Sunday, February 26, 2012

reprieves and rationalizations

In my continuing quest for personal organization,* I have felt that perhaps I should be planning my blog postings more carefully. In a sense this is a non-issue, because I've never had a problem finding topics. In line with my simple theme of pre[and/or post]-occupations, I simply write about what's on my mind. Problems may arise, however, when an issue is 'date-sensitive.'

Having learned late in 2010 that the Pantone company announces their Color of the Year in January, I have taken pains to post about it on January 31 of 2011 and 2012, and I look forward to doing so in 2013 and beyond. On the other hand, I was chagrined to have missed National Bean Day this year after covering it lavishly on January 7, 2011, only one day late.

In January of this year, I set a goal of writing two blog posts per week, and in the seven weeks since January 9 I have in fact achieved this goal by writing fourteen. Feeling very good about this, as promised by my personal organization guru at, I have turned my attention to March's postoccupations.

Ada Lovelace Day would seem to loom on March 24, as it did when I last posted about it, in honor of Beverly Grigsby. But wait! That post was written in 2010, and my post in honor of Grace Murray Hopper was written in 2009! So what happened to Ada Lovelace Day in 2011? Googling reveals that it was celebrated on October 7 -- not with the traditional barrage of blogging, but with a 'live' event in the U.K. and a few dribs and drabs of videos and blog posts.

Ada Lovelace Day 2012 has been set for October 16, and I have subscribed to the FindingAda blog and requested to join the Ada Lovelace Day group on Facebook, so as to keep abreast of the latest developments. But wait (yes, again)! All of the FindingAda posts  -- even the announcement of the 2011 event -- are dated on a single day (February 9, 2012), and the Facebook page had no postings between March 3, 2011 (announcing the 2011 event) and February 22, 2012, when the group's 'admin' stated: "Oops, forgot we had an FB page! Anyway, yes, 16 October this year! Get the date in your diary and keep an eye on Twitter."

I have indeed made a note of the new date. Keeping an eye on Twitter, however, is beyond my level of commitment to Ada Lovelace Day, and frankly I don't have a lot of faith in the event's other modes of communication. One of FindingAda's February 9 postings revealed that the original blog had been "severely hacked over Christmas" and was in the process of being "rescued." This is sad, seeing that Ada Lovelace Day's mission is to provide role models for women in the 'STEM' disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

I certainly am in favor of role models, and sometime between now and October I should certainly find one to honor on Ada Lovelace Day. In fact, I have two very special candidates in mind. It's nice to know that I have several months to choose between them.
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*Currently this takes the form of almost continuous enrollment in the excellent on-line workshops given at Simplify 101.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

can you take me to the ice rink?

I'd spent most of two weekends helping Sandra get ready to move to Visalia, and when  I drove home from a round of errands on the following Tuesday, I really expected to see that she was gone. She'd been bustling around in front of her garage when I left in the morning, and it looked like she had everything packed up and/or neatly arranged in the parking strip so that scavengers could easily take what they wanted.

As I drove out of the alley onto my street, I spotted Sandra. She saw me, and ran toward my car, virtually throwing herself onto the hood. "Can you take me to the ice rink?" she asked breathlessly. I was puzzled by her request and the urgency of it. Why would a middle-aged woman, needing to get out of town in a hurry, decide to go ice skating in the middle of the afternoon?

The explanation turned out to be simple. Our community's ice rink is a major landmark, but the truck rental agency across the street from it is not so well known. Correctly sensing that I could easily find the one but not the other, she asked me to take her to the ice rink. We both dissolved in giggles at the vision of ourselves wobbling around on the ice in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

Then Sandra said, "I wish we'd known each other when we were young." I just had to reply, "I AM young, but I know what you mean!" Our vision shifted to that of our teenaged selves hanging out after school at places like ice rinks, and the moment became serious for a little while.

I dropped Sandra at the ice rink and watched her run across the street to pick up her rental truck. After tearful goodbyes, she made the three-hour drive to Visalia, where a nice home and a new job awaited her.

There's never enough time to spend with friends. I wish we'd known each other when we were young.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Yesterday I noticed two volunteer sweet peas growing in a crack along the edge of our front walk. I tried pulling them up, but they were deeply rooted. and I fully expect to see them emerge again. Sweet pea surveillance will be part of my puttering routine until the path is cleared..

My first experience with volunteer sweet peas was in November 2010, when I carefully transplanted every one to stand along the fence, interspersing them with sweet peas I'd grown from seed. These became the plethora of purple sweet peas noted in spring 2011.

On the verge of spring 2012, thanks to having mulched last summer with spent sweet pea vines and their mature seeds, I have countless volunteer sweet pea seedlings in the front garden. I provided stakes for the first ones to climb on, and even placed a tomato cage over a big clump of them. But, having read somewhere that sweet peas may be allowed to sprawl, I think I'll remove these props and see what happens.

With three volunteers thriving in the space where sweet peas have been planted in the past, we WILL have a dependable source of blooms -- probably dark purple. Their spent vines will again become mulch for the front garden. Meanwhile, regardless of their state of development, the sprawling sweet peas will be fulfilling their fabaceous destiny by drawing nitrogen out of the air and into the soil. If they manage to bloom, we'll enjoy seeing the flowers rear their little heads in unlikely places. What fun it would be to watch them climb up the camellia or azalea, or even venture among the epiphitic plants on my beloved dead tree-fern trunk,

While sweet peas compete for space, my single hyacinth bean stalk has become rampant on the side fence and garden arch. Its unscented blossoms, though not as frilly as the purely ornamental sweet pea, make lovely bouquets with the addition of African blue basil or another fragrant herb. I try to keep the hyacinth beans from setting mature seed, but it would not surprise me to see them show up as next year's new volunteers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

berry imperative

Two years ago we bought two one-gallon pots of "spineless" boysenberry plants -- with two plants in each pot -- and planted them next to our chain-link fence behind the herbs and occasional veggies that grow in a 30"-wide strip of south-side garden.

The summer of 2010 brought very few berries, 2011 a few more, and the 'fring' of 2011-12 has brought long canes that must be cut back and tied up properly if our little 'berry farm' is going to be at all productive this summer. This will be a chore, since not all of the plants are as spineless as advertised. I shall wear long sleeves and maybe even gloves to do the deed, but inevitably blood must flow and Lady Macbeth be "done."

Some of the boysenberry canes have grown to where their tips touched the ground and took root. These are usually called "pups," and dealing with them must be my first priority if we are to avoid an impenetrable thicket such as Alice's raspberries made in Idaho when she stopped tending them. If our  boysenberries strayed even a foot from the fence, they'd make it dangerous to pull garlic or pick parsley.

I think I can find room for three or four boysenberry pups along the fence, thus doubling our initial planting. Others will be potted for friends and neighbors (Marsha has been asking for them since she heard that we were growing berries) or shared with the garden club.

The history of boysenberries can be read on Wikipedia, and will explain why those of us who've lived in California for a long time can't hear the word berry without thinking Knott's. Now a massive theme park, Knott's Berry Farm was a place to take visitors from the mid-west for a chicken dinner topped off with Mrs. Knott's fabulous boysenberry pie. The rides grew from exhibits built to entertain folks who were waiting for tables.

I boggle at the notion of having enough boysenberries to make even one pie. Generally I've eaten them out of hand while on my morning putter. Filling a bowl and eating them with a spoon, lightly macerated, is for now a consummation to be wished.

Monday, February 6, 2012

my trollope galop*

After reading twelve Trollope novels in less than six months, I have made a cleansing foray into Nabokov (Laughter in the Dark) and greatly enjoyed the economy of language and tightness of plot. Trollope, writing for serialization and with three volumes to fill for each title, describes every detail of a major character's face, figure, financial status, family heritage, and marital status before s/he is allowed to step into the action. Nabokov, who personally translated Laughter into English, lets these details emerge on a 'need-to-know' basis. Googling Laughter just now, I learned that Tony Richardson made it into a French-British film in 1969. I wonder what Nabokov thought of the movie but will postpone further researches for the time being.

For some reason I feel that I must write more about Trollope before getting back to Nabokov or Doctorow. Maybe there's an ideal balance between input and output, and I must restore it before reading more.

The Barchester and Palliser series provide a very thick slice of life in mid-Victorian England. Politics (both secular and ecclesiastical), architecture, communications, economics, and social mores are treated in great detail, as they must be to develop Trollope's story lines, invariably chronicling the rise and fall of a character's status.

I will admit to being bored by Trollope's long descriptions of fox hunts and parliamentary debates, but I love his ornate vocabulary and am fascinated by his treatment of marriage. From the 'childhood sweetheart' theme, through courtship, wedding ceremonies, honeymoons, everyday intercourse (hey! it meant communication and/or business in those days), obligatory entertaining, and finally widowhood, the reader follows every step.

While the subject of sex is carefully avoided, a reader steeped in political correctness may still feel the guilty frisson that comes from forbidden subject matter, when Trollope descends into the substratum of bigotry underlying his fictional world. Mr. Levy, Mr. Lopez, and the Reverend Mr. Emilius, a bigamous Pole, are treated with broad stereotypes and intense contumely. Italians and Germans fare better unless they are devoted to Roman Catholicism or Judaism, respectively. English people of the better classes can actually live in Italy, Germany, or Switzerland without becoming tainted, but they must return home periodically. Giving birth or dying abroad is to be avoided at all costs.

Trollope wrote 47 novels, some travel books and other nonfiction, some short stories, and an autobiography -- stashed on my Kindle, of course.
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*Spelled this way, galop refers to a lively dance popular during Trollope's lifetime.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

sweet and sour flower powers

Earlier this week I deadheaded our dogbane (plectranthus neochilus) for the first time ever, and then looked around for other plants that needed this treatment. Lavender seemed most in need, but the six-foot plant was filled with bees. They don't exactly get angry when I invade their territory, but I feel guilty about scaring them away, and so I resolved to deadhead the lavender on a cloudy day.

I've seen lavender honey in the stores, and was wondering where the bees take the nectar and pollen from our lavender. This reminded me that bees are currently doing better in urban areas than in farm country.  I learned this tidbit of trivia from an L.A.-based blog (which had gleaned it from a Seattle-based environmental website). Ironically, however, beekeeping is illegal in most of the Los Angeles area, as I learned at a community festival last fall, thanks to an organization called Backwards Beekeepers or 'BBK' as they call themselves.*

The political issue of beekeeping in urban areas will no doubt be resolved city by city. Trendsetting Santa Monica has recently legalized beekeeping, but the issue would be moot if honeybees were replaced by mason bees. Mason bees are excellent pollinators, but they live independently with their nuclear families -- building single-cell homes where they nurture their young without the oversight of a queen or the slavery of drones. In other words, mason bees 'keep' themselves. Gardeners may encourage them by providing condo-like housing, but there would be no way to harvest the honey.

Why does dogbane not attract bees? Its purple petals are larger and brighter than those of lavender. Could it be that the strong odor repels insects as well as canines? In fact it repels me, which may explain why I hadn't deadheaded the dogbane before. I can stand for hours deadheading lavender while enjoying a refreshing aromatherapy experience, but the dogbane requires me to get down on hands and knees and inhale a strong, disagreeable odor. I will admit to being more like a dog than a bee, but I balk at the idea that my tastes are dog-like.

It will be a long time before I deadhead the dogbane again. Meanwhile, the tall camellia must be topped. Otherwise it will turn into a tree and be impossible to deadhead regularly next year.

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*BBK puts on a wonderful promotion, with a display of working bees plus a cadre of little children dressed in cute bee costumes. They're scheduled to be at one of our local farmers' markets this Sunday, and I hope to be there.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

cheaper by the dozen

In April 2010 and May 2011 I referred in passing to my beloved Kindle. The first of these posts was about an unpleasant encounter on a bus ride, and the second about the development of daily routines. At a time when e-books are being lambasted roundly in various media* due to Jonathan Franzen's screed at the Hay Festival, I feel compelled to write about how the Kindle has influenced my book-buying and reading habits.

Before I had a Kindle, I rarely bought a new book. My modus operandi was to buy virtually all of my reading matter at thrift shops and used book stores (see my post Flight of Fiction for a description of a surprise this procedure brought). Since these books were so cheap (rarely more than $5.00 each) I bought lots of them and piled them on their sides so that I could see at a glance which books I hadn't read yet. After reading each book, I'd pass it along to a friend or give it back to a charity that would re-sell it in another thrift shop -- unless it qualified to be saved on my shelf of exemplary fiction.

Since the e-books available at Amazon for the Kindle are usually $9.99 apiece (maybe $14.95 for best-sellers), it appeared that my book budget was going to go through the roof. I had heard, however, that there were books available in Kindle editions for $1.00, or even for free. I rationalized that my average book purchase might not be higher than it was when I was buying most of my books from Salvation Army or Goodwill stores..

The first thing I noticed on Kindle's lists of free and $1.00 books was a preponderance of Victorian fiction, from which I downloaded a potpourri of George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Anthony Trollope, plus a Henry James title (The Outcry) that was totally new to me. These I kept in reserve and, at first, would righteously and parsimoniously read one Victorian title in between each modern title by Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Sue Grafton, Iain Pears, etc. This regimen lasted until I read Trollope's The Warden.

In college I'd greatly enjoyed Barchester Towers in a Victorian fiction class featuring one book apiece by the major novelists. That must have been in 1962. It all came back when The Warden appeared on my Kindle screen -- mostly through the imaginative, memorable names of characters: the Proudies, the Grantlys, Mr. Obadiah Slope, the Duke of Omnium (builder of Gatherum Castle), Sir Omicron Pi, and on and on. I was hooked, and so embarked on a journey through Trollope's six-book Barchester series, followed by another six in his Palliser series.

I don't think I'd ever have gone back to Trollope if it hadn't been for the way the Kindle changed my book buying habits, and yet this week we are being warned that because of e-books we are accelerating the fall of civilization as we know it.

Meanwhile Jonathan Franzen's acclaimed novel Freedom is available on Kindle for $9.99 (list price $16.00). Maybe I'll order it when I finish E.L. Doctorow's City of God -- if I don't get bogged down in Thackery.

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*for starters: CBC, Huff Post, Guardian. L.A. Times
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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