musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


April 13, 2009

I know there’s something good happening out there

I’ve been in a horribly bad mood, mainly due to family troubles of the kind that make me feel helpless and small — the news of the death of my oldest brother, and my dad’s loss of independence due to a stroke. I’ve also had some just silly bad luck at home, little things like stubbing a toe so hard a few days ago that I worried it was broken (it’s still sore), straining my back lifting a bag of cat litter yesterday, frustration over the economic crunch that everyone is feeling, when I really could use a newer more reliable car. Why is it that bad news and events seem to come in these overwhelming groupings that feel as if they’ll never end — or, if that isn’t what’s happening, why is it that my mind seems to make even the small problems feel big, once it starts on a downward spiral?

Today I knew I needed to crawl out of this hole I found myself in. I’ve been avoiding the news, because that usually just makes me feel worse, and worse was definitely not what I needed. I know some people think that’s an unrealistic attitude, but I find the news unrealistic, in its focus on everything bad and very little good except nonsensical news about the personal lives of celebrities — people who would likely just as soon be left alone when it comes to personal matters.

I decided to search for some positive news on the Internet, and I found this story on a blog called Great Pet Net that I thought I should share in case anyone else could use a lift: Jasmine the Mother Theresa Greyhound. Dogs tend to have a healing way about them, all around, in my opinion. But this one is exceptional. She certainly had a distant healing effect on me.

It’s a beautiful spring day here. Flowers are blooming, in spite of the gopher that keeps eating them. (Our gopher loves California poppies and nasturtiums. What does yours like?) The The Hooded Orioles arrived early from Mexico, and one almost flew right into me yesterday, maybe because I was wearing green and blended with the plants. Later I watched three Red-tailed Hawks circle the sky above our house. Clouds sail across the sky today in a stiff, delicious ocean breeze. My cat Tara is always up for a game of chase or a tumble with toys. Someone I care about is playing Bach on the piano in the next room.

Yesterday I spotted a long, sinuous cloud in the western sky that looked like a Japanese dragon. I didn’t get a picture, but if you’re familiar with the animated film, Spirited Away, it looked a lot like Haku in his natural form as a river spirit.

Now that I’ve set my mind back in its more customary direction, at least for the moment, good things are beginning to happen inside me again, too.

Every now and then I find it necessary to keep a gratitude journal, to find at least three things each day that I’m grateful for to write about. I think I’ll take up that practice again for a while.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:30 pm PST, 04/13/09

September 13, 2008

Shelob is dead, but Ike rages on

Yesterday I killed the largest black widow spider I’ve ever seen. She was beautiful, but … she had to go.

Sorry to write such a Halloweenish blog so early. But the weather has been cool and cloudy here the past three days, making it possible for me to do a little gardening again, which makes me happy. I’m afraid in the hottest weeks of summer I don’t venture out much (or blog much, apparently), except to throw a little water on things to keep them from dying. Unfortunately weeds don’t seem to need much water to keep them from dying.

I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people with a perfectly manicured and landscaped yard. But maybe this suits my personality better — you know, finding huge creepy spiders, growing a forest of weeds as prolifically as anything else, trying to figure out what to do with monster sized zucchini after zucchini, wishing a certain gopher would move elsewhere and that the neighborhood outdoor cats would stop killing my lizards and pooping in my flower bed. Story of my life. But it makes for more drama, perhaps, than a perfect yard.

Tara is growing up fast. She got spayed last week, which set her play time back some, a setback which had to be forced on her because she can’t seem to sit still for more than five minutes. People are such wusses after surgery, compared to pets. It makes one wonder why we’re the dominant species on the planet.

Now Tara’s making up for lost time!

My thoughts and prayers go out to those in Texas, where Hurricane Ike seems to be acting up much worse than my little terror of a kitten could dream of doing. I hope Ike doesn’t give her any fresh ideas.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:38 am PST, 09/13/08

July 11, 2008

I promised pictures

Then my computer crashed for a couple of days. Here they finally are:

Tara at nearly 15 weeks and 3.5 lbs, in a rare moment when she’s sitting still —
Tara Still

Tara as a blur (her normal state) —
Tara blur

The first tomato? We’ll see.
1st Tomato

In case anyone is thinking that my fresh interest in gardening means I have a lush, fully planted yard, I have to confess here that these photos are a cheat. They don’t show the ground still barren of any planting. We live on a granite hill, partly decomposed and partly still-composed boulders. We also live in a semi-arid, overly populated part of the country, so water isn’t cheap. I’m also lazy. I’ve planted around what my husband already planted or nursed back to health, and that might make me appear to be a more productive gardener than I am. But I love my few plants, they’re producing, and I have big plans for next year, so we’ll see.

Sunflower front

Sunflower back

As you might have guessed, part of my garden is for the birds, though I like sunflower seeds too, so even the sunflowers aren’t entirely for the birds.

I’ve read somewhere that there’s a German paper company that makes fine stationery from sunflower stalk fibers, and that gets an artsy-craftsy person like me thinking. . . .

Sunflower 01

Sunflower 02

Of the seven or so sunflowers growing in our yard right now, most face east, most of the time. There’s one near the front door that faces the door, to its north, which means I see its shining face as soon as I walk outside. It’s had the same ladybug on its bloom (below) for three or four days now. I hope she’s taken up residence and plans to take care of it and keep it pest free until it’s finished blooming.

Sunflower ladybug

Then there’s this one (below), which faces the southeast (back) corner of the yard. Is it an errant sunflower that thinks it has to stand in the corner — my generation’s equivalent of a time-out? Or does it like the chattering of the caged parakeet the neighbors down there sometimes leave out on their patio during the day? Maybe it’s made friends with the bougainvillea. I don’t know.

Sunflower 03

I almost forgot one of my favorites, a picture of the quintessential Tara — at least when she’s mellow and not stalking whatever prey or toy or window screen is available to do her destructo-cat number on. This is from two weeks ago when she still had a little kitten fluff —

Tara sleeping

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:13 pm PST, 07/11/08

July 8, 2008

Catching up

Our summer weather has set in, likely until mid to late October, so I have to wake up early to get all my outdoor work done. I’m amazed how fast things can grow in the warm weather and get away from me — mostly things I don’t want to grow, like weeds.

My usual care to wear gloves when working in the yard had lapsed recently, but working outside earlier than usual this morning meant that I happened across two black widow spiders. One, on the lower rock wall, was attempting to kill a big iridescent green June Beetle, or what we call a June Beetle here, aka Fig Eater Beetle. The beetle was 10 to 15 times the spider’s size. Their struggle mesmerized me for a moment as I wondered who would win, the beetle snapping spider silk as quickly as it wrapped around it. It was the noise he made that drew my attention in the first place. I would’ve intervened, if I’d had something handy to kill the spider with, but the next time I walked past, the spider — hiding from me, no doubt — was nowhere to be seen and the beetle was bumbling away. I’ll be more careful to wear gloves and not work in flip-flops anymore, unless I’m only watering. Black widows usually hide from people, but I don’t want to surprise one.

My little friend Tara is growing fast. A kitten in the house means lots of interruptions to play, or to stop misbehavior in its tracks, or just to cuddle. I’ll try to post an updated photo later, but it might be a blur unless I catch her when she slows down to nap, bask in a sunny window, or watch TV. She’s now more than three times the size she was when I took these pictures, and darker since her kitten fluff has been replaced by a true dark tabby coat. She’s a Siamese mix, but you wouldn’t know that to look at her.

Tara watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance, in an older video on the arts channel last night, and I think she decided he’s the most cat-like human she’s seen. I hope she doesn’t expect us to move like that! But maybe it’s good that she knows some humans are capable of it, just to help us keep the upper hand. Sometimes we call her Rocket Cat, and one day recently, as the dog and I watched in glazed over amazement while she raced around and up and down a room, I commented to him, “You know, cats can almost fly.” Indi seemed to agree.

I’m not really sure what all else keeps me busy, but there’s a lot of it, whatever it is. I don’t work in the garden enough to excuse not blogging, but I do spend some time finding things to do with the excess produce.

We’ve had loads of squash from just four plants, so far, some of it now in the freezer and some given away. We may need a bigger freezer if I keep gardening. One way that we like zucchini is simply sautéed in a little olive oil with basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. We’ve had some cucumbers, which I personally think would make a good breakfast food, because just one bite seems to wake me up with its fresh, clean crispness. The tomatoes got a late start (from seed), so we haven’t had any to eat yet, but they’re blooming and setting fruit, growing like mad in the heat. There’s a San Marzano Roma about the size of the end of my thumb that I predict will be the first to the table, unless that little cluster of marble sized cherry tomatoes beats it to perfect redness. With the salmonella scare still pretty much a mystery I’m looking forward, even more than I expected when I planted them, to fresh homegrown tomatoes.

Yesterday we discovered how well extra garden produce can pay off, when we gave a large zucchini to a neighbor boy to take home, and later his mom sent over four of the most perfect little quesadillas I’ve ever tasted. Oh. My. God. These were not the quesadillas you find in Mexican restaurants, or the floppy things we usually concoct with flour tortillas and cheddar cheese, in a skillet. Every part of hers was homemade, including flaky six-inch corn flour shells folded in half and crisped. They were filled with chicken, some kind of white cheese, possibly one of the Mexican cheeses described here, and fresh cabbage, and they came with a magical homemade chili sauce to pour over them. I am positive we got the better end of that exchange. You can’t get food like that in any restaurant, and I’m in heaven just remembering them. It’s odd how a really good hot sauce can actually cool you. As my mouth heated up, my body seemed to cool right off. Must’ve been all my pores and sinuses opening. It was positively delicious. Mmmmh!

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:49 pm PST, 07/08/08

May 30, 2008

Gardening habit or gardening revolution?

Mystery author Eric Mayer* mentioned in a recent blog post that his blog journaling hasn’t been very habitual of late. He went on to write about habits, and that got me to thinking about my habits, and how they’ve changed in the past year or so. Obviously, for me, blogging has taken a back seat to other things. So has my fiction writing, other than attempting to sell my latest finished manuscript, a mystery about a tarot reader whose awakening ability as a medium gets her involved in a murder investigation. (Interested agents or publishers are welcome to inquire here.)

Habits can be good or bad, and I’m sure everyone has some bad ones they’d like to unload. But one new habit I’m happy to have taken on this year is gardening.

Sedum

Gardening is indeed a habit, one that gets into your blood in a way I didn’t anticipate when I started out this year. I’d done a tiny bit of gardening as a kid, when I remember planting one rose bush of my own but mostly helping my grandmother with her strawberries and vegetables on the embankment behind my parents’ house. Later, in my first apartment, I nurtured a few houseplants, and throughout my work life I’ve usually kept a potted plant on my desk. I kept African Violets in a north facing window in the last house we rented, until a cat took over that window sill. Still, my husband did most of the outdoor gardening, with a little weeding here and there on my part, until March of this year.

It started this spring with tending a few vegetable and flower seeds until they sprouted, and then the seedlings until they went into the ground. From there I progressed to caring for plants in the ground and preparing the soil for more of them. It’s rapidly expanding to a succession of all of these things, in the hopes of keeping some fresh produce in our salad and veggie bowls through this summer, as well as brightening a corner of the front yard, where my ultimate goal is to keep flowers blooming in a little cottage style bed year round. I’m a ways from that goal yet.

I’m still new at this, and I got a late start this year, but I get help and advice from various sources, and gardening is now a firm habit that I won’t easily give up. It’s one of the first things I think about in the morning and one of the last I think about before the sun goes down.

The plants seem happy about my gardening habit, when they can figure out what season it is. Our weather this spring switched back and forth for a couple of months from one extreme to the other, first dry Santa Anas with temperatures in the 90s, and then thick cloud cover and a shifting Jet Stream chilled the air to the 50s. This went back and forth for weeks, with little pleasant weather in between, and it kept our plants confused. In the past two weeks the weather has leveled off, and the plants are loving it.

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and I’ve recently realized there’s little more beautiful to me than a tiny plant bursting out of its seed container. Call me crazy, but I think baby plants can be almost as cute as a kitten, and they, like the kitten, draw out my mothering tendencies.

CuteAsKitten

(I’ll bet you expected a photo of a seedling, but I couldn’t help the obligatory kitten shot.)

To some this pleasure might seem like taking joy in watching paint dry, but to me it’s more like watching a sunset at the end of a heat wave.

Sunset

We celebrated our first avocado blooms a few months ago.

Avocado

Now some fruit has set, which we hope will grow to maturity.

Avocado02

Avocados, according to my resident expert Ken who’s read something like 200 online agricultural reports about them, tend to drop a good portion of their fruit early, which can be disappointing to home gardeners. It will be disappointing to me, if it happens, because Reeds are my absolute favorite avocado variety.

Two days ago I celebrated my first squash blossom.

SquashBlossom01

Zucchini may seem an ordinary thing to seasoned gardeners. It’s one of the easiest things to grow and the butt of gardening jokes, usually in reference to an overabundance of it. But I like zucchini, I love my resplendent squash plants with their huge green leaves, and those yellow-orange blossoms are gold to me.

SquashBlossom02

I’m learning more about the various weeds that grow in the garden, some of which are edible. For instance, purslane and dandelion make delicious salad greens. Note, if you decide to try eating weeds from your garden, be careful that you know what you’re eating. Ensure that the plants haven’t been subjected to herbicides or pesticides and that they aren’t in fact toxic weeds.

Sourgrass

Even some semi-edible weeds, like the sour grass we all discovered as kids, can be a problem if eaten in quantity, I’m told, and purslane looks very similar to a toxic type of spurge that often grows right alongside it. Have an expert show you how to identify edible weeds, and examine carefully whatever you pick to eat. This point was driven home to me when I found spurge, with its milky sap, growing in my own little purslane patch.

Yesterday Ken pointed me to a Los Angeles Times article about Guerrilla Gardeners, which linked to a slide show on how to make “seed bombs” as well as two blogs, here and here, about guerrilla gardening.

Gardening has not only revolutionized my daily routine. It’s apparently a revolution that’s spreading once again, as Victory Gardens did in the last century, with people today gardening to save money on local food and working on a clandestine volunteer basis to re-green the land.

_ _ _

* In case you aren’t aware, Eric Mayer and Mary Reed’s latest John the Eunuch Byzantine mystery, Seven For A Secret, was released in April by Poisoned Pen Press. If you haven’t kept up with their historical mystery series, it’s not too late to start. The earlier books in the series are still in print, and some are now available as Kindle editions.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 3:27 pm PST, 05/30/08

April 18, 2008

Spring swelter

No, I did not mis-spell “sweater” in the title. We’re having a summery spring, with hot, dry Santa Ana conditions interspersed with normal spring weather, and it’s confusing our poor little seedlings.

I’m actually doing a tiny bit of gardening. Though I’m a plant — especially flower — lover, and I’ve hankered for some fresh garden produce for a long time, I’m shamefully lazy at doing anything about it. Any yard we’ve had that looked good in the past was entirely my spouse’s doing, except for a little weeding here and there on my part, and even now with my surge of interest in finally getting a real garden started here, I’m quite a bit lazier than he is. I’m much better at mental or creative, sedentary work than physical labor. But I’ve had my bursts of productive activity too, and I’ve gotten a little spring cleaning done indoors as well. Not enough to suit me just yet. There’s a lot of catching up to do around here. Thus my long absence, which has been partly rest periods due to the early lapses into summer. Hot weather tends to make me just want to lie down in a dark room with an icy drink of something and whine about the heat. When the thermometer rises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, my brain even seems to go on vacation. Hopefully that helps explain the long absence from blogs — mine and yours.

How’s your spring going so far?

Had any summer yet?

Want some of mine?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:00 pm PST, 04/18/08

January 16, 2008

Early spring, or not? And what is this vine?

In a couple of weeks, groundhogs will make their yearly predictions, though I’m not sure a prairie dweller afraid of its own shadow is a very reliable sign of the turning seasons. I’ve begun to wonder if we’ll have an early spring, though. The weather has turned sunny and warm, and we haven’t needed an extra blanket for the past few nights.

Weeds have cropped up all over our yard, making everything green, even if it isn’t the commonly acceptable form of green. When the weeds first sprouted they were beautiful, and in some open, flat parts of the yard, from a distance you would almost think we had a lawn. We don’t, and now that they’re larger, from a distance they just look like a bunch of weeds.

We found something new and interesting under the pine trees. It was a strange vine, not anything I recognized, but vaguely reminiscent of a Cucumber, or maybe some variety of Passionflower. (Click photos for larger views.)

Unknown Vine 01 2008 Unknown Vine 02 2008

It had grown a lot by the time we noticed it, and was on its way to spreading all over that section of the yard, sending out long, tightly curled tendrils that took hold of whatever was in their reach.

Unknown Vine 04 2008 Unknown Vine 05 2008

It had already started up one pine tree.

Unknown Vine 03 2008

I looked it up on the internet and didn’t find anything conclusive, at least not at first. Nope, not a garden-variety Cucumber, and thank goodness it doesn’t appear to be a Kudzu Vine. It wasn’t a Mandrake, which sort of disappointed me, as a fan of Harry Potter movies, though I don’t particularly want a plant that will scream at me.

Possibilities came and went as I searched for vines with multiple-lobed leaves, even the possibility that it was some kind of wild grape, which it wasn’t. One type of vine that seemed to come close was the Bitter Melon, also known as Balsam Apple or Balsam Pear. That narrowed my search to various forms of gourd or Cucurbitaceae, such as Hodgsonia, or Luffa, or the much more likely Chayote, which is sold in our local markets. But the leaves weren’t right for Chayote. The strongest possibility I’ve come up with so far is some variety of Coyote Melon or Coyote Gourd, which grows wild in our region.

If you know for certain what this vine is, please let me know.

How it got there is the easy part of this mystery, and would be even if I’d never seen a house finch scatter seeds. Our local scrub jay friends are always hiding things in the needles that collect under our pine trees. It’s a favorite place to store their seeds, nuts, magic beans, and whatever else they hoard for later, usually scrub oak acorns, or peanuts people have fed them. Last summer, while we trimmed the pine trees and cleared out a thick mulch of pine needles, one scrub jay kept fussing over our activity, and every now and then he darted in to rescue some of his treasures. In some years we’ve had volunteer sunflowers sprout there and grow to full height.

NOTE: The pictures that follow are from past summers, not this winter. Even here, we don’t ever see sunflowers blooming in January.

Sunflower 01 2003 Sunflower 02 2003

Out front, we have an entire patch of some kind of creeping yellow daisy that came up there one year, probably also carried in by birds. We water it now and then, so although it dies back each winter, it returns to open a bright patch of yellow flowers every summer, next to our old pickup.

Yellow Daisies 01 2004 Yellow Daisies 02 2004

In any case, the strange vine has been eradicated, so we won’t have any cries of “Feed me, Seymour!” coming from under the pine trees, and it won’t grow so large as to strangle a pine tree. Jack won’t have to climb up the beanstalk and see if there’s a giant living up there. Good thing, too, because no one named Jack lives here, so we’d have to pay Jack to do that. Still, I hope we didn’t kill something we would’ve liked. Sometimes the birds bring us weeds, and sometimes they bring us gifts that we enjoy for years.

Maybe we will have an early spring, maybe not. I’m in no hurry. I certainly don’t look forward to the hottest part of summer. But a long spring would be nice.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:20 pm PST, 01/16/08

August 1, 2007

Our newest neighbor, a Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous1.jpg

According to my old bird guides, one of which dates back to a field biology class I took at eighteen or nineteen, this little guy isn’t supposed to be here. He’s supposed to be anywhere from Northern California to Alaska. But here he is, in Southern California. (Notice how we Californians capitalize the two regions, as if we wanted to be two separate states, like the Dakotas or the Carolinas?)

Anyway, he’s in the wrong place, I think. If it’s time for Rufous Hummingbirds to migrate to winter grounds, he’s supposed to be in Mexico, or on his way there. This feisty little Selasphorus rufus has claimed the territory around our feeder during the past two days. I’ve been paying attention to hummingbirds all my life, and we’ve fed them for years, here at the north end of the county and in the city of San Diego, but we never saw a Rufous before, at least not closely enough to identify it. With no green on his back (see below), he’s definitely a Rufous.

Rufous2.jpg

Rufous3.jpg

My photos don’t do him justice, though they might if he would sit still for a few seconds and let me focus. He’s a glowing reddish gold with an irridescent scarlet throat that could stop traffic. He’s faster than any of the other hummingbirds, and he doesn’t let them forget it.

Maybe his range has been thrown off by global warming, as this Smithsonian site seems to hint, or perhaps they’ve always been around and I just haven’t noticed.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:12 pm PST, 08/01/07

April 27, 2007

I know who plants the weeds

A few days ago I pulled weeds for a bit, while the earth was still damp from the rain. When I needed a break, I sat in a porch chair to cool off with a glass of ice water.

As I watched, a rosy house finch landed on the top of a tall sowthistle I hadn’t gotten to yet. He began pulling seeds out of a seed puff. For every seed the bird ate he tore a few more off and cast them to the wind. I think he was looking right at me as he did it, too, as if to say, “So there!”

I don’t blame him for replenishing his food supply as quickly as I can yank it out of the ground. I just wish he hadn’t let me see him do it. I have enough trouble motivating myself to get out there and weed without a demonstration of how futile my efforts may be.

It’s all a balancing act, birds sowing weeds while I pull them. I’d better not let them get too far ahead of me. Slow down around here, and you’re done for.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:20 am PST, 04/27/07

March 7, 2007

Words and weeds

Why is it that seeds I plant never sprout and grow the same way weeds do? They’ve sprung up since our last few rains, and the yard is now lush with their greenery. Yesterday I went out and murdered some weeds to keep the foxtails and other burrs from developing and spreading even more. I barely made a difference. I thought how my words sometimes grow the way weeds do, with wild abandon, and then have to be trimmed, uprooted, rearranged, or killed on the page, so the flowers can show through, get their piece of sunlight, and be seen by anyone but me. Sometimes both Mother Nature and I are too creative.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:53 am PST, 03/07/07


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