Saturday, May 28, 2011

hundredth post looms

POSToccupations had 70 postings in the year 2010, and has had 26 so far in 2011. What does this mean? The third post after this one will be number one hundred.

I love milestones, and my 100th blog post certainly will be one. How shall I celebrate?

One fellow blogger marked her 200-post mark by giving hand-crocheted hot pads to two readers who sent comments commemorating the event. This made sense, as she uses her blog to link to the page where she sells handicrafts. It was like having a sale or giving a coupon.

I'd like to celebrate by announcing that my collection of 70 posts from 2010 is now available as a hard-copy or on-line book. Alas! This will not happen. My best estimate now is that'll it'll hit the streets in the fall -- just in time for holiday gifting.

Meanwhile, I shall follow Walt Whitman's example and "celebrate myself."

Monday, May 23, 2011


Now in my second year of blogging, it's fun to look back at 2010's posts. Google Blogger's admirable infrastructure (labels, archival dating, and internal Google Search), makes it easy to retrieve information and assess progress.

In March, April, and May of last year, I was engaged in mortal combat with snails and slugs, and devoted three posts to my struggles. Snails and slugs, part 3 will link you back to the series if you're interested in some nostalgia.

This spring, thanks largely to a year's liberal use of Sluggo Plus, our garden is virtually free of land mollusks and their fellow travelers -- sow bugs and earwigs. "Virtually," of course, is a word from computer jargon. It often means "not quite," or "notable exceptions abound." I don't think I've seen a single slug in the spring of 2011, and three or four snails is about average for a whole week. Often, this year's snails are found clinging to bricks or dry branches where they have climbed to wait out the dry summer months.

Feeling smug about snails and slugs, then, and with May more than half gone, I was shocked to find the largest snail of the year a couple of days ago. It was blissfully clinging just inside the lip of my new rhubarb pot! Ironically, I discovered it while sprinkling Sluggo Plus around the plant. I'd seen some damage to new leaves and attributed it to sow bugs, so brought out the heavy artillery. The intruder was revealed when I lifted a small leaf to make sure I'd covered the soil's entire surface. It was tempting to leave him/her to die slowly ("twisting in the wind," as it were), but I opted for my usual "stomp in the gutter" routine.

Not having seen any snail trails leading up to the pot, BTW, I strongly suspect that the snail came from Marina Garden Center WITH the rhubarb. The evidence would have been easy to spot, as it would have to cross an expanse of dry paving stones and rough bricks.

You can be sure that next time I buy a plant I'll check the pot for pests.

Meanwhile, I plan a progress report on the offensive against parking-strip weeds.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

good for the rhubarb

Friends outside SoCal may scoff, but on Monday night and Tuesday morning, we set a record with about 1/4 inch of rain. More fell last night, and today's forecast puts our chance of rain at 40%. It's a veritable monsoon in an area that can go without measurable precipitation from March through October.

Rhubarb is even rarer than rainfall in SoCal, and my recent reading of garden blogs has confirmed the conventional wisdom that the venerable "pie plant" cannot be grown here. I began to fantasize about Lida's homegrown Idaho rhubarb, and my forthcoming annual rhubarb-pie-making ritual (beebopareebop!).

Our first spring in Pennsylvania, I had been determined to plant rhubarb, but was unable to find it in local nurseries. I was told, in fact, that they didn't carry rhubarb because everyone HAD it already. When Gloria invited me to go with her to a large nursery out in the country, I jumped at the chance to buy rhubarb. We had a lovely outing, but rhubarb was not for sale. Finally I convinced a rather arrogant nurseryman that I didn't HAVE rhubarb already. He dug some up for me, wrapped it in newspaper, and put it in the trunk of Gloria's car, but he would not accept any money for it.

Then on this year's Mothers Day outing to Marina Garden Center, Steve and I saw two rather pathetic one-gallon pots of cherry rhubarb. We asked a saleswoman whether it would really grow in our area, and she rather huffily replied that everything they carried would do very well here. "What about that clematis I bought last year?" I wanted to ask, but that's another story.

Needless to say, we bought the healthier-looking of the two rhubarbs. Consulting my Western Garden Book of Edibles (a Sunset publication, of course), I see that cherry rhubarb can be grown in a container. Our three-gallon crock is designated to be its home. Steve has already drilled a hole in the bottom with his trusty ceramic drill bit. I should be able to plant it today.

I figure we can move the rhubarb around until we find a place where it does well, even if that place turns out to be in Idaho.

Meanwhile, the rain IS "good for the rhubarb," as the old saying goes. It enjoys being on display on our new garden bench, and will probably stay there to bask in the morning sun.

Monday, May 9, 2011

read talk walk [sing] write smile

One of my daily routines is to go to Google Reader and see what has been delivered to me through the magic of RSS feeds. Today I was delighted to find 5 Things To Do Daily, by Nina Sankovitch, posted at Care 2 Make a Difference.

Frankly, I almost skipped Sankovitch's wonderful essay. In recent weeks I've been 'attending' a couple of on-line workshops on how to get organized, and have methodically honed my list of the things I need to do daily. There are EIGHT of them, including 'Check Google Reader.' What if I found that I had to add five more? Nothing new will fit on the one-page checklist I've set up on a clipboard, with 31 numbers to tick off after each item.

It was a relief to find that the 'five things' were pretty much habitual for me, and that they were all expressed in words of one syllable. Oddly, "sing" was omitted from the list of five things, though Sankovitch clearly states that one should sing while walking, and so I added "sing" to the five when I used them to title my own post today.

I cannot count the ways in which "read talk walk [sing] write smile" resonates with me at this very moment, but I will outline a few that come to mind in addition to the aforementioned 'to-do list' coincidence.

1. Reading as therapy has worked for me, and it's the subject of a poem (titled Palliative) I wrote about a friend who was dying of lung cancer. Here's an excerpt:

    With six months to live,
    and having renounced an aggressive program of care,
    she sets out read or re-read
    all the novels of Dominick Dunne.

2. Talking with friends and family (strangers, too!) is an important activity for me, and books come up in many of my conversations. My birthday and Mothers Day provided the occasion of numerous phone calls, and yesterday Ruth recommended Donna Leon's mysteries, set in Venice (Italy, not California!). These will make a welcome respite from the heavy Doctorow (City of God) and Atwood (Before the Flood) now at the top of my Kindle menu.

3. Walking while singing was part of the all-day choral rehearsal I attended on Saturday, and walking while watering with reclaimed wash water has become an important part of my gardening routine. More to come on that one.

4. Writing? Duh!

5. Smiling is not something I do intentionally, though I laugh a lot.

As part of explaining her five things to do, Sankovitch describes instances of their application in her own life. Something she had written about a walk in the park with her son (then under a year old, now 18 and getting ready for college) reminded me of a time when my then 4-year-old younger son wanted me to take him to the park. He said, "You can sit on the giant turtle and read." So we went to the park, and I read, though not on the giant turtle, and his negotiating skills have continued to be a big factor in his success as an entrepreneur.

Finally, the sheer phenomenon of being reminded reminded me of something  Ludwig Wittgenstein said about aesthetics. Not something whereof I'm qualified to speak at this time, but Wittgenstein has been on my mind because he's a minor character in Doctorow's City of God.

Now I must re-read Wittgenstein along with the Donna Leon mysteries. The idea makes me smile.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

three score and ten

Today I am turning seventy! It's a milestone.

Celebration will not be elaborate, as I have an all-day rehearsal with my chorale. Singing is always a celebratory act for me, even if it involves hours of exacting repetition..

Steve and I went out for a lavish dinner last Sunday night, and designated that as my 'birthday dinner.' It was early, so as not to conflict with Mothers Day tomorrow. Somehow we feel compelled to space the celebrations in a seemly manner.

For many years now, I have organized birthday parties for myself in the years when May 7 falls on a Thursday or a Sunday. Thanks to the phenomenon of Leap Year, this policy creates a quasi-random schedule that I like very much. Birthday parties are (actually should be) narcissistic affairs, and I don't really need that every year.

Generally my Thursday parties are ladies' luncheons, and the Sunday ones are raucous picnics. All have artistic elements: poetry reading, music, videos, etc. Once I put modelling clay in the luncheon centerpieces, and it was great fun to see a bunch of middle-aged women happily sculpting flowers, implements, and life-like figures both human and animal..

My most recent Sunday party (in the year 2000) was an 'old hippie' picnic at a large city park. Guests were encouraged to dress up (most did!). Extra flowers and beads were available to embellish everyone's outfits. Steve made his signature shish kebabs, and fortunately the cake was NOT "left out in the rain" as in MacArthur Park.

I resist the temptation to check the calendar and figure out when my next party will be. I look forward to the next one(s), and look back fondly on the last one(s) without much specificity..

Upon turning seventy, Steve's mother, Alice, alluded to the Biblical concept that "three score and ten" was the normal human life span (Psalm 90, verse 10). She lived to age 85, and the intervening years were definitely not all "labour and sorrow," as the King James Version expresses it. Nevertheless she would allude to her mortality with remarks such as "Well, I guess this is the last time we'll have blueberry pie!" She also wrote her own obituary, with a charming allusion to The Deacon's Wonderful One-Hoss Shay by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894).

Today I am thinking not so much about my own mortality as about ways to stay young. Sadly my own parents, aged 95 and 96, have lost interest in just about everything except their own aches and pains. They are role models only in a negative sense. I have vowed not to emulate them.

Keeping up with friends and family, learning new things, and finding more ways to celebrate are on my agenda for coming years. These are the stuff of postoccupations for sure.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

very like a dogwood

On Monday I started pruning our big white single-flowered azalea. This is doubly a labor of love: I love the azalea and I love pruning.

It's been unseasonably hot this week, so Monday's azalea pruning took place early in the morning. A late afternoon session yesterday and another early morning session tomorrow may not suffice to finish this ritualistic project, but I should be able to wrap it up on Sunday along with celebrating Mothers Day.

Some people take chain saws or hedge trimmers to their azaleas, quickly creating a clumpy mass of foliage frosted with an outside layer of blossoms. Others remove only the dead blossoms, resulting in uneven growth at the plant's surface and a tangled mass of twigs underneath.

I subscribe to the principle that removing one third of a mature shrub's twigs and branches each year will maintain its ideal size and health. A height of five feet seems just right to balance with other specimen plants while not overpowering the surrounding annuals, I also favor maintaining an "open" shape.

Starting at ground level with loppers and shears and, occasionally, a pruning saw, I approach each branch separately. First, all downward-facing growth is lopped off, then anything that threatens to crisscross with another branch. Finally, the new growth, already extending four inches or so above this year's blossoms, is thinned to encourage spreading rather than clumping. Along the way, all old flowers are removed.

My labors are rewarded by a long flowering season. On February 27 of this year, I reported that the azalea was blooming, and on March 17 that it was covered with blossoms. Indeed, there are a few flowers hanging on, even on branches that have been subjected to my surgical attention. These I will 'dead-head' as they fade.

Several years ago, a neighbor from across the street complimented me on what he took to be a dogwood growing in our front garden. As dogwoods will not grow in this temperate climate, I considered this to be high praise. Who can forget coming upon a dogwood tree in the woods? Its graceful open shape displays individual white blossoms in stunning contrast to the background of dark evergreens.

We had a small dogwood tree in our Pennsylvania front yard, and my azalea obsession may be an attempt to recreate its springtime burst of white blossoms.
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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