Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good Riddance, 2011, but Keep Rolling, Blogs I Like!

2011 was just about the worst year of my life and I am glad to see it go. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, 2011. It was a terrible year for many people I know, and they're likewise welcoming 2012, hoping that it will prove to be a happier, healthier, more hopeful one. (It's a leap year, too, so maybe it really will have more spring in its step.)

Of course, even the rottenest of years has some decent moments. (Yeah, I know, "rottenest" isn't a word, but it sounds rottier than "most rotten." Rottier's better than "more rotten," too. I've had a rotten year. Don't argue with me.)

So, in that more pleasant vein, I'll do something I haven't before (don't say I'm not spontaneous) and do a round-up of other bloggers' posts that I enjoyed recently, in the hope that if you're muddling about on the computer looking for something enjoyable to read you might follow one of them and find that it is a voice or a subject that appeals to you, too.

My friend Alison shares her experience enjoying 3 minutes of fame at the Ballard Writers Book Slam in November on her blog, "Slice of Midlife," where she recounts the unleashing of her inner Gloria. (Alison also has an array of delicious international recipes that she dishes up on this site.)

Local author and gardener Valerie Easton wrote briefly and prettily about nature's winter decor (as contrasted with the glitter of the mall) in a post about an apple tree on her blog, "Plant Talk."

Kimberly Hosey's blog, "Arizona Writer," features her gorgeous photographs of birds, spiders, insects, and stunning southwestern scenery and essays about the same. If you scribble for a living or just for kicks, check out her entry about the writing process and then wander into other posts to see the beautiful photographs.

Jane Badger's blog "Books, Mud, and Compost. And Horses" offers delights ranging from photos of beautiful morning walks through the English countryside and musings on gardening, cooking, and crafts to discussions about books, bookselling, everything horses, and some things distinctly human. I still get a chuckle out of this post about harvest decor.

Jane's blog led me to two others that I have recently tapped into.

One is called "Life Must Be Filled Up," and I knew I'd like it as soon as I saw that the author is a big fan of cartoonist Roz Chast. To rip off Annie Hall, well--I lurve Roz Chast, I loave her, I luff her! Ever since, I think, I clapped eyes on an illustration of hers depicting some sort of other-planet foodstuff called Vleedle Mix. (Plus, I went to a cartooning event in New York City in the 1980s and she was the person sitting at the table shyly taking people's tickets. That's exactly where I want to be at meet-and-greet hubbubs like that.)

The other is called "Mother of Invention 1" and my reading of it started off with the author's funny, self-effacing telling of turning 50 and a celebratory 3-hour bike ride with her sister. I spent my 49th year amusing myself with how I might celebrate turning 50, having no idea that it would turn out to be a year of terrible loss and sadness (friends have urged me to consider celebrating 51 or 53, those being perfectly good prime numbers). So I've truly come to enjoy reading about how others handle turning the big five-oh.

Last but not least, my friend Rachael Conlin Levy offers a list of suggestions for the holidays that tantalize with hints of the chaos and catastrophes (including inadvertently setting things on fire) and the general muddle of holiday preparation that inspired them on her blog "The Slow-Cooked Sentence."

Happy New Year, everyone far and everyone near!

Friday, December 30, 2011

More Signs of the Times

Because I am between monumental tasks of a tedious nature, here are some of the signs and other wordings around town that made me think twice over the past two months, presented for your amusement.

Door in Pike Place Market that made me think,
well, don't all doors do this? They open, they
close. Why don't all doors have this sign? It is
what doors are meant to do, after all.
Or else they'd be walls.
Sign at Green Lake, which may need to be renamed
"Practical Joke Acres." Beware of banana peels on path,
clowns with seltzer bottles, and randomly flung pies.
A note found in the dog's water bowl, placed there by
resident stupidhead Django the Art Cat. And it's not even
true. He's got claws. He's got fangs.
If you can't get the owners to cooperate,
perhaps it's best to go directly to the dogs.
We were driving behind this great big dump truck, and
you know what? We're a lot smaller. We wouldn't even
think of shoving the dump truck.
What more can one say? I love the fact that this bumper sticker
happens to be on a car called a Cougar. This is one tough grandma.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dough, Oh Dear...

The week before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year's is a great time to try out recipes on one's unsuspecting family and friends and to discover just how oddly the simplest recipes can turn out.

Exhibit A: Dinner rolls.

Proper dinner rolls.
My brother asked us to bring dinner rolls as our contribution to Christmas dinner--rolls that weren't like soft balls of tissue paper (a somewhat crisp exterior, he requested).

My daughter, hearing that we were to bring dinner rolls, went off to some la-la planet that adolescent girls are known to orbit and thought we were going to bring some sort of pastry and roll up our dinners in it, like sausage rolls, so she was clearly not going to be much help in the dinner-roll department.

I thought it'd be easy and So Festive to bake our own. Flipping open the Martha Stewart cookbook, I found a dinner-roll recipe and got to work.

Whenever I use one of Ms. Stewart's recipes, I can't help but think of that scene in the hilarious film Martha, Inc., in which a woman timidly asks Martha about using a recipe of hers that didn't turn out right; Martha rounds on the woman and hisses, "Maybe you just can't cook. There is nothing wrong with my tartlets!"

So when the dough persisted in being incredibly stretchy and sticky, it was hard to blame Martha, because I didn't want to get it in the neck.

Following the instructions, I cut out one-inch-wide blobs of dough and nestled them on the baking sheet so they all snuggled together. They looked odd, but very cute. I assumed they'd rise in the oven and puff up into typical dinner rolls about the size of a lemon.

Well, they didn't.

They stayed exactly the same size, though they did develop a nice soft interior and a firm, golden exterior. But they were basically a dinner-roll version of monkey bread.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it did mean I wasn't going to break them up into handsome little round dinner rolls, tuck them into a gingham-cloth-lined basket, and deliver a photo-shoot-worthy cornucopia of yeasty splendor to the table. They were too much like the failed attempt at spiced pecans, which resulted in a giant 14 x 17 rectangular slab of over-toasted pecans welded together with burnt sugar that could be picked up like a cutting board (probably could have served as one, too).

However, since they weren't burned, we were able to break them apart and serve them in three sizes: extra-small (one blob), medium (2 blobs stuck together), and large (3 blobs).

They quickly disappeared during dinner, so they were a hit, despite their density. But I still can't figure out where Martha...I mean, I...went wrong.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Caribou's Snooze

Very windy outside this Christmas Day; must have been rough going for the reindeer. Shh. They're sleeping after a hard night's work...

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Eve of Christmas Eve

The first Christmas after losing a beloved member of the family unfolds in sadness and joy, loss and renewal, wistfulness and nostalgia. My heart feels heavy even as it is uplifted by the songs, scents, and traditions; I feel older and somewhat removed even as, thanks to half a century of memories and delight linked to this holiday (so beloved by my parents), I am as eager to see what's under the tree, what's in the stockings, and what's on the roof as any child.

I am grateful for traditions, as well as for having a kid around the house, because they work together to pull one along as if on a sleigh. It was quite clear a month ago that there would be a tree, and baking, and Christmas ships and jigsaw puzzles and fudge and parcels smuggled into the house, when my child asked somewhat apprehensively, tapping gently around the edges of my feelings, whether we would go downtown as we always have at Christmastime to see the lights, visit the Market, and find a new place to have lunch.

No wonder they never let Rudolph play any reindeer games. He was a hog.
There were lots of beautiful and colorful things at the Market, just as there was at the Phinney Winter Fair.

It was fun to track down and haul home our annual bounty of treats to share and enjoy between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.

Aero Bars! Chunky KitKats! Cadbury Flakes! Chocolate-covered digestive biscuits! Some of our favorite things exported from England (in addition to Tony himself, of course, who was the one who picked out the pub ale). Look closely and you can see that the 14-year-old has already broken into the Flakes and the digestives. (What you can't see is the Aero bar she already ate.) I'm responsible for the German 5-grain bread, the Jacob's cream crackers, and the teawurst (a favorite of both my Dad and I, and very hard to find in Seattle). Oh, some lemon-orange cookies and some locally produced jam, too.

The local woman who collects glowing Santas had the whole crew out this evening.

Lights, singing, and a bonfire cap the day at Golden Gardens park.

Luna, however, was perfectly content to stay home and shred her gift, the cardboard tube from the inside of a roll of wrapping paper.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Do Snowmen Eat Their Young?

Oh, yeah. Snowmen. Innocent fixture of old-timey winter scenes and children's activities. Kindly old Frosty, gentle and magical friend of "The Snowman" by Raymond Briggs, banjo-strummin' omniscient Burl Ives snowman.

But, my friends, there is an evil side to these pure-as-the-driven-snow beings.

And I'm not even talking about trumped-up Hollywood cold-blooded killers such as Jack Frost, or wicked legendary creatures like the Abominable Snowman.

No, these are small, smiling, sweet snowman who look like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.

(Which it probably wouldn't, actually, since snowman are about as cold as a refrigerator.)

These disturbing thoughts entered our minds while visiting my mom this weekend. Mom has always loved snowmen, and she has a charming display of little carrot-nosed figurines on a bookshelf set up for Christmas.

They're very cute.

But on closer inspection...

"Mom?" I said. "This snowman up front is--throwing snowballs."

If a snowman is made out of rolled-up snow...essentially, giant snowballs...then isn't a snowball...a BABY SNOWPERSON?

Ergo, is it not wrong for a snowman to be throwing baby snow-beings?

Would it throw them at people? at cars? Does this mean the benignly smiling snowman is really just about as nasty as those trees in The Wizard of Oz who throw their own apples at Dorothy and the Scarecrow?

Shaken to the core, I returned to the safety of my own fair city the next day--whereupon my daughter and I encountered this cold-hearted creature in the lobby of her orthodontist's office:


(The image is taken from a product catalog online because, not being a snowwoman with a cold heart, I did not embarrass my daughter by taking a photo of the orthodontist's holiday decor in front of other teens and their parents.)

Beware, fellow citizens. Beware.

I'd watch out for those nutcrackers, too. I mean, that seems to make sense from the get-go. Fixed stares? Gnashing jaws? Creepy. Here's two in my mom's apartment, and yes, she is completely aware of the fact that they are a weird duo harassing this poor swan:

"You are a very, very, very bad swan."

Don't even get me started on Santa Claus.

"OK, let's all sing...'Away in a DANGER.'"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Light the Christmas Kindle

I have gone over to the Dark Side.

It is true. I have been given a Kindle for Christmas. I guess this means the demise of books, once and for all. Civilization will crumble. Libraries will topple. A book will now be nothing but a block of paper used to prop up a wobbly table, boost a small child up to its dinner, or decorate a shelf or coffee table. Or something to use as bookends to hold up books! Which you won't need! Because they'll be gone! Because of the Kindle! Not ever. Not in our house, anyway. I swear if we took all the books out of the house, there would be zero insulation in this drafty old place. We don't have enough horizontal surfaces to contain all the books. Nor will the Kindle prevent their acquisition or hasten their departure.

So why'd we get one? Well, for one thing, it was offered to me. I don't get very excited about gadgets and technology, but I do love search engines and library databases. When I was first asked if I'd like a Kindle, I couldn't be bothered, but then our library system started offering titles for the Kindle, and that was the first step on my slippery slope to the ebook.

Plans for its use mainly involve downloading fiction from the library. I have to take so many nonfiction books out of the library, for research purposes, that I quickly use up my allotment of "holds" I can place (you're only allowed to have up to 25 holds at any given moment). So I've often had to delete fiction titles I've placed on hold to free up space for books I need for work. My digital titles, however, don't count toward my physical-books-hold allotment.

I also have this notion that maybe I'll slog away more on the treadmill in the basement if I have the Kindle there reading aloud to me. Bad eyesight, bad lighting, and a bad bookholder on the treadmill have conspired to make reading while tramping an unworkable option.

However, the prospect of having tread-time stories read to me by the Kindle is kind of dreadful, considering the monotonous, robotic voice with which it speaks. It won't be like listening to Jim Dale read "Harry Potter" aloud. Still, the prospect of me never exercising is even worse.

And the robotic voice might turn out to be quite funny, actually. (I am thinking of the VTech electronic activity board a friend gave my daughter when she was about two, and how after the child went to bed, we so-called grownups found out how easy it was to make the board say Bad Words if you quickly toggled between the innocent buttons that read aloud letters of the alphabet and names of things like ducks.)

Certainly learning to tap the Kindle screen gently has been both frustrating and amusing. I have already repeatedly swiped when I should've tapped and launched myself to other stories in a Jill McCorkle short-story collection. I am also  learning to tap briefly and not press the thing like it's a keypad on a microwave. Pressing like that while reading makes the Kindle call up the Oxford English Dictionary and provide a definition for the word I'm touching. Thanks to this feature, I now know what "the," "dog," "is," "before," and "there" mean.

Which brings me to Reasons Why It Will Never Replace My Books (any more than my dishwasher will replace the kitchen sink, or my cell phone the camera).

Slapping a bookplate on a Kindle
renders it unreadable.
1. Nonfiction books crammed with information and gorgeous photos vs. a Kindle screen: no contest.

2. Beautiful dust jackets, old books with embossed covers and tipped-in color illustrations and quaint black-and-white images, random inscriptions or notes in the margins, deckled edges, the colors of those little headbands on the spine...the physicality of books is simply enjoyable.

3. All the hard work a book designer puts into the selection of fonts, the spacing, the relationship of a chapter number to the text, initial capitals, and the like pretty much vanishes on a Kindle, as far as I can tell.

4. Visits to libraries and bookstores = relaxation + (discovery x serendipity).

5. You can't inscribe a Kindle. You could stick a sticker on it, I guess, but stickers always become rubbish rather quickly, leaving a gooey strip for all kinds of gunk to adhere to. I cherish the few inscriptions I've received in books.

6. One day, the Kindle will wear out. Or be outmoded by new technology and you'll find that downloading books to your particular ancient device is like trying to download them to a toaster. However, I have a green solution planned for mine. It will simply become a brilliant little ice-skating rink for needle-felted mice in a Christmas display.

Most of all, I doubt the Kindle will ever carry the emotional history that some of my books do. My hardcover copy of "The Cricket in Times Square," for example--just picking it up transports me back to a hot, endless summer afternoon under a pink-flowered mimosa in my Long Island backyard, lolling on a chaise longue in idle 8-year-old bliss, reading the book for the umpteenth time.

And for good or ill, that book still contains an outline of a caterpillar that fell out of the tree onto the page, causing me to slam it shut in a panic. (Sorry, caterpillar.) Kindles probably have bugs, too, though of a different and less squishy sort.

Still, the Kindle's got one thing my books never had: its own personal hand-made blankie. Made from a recycled sweater by a friend, who didn't know she was making a Kindle blankie when she crafted it. (I guess Kindles can cavort with serendipity, after all.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Wet...and Thanks for All the Fish

Drip drop splash,
drip drop splash,
drip drop splash
went the rain all day.

That's the first page of one of our favorite kids' books, Rain Drop Splash by Alvin Tresselt. Although as it is mid-November in Seattle, you can change that to "went the rain all day, and all night, and all week, and for quite a few weeks yet to come, and boy are we lucky it isn't snow." In the past 24 hours, some areas have gotten as much as 6 inches of rain (in Seattle, about half that).

Just stepping outside gets you pretty wet, and once you're soaked you can't really get any wetter, so I figured it was a good time to go up to Carkeek and check out the return of chum salmon to Piper's Creek, which wends its way through the evergreens, maples, and alders of this lovely city park.

Also it seemed fitting to do so because tomorrow's Thanksgiving, and though we aren't doing the big turkey-fest with the whole family til Saturday, the three of us will be celebrating nonetheless with a fine Copper River sockeye salmon for dinner. Sloshing through puddles to pay tribute to salmon also made for a good excuse to slip away from work and deadlines for a while.

Whenver I take the time to do things like this, I wonder why I don't escape more often. We've got a plethora of parks and green spaces in Seattle. Here, just a few minutes from my urban household, is a creek tumbling through the watershed and into the Sound, through a forest that hasn't been logged in 80 years and so boasts some of the look and feel of old growth.

I didn't think I'd be lucky enough to spot a salmon, but I did: one lone fish, which looked to be about as long as my arm, resting on a gravel bank. The creek rushed along bluffing that it was a mighty river, swollen with the ongoing rain, and the fish looked absolutely knackered. It was panting fish-style, gills heaving.

Salmon look pretty ragged by the time they finish migrating upstream and spawning, and this one was no exception. Its tail appeared to be stripped of skin, which led me to think it might be a female. (According to a Washington State governmental site, "The caudal fin and peduncle of females not only becomes abraded but skin, muscle tissue and fin rays are eroded." The female's digging of gravel nests, called redds, probably accounts for some of this wear and tear.

What these poor fish endure! This gal had probably left Piper's Creek about four years ago; swum out to the Pacific; avoided ducks, herons, bears, and other predators; then fought her way back up the creek, all the while undergoing physiological changes related to reproduction and ageing that would send a human off to a support group (skin thickening, jaw elongation, teeth eruption, abdominal swelling, scale absorption).

It's estimated that in just two weeks, a salmon ages as much as a person does over a span of 20 to 40 years.

Only once did this fish move--it thrashed its tail frantically for a few seconds and lunged a yard upstream before lying still again.

I wondered if it had already spawned and now would just blindly forge upstream for a while longer before becoming a Thanksgiving meal for a raccoon or other wild creature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strawberry Tree Fruit: Betcha Can't Even Eat Just One

There is no such thing as a banana tree. (Bananas are the fruit of a tree-sized flowering herbaceous plant.) Pineapples don't grow on trees, either (they, too, spring from herbaceous plants). So you would be right to raise an eyebrow and look all cartoony-skeptical at the mention of a strawberry tree.

Yes, Virginia, there is a strawberry tree, though it does not grow strawberries nor is it always grown as a tree. (Discuss amongst yourselves.) Ours has been growing in our garden for about 15 years. It's about 10 feet high or so, with multiple stems springing from its base. There are so many reasons to like this plant that I feel a powerful urge coming over me to make a bulleted list:

1. It's evergreen. An admirable trait--it's nice to see more than sticks in the yard in winter. Also it provides a buffer year round between my yard and the neighbor's so that we both have a bit of a privacy screen.

What's not to like about a shrub that grows pompoms?
2. Not only is it evergreen, but it also flowers and fruits between October and January. The flowers are pretty inconsequential--little white bell-shaped blossoms, sweet but unremarkable--but the fruits! They're ridiculous--absolutely Seussian in their color and shape: egglike, bumpy berries that are bright yellow at first and ripen into candy-red.

They appear at the same time as the flowers because it takes them a year to grow and ripen--so a winter tree bears the fruit of last year's flowers as well as the start of next year's crop.

3. Sadly, the berries are a bland, mealy mouthful, so though they're edible, they're certainly not palatable (though in some cultures they're used to make wine and jam). Even our Labrador knows that (after having suffered the aftereffects of gobbling up a bucketload of fallen fruit in the past...she hasn't touched one since). But they're stunning when capped with snow, so they're definitely a feast for the eyes.

4. It happily grows in our Pacific Northwest climate. It likes cool, damp weather and withstands dry summers and drought, making it the perfect tree for our area. The strawberry tree is native to Mediterranean regions and parts of western Europe, particularly Ireland, which has a climate much like ours, so no wonder it feels at home here.

5. Another reason it may feel at home is that one of its cousins is a signature native tree here and is also sometimes called the strawberry tree. This branch of the family tree is the Pacific madrone, which also grows round, warty red berries and is best known for its red, peeling bark. The relationship shows up in their scientific names: the "Irish strawberry tree" is Arbutus unedo, the Pacific madrone is Arbutus menzeissii.

6. The latter binomial honors an 18th-century naturalist named Archibald Menzies. The strawberry tree's binomial has a more interesting origin: unedo is believed to derive from a Latin phrase meaning "I eat only one." I like to imagine some ancient toga-clad person eagerly popping a strawberry-tree berry into his or her mouth, only to stop chewing and suddenly look rather alarmed upon discovering that the fruits, unlike Lay's potato chips, will never support the slogan "betcha can't eat just one."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Eleven Eleven Elevenses

What were you doing at 11:11 today, on the lovely palindromic date 11.11.11?

My mom, my daughter, and I were actually enjoying elevenses at 11:11, at the scrumptious Bainbridge Bakers on Bainbridge Island.

Here's what we very slowly and appreciatively consumed, with absolutely no regrets or thought given to 11.12.11:
Clockwise from top at 11:11:
Cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled muffin/doughnut hybrid; lemon tart;
strawberry-rhubarb turnover.
Afterward, my daughter and I tried to manipulate the temperature/humidity gauge in my mom's apartment to make it read "66.6/66%" (moving it away from the heater, putting it in the fridge, and breathing on it to increase the humidity reading) so that we could officially have the most demonic temperature/humidity gauge on Earth, with limited success. We did achieve 66.4/66 for a few seconds, though.

And while we're at it, here are 11 fun facts about 11, put together totally with a bias toward the things we like, such as horses and food and cumbersome words.

Top 11 List

1. 11 is a prime number.

2. If you divide a number by 11, reversing its digits will yield another multiple of 11. And that's all the math you're going to get out of me.

3. There are currently active or retired U.S. racehorses named Eleven Eleven, Elevenfiftyeight, Elevenlittledevils, Elevenseventynine, Elevenseventyseven, and Eleven Twentythree, but there is no registered racehorse named simply Eleven.

4. "Eleven benevolent elephants" is a wicked tongue twister. Try it.

5. At the start of The Lord of the Rings, hobbit Bilbo Baggins is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday.

6. In Sweden, people partake of a late-morning snack called "elva-kaffe" ("eleven coffee").

7. About 4 million kids celebrated their 11th birthday in the United States in 2011.

8. 11.11 is the birth date of one Alice Huyler Ramsey, first woman to drive a car across the United States; she was born in 1886 and lived until 1983. (Poor woman--she was born in Hackensack, NJ; drives across the states; eventually passes on in a town in California; ends up being buried in Hackensack. Wonder if she's ticked off at being rerouted back east after making all that effort to go cross-country...)

9. On the previous 11.11.11--that of 1911--a swath of the central United States suffered an unprecedented cold snap, an event that became known as The Great Blue Norther. The freaky weather caused some cities to break both their record high and low temperatures on the same date.

10. An 11-year-old girl who won a contest to be Mayor for a Day in a Texas town renamed the local Main Street "Justin Bieber Way" as her first order of business.

11. Fear of the number 13 is known as triskaidekaphobia, a word cobbled out of Greek words by a founding American psychoanalyst of the early 1900s. Humble 11, however, hasn't got such a name (perhaps because it's not feared by many?). If you fear 11, however, feel free to call it "enakaidekaphobia." 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fine Equine Design

Is your home steeped in an old-world, timeless, monied ambience? Do your furnishings suggest familiarity with the polo field or private boxes at the track? They could, you know. Just such a lifestyle was featured on a page in the September 2011 issue of Seattle magazine, which was devoted to local shopping and new, intriguing venues for a variety of goods.

According to the copy for a set-up shot at The Stables (which really was a stable once upon a time, back when Boeing Field was a racetrack called the Meadows in the early 1900s*), equestrian interiors intrinsically boast a "regal, traditional look," and "horse-themed home goods add an air of sophistication to any abode."

(*Hmm. In the early 1990s, Longacres--a beautiful, old racetrack in nearby Renton--was likewise knocked down by Boeing and the land turned into a customer service training center. I detect a pattern here.)

Here's a link to their photo of "equestrian elegance" in the home. The furniture is heavy on mahogany, brass, and leather, as you might expect, and features "tasteful thoroughbred accents" such as horse prints as well as vintage leather buckets and plaster horse heads. The lord of the manor, of course, is kitted out for a ride aboard Fidalgo, his strapping Dutch Warmblood hunter, who no doubt waits just outside the door, champing at the bit, restrained by a groom.

I thought, in the spirit of things, that I'd share other touches you can add to your dwelling so that it could possibly be as "elegantly equestrian" as our own, where the horse theme is heavily represented.

Old stick-horses Princess (a dehorned unicorn) and
Ginger (who whinnies if you squeeze her ears--wouldn't
you?) make an elegant ensemble just off the cellar stairs.
Original artwork by an artist specializing in equine themes lends a note of
elegance to the central (i.e., only) hallway.
Vintage toy horses from Germany bring old-world elegance to the library
(a.ka. "home office").
The equine theme is carried over into the bathroom, where random,
long-lost horse stickers carried in on shoes occasionally appear, adhered
to the century-old tile floors.
Vintage tack enjoys a second life as casually placed
decor. Here we see an old pony saddle dug out of
an English barn evocatively draped atop a chest
freezer as if carelessly deposited there after a
hard day's riding to hounds.
A battery-operated Butterscotch the Pony lends the ultimate
touch of the ineffeable sophistication that Equus caballus
brings to the interior of a home.
Perhaps someday, when we have a few thousand to spare, we will add this noble
rearing horse to our estate. Here the stallion brings unquestionable sophistication
and elegance to the seafood section of a local grocery store.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ghosts of Pumpkins Past

Just what constitutes a perfect pumpkin is in the eye of the beholder. Some people go for the really zaftig pumpkins, the supersized wallowing-hippo ones like this nearly-a-ton new recordholder.

Some like the tall, skinny, dark orange varieties, while others go for the classic round, yellow-orange types, the kind that filled Linus's very sincere pumpkin patch.

When our daughter was a toddler, very small round pumpkins with sturdy stems were the gourds of choice. Their appeal was obvious--a little kid could hug them, pick them and carry them around, and generally treat them like a cooperative, spherical version of a guinea pig.

As she got older, her taste morphed to match mine: cheerful, basketball-sized round punkins. We'd go to the pumpkin patch and search until our fingers and toes froze to find just the right one.

      Finally the season came when she urged us to fill the wheelbarrow with pumpkins instead of picking just one perfect specimen. She was happy to help us make a selection, but also wanted to make sure her own choices stood independently from ours.

(I knew that, developmentally, kids have to separate from their parents as part of recognizing their individuality, but nobody had ever suggested that rotund autumnal fruits were going to act out the progression for us.)

Size-wise, the pumpkins hit their zenith when she was about ten, and now that she's in her teens, the pumpkins of choice are either weirdly shaped or microscopic. Carving is beside the point.
So we don't have any super-duper jack o'lanterns on our porch this year--just the kooky cucerbits in the photo above, lolling on top of the television cabinet.

But what our household lacks in effort and imagination this year is amply balanced out by the effort and imagination that went into creating this 14-pumpkin-high tower in our neighborhood.

I am not sure if the pumpkin on the ground fell off the top of what was once a 15-pumpkin tower (I would think it would be even more of a "squash" than it botanically is, if that were the case) or if it's trying to nuzzle in underneath the stack.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Signs of the Times

Good things do indeed come in threes. Here are three signs spotted locally, recently, and double-takingly.

The Shameless Commerce Division working at full capacity right here in my own neighborhood.
If this gate is to remain locked at all times--is it really a gate? Wouldn't that make
it just a fence? How could you ever go through it?
Is this a command to make ducks happy?
Or does somebody just really want some ducks?