Monday, September 29, 2008

A Day In The Life Of My Garden- September 28, 2008

I started putting my garden to bed today. It must have been 70 degrees and steamy humid. I was wearing a T-shirt. While it seems a little early to be whacking everything back, the weather was too nice to resist. The shortened days are making everything droop- Peonies are getting wilty, the cat mint is turning a not so pretty yellow.

These are some of my fall asters. The hot pinks are called Alma Plotschke. They are suppose to stand up to the weight of their flowers.... but perhaps the lousy economy has them drooping a little. The blue ones in the back are real stunners. The foliage is to die for and the blue-purple offers respite from the ubiquitous lavender. None of that nasty foliage die back on the lower tiers like most asters. They were inherited from the previous owner so, alas, are unidentified.

The echinacea is just dark brown seed heads. I leave them because I like them. The clematis pods are a fluffy counterpoint.

My perpetual favorite- Karl Foerster grass. It is turning a nice orange while the plumes are buffy colored. There are a few Clara Curtis Mums still in bloom in the front.

My recently identified (by Black Swamp Girl) Sedum Cauticolum. The foliage is getting more yellow while the pink blossoms are deepening to the most lovely shade of pink/lavender. Very choice in my book!

I have to laugh that my garden is starting to look as barren as it does in early spring. I walk around it a little wistfully. Another year gone.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

If A Branch Falls In The Woods....

I was on my morning walk with my little dog Henry when I heard the distinctive crack of a branch. I didn't even bother to look up. I just yanked Henry's lead and skedaddled forward as I heard the branch fall to the ground behind me. It was small- about as big around as a sausage and 10 feet long.

Many times in the past I have walked by fallen sticks, branches, limbs and sometimes even whole trees. They are laid out across the road. If they are small enough I kick them to the edge of the road or pick them up and heave them into the woods. I can't help thinking about a car coming across one of these too quickly and causing damage to the car or its passengers. On occasion I try to imagine at what time of day the branch gave out. Would it have been at an hour when there was passing traffic? Is it possible that a pedestrian such as myself could have been near by?

When I cross country ski through the back country around my home I see lots of fallen trees. I tend to be a lot more cautious when I head into the puckerbrush. If the snow has been heavy and it is still stuck to the trees I try to stay in the open fields. If I was hit by a a tree in the middle of nowhere it could be days before I am found. I could be dead from exposure, injury or even lack of breakfast.

But what are the chances of being hit by a falling limb while out on a walk? I am intrigued by the randomness of it. So does this make me lucky or unlucky to have witnessed it?

Let Them Eat Cake

Apparently many feminists have
said that Sarah Palin is not a feminist nor is she a friend to feminists and women. I think it is a lot more complicated than that.

Disclaimer: I am a feminist. My interpretation of feminism is equality for all. Somewhere along the way people have co-opted the word and turned it into something dirty. I dislike that and find it hateful. The same way the word liberal has everyone running to hide. When did that happen? Was I napping again?

Right leaning media (What you may ask? When did the media lean right? Has the earth tipped on its axis yet again?) has portrayed the comments of a few to stand in for the whole movement of feminism.... like we are some monolithic group. While Sarah Palin is a woman and stands to break the big glass ceiling in government, she is not the woman that we thought would do it. There are feminists who find her appalling, but we should disagree with her for her politics- and not her gender. But I also find the spin of the right wing (Jonah Goldberg, portray these comments in a way that it sounds as if women are going to throw themselves off the tops of buildings and the quoted as "enraged lefties."

I would like to think that feminism is a big tent sort of thing that allows for disagreement and differences. This is a concept that has disappeared in the political arena in the last 20 years or so. Platforms are written in a way to differentiate the parties so if the Democrats say Potahtoe, then the Republicans need to say Potaytoe. While I admit that I am not keen on Sarah Palin's politics (among other things), she would be a huge step forward for the feminist movement- allowing other women to run for higher offices. As I always say- women have just as much of a right to be idiots as men.
So where does that leave us? Are we feminists narrow minded bigots for not embracing Sarah Palin's meteoric rise to the top of the political heap? I think there are certainly some narrow minded feminists crashing their way towards a Feminist Valhalla. I also think there are a bunch of feminists who take Sarah Palin's trajectory in stride- as if we always belonged here. She is redefining what a woman in politics looks like. She is letting them know what it means to run like a girl-and she is leaving a lot of guys in the dust.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh Canada!

We just returned from a very long weekend in Prince Edward Island in Canada. They were holding their annual shellfish festival which is a big wingding to get people to come in and spend money on mussels, clams and oysters. I am okay with the ploy because PEI is so beautiful. And delicious!

The first picture is of a chef from Flex Mussels demonstrating how to cook mussels. I stuck around for a couple of recipes but found that the standard garlic & wine is better than lemon grass, mango and chili over mussels. Flex Mussels is a good restaurant in a town full of good restaurants. For a province with fewer than 140,000 people and a capitol (Charlottetown) with fewer than 35,000 it is amazing how many great eateries there are. Flex was featured in the most recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

The entertainment is local and pretty good. This was the Charlottetown Policeman's Choir, which mostly sings traditional sea shantys. I can't imagine the policemen of any other city performing for a local festival. They poked fun at themselves, had a good time and entertained the crowds.

After a fair amount of shellfish we decided to do a tour of the western county of Prince. This is an even more sparsely populated area of the island dominated by potato fields and lobster boats. It also has a predominantly French flavor. The history of the French and English throughout the Northeastern US and Canada is stormy....starting with the expulsions of the 1700's which frequently led to death in the ocean and families pulled apart by geography. The French who returned to PEI were proud and deeply religious. The commanding Catholic churches built by them (and Protestants too) still dominate the farm lands. This is Our Lady of Mont Carmel.

The cemetery next to the church is beautiful too, with green lawns rolling down to the red water of the Northumberland Strait between PEI & New Brunswick.

We made our way all the way to the North Cape which is as North as you can get and almost as west as you can get on PEI. The distinctive red soil is obvious here. It was sunny and bright but a stiff breeze kept it from being too warm.

It also underscored the appropriateness of the placement of this wind farm. This is actually the Wind Energy Institute. Several governmental agencies have come together to fund the research. There is representation by several other governments including the US. They are testing the largest windmills in North America currently- the Vestas V-90's- which are pretty big! We asked how the local farmers feel about them and apparently there is no objection on aesthetic grounds and they weren't even as noisy as the Canadian flags flapping in the breeze but apparently there is concern over the the size of the transmission lines and the magnetic fields they create- the usual problem people have with big power lines.

PEI is producing 5% of their electricity needs with these windmills. The goal is to reach 15% by 2011. PEI currently has the highest energy rates in Canada because it has no local source. Everything comes through an underwater cable from New Brunswick. So this is an important project to the locals and not just a wacky alternative energy project. I found some articles about Ottawa almost pulling the funding from the project this spring. The institute receives a million each year. Somehow that seems like peanuts compared to trying to repair the damage we have done with other energy sources.... or to the sort of tax breaks my own government gives to American Oil Companies to do exploration.

Penny wise, pound foolish......

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not So Sneaky Government

So my most recent post has garnered me some snooping around by the US Sargent At Arms. Whoever this person or organization is they have checked out my blog several times because I expressed anger at the actions of my senator. I can't believe that in a state the size of NH that a senator's staff couldn't do their own snooping around.

Well.... all they have found is a middle aged woman who is wacky about her garden and dog. And angry about her government. Why don't they stop spying and start doing something constructive? Although it is nice to know that someone in my government is paying attention.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Letter To One of My Goddamned Senators

I am a moderate Democrat. If the Republican party weren't quite so unwavering on social issues I might even consider voting Republican. My boyfriend is constantly telling me how smart Senator Sununu is and what he does for our state of NH. He insists that I should be voting for him. I read about him in the Union Leader and listen when I hear him quoted on NHPR in an effort to learn more about him. I can certainly agree on his stance on privacy issues. All of that flew out the window this morning.

On NHPR this morning I heard Senator Sununu say that all of our economic woes stem from falling real estate values. What? It might not have something to do with inappropriate lending practices? That people were being sold mortgages that they really couldn't afford? And that these unscrupulous loans were then packaged up and sold as bonds to all sorts of investors? That perhaps the greed of people on Wall Street was blinding them to any ethical considerations?
As if that wasn't uninformed enough, Senator Sununu went on to say that other than the falling real estate values that there was no real evidence that the rest of the economy was unstable. He seems to be mouthing the McCain party line- the fundamentals are good.

I have to wonder what windowless silo Senator Sununu has been living in for the past year. As a small business owner I watch my business being eroded. I speak to other small business owners who are tightening their belts and trying to figure out how they will make it through and how long this recession will last. I think if Senator Sununu would take off his rose colored glasses and talk to some of us on the street he might find the picture is not so rosy.

I am so angry at his statements that I could just spit. He is either arrogant or ignorant- one or the other. And I really have to wonder what kind of representation I am receiving in Washington if he truly thinks everything is okay.

I did actually send this to Senator Sununu.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moon Festival

The boyfriend and I were invited to the Moon Festival at a Chinese restaurant. This involves showing up at the restaurant at 10 PM as all the regular customers are clearing out. Tables are pushed together to form banquet tables. Huge platters of food are brought out along with several cases of beer. We were the only Caucasians in attendance , which is a pretty good indicator that we wouldn't be receiving teriyaki steak on a stick.

My boyfriend is very friendly with the owners and provides them with free legal, business and editing services and he, in turn, is invited to eat their fabulous food. To be invited is a big honor. I have also attended their Chinese New Year meal which is a very festive meal with the owners doling out envelopes of money to their employees and much drinking of beer. It is their big Holiday akin to our Christmas. I was mortified one year that some invited Caucasian guests of the bartender kept yelling out "Shake and Bake" to indicate their pleasure with the food and company. I couldn't help feeling responsible for their bad behavior because we shared a skin color.

But back to the Moon Festival..... I think it might be a Harvest Festival because it is the right time of year and the theme seems to be lots of food and overeating. There was barely room enough for your dinner plate on the table because there were so many platters of food- soup, lobster, fish, frog, turtle, chicken, squab, shrimp, conch and more.

I consider this an opportunity to travel without ever leaving my country. I was invited to a distinctive celebration in a culture very different than my own. So I put my preconceptions aside and eat like a native. The Chinese, after cooking an animal, tend to just chop it up, bones and all. They eat it by popping a piece into their mouth, rolling it around to extract the meat, fat and skin and then delicately remove the bones from their mouth with chopsticks or their fingers.

There is no denying where this food came from. The fish looks exactly like a fish. It is propped up on the platter with its tail gracefully curved behind, its mouth open and eyes staring straight forward. The whole chicken is sliced up and the forward part of the head is tucked into the breast, mouth open and tongue curled up. The crab is all pieces and shells that you have to dig around in and suck clean to find tidbits of meat.

As strange as it is, it is undeniably delicious. The lobster is spicy. The crab is delicate and moist. I suck on the legs and think it is the most crabby tasting dish I have ever had. The conch is very chewy with a delicate flavor. One of my favorite dishes is what they call sticky rice. Rice is processed, extruded and sliced into thick, chewy medallions which are stir fried with mushrooms. I think I had thirds on that!

The young woman sitting next to me, who is a waitress asked me if I liked the food. I answered affirmatively. She said many people consider it strange that the Chinese leave the bones in..... so they are aware of what people think of their food. But I know as a cook that much of the flavor of meat comes from the bone and the skin. And I can't help remembering that Julia Child herself said that the three great cuisines of the world are French, Italian and Chinese.

The Chinese are not big on sweets but the Moon Festival always ends with Moon Cake. It is a small sweet cake that is filled with egg yolks. When it is cut the yolks look like Full Moons. I cannot eat it as I am sure that it has flour in it which I shouldn't eat (and God knows how much I ate in the other unnamed dishes). But I brought a piece home so that I could photograph it- as shown above.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

There Are No Bad Artists

I was chosen to be a judge at a somewhat local art association's annual show. I pick and choose how often I do this but understand that it is my job to give back to the community when I can. They at least sweetened the pot by giving me a small stipend to cover gas. It was also a nice excuse to spend the night at my friend Louise's as she was only 1/2 hour from this event.

So this morning two other judges (a local gallery owner and an art teacher from the Tech) and I convened on this show of over 100 pieces. There were at least 25 categories that we needed to choose pieces for. It guaranteed that we spent as much time looking at the labels as at the art. Example-We had to choose the best example of a portrait by a professional. After much hunting we found that only two pieces fit in that category. We agreed very quickly on which would win that particular prize.

The category that gave us the most trouble was best landscape in oil. You would think that in NH that everyone would be comig up with a new interpretation of what we look at every day. But no, they seemed to offer up the same trite interpretation painted in colors straight from the tube.

We also had to pick the top three best overall pieces. The other female judge said "Enough with trying to be fair. I refuse to just dole out an award to someone because we simply don't want to give any individual more than one award. I don't want to encourage bad painting." I am always so careful about being judgmental about art- even though it is my job to vet artists daily in an effort to deliver the best to my customers and maintain my reputation. There is always such a fine line to walk. I was very glad that she said this out loud instead of me.

The other judge shared a story one of his professors shared with him. "There are no bad artists. Everyone is out there doing the best they can to get better and to enjoy themselves. That being said- there is a whole heck of a lot of bad art."

I then shared with them my trip to the Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts. This museum features the absolute worst work they can find, with thoughtful and professionally written interpretations. As a gallery director I often find it difficult to explain why some art is bad, but as a rule most professionals agree very rapidly on what is bad.

Likewise it can also be very difficult to describe what is good art. Especially when I bring up that most nebulous of categories- surface interest and good brushwork. Even good artists are stymied by trying to describe it, yet we all know what it is.

Perhaps on my upcoming drive to Prince Edward Island I will give over some mental time to trying to describe these things.

photo credit: MOBA, Lucy in The Field with Flowers

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Super Sarah

After a gentle sprinkle (Hurricane Hanna), or a rain or even a dampish evening, I don my super-hero cape before I go on my walk. I then use my X-ray vision to distinguish between road kill and my little friend, the red eft. Some people just call them newts.

I never noticed them too much until I started biking so many years ago. They seemed to be all over the roadways- most of them flattened by the traffic. While I am an animal lover I don't cry too much over these lost lives as other animals benefit from these fast-food tidbits- like my dog who has decidedly fishy breath from the consumption of so many recently expired amphibians.

But wanton death is unnecessary. If I see a live one I pick them up by their tails to keep from damaging their delicate little bone structures and move them to the side of the road they were headed for. Some times they squirm and fight me, other times it is as if they are dead. I put them down in the grass and they lay there, dazed, hoping that I will just go away.

This one in my hand had a bit of a defiant stare. He craned his head up to look me in the eye as if to dare me to eat him. No thanks.

There are other animals in the road- like this slug complete with slimy trail. He is, in naturalists' parlance, lacking in animal charisma. He is on his own.

There are lots of dead toads and frogs looking like so many deflated balloons with bony feet. I rarely see a live one to save, but it would be a stretch of my bravery to grab one without screaming and jumping from foot to foot. Not that a frog has ever done anything bad to me, but they have erratic movements which make me nervous. We like them- but at a respectful distance.

We won't even talk about snakes!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pink Pearls of Wisdom

I have not written about my garden in many moons... and it is not because it has shriveled up and died. It is that funny time of year when I have sort of had my fill of one of the things I hold dear. This feeling may have been aided by my still healing broken toe, but I recognize this garden ennui which has descended every August or September since I was 25.

But just yesterday I took a spin through the garden to see what was happening. This little (unidentified) sedum is on the verge of blossoming. The unopened blossoms are the most tender shade of pink you have ever seen. It is a sight to rekindle a lost love.......

I think I will work in my garden a little this weekend.

Monday, September 1, 2008

More Truth & Beauty

Before I finished reading Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty I went to the library to secure their copy of Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. In Truth & Beauty, Ann writes about her friendship with the talented and disfigured Lucy Grealy. Autobiography of A Face tells Lucy's story.

This is a true autobiography in that every other person is only an afterthought. Lucy and Lucy's thoughts are the main character here and the writer has done this to good effect. She was a surprisingly introspective young girl yet had some real gaps in understanding that ring true to the writer's age at the time.

It is also a contemplative study on the nature of beauty and our perception/understanding of it. Towards the end of the book she says "Beauty, as defined by society, seemed to be about who was best at looking like everyone else." (page 187) This seems so true at many levels... that we strive to look, act and think like the majority to be accepted or adored.

So many superficial reviews have summed up this book by saying she was writing about inner beauty as being the only true beauty. I can't put my finger on it but I don't think that is what she was saying. She couldn't help herself in striving for outer beauty and constantly doubted her self-worth. And so many cultures consider outer and inner beauty as going hand in hand. Her "ugliness" separated her from others, but it seemed that bridging that gap was her greatest goal. I can't help but wonder if she wouldn't have traded her inner beauty to gain that connection.