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As regular readers of this blog know, I have been a trash picker for most of my life.   The need to litter the environment one is making use of is something I simply cannot comprehend.

One of my favorite Facebook pals is a gentleman who refers to himself as All Washed Up (it is well worth visiting his page) who creates some fabulous sculptural art using trash he collects while beach combing.  I am not nearly so inspired with my collection, generally I just bring it home and recycle it.

A few days ago while Ruby and I were making our customary rounds at the Conservation Area where we get our daily exercise, I came across yet one more piece of trash to haul home.  It really spiked on the Irony-meter.

It was a plastic bottle that used to contain Sunkist® Lemonade.DSCF2911

The first irony that strikes me whenever I come across an empty bottle alongside a walking path is this.  You, the consumer of said drink, have NO problem carrying the bottle while it is full of liquid.   However, the instant you have drained it of its contents, when it is at its lightest, it becomes an impossible task to carry it one step further.  So you drop it.   I simply cannot  wrap my head around this.

The second irony is that the consumer has paid money for what amounts to water mixed with high fructose corn syrup and “natural” flavoring.  I’m pretty sure that it would be considerably less expensive to mix up sugar and water than what the drink cost at the store where it was procured.  Judging by what I have read about high fructose corn syrup, it would probably be better for you too.

The third irony is something that comes out when you read the fine print of the list of  ingredients and nutrition facts.

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Note that this Lemonade CONTAINS NO JUICE.   This fact is so important that it is stated on the label TWICE.  Is it not ironic that something sold as lemonade has no actual lemon juice in it?  And is it not even more ironic that a beverage that specifically states it contains no juice has pictures of actual fruit on the label?

Note that this beverage is bottled under the joint authority of Dr.Pepper/SevenUp Inc and Sunkist Growers Inc.   Why are the Sunkist Growers putting their name on something that contains no juice?   Is this not ironic?  I suppose that it is a heck of a lot easier to mix up the chemical soup listed above than it is to actually grow lemons for lemon juice and then make it into lemonade, but it seems very odd to me.

It also seems ironic that this is described as a “natural lemon flavored drink with other natural flavors” and yet when you read the ingredients there are actually no truly natural flavors listed.   It does say natural flavors, but these are actually simply mixtures of alcohols, esters, and other chemicals that the FDA have decided (in their infinite wisdom) to allow manufacturers to refer to as “natural.”   And I’m not sure why one needs to add preservatives to a mixture of water and sugar, but I suppose that one needs to preserve the integrity of the yellow dye #5 and acacia gum and prevent the mixture from accidentally turning into artificially flavored wine.

I don’t know.   I never buy the stuff.   Isn’t it ironic that the containers for these kinds of products wind up in my recycling bin on a daily basis?

 

It is no secret that if you have a plot of land there is generally four sides to it.  Given the predilection surveyors have to orient things on a logical grid, those sides usually conform to ordinal directions.

This is the case at The Havens.   There are numerous posts that feature our West line, which is where the stroll garden is, and the little pond.   On the North line is the barn and a very wild line of trees and shrubbery that shields us from the “view” in that direction.  Our South line is the street we live on.  Many pictures of the house, vineyard, and front gardens have been taken from that line.

Our East line parallels the main drag towards I-44.   When we moved here, it featured a broken down stockwire/barbed wire fence and a wild tangle of volunteer elms, cherries, mulberries, orange trumpet creeper vine, poison ivy, virginia creeper and God knows what else.

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It was a heaven for the local birds, and served to shield us from the wonderful view of the neighboring business, which sold mobile and manufactured homes.   Most of the mobile homes were repossessions.   It was pretty much an eyesore.

So much was it an eyesore, that I almost NEVER took any pictures specifically of it.   The East line only shows up as a back drop for other parts of the place I was trying to show, sort of like this one of the sauna.

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Despite that fact, I really sort of liked it, because there was always something going on back there.   On the north end of that line is a thicket of plums with a big currant bush.  The brown thrasher used that spot to raise her family.  There were usually cat birds living there, as well as cardinals using the vines for nesting areas.   The finches hung out there, along with robins, blue jays, the occasional hawk or owl.   The hummingbirds used the orange trumpet creeper vine.

I won’t discuss the owner of the trailer sales place except to say that he was the reason that we found ourselves in need of a lawyer.   Harassment is a gentle word for what he did. But as things turned out, he wound up selling his property to the Dollar General corporation.   During the course of the hearings at the City Council, we discovered that they intended to build a privacy fence between our place and their lot.

We decided to have the tangled mess cleared up to facilitate that event.  Our plan is to establish a garden over there that consists of prairie plants:  tall grasses like big bluestem and panicum; medium grasses like little bluestem, prairie dropseed, and sorgastrums; and a bunch of prairie flowers.   I also intended to plant shrubs as well, to re-establish the flyway for the small birds.

So we spent a big wad of money and had professionals come in and clear the line.  We had them preserve the line of forsythias at the back, as well as one oak, one large mulberry, and one black walnut

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Eventually we had all that chipped up tree and shrubbery spread out along the line to make a mulch layer.  I spent the fall and spring planting shrubs next to the very beautiful fence Dollar General built.

Last fall I planted seeds for the flowers and grasses.  They are young, but they are coming along.   I also have assiduously transplanted starts from my Petite Prairie, and those are the plants you can actually see in the above shots.

Above is the north end of the East line, where I planted forsythia about ten years ago or so.  You are seeing the west and east sides of that thicket.   Needless to say, during the interim the birds have provided me with lots of extraneous things in that patch of shrubs, not the least of which is a very healthy stand of poison ivy.   When the clearing was done, we had the stumps of the trees ground out, but we could not do that at this end of the line and also save the bushes.

I really wanted to save those bushes because I knew that that birds were using the line of trees for shelter and habitat, and I wasn’t willing to completely evict them all.   Anyway, we now have about 10 elm trees, two or three locusts, a maple and a couple of mulberries that are trying to assert themselves.   Since I am averse to using glyphosphate or other herbicides, the method needed to convince these trees that they are actually dead is to go out there and clip off the dozens of sprouts they are sending up around their trunks.  This is a job you have to do every couple of months or so during the summer for two or three years.

A few days ago I went back there to beat back the poison ivy, so that the sprout removal would be less fraught with danger from it.  I filled up a 33 gallon garbage bag with poison ivy.   I thought I had avoided getting it, but no such luck.   Both my wrists have outbreaks and I got exposed to enough of it that my eyes are all swollen up.  Oh well.   Sacrifices must be made, I guess.

Anyway, while I have been removing elm sprouts I found two old cardinal nests from last year.   And I also found the nest the brown thrasher built this year.

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I also saw the cat birds and a pair of hairy woodpeckers.  The other day I saw a whole family of indigo buntings as well.   So I guess our transition has not made my birds feel unwelcome.

Next year the flowers and prairie grasses ought to look quite special.   In the mean time, I will have to introduce myself to the City’s Compliance Officer and explain what the plan is so that I won’t get citations from the local authorities enjoining me to mow down the “tall weeds.”

I think I’ll begin by inviting him to visit the Petite Prairie.  Stay tuned for future developments.

 

 

I went back through the blog to see what, if anything, I have missed during my non-posting times.  Goodness gracious.   There have been massive quantities of travel going on, but the most important thing is that I have been presented with another grandchild.

Meet Amelia Lynn Floyd, with her proud papa, Jesse.

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I travelled to Georgia where her mommy and daddy lived at the time and arrived just in time for her birth.  That was a fun little story in and of itself.   My son and his wife have two cars and a truck, so we deemed it unnecessary for me to rent a vehicle for the duration of my stay.

When I got off the plane in Savannah and called my son to let him know I had my luggage and he could leave the cell phone lot, he answered the call by saying “I’m sorry, Mom.  Lynette is in labor and I am on my way back home to take her to the hospital.”

“No problem,” I replied blithely.   “I’ll just rent a car and we can take it back tomorrow.”

Let me tell you, Savannah, Georgia, the gateway to Hilton Head and all the resorts pertaining thereto, is no place to be trying to rent a vehicle without a reservation on a Saturday evening.   After making the rounds of virtually every rental car dealer at the airport, I was finally able to fine what appeared to be the only car left available.   It was a high end minivan with an exorbitant price tag, but when I explained to the rental agent just why I was so unprepared regarding my rental requirement, he cut me a deal and let me have it for the economy car price.   Whew.

I arrived at the hospital before the birth and took custody of James, taking care of him all that night and most of the next day until his mama and his new sister got home.  Poor James, his world was all turned upside down.  He’s over it now, but at the time he was not very pleased to have competition.

Anyway, suffice it to say that we have a granddaughter in addition to our

grandson.  We couldn’t be more pleased by the situation.

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With my mother

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With me last week

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Both kids with Jim at Christmas

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Life will never be the same.

 

 

So, since I’ve been off for a while, I think I need to do some catch up.  So what have I been doing when I wasn’t posting on the blog?   That will be answered in due course.  I intend to do some of the posts I was “meaning” to do…

Meanwhile,  I’ll just let you all know that one of the things that has happened to me is that I became a fashionista for a while.   I spent a lot of money on colorful clothes and discovered that shoes can be fabulous, but only if they are comfortable.  That was merely a portal opening in my soul which led to an outpouring of actual artwork.

I have had a long and frustrating relationship with art.  I am reluctant to submit my work to any contest or judging any more, having been so absolutely wounded by some of the ways I have been judged in the past.   Now I am doing it simply for my own pleasure, and hope that other people find some joy in what I produce.

I am unashamedly in love with glitter and shimmer, so much of the work I am going to post here will not give you any idea of what is really going on because you can’t really get the shimmer and glitter unless you are with the piece in the light and moving it around.

First piece up is a complete example of that.   This is a depiction of fireflies rising from a meadow at sunset.   It is actually very cool, with several hundred tiny glitter dots in the grass foreground being the fireflies.

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I use the work as a way of working through some very tough emotions.  This one was a piece I did after we got the diagnosis of Jim’s prostate cancer.   Since I made this piece, he has had surgery to remove the prostate and his prognosis is good, at least as far as we know.  We won’t know for sure for about three years…

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Again, the shimmer of the pearlescent acrylics is not obvious..

In short order, a few pieces I have produced in frenzies of creativity.  This one was inspired by the fact that we are going to do a trip in September, rafting from the top to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.

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These next few are just fun.

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Someone gave me a gift of tissue paper, which I have begun playing with.  This next one started out as some watercolors on a background.  Then I started messing around with the tissue paper and really got off on the texture.

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This last piece is the one I finished today.   It started out with water color background.  The particular water colors I am most fond of are called “magicals” by Lindy’s Stamp Gang.  They have mica included in them, and make an amazing glimmer in the color.   After the water color background was down, I did a lot of work with acrylics and pearlescent acrylic inks on top of it.

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So, that’s one of the things that has been going on at The Havens.

 

 

Infestation

It has been way too long since I posted here.  For several months I have been meaning to resurrect this blog, but it seems very easy to post a picture and short comment on FaceBook and then go surf it for a while, adding random comments and “likes”.

Well, today’s subject, Japanese beetles, is too lengthy and complex for a Facebook post.  This is a shot of a large group of them clustered on a tall evening primrose.

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Like much of the Midwest, we are “enjoying” a population explosion that was probably not predictable back in 1906 when the first Japanese beetle was noticed in New Jersey.  It has taken a while, but they have grown into a monstrous problem.  Aside from the fact that the pest was imported without also importing its natural predators, the climate back in 1906 was a big help in controlling the population.

The life cycle of this little insect is pretty simple.   It eats, voraciously.   It breeds, orgiastically.  In the late summer it drops to the ground and lays its eggs.   The larvae live through the winter underground, subsisting off of the roots of the grasses the eggs were laid in.  In the late spring, they emerge to start the cycle over again.

What has made them so devastating in these latter years is that our winters have gotten milder, so the larvae do not get killed off by cold the way they used to be.   If the ground doesn’t freeze, the brood survives intact and the population gets larger and larger.

This is what our vineyard looks like right now.

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All those golden brown leaves are skeletonized grape leaves.

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If you don’t have enough leaf surface area, your grapes won’t ripen.   Now if you look at the above picture, you will notice that there IS hope, as the grape vines are heroically putting on new growth at the leaf axils of all those devastated leaves.   In some places there are lots of new vines sprouting as well.  The grapes are so confused by it all that they are even making new blossoms.

This is what they have to contend with, though.  There are thousands and thousands of beetles.   We go out and hold jars with water and lamp oil in them under the groups of beetles, tap the leaves and they fall into the jars (mostly, a lot of them fall outside the jar) and die.   We do this several times a day.   We have killed gallons and gallons of these beasts.

In the fall we will invest in milky spore, a soil bacteria that infects and kills the larvae during the winter.  If only all our neighbors would do the same.

It is so frustrating.   This is the face of globalization: pests like the Japanese beetle or the Emerald Ash Borer get imported along with the products we desire.  (There are numerous other examples, too.)  It is exacerbated by global climate change, when a pest that is imported can expand exponentially because the usual climatic conditions that help control it are absent.

If we don’t get a great grape crop, it means we won’t have as much wine to drink next year, a situation that is not life threatening.  But that does not mean that widespread introduction of new species and global warming is not something to be concerned about.

 

 

 

“Buy Art”

I like to read bumper stickers.  Sometimes they are just silly and annoying.   Sometimes they are downright offensive, but I try to avoid ramming the cars that are sporting blatantly racist and anti-environmental messages.

The other day we were on the freeway when an old Impala sailed by us.   I liked the message tacked in the back window:  “Buy Art.”

“Yes,” I exclaimed.   “I do that.”   It was particularly appropriate since I had just purchased art from an artist friend of mine, who painted a wonderful mural on the front of our barn.

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We also purchased the sun sculpture above the mural.

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Our house is well supplied with art.   I’ve been in the habit of buying ceramic art for long before I met Jim.   This still life sports a couple of pieces displayed in the living room.

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I have a lot of bowls I have collected over the years.   We actually use them on a regular basis.

We also have a lot of dragons in the house, most of them are original works of art.  This is just a small sampling.  A tiger eye bas relief, a leather mask, and a ceramic dragon who guards many eggs, and one very small amber dragonet.

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I could make this into a very long post, and put up a lot of photos.  But I won’t.   We have a guache  in the bedroom, a watercolor from Seville in the living room as well as a beautiful print from the Seattle area.

Every once in a while I hear from someone who is “decluttering” their life, or read an article telling you just how to achieve that feat.   I toy with the idea of decluttering, but then I wonder which of the pieces of art I am going to get rid of.

Which amazing rock is going to be relegated to the garden?   Which one of the hundreds of sea shells I have picked up over the years?

I guess I’ll just stay cluttered.

And I’ll keep on buying art.

On cookies

Our kitchen was very busy yesterday.   In addition to Jim’s beer bottling and racking, I was deeply involved in my usual holiday activity of baking cookies.  Lots and lots of cookies.  We split the kitchen down the middle and went about our merry ways.   A great deal was accomplished!

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A long time ago, an in-law gave me a wonderful Christmas gift.

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Now, this is quite the cook book.   It is ALL about cookies of all sorts European, with a smattering of breads thrown in.   I have not actually made any of the breads, although they sound delightful.   I have made many of the cookies.  That this is a well loved and very much used book is quite evident the second you open it.

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Upon my first perusal, I was intrigued by the many recipes that included notations like “These store well for 3-4 weeks”  and “Improves with age”.   At the time, Jim was on active duty in the Navy, and this included many sojourns that were long and far away.   From bitter experience I had learned how poorly some favorite baked goods fared on their extended travels to foreign ports, where they sometimes languished for weeks before the ship arrived to collect the mail that had accumulated during its sea passage.   The idea that there were cookies that could travel and arrive even better than they were when they left home intrigued me.

Of course, I didn’t quite trust the long keeping storage claims until I had tried them out for myself.   As difficult as it was, I managed to put aside a tin of the Honey lebkuchen squares for a month or so and discovered that the author was not putting me on.   Jim was delighted to receive the baked goods that I started making.   I received reviews from shipmates that were positive as well.

One of the things I discovered right away was that there were ingredients that were challenging to acquire.   One of those ingredients was candied orange and lemon peels.  At the time I lived in San Francisco, and the only place I was able to discover these items was an obscure shop in Oakland.  In addition to the inconvenience of going all the way over there to acquire this item, they were VERY dear indeed.   I searched my library of cookbooks (this was before the internet and Recipesource.com, if you can believe I am so old!) and was able to find a recipe for candying citrus peels. I tried it out and it worked like a charm.

I have never tried to buy candied peels again.   It was too easy to do.  I was delighted to receive organic lemons from the home place in California so that I could make truly chemical free candied lemon peels.   Well, I could do this when I was able to beg some from the limoncello maker…  quite a lot of competition for lemon peels exists in this house!  They are also necessary for freshly grated lemon peel, which is also an ingredient often called for in the Festive Baking cookbook.

Over the years, I have ruminated about the thrifty character of the Germanic housewife.   I put myself back into the 18th and 19th centuries when many of these recipes were developed.   Imagine…..   It is the holiday season and you want to make delectable delights for the seasonal celebrations.  Normally you would be looking for large quantities of eggs and butter for this sort of thing, but it is icy cold and dark outside.   Your hens are sulking and the cow’s production of milk has dropped, plus the butterfat content of said milk is barely detectable.   What to do?

Many of these recipes call for honey and sugar and flour as major ingredients, all things that store well.  The only fats used are those found in the ground nuts.  Perhaps one egg is used in the recipe, perhaps another one for the glaze.   Or there is a shortbread type of cookie, requiring lots of butter, but not a single egg.  Then there are the whisked egg/sugar method cookies, which ask for no butter.   Additionally, if you are the sort of gal who thinks ahead, you can make your wonderful confections and cookies months in advance, store them on the top shelf of your pantry and bring them out when the parties begin.

No waste is produced.   If there is a recipe that calls for an egg yolk, down the way there is a recipe that calls only for egg white.   Or you save all those whites and make meringue cookies, which have an amazingly long shelf life.   Do you need freshly grated lemon peel?   No doubt the same recipe that calls for that ingredient requires the juice of one lemon for the icing recipe.   I have an image of the household management requiring all oranges and lemons used on the place to be carefully peeled, and the peels set aside until enough have accumulated for a batch of candied peel to be produced.  This is stored away for future reference; it is called for in large quantities all over this book.   Some cookie recipes require over a cup of candied mixed orange and lemon peel.

I have also wondered if there are a lot of almond trees in central Europe.   Almonds and hazelnuts are used in impressively large quantities, as compared to the very conservative amounts of eggs and butter asked for.

Whatever, all musings aside, I have now made seven different kinds of cookies, all of which keep for weeks.   The varieties that do not have such a sterling shelf life are due to be made in a couple of weeks.

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From the top, clockwise:  Vanilla crescents, Basle leckerli, honey lebkuchen squares, molasses spice cookies, ginger cookies, almond sticks, and in the center, pfefferneuse.

Jim got all excited when I made up that plate for the photo op.   He thought maybe I was putting some cookies out that didn’t fit in the tins and needed to be eaten.   I believe I need to make that good man up his own plate based on how his face fell when he learned that the plate had been emptied back into the tins!

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