musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser

October 10, 2009


I know it’s fall in a lot of other places in the northern hemisphere this time of year. But we don’t usually see evidence of it here in Southern California until later, toward the end of October. My mom used to say that Halloween was usually when we had to start wearing sweaters outside at night, and that’s always worked for me. October (my birth month) tends to be marked by Santa Ana winds or just plain heat waves, and a couple of years ago I spent a sweltering birthday stressing over wildfires, then got evacuated.

This year we’re getting a normal (for other places) autumn, with beautiful cool weather, a few clouds, and no need for air conditioning or shorts. I keep looking at the weather forecast to see when the heat will return, but so far it’s staying away, with at least a week more of blissful autumn predicted. It’s a little disorienting, but I love it.

Autumn is my favorite season. Real autumn, like you have in other places. I’ve always hankered for the sort of autumn they get in New England with those fiery brilliant leaves. But I’ll definitely settle for this. I’m grateful to the weather gods at the moment, and I don’t want to push it, but . . . now if we could just get some much needed rain.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:19 am PST, 10/10/09

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 Thank you, Jon! Thanks to Wikipedia, too.

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

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.


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.


(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.


We celebrated our first avocado blooms a few months ago.


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


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.


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.


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.


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

February 15, 2008

Still winter

It turns out that this Snow on Mt. Palomar, back on December 9, 2007, was nothin’.

But you couldn’t have told me that three days ago, when our high temperature was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was certain spring had sprung with a summery vengeance. I almost tucked away my warm clothes and pulled out my summer shorts.

There was no more snow on Mt. Palomar. It had all melted since around Feb 5th, when the mountain didn’t boast nearly as much snow as in early December. I did get a nice view of the entire mountain with snow on it, from our polling place on the 5th. But I didn’t have my camera with me, so this view was from our yard. As you can see, it wasn’t as much as in December.

Mt. Palomar 02-05-2008 melting

And like I said, by three days ago that was gone, melted. History.

But I’m glad I never got around to putting away my sweaters, because yesterday I don’t think the outside temperature ever rose above 50 degrees, and although the forecast had called for a light drizzle overnight, instead we got dark, threatening skies, cold wind, and steady rain for several hours yesterday.

I was sure that once the clouds parted there would be a fresh layer of snow on the mountains. But when they did, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Here’s our view just as the clouds lifted yesterday afternoon.

Clouds lifting 01 02-14-2008

Clouds lifting 02 02-14-2008

Below shows our view from our side yard at just around sunset yesterday, when the snow reflected the setting sun.

Sunset 02-14-2008

We can only see the lower, southern peak from our side yard, and that’s possible only in the past few months since we removed some obstacles. Below is a view of the entire mountain, from the vacant lot two houses down the hill, this morning. I’ve circled the portion visible from our yard in the second view below.

Entire Mtn 02-15-2008

Entire Mtn South Peak Circled

I don’t mind a little warm weather, and I don’t mind a little cold or rain. We can always use more rain around here, and snow is beautiful from a distance, but this snow looks more like Washington, Idaho, or Sierra snow than Southern California snow. Okay, maybe it’s like Big Bear snow. But it’s not normal San Diego County snow. We had roads close near Campo yesterday, which is near the Mexican border! Is it possible the entire region shifted north and we didn’t know it? It’s confusing, and I guess it’s time to dress in layers for a few weeks.

What the news people have to say:

A wintry surprise for area: Snow, sleet, hail, rain turn nice weather upside down

‘Slider’ brings rain around county, snow in moutains.

See what happens around here when it snows? People get stranded, roads close. Just a little snow can set us upside down and sideways. It’s not supposed to snow here.

But it sure looks pretty.

More 01 02-14-2008

More 02 02-14-2008

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:18 pm PST, 02/15/08

February 2, 2008

Groundhog Day

Some of our holidays have quite a lot of history behind them, and Groundhog Day is one of my favorites in this regard. I probed the pagan history of Yule a few years ago, so now I think it’s only fair to peer briefly into the past of Groundhog Day, earlier known as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day, and before that as Imbolc, which comes to us from the ancient Celts. The name Brigid has its roots in Celtic paganism, with the Goddess Brigid, also known as Bride. As a goddess she had three faces, each having to do with fire, according to the web page, Brigid: Goddess or Saint?

  • Brigid, the ‘Fire of the Hearth’, was the goddess of fertility, family, childbirth and healing.
  • Brigid, the ‘”Fire of the Forge’, was like the Greek goddess Athena, a patroness of the crafts (especially weaving, embroidery, and metalsmithing), and a goddess who was concerned with justice and law and order.
  • Brigid, the ‘Fire of Inspiration’, was the muse of poetry, song history and the protector of all cultural learning.

(read more at Brigid: Goddess or Saint?)

According to Wikipedia, Imbolc:

“is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
La donn Bride,
Ged robh tri traighean dh’ an t-sneachd
Air leachd an lair.

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

“Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival.”
(read Wikipedia article)

The verse quoted above, and in the Wikipedia article, is from Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume I by Alexander Carmichael (1900), and can be found on line at Sacred Texts Archive, where you can read even more about Bride.

Then there’s the perfect non-religious Groundhog Day celebration for our times, which is simply to enjoy the Bill Murray comedy by that title. That’s how I like to celebrate it.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:30 am PST, 02/02/08

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

December 9, 2007


We got quite a bit of much-needed rain last weekend. This week’s storm didn’t bring as much where I live. I think the storm dumped most of its moisture on Oregon long before its tail end reached us. But yesterday afternoon, clouds moved in from the west again.

Clouds Sat pm

I was sure this one meant business. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:58 pm PST, 12/09/07

November 22, 2007

Over the river, and through the wood

We have holidays for a reason, and every culture in the world has had them. But sometimes we need to take a look at our reasons for celebrating, and exactly what it is that matters. We need a way to mark the passage of the seasons, to remind ourselves with lessons from the past why we have reason to celebrate, to review our mistakes as well as our blessings.

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about this song that I learned as a kid for Thanksgiving: (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:22 pm PST, 11/22/07

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