindle. After hearing so many people say they prefer to hold real books in their hands, I'd decided that I shouldn't lose touch with the world of print. (Pun not intended but appropriate, and so I must give thanks for its gratuitous descent from the ether!)

My decision was probably also motivated by a woman in my on-line goal-setting group. She was proud to have read a certain set number of books in 2013, in various formats including audio-books, and had upped her 2014 goal to 30 books.

At the turn of the year, I was reading a hard copy of Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You. I had checked it out of the library because it was recommended at Brain Pickings, a favorite blog that makes a 'public library' link for every book it discusses. Often, I'll follow these links and be able to check out a library book in Kindle format, but in this case there was none. Therefore, I used the Internet to request that the book be delivered to my local branch and held there for me -- a lovely process bringing together old and new technologies in a totally efficient way.

I regret to say that I didn't enjoy Bradbury's book as much as I'd expected. It seemed a bit dated (all those references to using the typewriter!) but it did make me feel somewhat righteous to read about writing and make progress toward a stated goal.

My next hard-copy experience was an unauthorized biography of a celebrity. I had picked the book up from the 'free' shelf at the public library after a knitting group meeting there. Though published in 1999, it didn't seem to have been read, and the dust jacket was pristine. Obviously, someone had donated it to the library, which opted not to catalog it. I checked L.A. Public Library's on-line catalog and found that they had six copies distributed throughout their 102 locations. More than enough for a book that was not only sleazy but also poorly written.

So, here I was in the middle of January, one third of the way through my goal of six hard copy books, and not that pleased with my achievement. Furthermore, there was no hint of the tactile gratification I had expected.

Then on January 30, Brain Pickings posted Herman Melville’s Daily Routine and Thoughts on the Writing Life. Just in time, I thought, to get the stale taste of Bradbury out of my mouth! I quickly followed the 'public library' link to "the wonderful 1954 volume Reader and Writer -- a collection of notable meditations on the osmotic arts of reading and writing . . . featuring contributions from such literary titans as Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Francis Bacon, and Henry David Thoreau." Alas! LAPL did not have a copy, nor did any library less than 15 miles away, but Amazon offered a used copy for $6.90 and I snapped it up.

On February 4, Reader and Writer arrived in the mail, and as soon as I unpacked it I was magically transported back to 1959 -- my freshman year in college. This book had the heft and gravitas of The Harbrace College Handbook and so many other textbooks. Indeed, it was a textbook, a fact not mentioned on Brain Pickings but nevertheless welcome, for here at last was the tactile gratification I'd expected to find in hard-copy books.

I do not expect to read all of Reader and Writer, and hence it will not count toward my goal of six hard-copy books, but I do intend to dip into it from time to time, and so will Steve. So far, I've read Edith Wharton's delightful account of Henry James' asking for directions in the English countryside, a piece as silly as a Monty Python sketch, and Robert Benchley's irreverent reminiscence of his college days.

Now here's where the media collide (just in case you were wondering about the title of this post). On February 3 I had ordered a new, improved Kindle and, given the complexities of Amazon's delivery systems, it arrived via UPS a couple of hours after Reader and Writer came in the mail. The Complete Works of Anthony Trollope emerged from 'the cloud,' seemingly untouched by human hands, and I wandered back into Barsetshire.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

fring 2013

We returned from a four-day Thanksgiving trip on Friday November 29 to find that this year's rainy season had started the night before. Thus the official start of fring, the spring-like season brought on by Southern California's fall rains.

On Saturday I took inventory. Narcissus and freesia bulbs were sprouting. Calla lilies (sprouted during the dry months) were unfurling their broad leaves on noticeably taller stems. Fattening jade plant and ice plant were starting to bloom, sweet violets were standing tall, and a single volunteer sweet pea seedling stood next to the kalanchoes. It's too early to expect any Idaho daffodils.

Jade Plant

Calla Lily

Perhaps my greatest fring surprise is the false dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana) I had been trying to keep alive in a container. This plant was totally new to me when I admired its striking pink blossoms in my friend Nancy's* late August garden As soon as I asked about it, Nancy started pulling up great handfuls. She told me to come back for more if these didn't grow for me. At the time, I had no good place for them in the garden and felt that it was too hot and dry for a new plant. I stuck them in water till they made some new roots, and then potted them.

As the dragonheads shed their blossoms and then their leaves, I started using the same pot to root kalanchoe cuttings. Sure enough, fring brought the dragon heads to life, and inch-high shoots were coming up at the base of each dry stem. The roots had managed to stay alive, and I'm thinking of planting them next to the African white irises which bloom off and on all year.

False Dragonhead Sprouts
So why are they called false dragonheads? According to Wikipedia, they were once thought to be part of the genus Dracocephalum, but both true and false dragonheads are part of the huge mint family (Lamiaceae). Wikipedia also says they are rhizomatous. I don't remember any rhizomes when I planted them, but we'll see when they come out of the pot. This will be soon, I hope.

Fring will be replaced by wring on December 21. A short but intense season, barely long enough to get the false dragonheads established, but promising many pleasures along the way.

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* Nancy loves to share her garden's bounty and is best known for the lavish bouquets of sweet peas she gives to local friends and neighbors. On her many travels, Nancy carries sweet pea seeds she has saved for this purpose, and has left a trail of lovely blossoms in the gardens of new and old friends on all the temperate continents.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

cereus business

Our huge Cereus lamprospermus is a night bloomer, and so I was astounded when I stepped outside on Saturday morning and saw this magnificent blossom facing our front door. It had bloomed during the night, but stayed open in daylight due to a rare set of conditions: shaded by our street tree, facing due west and thus not struck by November sun coming from the southern sky. I was glad my little camera was charged up and ready to go, to catch not only the full-blown cactus blossom but also the sun highlighting a Eugenia hedge across the street.

Our Cereus usually blooms in late spring or summer, but this fall it has produced four buds. We totally missed the first opening a couple of weeks ago, but kept a vigil for the second, which never opened fully because it was blocked by one of the plant's five tall trunks. This, the third blossom, is a rarity. The fourth and last bud faces south; it will close early, and, since it's only a foot off the ground, we will have to kneel on the sidewalk to see it.

Tonight Steve and I will both be going to rehearsals, and I hope we'll remember to check on the progress of this bud when we get home.

In Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Gray (1716–1771) observed: "Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen, /   And waste its sweetness on the desert air." This is an apt though unintentional description of our experiences with night-blooming Cereus, but I'm willing to bet Gray wasn't talking about any kind of cactus. The word desert, in this context, simply means deserted, and blush is an obsolete synonym for bloom. It was not until the following century that explorers and botanists began bringing African and South American cacti home to Kew Gardens and private plant collections where English poets could see them. A Cereus would have frozen to death in Gray's celebrated country churchyard.

Thomas Gray is best known for his widely misinterpreted words "ignorance is bliss," from Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. This would be a good poem to read while waiting for a night-blooming Cereus to bloom. Or, you can watch lovely time-lapse photos of Cereus openings at YouTube.

It is not blissful to be ignorant of cactus blossoms in one's own garden.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

a mushroom chronicle, part 3

All has been quiet on the local yarnbombing front since I posted a mushroom chronicle, part 2 in April. Oh, there was one small episode when Mr. B spotted a REAL mushroom in his front yard and, at first glance, attributed it to me. We had a good laugh over that one.

Earlier this week, I was walking up our street to make a trade at the Little Free Library that's sprung up in the block north of us (talk about mushrooming!). Perhaps half way between home and the corner, I was surprised to see one of my crocheted mushrooms lying on the sidewalk. I quickly picked it up and put it in my pocket.

This mushroom was VERY DIRTY. The three crocheted mushrooms in Mr. B's front yard are nice and clean, because he waters that part of his yard frequently. The three I've placed in our parking strip, however, are in a clump of dogbane which I never water. It will 'green up' with the rest of the succulents as soon as the fall rains start, but meanwhile the soft, spongy yarn I used to make these mushrooms has absorbed a great deal of the street dirt thrown up by passing cars. In fact, I had been thinking of washing these mushrooms and 'replanting' them if the rains don't come soon.

So the errant mushroom was soaked upside down for a day in a dilute solution of dishwashing liquid, kneaded repeatedly against its wire frame to loosen the dirt, and then thoroughly rinsed. It took another day to dry, stuck in a glass and placed on our bistro table to get some sun.

I'm thinking about washing the other two mushrooms and then placing all three in a more sheltered location among the bromeliads or kalanchoes.

Of course I'm curious about how my mushroom migrated up the street. Not prone to suspecting foul play, I have hypothesized that it was picked up by the wheel of a stroller, tricycle, or skateboard and then fell off after being transported about 50 yards. Steve is convinced that "a little girl" picked it and threw it away after getting tired of carrying it. More likely her mother noticed it and told her to drop it because it was so dirty.

This is one of the many things we'll never know. I'm just glad I was able to bring the mushroom back home. "All's well that ends well," they say.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


With the demise of Google Reader, you may be shopping for a new way to keep track of the blogs you like to read. Like, this one!

If you go to and copy into the 'search blogs' box, you can ask to be notified whenever I churn out a new posting. This assumes that you open a free account (with no privacy risk that I can see),

I keep track of a whole raft of blogs through bloglovin' and, though I organize them into categories, I like to whip through the combined list each day and read the individual posts selectively or 'like' them for later reference.

My list includes most of my local newspapers -- exciting reading now that we're in the throes of a divisive school board election campaign -- as well as numerous sources of free needlework patterns and recipes.

Check it OUT!

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License