Thursday, November 29, 2012

by their buds

Texas sun drops have been subsisting in our cactus and succulent bed since we brought home a three- or four-inch pot from a native plant nursery in Ventura last winter. The height of their spring blooming season (maybe three or four flowers at a time) coincided with that of a small barrel cactus and matched it in color: a yellow of almost 'neon' intensity.

Spring 2012 also brought us a good showing of California poppies. After years of planting seeds to no avail, we had bought two small pots (one the standard orange-gold and one 'mixed') at the Theodore Payne Foundation.

In spite of coming from different states, the Texas sun drops and California poppies looked very much alike -- small flowers with four rounded petals on feathery foliage. We enjoyed their simultaneous bloom, but then the poppies' lighter gray-green foliage died back while the sun drops' tiny dark green leaves kept their color and continued to produce the occasional bright blossom throughout summer and fall.

This week, with December looming, I noticed two buds on the Texas sun drops and thought they looked like tiny balloons. Not inclined to assume a nose-to-ground posture to study them, I picked the larger one yesterday and brought it inside for closer observation. The top of the sun drop bud, pale yellow cross-crossed by thin red lines like a miniature gift tie, is a square folded in on itself like a cooty catcher or origami box. California poppy buds are cones, tightly wrapped with a pale green cover (pixie hat) that's cast aside when the flower opens.

I suspect the outside of the sun drop bud will fold back to reveal the flower. On its second day of  captivity I think I see the bud's diagonal lines getting wider -- turning into cracks so as to pop apart. If the flower opens, I will be standing by to look at it under the magnifying desk lamp. Otherwise, another sun drop bud will have to be picked in the interests of science.

Googling 'Texas sun drop,*' I learn that there are at least six species of Calylophus, which belongs to the Onogracea (evening primrose) family. Wikipedia's larger-than-life photo shows "Calylophus drummondii in the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College, El Cajon, California, USA." Noting this location for our next trip to the San Diego area, I eagerly pursue more on-line links.

Calylophus drummondianus var. berlandieri, under the common name of  'shrubby primrose,' was University of Arkansas' Plant of Week in June 2008. Due to some confusion between the work of two 19th-century botanists, the Scottish Thomas Drummond and the French Jean Berlandier, shrubby primrose is often attributed only to Drummond, "a plant collector sent out by London’s Kew Gardens to collect plants in Texas," or to Berlandier, "part of the team assigned to survey and establish the Mexican borderline." In fact, however, it should bear the names of both.

I love these stories of taxonomic history, but now of course I wish I knew what these charming yellow flowers were called by pre-Columbian natives on both sides of the border.

What I do know now, to my great satisfaction, is that some people call Calylophus drummondianus var. berlandieri the 'square bud primrose.' A site devoted to native plants of the Texas hill country shows a beautiful photo and waxes eloquent: "A splash of yellow on a low mound of thin grassy foliage makes this plant special. Plant in full sun and enjoy a flush of spring bloom and additional blooms from time to time in the summer." In this mild climate, I expect a few "additional blooms" in December and look forward to a "splash of yellow"along with our California poppies and barrel cactus in March and April.
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* 'Texas sun drop' also comes up as "an exhilarating citrus soda."

P.S. (added November 30) The bud is opening! I was totally wrong about the diagonal lines, which have become the center lines of each sepal. The other crisscross (the red one) is the one that has split apart to reveal bright yellow foliage folded intricately inside. I have seen what I needed to see and will not need to sacrifice another bud from the garden!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

black friday

Steve and I have never participated in the annual 'Black Friday' shopping madness, but yesterday a computer emergency took us to a local 'big box' store on the dreaded day after Thanksgiving. 

Late in the afternoon, Steve's computer monitor failed suddenly. The screen started flashing on and off sporadically, showing nothing but narrow bands of the display that was supposed to be appearing there. This had evidently happened before, following a brief power failure over a month ago, but at that time Steve had been able to fix it with popular cable-jiggling and on-off switching techniques.

I came in from an appointment around 4:30 and personally tried the above-mentioned techniques to no avail. Guessing that the monitor must have been ten years old (it had come with an older desktop computer), we realized it was time for action.

On our way to the 'big box' store closest to home, we heard radio news of actual violence at an area WalMart, but we pressed on. I have never seen so many cars in the parking lot of our local mall. We circled two or three times before locating a space and joining the mob of customers entering the store. 

In the 'tablet' computer department, there was a line of ten or twelve customers waiting to speak to a saleseperson, but what we used to call 'peripherals' for desktop computers were in much less demand. Still we had to snake through long lines waiting for help with trendier merchandise in order to find our target item: an $80 monitor that seemed totally compatible with Steve's desktop computer.

Safely at home once again, we installed the new monitor and made the adjustments necessary to connect speakers. Steve was ecstatic, watching TED lectures on a wider screen.

How many American consumers bought ONE item so quickly on Black Friday 2012 and enjoyed it so thoroughly before the end of the day? 

Successful as we were, I hope we'll stay out of the stores on Black Friday 2013.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

start passing!

Yesterday on Facebook, Joan said, "Just made jello mold we have had every year for Thanksgiving since I was a kid. Mom and I are only ones who eat it now but to me it just isn't Thanksgiving without it." Thirty-one of Joan's friends 'liked' this, and nineteen made comments, but so far I've seen no answer to my question: "Lime with pineapple?"

Though I wonder how many traditional Thanksgiving dishes will go uneaten this year, I cannot blame Joan for making and enjoying the ritual jello mold. My mother often made a frozen cranberry salad mold (cream cheese, whole-berry cranberry sauce, grated pineapple, chopped pecans, and more sugar than anyone uses in any salad today). If I had the recipe, I would seriously consider making it as a dessert, but would not be surprised if nobody wanted to eat it.

Our culinary relics -- jello molds, candied yams with miniature marshmallows, green bean casserole topped with canned onion rings, and stuffing cooked inside the turkey (to name but a few) are like food placed in tombs or offered to ancestors in so many cultures. The colorful Latin-American Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is my favorite example, and one of these years I'll learn enough to write something about it.

Steve and I are celebrating Thanksgiving by ourselves this year. We have planned a relatively simple meal: turkey brined in a juniper-berry mixture, cornbread stuffing, and acorn squash 'on the half-shell' cooked in the crockpot with dried cranberries. Possibly a cactus leaf and tomato salad if that little bag of nopalitos hasn't joined its ancestors in the compost barrel.

Steve will carve our 10-pound turkey -- at the table, I hope. My maternal grandfather was known for saying: "It doesn't matter how you carve the turkey. Just do it slowly." 

Once when I was in high school, I had Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house and was horrified that her father did not carve and pass the turkey to each individual at the table in a hierarchical order. The turkey came to the table already sliced, a brief blessing was intoned, and the order to "Start passing!" was given along with an exuberant arm-waving gesture. 

Thus Thanksgiving continues to evolve as each family looks inward and outward to select the elements of which we must say, "It isn't Thanksgiving without it."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

a holiday endeavour

Nancy's Thanksgiving e-letter focuses on her once-in-a-lifetime experiences of 2012, headlined with seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavour "up close and personal" in the air over her home and again on the ground on its way to the California Science Center at Exposition Park.

The first holiday letter of every year is always a jolt for those of us who are not as conscientious as we'd like to be about annual mailings to family and friends. Nancy's effort is exemplary. It has a theme and a positive tone. Her brevity leaves us wanting more: about her sweet peas; about her cats; but especially about her.

Nancy's letter reminds me that I still haven't written anything about the Endeavour. It's been on my mind and my list of blog topics ever since that October weekend when Steve and I took the Expo light-rail line to Exposition Park twice: once on the Saturday evening when Endeavour was scheduled to arrive, and again on Sunday morning, when we actually saw the venerable spacecraft inch through the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Steve went on to a 'gig' but I stayed all day and watched from several vantage points including a second-floor window of the Natural History Museum.

I was surprised by my own fascination with the Endeavour, which Steve and I visited again during a 'members only' event at the Science Center. The exploration of space has never interested me much, though I remember milestones: Sputnik, landings on the moon and Mars, the Columbia disaster, etc. I had actually gone on record in May 2010 as having told Kay I wasn't interested in space.

Kay would have loved everything about the Endeavour's big retirement party, and would have wanted to talk about all of it -- including the spelling. Yes, spelling! For some reason, NASA chose to spell Endeavour in the British style, with a 'u' as in flavour and colour. I feel that I could research this issue, but I'm going to leave it alone and remember bigger things: the sheer size of the Endeavour, the spirit of the crowd that came out to cheer it on, the opulence of the Science Center's new exhibit and plans for more, the importance of Exposition Park as a focus for happy memories in my own life.

I will endeavor to write a holiday letter this year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

narcissus, harbinger of fring

Just last month (gardenia essentials), I confidently predicted: "Narcissi and freesias will sprout before Thanksgiving; calla lilies will stand tall before Christmas." When I wrote that, of course, I still believed that Southern California's famous "fall rains" would come in early October and usher in the fring season I enjoy so much.

On November 28, 2010, I described the planting of our narcissus bed as well its sprouting in early October of that year. We were enjoying narcissus blossoms throughout November of 2011 too, but again the rains had come in October.

October 2012 is history, and it's time to admit that I remember many fall droughts and many years when there was no paperwhite narcissus until Christmas. This fall has brought one Santa Ana after another, and today's predicted high is 95.

But bulbs are powerhouses of stored energy. Last Thursday or Friday, I saw that the first narcissus of 2012 had sprouted and was standing almost four inches tall. It was high time to bring on the laundry water.* The narcissus bed will receive at least three gallons every couple of days, and I'm thinking that our Idaho daffodils (not naturalized here yet) deserve life support too.

Our resurgent clematis, thirsty dogbane, Texas sun-drops, and showy bromeliads have received the lion's share of this summer and fall's laundry water, but wizened jade trees and other sad succulents (calandrinia, bulbine, aeonium, etc.) are beginning to remind me of T.S. Eliot's "old man in a dry month."

"Use it or lose it," they say, and this is true of laundry water as well as rain water. If the gardens don't get it, the overloaded sewer system and storm drains will.
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I haven't reclaimed much laundry water this year (see drops in the bucket, part 3 for the October 2010 inception of that laborious process). Ironically, I had simplified my method of siphoning water out of the washing machine but had not really taken advantage of this innovation. 
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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