Thursday, April 30, 2009

Theme Thursday - Water

Most Septembers, we fly to England and spend some time with family. Then we rent a narrowboat and meander for a week or two, usually on the Kennet and Avon Canal, but there are about 2,000 miles of navigable canal in England, so there's no shortage of places to go. At the

four miles per hour speed limit set by British Waterways, you could sail for months before you ran out of canal.

The photo I've posted above was taken on the Kennet and Avon Canal. You will note that the water is glassy. It is usually that way. There is no current, except on the occasional small stretch where the canal joins up with the river (either the Kennet or the Avon, on this particular canal). The water isn't very deep, so even if someone fell overboard, they could probably save themselves by standing up. The wildlife that frequents the river is annoying at times, but not generally dangerous.

So a canal holiday is a slow-moving, relaxed affair. I get my exercise by climbing out of the boat at each lock and opening/closing/opening/closing the sluices and the gates. If I'm in the mood for a walk, I walk up the tow path to the next lock and meet my husband there. (I mentioned a 4 mph speed limit, but in practice the boats usually do 3 mph - walking speed).

Ah, but my husband, Robin, has an ambition. He wants to do what is known as the London Loop, a route that involves several canals and also a stint on the River Thames. That trip is scheduled for a year or two down the road, so last year, he decided that instead of boating on the canal, we should check out the Thames - just to get a feel for the difference between canal and river sailing. "Sure", I said. It sounded like a good idea. We picked up our boat (the Lord of Caversham) in Reading, and we sailed to Oxford. There had been a lot of flooding recently, all over England, and there was quite a strong current on the Thames.

The day after we started, we met some people coming the other way. They said that the Thames had been closed to navigation for a couple of weeks and had only been re-opened the day before we set out (Umm...Why didn't anybody mention that when we went to pick the boat up?). A lot of boats had been stranded at Oxford for a week or more. Our informants advised us not to try to go beyond Oxford, because we might not be able to get turned around to come back to Reading. Fortunately, Oxford was our outer destination, so that was okay.

Fast forward. We'd visited Oxford (awesome, but not about water, really, except there are a lot of rowers and scullers, including one couple who were rowing their rowboat stern-first, which was absolutely fascinating) and we were sailing back to Reading.

We pulled over to the public mooring at Abingdon, and I jumped ashore, carrying the line. Instead of a bollard for tying up, there was an iron ring, through which I feebly attempted to thread the rope (I heard later that that's not really how it's done, but I didn't know at the time). I fumbled the attempt, and the rope started whipping back toward the river at an alarming speed. I didn't dare grab the rope at the ring, because I could lose some fingers that way. While I struggled to get hold of the squirming rope, it somehow jammed under the ring. Well, at least it had stopped whipping around. I was momentarily relieved. Then I heard Robin calling to me from the boat. I looked up. His eyes were very large. The boat was attached to the other end of the rope, you see, and the current was trying to carry the boat away while the very strong rope and the even stronger iron ring were thwarting its attempts, so to speak.

What Robin was saying was something like "The boat is going to capsize if you don't get that rope loose." Oh, hell. Now what?

Just then, a man appeared beside me. "Throw me a knife!" he yelled, and Robin obliged, raiding the galley. Within seconds, a prodigious butcher knife came whistling through the air and landed point-down in the grass. Our rescuer grabbed the knife, raised it, then smashed it down on the rope like Paul Bunyan felling a tree. He severed the line in one blow. It jumped into the air, then disappeared into the water. Then there was a whirring noise and a snap. The line had gone straight for the stern and got itself tangled in the propeller, which promptly ate it. That was just as well. It (really) shouldn't have been long enough to reach the prop. Robin rescued what remained of it, re-braided the end, and our little adventure was over. I don't remember getting back aboard. The only note I put in Turtle Afloat that night was this one, which concerned our having lost all ability to steer as we were being swept toward a weir. Somehow, I could only process one near-disaster per day, so I made light of the rope incident.

This morning, we sailed to Abingdon, where we had a mechanical breakdown just above the Abingdon Lock. The throttle cable broke, so we could not manouever. That was interesting. The lock keeper helped us get through the lock and tie up, and we waited for the mechanic to arrive from the Reading boatyard. He fixed us up, sent us on our way, and we pulled in at the public mooring in Abingdon, where I tried to sink us (not really, but I nearly did it anyway). We are now settled in for the night. Our plan is to get back to Reading, then go up the Kennet & Avon Canal for a couple of days - because we both like the canal Much Better.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First a poem, then An Evening in the Cultural Capital of Canada*

City Lights

by Sandra Leigh


Teeterers on the parapet watching
neon jitterbug pinwheels knowing
we could take the sparking sky but

knowing our knowing
as apparition we hovered
tiptoe arms akimbo

bleached and breathless cormorants above
a whirling brine the city
was ours then we clung to dizzy

hills inhaling hungrily
garlic steaming black bean
and cockroach soy and vice

at Dick Sum's tea house by
7 a.m. no later or else...
the bao would all be gone

the groans of crushed men squatted cursing
stinking in doorways sliding down
in sulfured fog behind

a rippled veil and horking
hand-rolled Drum we owned
the cable cars and their

alarming bells and arms
reaching out to grab
a passing rail and

fishermen shouting their silver
wares the black - clad man
who sharpened knives and scissors

door to door and yet
we didn't stay
for all our airs

we were strangers there.


To be filed under Things I Should Do More Often:

Last night, I went down to Nanaimo Centre Stage for a staged reading of Betty and Joe, a new play by Stephen Baetz. What a great way to spend the evening. Garry Davey, the director, sat onstage and read the set directions. The two actors (two whole actors, this time!) sat on straight-backed chairs and read the script. The playwright and his wife were in the audience, which was apparently a surprise to everyone else. They live in Ontario. I don't think they came all the way to B.C. just for the reading, but maybe they did.

So Matthew Walker as Joe, and Patricia Ludwick as Betty, read the script, and when it was over, Garry Davey asked the two dozen or so people in the audience to offer our opinions on the play itself and on his and the actors' interpretation of the script. We talked for half an hour or so, and then half the audience had to run. They all live on Gabriola Island, and the ferry was about to leave. Those of us who didn't have a ferry to catch stayed behind and dug a little deeper into the play. The actors came out and sat in the audience and took part in the critique. I came home feeling exhilarated.

I found out just the other day that Nanaimo has a monthly event that I should have been attending forever. It's called WordStorm. It is held in the basement of Acme Food Co., the restaurant where Jane and I had dinner before we went to see The Syringa Tree. I'll try to get there for the third Thursday in May, since I've obviously missed the April session. I really should get the local paper, so I'd know about these things before they are over.

Meanwhile, because I read the poster on the theatre wall tonight, I know that Nanaimo Centre Stage is presenting Agnes of God tomorrow through May 2. I am tempted to make this week an orgy of playgoing. The theatre season is coming to a close, so I may just do it.

*Honest, there's a banner downtown that proclaims that Nanaimo is the Cultural Capital of Canada. It's a little puzzling, because mostly we're known for (1) the annual bathtub race and (2) naked bungee jumping for charity. Of course, I'm finding out all sorts of things about Nanaimo lately. We apparently have a huge underground network of creative people. Who knew?

Some of us should get out more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Only in Canada, you say?

I must share this clip from the Rick Mercer Report - first of all, because it showcases Hazel McCallion, a municipal leader who should be giving Mayoring Lessons (and lessons in financial management - oh, and lessons in how to grow old with panache) to all the rest of us,

but also because it's a chance to show off Rick Mercer, who is just too cute not to be shared.

What a tremendous thing, to take pleasure in your life, to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of a day's work, to look forward to more work, more accomplishments - and to keep doing that until you're pushing 90 (at last count).

So - what is Mayor McCallion's secret? Why is it that most of us count the years, the months, the weeks, the days until we can stop working, put our feet up, and coast through old age into death? Why aren't more of us like Mayor McCallion? Any ideas?

Monday, April 27, 2009

I've Come Undone.

It started very early this morning. First I checked my e-mail. There was a piece of spam in there. At least, I assume it was spam. It was from someone whose name I didn't recognize. He indicated in the title that he was a man seeking male companionship. I couldn't help him there, so I dumped the letter without opening it. Then I started quickly reading blogs, because I had to be out the door by 6:30 a.m. I don't know which blog I was reading - Suburb Sanity, I think - but when I was finished, I went on to the next blog on the list, and it didn't even look familiar. A vague unease came over me. How did I get a strange blog on my list? Did I add it the other day? I know I added a couple, but I don't remember adding this one. It looks interesting, but I can't even tell who wrote it. Maybe it's that man who's seeking male companionship. Oh, dear. Spam in my blog. Whatever shall I do?

It took a good five minutes for me to realize that I wasn't proceeding through my own bloglist, but through Debbie's (?) instead. My bloglist hadn't changed at all.

That was my first clue. I was crazy as a bag of hammers. I didn't feel ill, and I wasn't grumpy. On the contrary, I was immensely cheerful. I felt like a Stepford Wife with a glitch in her housekeeping chip.

The spamfest wasn't the only clue.There were several more. Even the CBC seemed to be in on the joke. They played this song, which perfectly matched my mood. I was having trouble sitting still (of course, the music didn't help).

Early on, I decided that this would not be a good day for handling sharp objects or engaging in risky behaviours. I've made it through, almost to supper time, without doing myself (or anybody else) an injury, and the euphoria has worn off, so I'm feeling a little smug.

Nonetheless, I think I'll let my husband cook dinner.

(Oh, by the way, in case you are wondering, this was not a miracle of modern pharmaceuticals - just a strange day. Maybe it's the pollen. I did suggest that to someone - that some new pollen was in the air, and it went straight from the nostril to the brain stem. Zap.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Extra! Extra! Read all about it -

I'm sitting at my friend Jane's house. I brought my video camera up here. Jane took my picture twice. Then I tried to upload the photos to her computer, since I couldn't make it happen on mine. No dice. Finally, we got out her camera, did the photo shoot all over again, and - Voila!

First, here is a picture of me reading the end of Kim's The Unbreakable Child. So solemn.

Then - well, now, almost - here I am reading Kathryn's Tender Graces.

Still kind of solemn, no? I think that's just my Look of Concentration.

I feel very, very fortunate to have found this treasure trove of books and the wonderful people who write them.

Keep 'em coming, folks -
On Sunday, the river flows upstream.

When I sat down to write today's blog, the words "On Sunday, the river flows upstream" immediately came to mind. Maybe that's because I had just read the announcement of the upcoming Theme Thursday theme - Water. I don't know. In any event, the sentence made my head spin. By definition, (do correct me if I'm wrong) the term "upstream" refers to the direction opposite the direction in which the river is flowing. Therefore, my opening sentence is oxymoronic, no?

And yet, there it is.

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Lewis Carroll - Through the Looking Glass


I'm with the queen, in that I can and do believe impossible things sometimes. The other night, while I was watching Carmen Grant onstage in The Syringa Tree, I could believe - just for the moment - that Carmen was a six-year old white girl, her mother, her father, a pregnant black woman, a baby, a police official, a young revolutionary man, and more. All these characters taking their turns on the stage were really this one slight, redheaded woman, but because of her skill and that of the playwright, I was able to see an entire community in her, to enter into what Coleridge called the willing suspension of disbelief. What a gift.

I've been researching my NaNoWriMo book, trying to make sure that I have my facts straight - that whatever happens in my story happens at a time and in a place where it could, in fact, have happened.

(Anachronisms) OK, this is admittedly pretty obscure but it's still there: In the movie "Hang 'em High" our hero, Clint Eastwood, has 3 bad guys in a farm house surrounded (all by himself). So the head bag guy turns loose the farm dog on ol' Clint. The problem is that the movie takes place in the old west cica 1880 and the dog loosed on Clint is a German Shepherd, a breed that did not exist as we know it until the early 20th century. Shocking? Spoil the movie? No, just maybe the most obscure movie anachronism of all time. (TV) - vintagemxr
  • Info: The first German Shepherd Dog exhibited in America was in 1907. (Source:

The above is from a site called Whoops! Movie Goofs. See? People notice these things - and not just in movies - in books, too. That's embarrassing for the authors implicated, but worse - factual errors get in the way of the willing suspension of disbelief.

That's just scary. It's a wonder anybody ever writes anything at all.

Never mind. Back to work. Nobody said it would be easy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


This is Carmen Grant, the actress whose performance last night at Vancouver Island University's Malaspina Theatre was absolutely masterful. Ms. Grant was alone on stage for 110 minutes without an intermission, and in all that time there was not a sound from the audience - not a cough, not a rustle of papers. We were entranced.

The play, a presentation of Theatre One, was The Syringa Tree, a memoir of life in South Africa under apartheid. Ms. Grant played 24 different characters. The central character, Elizabeth (Lizzie) , is a six-year-old girl at the beginning of the play, a young mother at the end. Through Lizzie's eyes we see the lives of her family, neighbours, her nanny, Salamina - Salamina's family, even the local police. Ms. Grant changed characters by changing her voice and accent, her gestures, the way she held her body - and she did it at times in mid-sentence.

Not only were there no other actors onstage, there was a bare minimum of scenery. A rope and board swing hung from the ceiling at centre stage, and a large circle of light was projected on the curtains behind the stage. Sometimes the image of a syringa tree was projected there, and sometimes the circle looked like a huge, full moon. Apart from the circular mat on the floor, that was it.

The Syringa Tree was written by Pamela Gien, who played the parts herself in New York and London. In an interview for the United Nations Chronicle, Ms. Gien says

"It was in 1996, an early spring night, that the events of 1967 came flooding back to me. I was 10 years old then, growing up in South Africa.

And almost 30 years later, the incidents of a terrible night, so carefully tucked away for so long, were full blown in my mind, like an old ghost, stepping forward from the shadows, not to whisper but to shout and shout and shout. ...

The tragedy was the murder of my grandfather on his farm, Clova, five hours by car north of Johannesburg. At that young age, my response was to hide it away like a bad dream. Clova was lost to us forever, the idyllic playground of my childhood holidays, a simple but beloved place."

To read the entire interview, click here.

I went to see The Syringa Tree with expectations that weren't very high. The subject matter is something that I find so profoundly disturbing, I wasn't sure I could put aside my anger and sadness long enough to give the play a chance. As it turned out, The Syringa Tree - and Carmen Grant's performance - didn't give me a chance. I was swept away, along with everyone else in the theatre.

It has long been a bone in my craw that in Nanaimo, all a performer has to do is show up in order to merit a standing ovation. (Yes, I'm sure that's an exaggeration, but it's not all that far off the mark). For me, a performer basically has to walk on water before I'll get to my feet. I don't get to my feet often, but I did last night, with enthusiasm.

So, friends, take it from me. If The Syringa Tree comes to town, see it, please. You won't regret it.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I was thinking last night, while I was too zoned on allergy medicine to even consider typing anything, about what I should write about today. TGIF? Freaky Friday? What to do? What to do? Then I woke up at 4:30 and discovered that I had sixteen comments on yesterday's Theme Thursday blog, and I was so flabbergasted that I didn't write anything except a couple of answers to comments. Then I went off to visit as many as I could of the people who had visited me. That was fun. So - here I am, back at home, with barely anything left of Friday. In a few minutes, I'll be going out again - this time to have dinner and see a play with a friend (I'll tell you all about it tomorrow).

Meanwhile, I did decide that TGIF was a good idea. I'm interpreting TGIF a little differently from the usual usage - particularly because it isn't actually my Friday. What I would like to do is mention some people and things for which I feel grateful today.

First of all, I feel grateful to the friends I'm making here in the Land of Blog. I know that it's an odd, very long arm's length relationship that bloggers have, but I value it.

I look forward to hearing John Hayes's opinion of what I write, and I respect that opinion. I love going to his blog, Robert Frost's Banjo, and reading his stories, listening to the music he and Eberle make.

Meeting Kathryn Magendie here has given me such a source of joy - reading her Tender Graces blog makes me grin every day. LOL - I just went over there to snag the URL, and I saw that Kathryn had been blogging about how fortunate she is to be able to meet fellow bloggers in person. There must be something in the air.

On that note, I'll cut short my own litany of thanks (just for now) and make the following announcement: My copy of The Unbreakable Child arrived a couple of days ago (I'm halfway through, and loving it), and Tender Graces (signed, no less) arrived today. Woo-hoo! I am fortunate indeed.

Since my camera/computer interface still seems to be on strike, I've asked my friend Jane, with whom I'm going out, to take my picture reading both The Unbreakable Child and Tender Graces. She'll upload the photos to her computer and e-mail them to me, and as soon as I get them, I'll post them.

I now have about ten minutes to get beautiful before I have to leave. Until tomorrow, then...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Theme Thursday

...and it's all about fire. When I was a young mother, camping in the wilderness with my three-year old daughter, it was all about the morning campfire. There weren't just the two of us out there. We were part of a group of five people camping in southern Ontario, near Pencil Lake. I see that there is now an official trail there, with myriad trail activities to choose from. As I recall, when we camped there in the early 1970s, we just pulled off the highway and up a dirt road, then set up camp on the nearest level bit of ground. We moved a couple of times, once because we discovered we were camped on the path used by the local moose population to get down to the stream for a drink.

Every morning, I would get up at dawn and crawl out of my dewy tent. Within minutes, I would be joined by the other woman of the group, and together we would start the morning fire. We would crumple newspaper for the first layer of the firebed, then add kindling that we had kept covered to protect it from the dew. We would light the fire with our cigarette lighters and carefully nurse it along, adding larger and larger pieces of wood until it was burning in earnest. Then it was time for the coffee. Billy coffee. We would fill one of our blackened saucepans with fresh water from the nearby stream (we always camped near a stream) and bring it to a boil on the really blackened metal fire grate we carried with us. When the water was bubbling, we would toss in a handful of ground coffee, give it a stir, and set it aside to steep. To this day, there is no smell that brings back such vivid memories - most of them good - as the smell of billy coffee brewing over a wood fire.

There was one morning that truly stands out in my memory. When I crawled out of my tent, I left my little girl in there, sleeping. I left the zipper open so that when she woke up, she could come out on her own. I could see the door from where I sat by the fire, drinking my coffee. My friend was sitting on the other side of the fire. We didn't talk much, because it was really early, but we were enjoying the dawn, the fire, the coffee, the quiet companionship. That was why the two of us got up so early - to have a few minutes of silence before starting the business of breakfast, child care, hiking, cutting wood, playing cards - all the stuff that makes camping fun, but exhausting. I suspect that most women in that situation do the same.

Then I saw it. A skunk. It had wandered into the campsite in spite of the fire. I realized later that that alone ought to have thrown me into a panic. The fire should have scared the skunk away, and it didn't,
and that might have been a very bad sign. However, all I could think at the time was that I shouldn't startle the skunk, lest it spray. I whispered to my friend, to warn her. She turned slowly and looked over her shoulder, careful not to make any noise. As we sat there, holding our breath, we saw the skunk walk right into the tent where my little girl was sleeping.

Well, now we absolutely couldn't do anything to startle the skunk, and I remember thinking don't wake up now don't wake up now please don't wake up now.
She didn't. My wonderful little girl slept through the whole thing. After a minute or so, its curiosity satisfied, the skunk walked back out of the tent and skulked off into the woods, leaving behind only a faint, skunky smell that disappeared in the more pungent smell of wood smoke and coffee.

I tiptoed over to the tent and peeked in at my daughter. She was sleeping soundly, completely oblivious of all the excitement. I walked back to the fire, sat down, drank my billy coffee, and breathed a sigh of relief. All in a day's camping.

I was going to post a song about a fellow who had lots of adventures when he went camping - Waltzing Matilda, sung by Rolf Harris. When the time came, though, I couldn't resist the obvious choice of theme music, so here it is:

Happy Theme Thursday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning tomorrow, so I'm going to schedule this post and go to bed early. I have only two things to say:

1. Joshilyn Jackson's gods in Alabama is hilarious. My favourite line (at least so far) is "I'm a credit to my race." If you haven't read the book, you must - if only to find out what that line is all about, right?

2. While I'm giggling my way through gods (somewhat uneasily, because it's not all giggles), The Unbreakable Child is sitting here, waiting patiently.

I am the happy possessor of an embarrassment of riches.

Wednesday afternoon - Wait - I do have more to say. First of all Happy Earth Day, everybody.

Second - How can I have forgotten to say that the dogwoods are in bloom? We have some high winds happening, and they are ripping the blossoms off the ornamental plums and cherries - but the brave and stalwart dogwood blossoms are taking their place. The blossoms are still deep yellow-green. Now I get to watch them gradually lighten to that wonderful, luminous pale-green-almost-white that takes my breath away. When I die, I want my ashes scattered under a dogwood tree.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Five hundred years

Five hundred years ago today, (April 21, 1509) Henry VIII acceded to the throne of England. He was seventeen years old. His coronation was held on June 23, 1509 at Westminster Abbey. By then, he had been married to Katharine of Aragon, the young widow of his brother Arthur, for nearly two weeks.

The couple had been betrothed for several years. Their wedding was originally to take place June 28, 1505, Henry's fifteenth birthday, but squabbles over Katharine's dowry, as well as the legal impediment created by her former marriage to Henry's brother, delayed the wedding until Henry's father, Henry VII, died suddenly in 1509. On his father's death, Henry immediately announced his plan to marry Katharine and make her Queen of England.

Henry had been kept in seclusion for years, due to concerns for his health. English says "After years of being shut away from the world, he was now king. All of the boundless energy and enthusiasm of his character was unleashed." For her part, Katharine had spent seven years in England after the death of her first husband, while she awaited a resolution of the dispute between the rulers of England and Spain. During those years, she was poor. She lacked money for clothing or adequate food. I would speculate that her wedding to Henry VIII was a very jolly occasion, indeed.

It appears that in the beginning, the marriage was a happy one. Just few years later, a Venetian diplomat described Henry as follows:

His Majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman, his throat being rather long and thick.... He will enter his twenty-fifth year the month after next. He speaks French, English and Latin, and a little Italian, plays well on the lute and harpsichord, sings from book at sight, draws the bow with greater strength than any man in England and jousts marvelously.... a most accomplished Prince. the Venetian diplomat Pasqualigo in a dispatch, 1515 quoted here. (Ref: Wikipedia)

Accomplished, yes - but I was surprised to read that Henry was not as accomplished as I had always thought, at least in one respect. According to Alison Weir, as referenced in Wikipedia, Henry did not compose Greensleeves. For me, that was like learning that there is no Santa Claus.

However, Henry did compose songs and write poetry. Here is an example, titled "Though Some Sayeth Youth Ruled Me". I found the verse at this site , and I offer it as my personal choice for Poem of the Day:

Portrait of King Henry VIII

"Though some saith youth ruled me"
By Henry VIII


Though sum saith that yough rulyth me
I trust i~ age to tarry
god and my ryght & my dewtye
frome them shall I neuer vary
thow sum say yt yough rulith me[!]

Thowgh su~ say þt youth rulyth me
I trust in age for to tarry
god & my ryght and my dewte
from the~ shall || neuer vary[!]
thow su~ say yt youth rulith me.

I pray you all that aged be,
how well dyd ye yor yough carry[?]
I thynk su~ wars of yeh degre.
Ther in a wager lay dar I,
though su~ sayth &c.

Though su~ sayth yt yough rulyth me
I trust i~ age for to tarry,
god & my ryght & my dewte
frome them shall I neuer vary
thow su~ sayth yt yough rulyth me.

Pastymes of yough su~ tyme a mong
none can sey but necessary
I hurt no man I do no wrong
I loue trew when I dyd mary
Though su~ sayth . vt . svpra.

Pastymes of yough su~ tyme a monge
none can say but necessary
I hurt no man I do no wrong
I loue trew wher I dyd mary
Thow su~ saith . vt . svpra.

Then sone dyscusse that hens we must
pray we to god and seynt mary.
That all amend & here an end.
Thus sayth the kyng the . VIIIth . harry [:]
though su~.

I hurt no man I do no wronge
I loue trewly wher I dyd mary.
Thow su~ [&c.].

Wülker, Richard Paul. Anglia. Vol XII.
Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1889. 246-7.


Though some saith that youth ruleth me,
I trust in age to tarry.
God and my right and my duty,
From them I shall never vary,
Though some say that youth ruleth me!

I pray you all that aged be,
How well did ye your youth carry?
I think some worse, of each degree:
Therein a wager lay dare I,
Though some saith that youth ruleth me.

Pastimes of youth sometime among,
None can say but necessary.
I hurt no man, I do no wrong,
I love true where I did marry,
Though some saith that youth ruleth me.

Then soon discuss that hence we must:
Pray we to God and Saint Mary,
That all amend, and here an end,
Thus saith the king, the eighth Harry,
Though some saith that youth ruleth me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Risk Exercise And (Not Or) How I Spent My Sunday Afternoon

Yesterday's assignment at NaPoWriMo was to write a poem about friendship, preferably one with concrete images and no sentimentality.


Come sit with me, my friend.
We'll have a cup of tea,
green for you

and red for me,
and you can tell me all
about the days of your life.

I thought of you this morning
when I drove up Albert Street
and saw graffiti scrawled

on the yellow concrete wall
above the woods
where homeless people sleep.

Peace be with you, I read,
then farther down the hill,

I couldn't tell.
Was Electro-Girl the author
of this fine sentiment,

or was she
the one addressed,
the one blessed?

Do you remember
when we found a poem
scribbled on a napkin,

stuffed inside a book
we had both read?
We laughed and laughed;

we couldn't remember
which of us had written it,
but we knew it was ours.


So. After my morning poetry exercise, I went downtown to the library for a reading by Kim Goldberg, a local poet who works with both words and images (photographs and drawings), often using found objects and recycled materials as an integral part of her poems. I bought a signed copy of her book Ride Backwards on Dragon, and I brought home a few freebies that she calls piglets - poems packaged individually, meant to be "seeded" - left at bus shelters or on park benches for people to find. Such a cool thing to do - the seeding of poems, I mean, not the scoring of piglets - though that felt pretty cool, too.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Today's Poem-A-Day is simply too big and unwieldy to fit into the sidebar, so I'm placing it here, instead.


User's Guide to Physical Debilitation

by Paul Guest

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring détente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.


And there it sat, the transcribed poem, html duly adjusted, waiting for me to recover from reading it. This was one of those moments when I am struck anew by the power of poetry.

(And now for something completely different)

Yesterday I visited NaPoWriMo (Read Write Poem) and posted my flash poem* from the day before. It was based on the prompt "abide".



In the moments between

when we cannot feel the
warmth of your hand in mine, the
brush of skin on skin and

we are open to the world alone
unsafe exposed I know
that somewhere you are thinking

of me
knowing that I am
treasuring the memory

of you and we
abide in our love as in a
warm home in winter.

I like this exercise - look at the prompt; write the poem. *I know I'm using the term flash poem incorrectly - but I can't think what else to call it when you grab a prompt and quickly write a poem before you think too much about it and get wound up in your own head and never write anything at all.

But when I looked at the next prompt (it's over on the right at NaPoWriMo), it was wrangle. Wrangle? You can't be serious. No way am I trying to write a poem about wrangle. So I refreshed the page to get a new word. The new word was stink. I gave up. I was obviously destined to write a poem about something dreadful. I decided to use both words, and this is what I came up with:


He Rides the Rodeo

You wrangle helpless steers in the dust
of that ugly corral you love so much
and when you come to me swaggering
staggering drunk with pride
I recoil from abattoir stink
The smell of money you say
but it's not, I think
It's the smell of death
and the stench of hubris
rubbed with blood and sweat
until it shines and I see
myself reflected there
shimmering, like oiled water
breaking, disappearing.

It was only afterwards that I remembered there's more than one way to use wrangle. Never mind. It was very cathartic. ;>)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring has sprung. We've got babies!

As I type this, I can hear the chirping of birds in the background, and I'm a little annoyed that I can't both type and watch the webcam. The first camera is located near Sidney, B.C. I can see that there are at least two, maybe three newly-hatched chicks in the nest.

Several of my friends have been glued to their laptops for days, watching for the eggs to hatch. Now that the chicks are moving around and eating, it's hard to stop watching them. I love the creaky door call that the parents make.

There are also cameras on Hornby Island, which is northeast of us. It looks as if the process is slightly delayed there.

The cameras are maintained by the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, whose website is here.

If either of these screens is black when you come to visit, that will be because it's dark out here - and it's really dark where the nests are. If you come back during the day, you'll have a great view.

So - we had nothing else to do this weekend, right? I hope you enjoy hanging out at the nursery.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Good news in the mailbox

There's a notice in my e-mail box. It tells me that The Unbreakable Child is on its way - still in Mississauga, Ontario, but moving. The expected date of delivery is April 21. Hooray!
Okay. The local library tells me that Joshilyn Jackson's Gods in Alabama is ready for me to pick up. That means I should get to the library today and read Gods before Kim's book arrives.

Meanwhile, I've been making discoveries. I've heard about Theme Thursday, and I finally decided to google it. There was a Theme Thursday that required me to make some sort of paper artwork every Thursday and post it. You really didn't want me to join that group. Trust me.

Then I found the Theme Thursday blog that I was looking for. This week's theme was EARTH. I'm too late to take part this week, but I'll remember it next Thursday.

Somehow, I went from there to Read Write Poem, a hangout for poets and lovers of poetry. The members are trying to write a poem a day during National Poetry Month. It sounds good to me. They provide a daily prompt. That could be fun. Write a poem about beauty, water, pickles.....

Pickle Belt

The fruit rolled by all day.
They prayed the cogs would creep;
They thought about Saturday pay,
And Sunday sleep.

Whatever he smelled was good:
The fruit and flesh smells mixed.
There beside him she stood,--
And he, perplexed;

He, in his shrunken britches,
Eyes rimmed with pickle dust,
Prickling with all the itches
Of sixteen-year-old lust.

Theodore Roethke

courtesy of

And though it seems as if I spent my whole evening playing in cyberspace, I want it known that I did work on a short story. I can tell, already, that writing 1,500+ words a day for NaNoWriMo is going to be a major challenge. I spend a lot of time staring at the screen, and a lot more time changing what I've already written. I think I need to visit Write or Die again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Things I learn on the interwebs

I visited Erica Orloff's blog this morning. She was discussing plot in terms of a protein spiral. Various people joined the discussion, and the analogy veered from molecular biology to math. It all worked. It reminded me of my children's grandmother, who is a great storyteller. She (along with her whole family, it seems) has a knack for telling stories that start out looking straightforward, then veer off into territory that seems to be completely unrelated (rinse, repeat) until eventually, she says the magic words - "Well, anyway..." whereupon she comes back to where she started and wraps the story up, neat as a pin. All those side trips she took along the way suddenly take their rightful place in the narrative. It's amazing. Her stories are family sagas, not fiction, but somehow the spiral analogy still works.

Furthermore, the spiral narrative works better than a linear plot does. The seemingly tangential quality of the narrative lends a tension that simply doesn't exist in a storyline that looks like a Saskatchewan highway. By the way, in case you've never been to Saskatchewan, I should tell you that I discovered it was the only place in the world where I could read a book while sitting in the passenger seat of a car doing 100 kilometers an hour down the highway. That's because the road was so straight, I could look right down it to the horizon. There wasn't even a bump here and there to cause my inner ear any distress. That's great, if I want to catch up on my reading - but it's boring. Dead boring. Even when I told myself that I really should be looking out the window, because this was new territory and if I wanted to read, I could sit at home and read, I kept drifting back to my book, because looking out the window made me either sleepy or snarly - It was boring outside.

Okay, I should apologize to any prairie folk that may happen upon this post. I know you love your scenery. I know a lady from Saskatchewan who was looking for a house to buy, here on Vancouver Island. People kept showing her houses with views of the ocean. "What would I want with a view of the ocean?" she asked. "Fields of grass, yes. Water? What's the point of that?" Jaws dropped. She shrugged. Also, I know that Saskatchewan does have some scenic areas. I've seen pictures of them. I just haven't seen them in person. My entire Saskatchewan experience consisted of that dead straight highway - oh, and locusts. I won't even go there. Really.

If I'm going to enjoy a road, it will be a road like the ones we have here on the island, or better still, the English "B" roads. Have you ever driven (or, preferably, been driven) on those squeezy tiny squiggly country roads that meander through the English countryside? They're good for getting your heart rate up, because often they are too narrow for two vehicles to pass, but they are also very beautiful. I recall being on a road somewhere in Dorset, coming over the top of a hill, and having to stop to let 18 or 20 piglets cross the road. While I waited, I gazed into the sunlit field,where little quonset huts were scattered about. It turned out that each sow had her own hut, in which she reared her young. I was looking at a pigburb. I was not even tempted to read.

Sometimes, the road moves along below the level of the ground on either side, and there are hedgerows planted to break the wind and to provide a habitat for foxes and rabbits and hedgehogs and any number of small creatures. In that case, you can't see past the hedgerows, so the countryside beyond is a mystery until you come to the top of a hill and you see what looks like the whole county spread out in front of you.

This is what G.K. Chesterton thought of the "B" roads:

The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

-- G.K. Chesterton

Has anyone ever written a poem about a dead straight highway? Would we want to read it?

Good fiction, like life, doesn't travel in a straight line from birth to death, from beginning to end; it takes some truly fascinating side trips along the way. I hope that when my novel writing starts in earnest, I will remember this lesson from Erica Orloff and not be afraid to follow my characters on some of the side trips that make them interesting - and real.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Living your dreams...

I visited Margaret and Helen's blog yesterday. The newest post was written by Helen's grandson, who wanted to say that his grandmother has been a bit under the weather, but that she hopes to be back soon. I hope so, too. I love her posts. She says all the things I would say if I weren't such a wuss.

Somebody had sent Helen a YouTube video to cheer her up. I watched it, and I just had to bring it back to share with you. It's right here. It's also over at Margaret and Helen's blog. If you haven't visited there, you're missing something wonderful. Helen is my idol.

I also visited Robert Frost's Banjo, which was another treat - two treats, as there were two posts in one day. John posted the April installment in Eberle’s Weiser River Pillow Book series, as well as links to the previous installments. Whenever I read this series, I feel as if I've fallen into it, like a child falling into a pile of autumn leaves. I am enthralled.

John also posted a photo taken after he performed at a seniors' centre. Peeking out from behind his guitar was Buffy the Buffalo, who accompanies John to all his performances. Poetikat commented on Buffy, and said that she, too, has a - what? a totem? - a long-horned highland "coo" named Hennessy. The exchange reminded me of Steinbeck, my one-time Literary Mentor and Transitional Object. Steinbeck was a black and white, cuddly toy rabbit. Unfortunately, there came a time when I wasn't writing anything, and obviously wasn't ever going to write anything again, and in a fit of depression I decided that Steinbeck should go to cheer up some child somewhere, so I gave him away. Very silly of me. I want him back.

I have one very fond memory of Steinbeck. A friend of mine brought her five-year-old son over to visit, and she introduced him to Steinbeck. Being five, her son didn't quite catch the name, but he thought he did. From then on, when he wanted to come over to my place, he would ask "Can we go visit Spandex?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More goodies in the mail

Last night, it looked as if we were in for a Big Storm - but today, the sun is shining. The forsythia is blooming outside my front window. Flowering plums are flowering all over town. Yesterday I saw clematis blooming on one house, Rose of Sharon in front of another. Even the cherries are starting to flower, but just the ornamental ones. My next-door-neighbour's (real) cherry tree still looks a little hesitant. The dogwoods are slightly puffy at the ends of the branches. All this, and still there are daffodils and hyacinths everywhere. I remember now. There was a reason why I moved to B.C. Even in the good old days - back when we didn't have these long, cold winters, spring was startlingly beautiful. Now that we're turning into Ontario West, we appreciate the spring even more.

I went to the dentist this morning, for my regular checkup, and I told him the story of Gilda (pronounced Hilda) the Singing Dentist in Puerto Vallarta. (See my January 29 post.) I suggested that if he ever wanted to spice up his practice, he could start singing to his patients - that might be just the ticket. He grimaced and said that it would probably drive away all his clients, so - no, thanks. Too bad. I was picturing an International Society of Singing Dentists.

On the way home, I went around Jinglepot Road and down East Wellington Road, which is the scenic route, so that I could stop for honey at Jinglepot Apiaries, then at the farm where I buy eggs. I knew I had been out of town too long when I drove right by the apiary without recognizing it. It wasn't until I was whizzing by the road where the 'egg farm' is that I realized my mistake. I turned around and went back up East Welllington Road. I found the apiary - and found out why I had missed it the first time. The owners had torn down their old house while I was gone. They are now living in the brand-new house they've built next door. I found the experience very unsettling. Just think of it. I go away for three or four months, and my town changes. The world just keeps on turning. Hmmmph.

Not only that, but the farm had sold out of eggs, but come to think of it, that gives me an excuse to drive out to the country again, maybe tomorrow.

There was a pleasant surprise when I got home. I was just unpacking my purse when there was a knock at the door. A young man handed me a box, a gift from a friend in Victoria. It turned out to be an Alice in Wonderland mug - a Cheshire Cat mug, really. There's a picture of Alice, the words "Well, I've often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing!" and a picture of the Cheshire Cat. When you put hot tea into the mug, the cat disappears, little by little, until only his grin is left. As you drink (or as your tea goes cold, I suppose), the cat reappears. I don't know what possessed my friend, or what I've done to deserve this mug, but I love it. I had the kettle on before I'd finished unwrapping the mug.

I could get used to this - having the postie bring me nice things, things that not only aren't bills, but are fun in their own right. Last week it was the envelope of special things from Kathryn; now there's the mug; and within the next couple of weeks, I hope I'll be receiving both Kathryn's book and Kim's.

That gives me an idea. I've got some collecting to do.

Oh! Um, I mean P.S. - I can't believe I nearly forgot to mention this. Any House fans reading this? I found out why Kuttner killed himself! It turns out that Kal Penn, the actor who played Kuttner, is going to work for the White House. I feel so much better.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter at la casa de sandra

A fine time was had by all. We met the grandchildren and their parents at the community swimming pool this morning, so that we could watch and admire the children's swimming prowess. Granddaughter (Jujube*) is nearly three, and she is a fearless mermaid. Grandson (Jumping Jack*) is just a year old, but he loves splashing in the water and floating on his back (with daddy's hands supporting him). As soon as he is laid on his back in the water, he begins to laugh. It's quite fetching.

After the swim, we all came back home, but I stopped along the way to fuel my car. When I got home, there was tension in the air. It turned out that the children had spotted their Easter baskets, but they weren't allowed to raid them until I got home. I got the baskets down (They contained a book for each child, some Fruit-to-Go, and Babybel cheeses**) and I laughed when Jujube's eyes grew round and she said "What is this?" "That's Easter grass." "Oooooh. Easter grass." It was purple. Maybe that was the fascination. Both children had a great time showering themselves with slippery purple grass for a few minutes. Then they started in on the fruit leather and cheese while I read to them from their new books.

Meanwhile, most of the grownups were gathered around a laptop in the living room, looking at holiday photos. We finally managed to get everybody dressed and ready to go, and we went out for a very good Chinese lunch. I think there was as much food on the floor as in the baby's mouth, but our waitress was very understanding. We tried to clean up, but she shooed us away.

While all this was happening, the dozen white (!) eggs I had cooked earlier were cooling. When we got home after lunch, we had a fine time making crayon patterns on the eggs, then dyeing them with red, yellow, blue, and green food colouring. Jujube had never worked with dyes before. She had fun dipping the eggs, but she had more fun moving the dye from one cup to another, teaspoon by teaspoon, to see what new colours she could create. The yellow dye was an early casualty. It quickly became a second shade of green. We finished before she managed to turn all the dyes brown. Then we put some of the eggs into the children's baskets. I kept some, though, so that we can take pink and blue and green eggs in our lunch for the next couple of days.

Everybody went home early in the evening, and I settled in to watch Little Dorrit Part 3. What a fine series Little Dorrit is. If you haven't seen it, and you get a chance to see the whole series, I highly recommend it. I heard about the series over at The Egalitarian Bookworm (Chick). I love the internet. (Come to think of it, I've probably raved about the Little Dorrit before.)

So. That was fun. I hope that all of you had as happy an Easter as I had.

*n.b. This is a true story. The names have been changed, to protect the innocent. ;>)

** It should be noted that I am not a cruel grandmother. I figured the children would be getting their share of candy elsewhere, and I happened to know that they really, really like cheese and Fruit-to-Go. And Babybel is sort of egg-shaped, right? Sort of.

One more thing: Once again, today's Poem-a-Day is full of visuals that just won't fit into the sidebar, so for the real thing, please click here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter, everyone. I'll be spending the day with my grandbabies, dyeing eggs, cleaning up Play-Dough, and reading bunny books. I hope you're having a great time, too!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place

Today, CBC2 radio played Brahms's German Requiem in its entirety. It was enchanting. The requiem curves upward, then down again, like a beautiful arch, like a rainbow. It builds and builds to its centrepiece, the fabulous How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place, then curves again, gently, to its conclusion. As I listened, I was struck by the beauty of the requiem, of course, but also by the fact that it transcends its traditional religious setting.

How to explain? As an atheist, I can appreciate the numinous quality of the music and share in the emotions expressed in it, even in the ecstatic release of the central movement. I'm not even sure that the words matter in this outpouring of emotion. I know that the movement is about heaven, and about the soul's longing for unity with God, but for me it is also about hope, and the meaning is carried in the music itself.

Another example of choral music in which the notes themselves, and their harmony, and the flow of the music on the breath of the singers, are so intense and so perfectly in balance, that you don't need to understand the words to be transported - is the Allegri Miserere:

It may seem like a strange leap, but after I listened to the Brahms, I was left thinking about Paul Simon's "Everybody Loves the Sound of a Train in the Distance (Everybody Thinks It's True)". I checked YouTube for a sample of that song, but it's not there (I thought everything was on YouTube!) So I found an indirect link (through Paul Simon's website to i-tunes. The last stanza,

What is the point of this story

What information pertains

The thought that life could be better

Is woven indelibly

Into our hearts

And our brains

is, for me, what connects the song to Brahms, to Allegri, to the seemingly endless human capacity for hope and its expression in music.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Little Bit of Literary History

On April 10, 1906, The Gift of the Magi was published. It was part of O. Henry's second collection of short stories, The Four Million. I remember reading the story when I was in school. It is unabashedly sentimental, but I like it anyway. It is available on Project Gutenberg.

Do you remember? It's Christmas Eve. A young wife, struggling to make ends meet, is determined to buy her husband the perfect Christmas gift, but all she has been able to save is $1.87. Desperate, she sells her beautiful knee-length hair and buys her husband a watch chain for the gold watch that is his most precious possession. When her husband comes home, he is shocked to see that she has cut her hair, because he has bought her a set of combs that she admired. When his wife gives him his gift, though, his shock gives way to resignation. He has no use for the watch chain, because he has sold his watch to buy the combs. He suggests that they put away their gifts for a while and go on with their lives.

O. Henry concludes:

"... I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi."

O. Henry, (1862-1910)
whose real name was William Sydney Porter, led a tumultuous life. He was an alcoholic and he had financial problems throughout his life. He fled to Honduras in 1896 to avoid prosecution for embezzlement, but returned when he learned that his wife was dying. In Honduras, he wrote Cabbages and Kings, in which he originated the term "banana republic". Between 1903 and 1906, back in the U.S. and out of prison after serving three years, he wrote a weekly story for the New York World.

Altogether, O. Henry wrote more than 600 short stories.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Breaking Buckeye news

Guess what? I had to go see the doctor this morning. On my way home, I wondered whether the postie might have brought my copy of Tender Graces. No. Oh, well. But what is this? A Kraft envelope - from North Carolina! It's a bag of goodies from Kat Magendie!

I opened the Kraft envelope and the smaller envelope inside. There was a lovely card with an inspirational saying for writers ("The hardest part of writing is knowing when you're through") and a collection of tiny gifts from Kat's mountain, including pictures. Very cool.

One of the tiny gifts is doubly wonderful, because it comes from the Trail of Tears. It reminds me of (another) one of my favourite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote about the Trail of Tears in
The Bean Trees.

Thank you, Kat. It amazes me that you found time to put my gift together and send it off, in the midst of the complicated life you've been leading of late.

And to quote that same Kat, *Muwah*
You're never too old to learn something new.

Some people have a natural talent for carpentry. I'm not one of them. I went to the hands-on group activity day (that's its official name) at the community garden. So now I know what a mason bee house is. It's a house for mason bees (duh!), and mason bees are little blue-black coloured bees that look almost like flies. They don't sting, and they're little pollinating fiends, it seems.

I also know that I'm pretty hopeless at drilling 7/16"holes in 4x4s and nailing shingle roofs onto them. I managed somehow, but my creation is not a thing of beauty. All I can hope is that the mason bee larvae that I brought home in a little paper tube aren't the picky type. It turned out that I'm much better at making the little paper tubes. That involves taking a small sheet of stationery and rolling it around a dowel (3/8", I think, or maybe 5/16" - I must ask about that), securing it with a bit of Scotch tape, and flattening one end to close it.
Having done that, you push the tube, flattened end first, into one of the holes you've inexpertly driven into the 4x4. Repeat until all the holes have tubes in them, except the one hole that you inadvertently drove a nail into when you were putting the roof on. That hole, you plug with a twig that you found on the ground after a good bit of searching for a twig that's just under 7/16" in diameter. You don't want wasps or whatever taking up residence in the vacant apartment.

By the way, the photo of a mason bee house that I've posted looks nothing like the one that I made. Actually, I went hunting online for photos to use for my demonstration, and I found lots of them - some were advertised as Art Deco. One looked like a very large fig. Most of them were rather pretty. Mine looks like a kindergarten art project.

The idea behind the paper tubes is that you can leave them there through the whole growing season and over the winter. Then, in the Spring, you can take out the paper tubes, which will be full of larvae, and put them into a nearby shoebox (or something similar), with one hole drilled in it. As the new bees hatch, they will leave the shoebox, go out into the world, then return and take up residence in the nice clean new tubes you've inserted in your mason bee house. It saves having to clean out the holes. The paper is like a little Swiffer sweeper. They're messy little things, those bees.

Mason bees are used to pollinate fruit trees. One of my next-door neighbours has a peach tree, and the other has a cherry tree, so there should be plenty to keep my bees busy.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A page of miscellany

Have you seen today's poem at Poem-A-Day? I've put it over in the sidebar, and I just love it. I especially like the garden metaphor, because I'm in garden mode.

Today, our community garden is having a group activity day. This one is about making mason bee houses, whatever they are. I guess I'll find out in a couple of hours. There's a vegetarian potluck lunch. Hmmm. Time to think of something to take. Maybe a cous-cous salad. My mouth is watering, so I guess that's what it will be!


I wandered over to one of my other blogs, Turtle Afloat, this morning (I can't remember why) and was shocked to find that several people had left comments. I have no idea how long the comments have been sitting there, neglected. So I answered a couple of them, and now I'm filled with guilt. When I get home from England, I put away Turtle Afloat and go on my way. Somehow it has never occurred to me that other people are still clicking there. Shame on me.


When I posted, a few days ago, that I put cardamom in my coffee "to take away the anger", Reya thought that I meant my anger, but I actually meant the coffee's anger. I promised I would explain, so here goes. Here in Canada we have a charming chef named Michael Smith. He has several shows - Chef at Home, Chef at Large, and just recently a new one called Chef Abroad. I watched what was apparently the fifth episode of Chef Abroad. Michael was out in the middle of the
desert in Jordan, the guest of a prince, if I remember correctly. They joined a group of Bedouins, who brewed coffee for them. They had an enormous mortar and pestle in which they ground the coffee, and they added cardamom - as they told Michael - to take away the anger. Michael's comment was that he would never again make a cup of coffee without putting cardamom in it.

When I saw the show, I remembered that many years ago, I used to put cardamom in my coffee, and I had forgotten about it. I went right out and got me some cardamom. The spice just takes the edge off (the anger, I think), and it gives the coffee a dreamy fragrance.

At first, I was putting two or three pods of green cardamom into my grinder with two small handfuls of coffee (I use half decaf, half dark roast) - but I've since found out that one pod is plenty. This quantity is right for my French press, which makes two mugs of coffee. I've posted a link to show you which cardamom I'm talking about - but I get mine at the superstore. I imagine any cardamom would work, but the green ones are just the right (coffee-bean) size,which appeals to me.

Be warned, though. My husband can't stand it. Everybody else to whom I've served it says it's fabulous. You can't please all the people all the time.

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