Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pity, Party of One

Roof has rats.
Dog has fleas.
Seizures, too,
If you please!

Car is making
Funny sounds.
Me, I rage
At excess pounds.

Hubby is not
Sleeping well.
Tests will tell.

House a mess.
Yard a wreck.
Budget, too,
Has gone to heck.

Child vexed
By plans for summer.
Camping again?
What a bummer!

Why not a resort
With sand and sun?
Why not the moon,
My precious one?

But others' lots
Make me humble.
Nothing for it.
Mustn't grumble.

At least I have
A roof! (With rats.)
So here's a picture
Of some cats.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Lazy Blog Post about Faces in Places

Too busy dealing with work deadlines, rat infestations, and lacrosse schedules to write a proper post. So, for your amusement, a backlog of photographs having to do with faces spotted in various places (which does not actually mean I am writing about freckles).

Five of them exhibit the brain's tendency to "see" faces in things that aren't faces (or, as scientific papers dub it, "perceptual face/non-face classification"). It's the hardwired recognition system that causes people to see Jesus's face in a pirogi and the Virgin Mary's in a grilled-cheese sandwich (though there is still no explanation for why these faces could not be, say, those of John Travolta or the checkout clerk at the Ballard Fred Meyer, or for that matter, why anybody would choose to communicate with humans by mysteriously appearing on food items).

You know what I mean--if you're an American kid, you probably grew up looking at one of these non-faces at the breakfast table every morning: the face on the milk carton. Not that of the poor missing child, but the one that shows up in the visual instructions for how to open the milk carton:

"I'm SO happy to see you. Hope you like your Cheerios!"

You can find them on park benches (such as on the ones in front of the Bellevue Library)...

"Oh noooooo! Let's bolt before we get sat upon!"

and in your office...

"We're just so gosh-darn glad you like your new printer cartridges!"

and in your kitchen on things other than food...

"Can I make you some more coffee now? Huh? Huh? Please?"

and standing around sternly in your local park...

"Don't mess with me. I see you. These are shades, not blinders."

The last one is not in the same category as it really does depict faces. We spotted these two among the underground shops of the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Er, Justin...? I think you might be being stalked.

Ha. I just noticed that Justin Bieber really does have a clip on his shoulder.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Erin Go "Bleh"; or, I Hate Leprechauns (but the Craic Was Great)

Erin go bragh-less.
Saint Patrick's Day this year coincided with a visit from my sister, who lives clear across the country.

As her birthday is in March, we decided to combine celebrations and enjoy an extra-special day, starting off with homemade brown bread and ending with the stock-in-trade St. Patrick's Day meal of corned beef and cabbage.

From what I've read, this dish seems to be more of an ex-pat iconic sort of meal than what the Irish actually eat on St. Patrick's Day.

Many sources indicate that beef, corned (cured with salt for preservation) or not, was too expensive for most of the Irish population to obtain and was principally a dish for the well-off. As a holiday meal, corned beef was considered a special Easter feast and not a St. Paddy's one.

Some sources suggest that corned beef was actually invented by Irish immigrants in the United States in the late 1800s and, over the next few decades, this "tradition" was exported back to Ireland (though Darina Allen, the doyenne of Irish cookery, states that "corned beef has a long history in the Irish diet" and that corning beef was the most important industry in the city of Cork between the late 1680s and 1825.

On March 17 in Ireland, it seems, a family would more typically tuck into a bacon joint (cured pork).

The main dish for the day ought to be a bit of a question mark, I suppose, since the holiday itself is a bit of a bùrach (Gaelic for "mess").

My maternal grandparents were Irish immigrants, and St. Patrick's Day didn't seem to be a big deal to them. My mom didn't make any special meals or fuss about the holiday, either. They all thought the onslaught of leprechauns and harps and shamrocks was silly, and pointed out that St. Patrick's was a feast day for a saint and that in Ireland people went to church in the morning and celebrated in the afternoon (and until the 1970s, pubs were actually closed by law on March 17).

In recent years, I've wondered a bit about why it's OK to depict Irish people via the stereotype of a pipe-smoking leprechaun hoisting tankards of beer. Not that I felt all picked-upon and insulted (in fact the issue doesn't twang a single nerve, I just think it's all stupid, and I really do hate leprechauns).

Pig, shamrock, shillelagh: check.
But I'm old enough to recall the Frito Bandito being kicked off TV as an insulting depiction of Mexican people, and I can't imagine other ethnic groups being celebrated in the form of a grotesque figure with a drinking problem.

(Though it does appear that even in modern-day America, one can go a step too far in depicting the Irish as nothing but a bunch of drunks: various Irish heritage organizations took Urban Outfitters to task a year ago for their insulting images of Irish people.)

Of course, Irish stereotypes that are entirely flattering can be pretty cloying to people of Irish extraction, too--the principal one being the Wise, Twinkly-Eyed Storyteller, usually male and typically clad in an Aran sweater, smoking a pipe, and wearing a flat tweed cap.

This individual often appears in films to the tune of Irish pipes and whistles and speaks in a way that suggests he's got direct links to an ancient world of selkies and spirits that we mere modern mortals have cut ourselves off from.

This droll, wise being makes my  mom's eyes roll whenever he or she pops up in a movie. I once loaned her a copy of The Secret of Roan Inish, which I thought she'd find charming, but she found the uber-Irish islanders even cornier than corned beef.

He's very clean.
She got a kick out of the old grandfather in A Hard Day's Night, however (the one who, when arrested by British police officers, starts hollering, "I'll go on hunger strike! I know your caper. The kidney punch and the rabbit clout. The third degree and the size twelve boot ankle tap....I'm a soldier for the Republic! You'll need the mahogany truncheons on this boyo!" and starts singing A Nation Once Again.).

Being the daughter of a woman who really, truly, for-the-record did transport guns in a baby carriage during the Easter Rising in Dublin, my mom no doubt heard lots of talk about the Troubles and knows the difference between a patriot and a poser.

(For the non-Irish-affiliated among you, having a grandma who transported guns in a baby carriage is frequently claimed by Irish wannabes but is not always true, just as it's unlikely that all the people claiming to have a Cherokee great-grandmother really do have one, as many Cherokee themselves have noted.)

Faith and begorrah, but I have digressed. I was going on about corned beef, wasn't I? Which I have made for the first and last time. It cooked up just fine, but it's nasty. Almost as nasty as leprechauns.

Not that the rubbery, salty corned beef was the star of the occasion. We also had pork shoulder, carrots, mashed potatoes, cabbage (of course), and an orange Bundt cake for dessert. And the craic (pronounced "crack" and meaning fun, talk, and laughter) was great; I woke up with a pulled rib muscle the next morning, from laughing.

(Honestly. This is not just a cliche about side-splitting here; it must be how the term came into being.)

Next year, however, we go back to our standard St. Patrick's Day  meal of roast salmon, mashed potatoes, and cabbage.

Now please excuse me while I go look for me shillelagh.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Garden Awakes, Slowly

Vinca flower and leaves
I ventured out into the garden this past weekend to do more than just (a) throw a ball for the dog, (b) throw a green plastic dinosaur for the dog, (c) throw an orange plastic fish for the dog, or (d) clean up after the dog. Saturday was sunny and warm, Sunday was gray but fairly dry--a good weekend to start poking at the garden to see if it was ready to get up.

Of course, the garden was both way ahead of me and on its own schedule. Things were stirring and had been for weeks. Vinca flowers have blinked on like purple stars in a galaxy seen only by day. Snails are skating across wet leaves and paving stones. The yellow pompoms of kerria have bloomed on the topmost branches. The branches themselves are still without leaves, so the shrub looks a bit like it's marching off to clean some floors, with mops tossed over its shoulder.

Spirea leaves unfolding
My main task was to shift one of the two raised planting beds west by three feet. This may sound rather pointless, and certainly if you are a farmer with acres and acres to till it probably sounds silly, like something you'd accomplish while the coffee brews.

But for this city slicker it was a Morning's Work because it involved a shovel. And digging. And tossing the dirt into a pile. And levering the wooden box up and out of the soil and shifting it.

The two boxes were separated by three feet in the first place as an accommodation to the resident teen, who at the time of their building was still the resident elementary-school-aged child. She protested the building of planting beds in the garden because how, then, could she possibly continue to build jumps and hold gymkhanas in which she was both horse and rider?

She resisted our arguments that, now that we had a dog whose claws tore up the so-called lawn (which had always been a fragile and temporary thing) and churned the yard to mud, we needed to cover up the space with something other than grass. So we accommodated the horse shows by leaving an avenue between the beds and around them, which actually contributed to the setup of cavaletti, oxers, brush fences, and in-and-outs.

Nowadays, as you might guess, the resident teen no longer canters around the garden crying "Tally-ho." And the shrubs to the east of the raised beds have encroached on the sunlight falling on the bed being moved. Hence the digging and shifting.

"Go away and let us sleep."
As I hefted paving stones and dirt, I came across lots of critters who were still snug in their winter beds and none too pleased to be disturbed.

Worms managed to radiate great irritation despite being extremely simple creatures who have ganglia but no brain. (According to one science education site, "They have no worms do not ponder their lowly lot in life.")

Presumably these worms had some more non-pondering to do before getting busy with springtime chores such as Tilling the Soil, so I made sure to bury them again if I dug them up or place dirt over them if I'd removed their paving-stone roof.

There was also a grumpy millipede living in a miniature cave just below the edge of the wooden frame. It sorted out its legs, scuffling around for its many bedroom slippers, before trudging out of sight into a tunnel. Just down the block from the millipede, a centipede was startled out of hiding. The carnivorous centipede didn't seem as lethargic as its vegetarian neighbor, but it still acted as if it were looking for a ringing alarm clock in a panic, desperate to shut it off.

It tried to climb out of the hole I'd dug for the corner leg of the raised bed. I helped it out (with a stick, as centipedes bite) and set it in a safe place, only to see it run around like crazy and fall back into the hole.

When I lifted up a paving stone that had been leaning against a stone, I found a snail deep in slumber as well as a tiny, round orange insect that appears to be the nymph of a plant-eating true bug of some sort.
Unfortunately, moving the stone had scraped off a portion of a puffy white egg sac attached to the underside. It was filled with small yellow eggs.  

A spider rushed across the stone, lingering long enough for me to take a fuzzy picture, but not long enough for me to see if it had anything to do with the egg sac.

Not being an arachnologist, I can't determine what kind of spider it is, but looking online, it seems as if it might be a Tegenaria species, one of the funnel-web weavers (related to the dreaded hobo spider). But I could be, and probably am, wrong.

The sleepy minibeasts' inactivity was more than offset by the busyness of ants, those "little creatures who run the world" in the words of E.O. Wilson. 

They didn't seem to be much upset by all the earth-moving; they acted more like curious onlookers who were pleased to see other living things moving dirt as they did and possibly commenting on the digger's methods and strategy.

The one below posed most obligingly on a pebble. (A pebble, in my world; a boulder in the ant's.)

Lovable Labrador Luna liked the digging action, too, and especially liked standing in the garden bed, from which she is usually shooed. I looked up at her at one point and wondered why she was standing with her head all tucked in and brow furrowed.

Upon closer inspection, I saw that she was nose to nose with an ant. I was surprised that she could even see the little insect and even more surprised that she didn't slurp it up. As for the ant, I can only imagine what it must be like to suddenly have the equivalent twin horrors of the Lincoln Tunnel and Hurricane Sandy appear before you.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stupid Turnips

"I'm a GOOD turnip farmer."
There's a famous scene in Gone With the Wind in which Scarlett O'Hara gnaws on a turnip ripped from the soil, gets sick, then rails at the heavens, "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again!" Turnips proceed to sustain Scarlett and her family during those first tough years bringing Tara back to life.

Well. Scarlett would have gone very, very hungry indeed if she'd been relying on our turnip crop.
Turnips are supposed to be fairly easy to grow. So trouble-free that they're used for feeding pigs and cattle.

According to one farm's website (whose testimony I don't doubt, as they actually successfully grow crops), "Turnips require very little care, tolerate a wide range of soils and positively thrive in cold temperatures. "  

What turnips SHOULD look like.
The Seattle Times gardening column lists it as a standard winter crop. "Turnips are frost-hardy and like cool weather!" warbles Sunset Vegetable Gardening. "Where winters are mild, plant in fall for a winter crop," assures the Western Garden Book, adding that the plants need "ample space for root to reach full weight of 3-5 lbs."

I don't think our entire turnip crop registered 3 to 5 pounds in weight, though possibly it would've achieved this heady status if I'd weighed it before cutting off the greens, wiping off the slugs, and washing off the dirt.

In fact, it looked as if all the turnips had taken a vote and decided that just one of them would grow to anything like normal-turnip size, while the rest of them would remain little.

"I'll do the growin' around here, and don't you forget it."
Not only were most of them just cruciferous Ping-Pong balls, they were also riddled with tunnels. And a pillbug was cozily residing in one of them. Could the culprits be root maggots?

According to a gardening advice column in The Seattle Times, "Root maggots overwinter in the soil as larvae and pupate near the surface of the soil in the spring, using root crops like turnips for sustenance."

If they're pupating, they wouldn't be eating, and when they emerge from their pupae they'd be full-grown flies and wouldn't be gnawing roots, either, so they have to be talking about the larvae (which is what maggots are, after all).

Canadian Organic Growers notes cheerfully that "winter turnips or rutabagas are riddled by the maggots but only superficially at the bottom of the root which can be trimmed off at harvest," so I thought maybe the rotten little creatures were busy very early in the mild winter season.

Now I'm wondering if it was just our old familiar slugs rasping away at them. The University of Maryland Extension website chronicles the hollowing-out of turnips by young slugs here and notes "If your turnip crop yields stunted, hollow turnips...don’t overlook the possibility that slugs have found and adopted your turnip roots as near perfect places to live."

Though why the turnips stopped growing is a puzzler to me. Then again, I guess I wouldn't have much motivation, either, if I'd been gnawed by maggots or slugs.

Oh well. We'll get one pan of roasted turnips out of the lot, anyway (after having composted the heavily damaged ones). And the leeks did astonishingly well --the p-patch is a veritable old-growth forest of leeks. Too bad we haven't figured out a dish we like them in all that much...maybe we'll just use them as inspiration for writing and pen an ode to "Spring: A Leek."