musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


May 15, 2009

It’s that time of year when I’m like a bee

flitting from flower to flower, exulting in the color, shape, and scent of spring. Each one is more beautiful than the last. I needed to worship someone for making flowers, so I looked up Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and found some amazing artwork to worship as well. (Uh-oh — she’s worshiping graven images!)

Flora by Botticelli

From Botticelli to Rembrandt, many people before me have felt driven to seek out a higher power responsible for flowers, and to give thanks. Rembrandt painted his Floras as plump women who appear pregnant. Others have painted her with one bare breast. Always she’s surrounded by or bedecked with flowers.

Botticelli’s Flora (above) looks a bit gaunt to me, and worried. Does she fear Mellona will be late sending the bees this year? (Mellona was the Romans’ name for the protector of bees.) Flora needn’t worry if she’s in my neighborhood. The bees are out in force, ecstatically worshiping flowers all over the place.

Bee Joh Sullivan

Note: The photo of the bee is by Jon Sullivan and made available by him to the public domain via PD Photo.org. Thank you, Jon! Thanks to Wikipedia, too.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:47 pm PST, 05/15/09

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

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

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

January 24, 2007

Dance of the palm fronds

I’ve had this image in my mind for the past two weeks. It was a Friday, and the wind gusted harder as the day progressed, which tends to make us all nervous, especially the dog. The dry weather alone was good for a little shock now and then, with the static buildup that makes a spark jump between one’s finger and any metal object, or even the cat’s tail. These twisting gusts stirred things up in occasional egg-beater bursts. At one point we heard something fall on the roof with a swoosh, and seconds later something else, so we went outside, and found a few dead palm fronds on the driveway. Presumably there were two more on the roof.

The uphill neighbor has a palm tree that stands 75 to 100 feet tall and hadn’t been trimmed, maybe ever, or at least not since it reached a height beyond what could be managed with the average household ladder. Its trunk was a shaggy column of dead fronds, attractive to nesting birds every spring. On the downhill side, a new owner has been renovating. He’s had people working every day for the past three months. That morning they’d poured a new driveway.

We didn’t think much of the fallen fronds, just that the wind was unusual, tearing at things that had hung around undisturbed for so long. It didn’t appear to be a great day to finish new concrete, with debris blowing everywhere, so we sympathized with the workmen. Back inside the house, we heard more sounds, and the gusts grew more frequent. Minutes later we heard a different sounding crash and returned outside. Even more palm fronds littered the driveway, one on the hood of the car, which must have made the new sound, another hanging from a power line that leads from the street to the house. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:38 am PST, 01/24/07

December 3, 2006

December skies — wind and shooting stars

The wind keeps us awake, the past few nights. It blows little black berries off one of the palm trees (they’re too small for me to call them proper dates — though they are as sticky as dates), and they hit the back deck with a surprising amount of force. The fact that it’s these wild gusts instead of a steady wind unsettles me. Just when I doze off, something rattles or whooshes outside and I wake up. And dry — the moisture has sucked out of Southern California, to make snow elsewhere I suppose. We do not have a semi-arid but a fully-arid climate today.

Last night when I took the dog out for his final walk of the evening, I saw a shooting star. You’d have thought the wind blew it, except it moved in the opposite direction. It was there in the eastern sky (slightly southeast) for an instant, slanting in almost horizontally northward, a golden yellow flame, brilliant and burning, soon extinguished.

I thought of the Sara Teasdale poem, The Falling Star — after I made a quick wish.

Was it a late Leonid, or an early Geminid, or something in between — maybe a Puppids-Velids? Or just a stray puppy, for that matter? I don’t know, but I feel lucky since seeing it. Lucky to have seen it, lucky to be here, lucky the wind hasn’t blown the house into the Land of Oz. Luck is good.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:59 pm PST, 12/03/06

October 27, 2006

Golden light

Today left our region hot and dry with gusts of wind, movement and change allowing for a promise of cooling moisture in response to it, even the slightest hint of autumn-toward-winter chilling — as far as things ever chill here, though they cool quickly when the air is this dry. Dissipating smoke enhanced the golden autumn light, and a pink sunset lightened the colors of bougainvillea against hazy green foliage, under a hazy blue sky. My backyard at sunset today made a sight I wanted to memorize, or paint. Even a deadly fire leaves some beauty behind.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:12 pm PST, 10/27/06

March 19, 2006

Spring anyone?

Tomorrow is the vernal equinox, and that’s a little hard for me to believe right now. We’re used to getting May Gray and June Gloom here near the coast of Southern California, because of the coastal eddies. But this winter has hit us harder and later than usual. It doesn’t appear to want to leave yet. There was snow in the mountains just last week. Up the street, someone’s irises started to bloom a few days ago, but they shriveled over one cold night. Now they prepare to bloom again. Will they?

The cat still scrunches up against the wall heater each morning and evening, and she chases patches of sunlight coming in the windows during the day. A couple of days ago I watched her pat a bright spot on the carpet with a paw, then lie down on it, fur fluffed out. She’s an older cat, so perhaps she dramatizes the situation. Maybe I do, too. But this doesn’t feel like the day before spring to me. Not at all. We had a cold rain late in the day, with the clouds parting toward sunset. Maybe tomorrow will convince me. How’s the weather in your part of the world?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:06 am PST, 03/19/06


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