Monday, December 31, 2007

A New Year's Toast to All!

Well here we are ... the night of the big Countdown, and there's no Keith Olbermann to help us through it! I hope he's having a great time, wherever he is ....

And here's a big virtual champagne fountain for all of you (you know who you are!) who grace the pages of this humble blog!

It's a quiet, cold and as usual, snowy night here at Casa IVG, as we count down not only to the New Year, but also the infamous Iowa Caucuses in a mere three days! Look for a couple of posts on that subject soon, and I'll be sure to post Caucus night experiences on Thursday, so stop back.

Hope everyone has a delightful evening! We're about to start our noshing here and will be firing up the movies a bit later (see previous post for details on those).

So ... have at the champagne ... it won't give you a hangover and the best thing about this stuff is, it never runs out!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ornament Blogging: Sparkling Starflake

Well here we are, at year's end once again ... the hectic pre-Christmas frenzy has given way to the exhausted, quiet times before New Year's, when we start it all over again. It was a peaceful holiday for us mostly, after the trauma of the furnace failure, it was downright joyous to actually have reliable heat ... so all in all, I guess we did pretty well!

This ornament, my most recently received, was a gift from Fernymoss' great aunt, who always finds us unique little treasures each year, and this year was no exception! I love how this one catches the light (unfortunately we had to do these with flash to get the focus) and positively sparkles among the other ornaments we have on this pine garland swag we have in the dining room ... it's a very welcome addition to our ever growing collection of heirloom ornaments.

We both got each other a variety of fun and practical gifts that will keep us both warm and well entertained for the early part of the New Year. I'm now the proud owner of an eight disc boxed set of The Woody Allen Collection, as well as John Waters' one man show This Filthy World, both of which are sheer delights for afficionados of two of my favourite cinematic heroes. Fernymoss also raked in the DVDs as well, including Day Watch, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and This Is Spinal Tap. As you can see, we have plenty of prime viewing ahead for the post-caucus cold season ... and we won't have to leave the house! (Though we've already sampled several ... Harry Potter was quite entertaining, This Filthy World was hilarious, as was our old favourite This Is Spinal Tap). Oh yeah, we also got the usual underwear, socks and sweaters, much needed items I never sneeze at!

But, a really big standout for me came a couple of days later ... my hero of the airwaves Keith Olbermann's newest book, Truth and Consequences: Special Comments on the Bush Administration's War on American Values. For those of you who may still be unacquainted with this plain spoken MSNBC newsman (in the best, most classic sense of the term ... think Murrow!), this looks to be an excellent introduction to his wildly popular (well, except among certain circles, hehe) series of "Special Comments" he broadcasts periodically as circumstances demand. I've just read a little so far (and I've heard them all before) but I'm so looking forward to having them all down in print, for this man not only knows how to rant eloquently, but he does so with a prose so incisive and well researched that he leaves the viewer/reader breathless. I can give this one a big thumbs up without having read more than the introduction. If you've already seen any of his Special Comments, you'll know just how Special they really are! I'm really thrilled to add this important book to my collection ... now, more than ever.

We have a very low key (as usual) New Year's Eve planned for Casa IVG ... some good food to eat (meatballs, shrimp, fine cheeses, etc.) to eat, a couple of bottles of champagne (yummy Spanish stuff, no French this year, alas ... ) and a couple of favourite movies on tap: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Stardust Memories. That's the way we like to celebrate the Eve ... some relaxing food and cinematic fare, with a pause at midnight for champagne toasts and some noise makers ... maybe even some fireworks in the snow! (There's plenty of that to be had around here and more on the way, supposedly!)

More later ... even my musings on the imminent Iowa Caucuses you may have heard about in the news lately ....

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Not a Creature Was Stirring ...

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Feliz navidad a todos y a todos buenas noches!

Joyeux Noël et A tous une bonne nuit!

Merry Whatever You're Having!

With visions of meaty bones dancing in their heads ... On Snausage! on Marrobone, on Puperoni and Canine Carry Outs. On snacky bits, on Milk Bone! On pig ears, and Scooby Snacks ... After all these damn good smells coming from around here lately, it's about time we cashed in! Please visit us, Santa Dog, we've been pretty good this year!

P.S. Could we please have some of the turkey bits when you guys are done with that? That taste of gravy I got tonight was pretty damn good! Oh, and those butter cookies smell real yummy too ....

Oddly Enough, That's What My Clock Says Right Now ...

But then, I still haven't changed my shelf clock back, so weird how serendipity sometimes comes into play ... well, now that i think about it, that's kind of the nature of serendipitous events ... Chalk it up to too many late hours and some Christmas cheer I had earlier. But as Emily Litella would say (rest her soul), Never mind!

This ornament definitely has a story behind it ... I got this (and a few others, namely the Jack Russell Terrier, Peacock, Pickle, etc.) during a verrryyy long delay at the Denver airport several years ago. At the time, I was traveling pretty frequently and it was close to Christmas, of course ... there was a snow event either in Denver or east (I do not recall) and it looked dicey that I'd even get out of there in time, and it was right about December 22. Well, if you've ever had to kill time during a delay or layover in Denver, you'll know there's not a lot to do there unless you like shops you'd likely never enter under normal circumstances, endless overpriced food and drink, and no smoking areas allowed. Except! There are these signs to a 'Smoker's Lounge' that must have tantalized many frazzled, deprived smokers ... until you get there! It turns out that one bar in the entire airport will allow limited smoking ... that sounds nice until realize there's like a 3 drink minimum to enter and it appears you have to keep drinking if you want to hang out there for very long. (Think about that if you want a cig before an early morning flight sometime, hehe.)

Now, of course virtuous me never took advantage of it, even this time. And I really wanted a cig bad, but the principle of the whole thing just ticked me off. So ... I wandered off to find some sort of mildly interesting shopping to try to make the time pass until I was supposed to leave on a flight that might maybe get out and back to Des Moines that night.

Finally I discovered and wandered into the Discovery Store, and that was a sight for my surely sore eyes! All things Discovery Channels and more were to be had ... talking Steve Irwin dolls (I wish I had gotten one of those! They were on clearance.) DVDs ... calendars ... toys ... you name it. But I gravitated instantly to the (mostly Polish and Czech blown glass) ornaments that were temptingly marked 50% off! Now we were talking! Something i was actually interested in buying! I ended up buying five or six ornaments (most of which have appeared here or will appear here soon), one of which was this Cuckoo Clock. (And yes, this one was made in Poland ... yay!)

In retrospect, besides finding it really original and pretty, I suspect it appealed subconsciously to me because I was preoccupied with time at the moment. I have to admit, every year I put it on the tree, I don't fail to think of the circumstances in which I purchased it. It's all Proustian, I know, but he was on to something there. It just took him a hell of a long time to prove it!

Ornamental Perspective ...

Last night, Fernymoss was having fun playing with reflections and perspective, and, I think came up with a dandy one in this shot. I think it speaks for itself to the diversity and eclectic collection you find on our tree ...

Monday, December 24, 2007

More World Ornament Blogging: the Critters

Before I fade any further, here are two more of our animal themed ornaments, respectively the camel and the elephant. We keep these toward the bottom of the tree (thus the exposed presents!) to warn us when the dogs are too close for comfort (notice the bells).

These shots show almost all of the presents under the tree, minus those I have for Fernamoss (which I have still to wrap!), so they show we're almost all the way there for this year....

I love the camel in the first shot, and the great sparkle Fernymoss got in this shot, as the view below doggie eye level. The elephant is also one of my favourite shots we got tonight, with its colourful background with warning bell ...

There's still more to cram under the tree, though necessarily, we'll have to put the pups' treats up high tomorrow night, so that Santa Dog can keep them safe before they can dig into them on Christmas. They're getting lots of yummy stuff, including Pig Ears, Ham Bones and assorted treats for being (pretty) good dogs this year... we doubt they're going to complain! And it's really fun to watch them unwrap the bones on Christmas morning ... pics to follow!

Ornament Blogging: Dragons Love Holiday Trees Too!

This is just a little fun one that I found at World Market last weekend, and was going to be a Christmas Eve gift to Fernymoss, but he'd had such a bad day at work, I gave it to him early to cheer him up. Every year I seem to find a neat, very different ornament there, so I can't resist ... I was looking at the animal ornaments and was thinking, I wish there were a Dragon one, that would be cool for the tree! Then I looked up and spotted this little guy and he was back on his way to our tree! (I also got an Iguana for Fernymoss, but don't tell him yet!) Just one more step to adding more animals to the tree, as we do every year ... as you'll see in the next post!

Ornament Blogging Around the World

Tonight I decided to get in some of the world themed ornaments we have, so here's the take on France (and with apologies to Martin Mull: ah France, I love you so, I love French Toast and escargot ...). Admittedly, I have soft spot for this ornament I got a few years ago, as France looks better and better to us the past year or so. If only we could just uproot and move there to stay, in some sunny clime in Provence ... ahhhhhhhhh.

Sucks being a member of the reality based American community here, eh? I called the precinct captain of the Edwards campaign here today and I think I'll be attending one of his big speeches here next Saturday night. I haven't seen him yet (due to most events being scheduled while I'm working) but this one I don't want to miss, right before New Year's and the Caucus as well. She told me the Edwards folks would also be having food provided at the Caucus, which is definitely a new one for me. Today, for example, I got calls from the HRC campaign (desperate much?) and Dodd, who in a fit of pique while caught candy making, I rudely hung up to the recording. But I digress!

The first shot is an ensemble shot, complete with bird butt. I hope you like that touch, hehe. The second is obviously up closer, and with what Fernymoss referred to as the Death Star approaching (he took that one). Either way you look at it, I'm glad to have this one on the tree again in its third year ... More to come!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas to Our House!

I guess it was probably past time that the furnace puffed its last gasp (it was installed in 1974), and we knew it was coming, but not so soon! We just didn't expect it the week before the holidays ... and the sudden expense resulted in initial severe sticker shock. But having had it working for about a day now, we're convinced more that in the long run, it was a good thing after all. The old unit was horribly inefficient and never quite got the whole house warmed ... and at phenomenal expense usually. So ... despite our four chilly nights without real heat, the weekend turned out quite well, thanks to our erstwhile and wonderful folks at the heating/cooling service company we've always used. They did their best to work us in this week so we wouldn't have to wait until 31 December, which was their next scheduled installation date. As it turned out, the guy who installed the new furnace had finished a big job early this week and was available to do our house.

This Goodman unit is a 95% efficient furnace that I had installed with a programmable thermostat, so we should start seeing some savings very soon, I would hope! If you'd like to see the nitty gritty specs on it, then head on over here. So far, we're just tickled to have heat again and are enjoying the difference it's already made! It may have socked a hole in our pockets right now, but it's definitely a good investment for the future of the house ... so we're grateful to have this all done now, especially before Christmas.

With regard to the holiday doings around here today, it's been really busy, thus the late hour of this posting. We had the last of gift and grocery shopping today, just before the most recent snow storm blew in (literally!) with its 3-4" of snow. If it's the weekend in Iowa, must be another storm ... as has been the pattern for the last month.

Once warmly ensconced back in the house, I worked up to making cookies ... 3 batches of Snowball cookies, 24 gingerbread men (I wimped out and bought frozen pre-cut dough, but it's good), and also mixed up two batches of Spritz cookies (cookie press stuff). Along with the big batch of Chex Mix I made last night, that put a dent into my holiday kitchen duties. Today's goodie tasks are a few batches of peanut brittle and my English Almond Crunch Toffee (basically butter, sugar, almonds and chocolate coating). Fernymoss will be decorating the house and the gingerbread people and I'll be making the candy ... and probably another big batch of Chex Mix since I've already bagged up a lot to give as part of our gift plates.

Arrgghhh .... I love making the cookies and candy, but it always means that I'm insanely behind in getting things wrapped! Somehow that's on the agenda today as well ... Packages are starting to appear under the tree, and as soon as we get most of them done we hope to do a pups and presents picture to feature here.

So from our house to yours, flying by the seats of our pants, scrambling to finish the decorating and the wrapping ... hope you're staying warm and cozy, especially those of us in the snowy zones! Sounds like Ottawa, North Dakota and Colorado are all snow covered ... so wherever you are, we hope you are making the best of the season in your own way!

More soon ... ornament blogging, dog blogging and other stuff!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ornament Blogging: Sometimes Life Just Gives You the Bird!

Last night I talked about our propensity to include birds on our tree, so here's another example of a bird-themed ornament we always make sure to place in a prominent spot on the tree. This cardinal and nest is a hand-me-down from my sister, who probably got it sometime back in the 70's and decided she didn't want it anymore a few years ago (when the box of cast off ornaments arrived mysteriously on our front porch). This is one of those pieces that, no matter how tacky it may appear to contemporary sensibilities, is one of our favorites. It attaches to the tree with a clothespin and even has two tiny eggs in the nest ... what more could you ask for? And it has one of our favorite native birds, the Cardinal, as its focus .... I guess it's one of those 'must have' ornaments we have in the repertoire, without which the holiday just wouldn't seem complete. Kind of like my Santa in a Rickshaw coming soon ....

Update on the heating situation: our repair guy came by today and managed to coax the furnace into working for a few hours, but warning that it could crap out at any time. Well, that happened this evening. It now looks like we're buying the house a new furnace for the holiday. I'm getting on top of this first thing in the morning, but I'm not optimistic that we can get it replaced within the next week, given the holidays. So at this point it looks like we'll be having a chilly holiday with just the radiator space heaters and the oven to keep us warm. As Fernymoss put it tonight, this is going to be a candle lit holiday! At least we have lots of blankets and comforters to wrap up in until we can get the new unit installed. And with more snow on the way predicted for Friday and Saturday, I'll be doing plenty of baking!

So it goes ... we'll muddle through. (Apologies to Kurt Vonnegut, jr. Bless him!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ornament Blogging: Flying By the Moon

I guess it's past time to get the ornament blogging going here, since we're still snow covered, icy, and as of today when I got home, heat free. The furnace is acting up again and hopefully it can be fixed again this time though we know a new one is on the horizon sometime in the next year or so ....

Anyway, this is Fernymoss' tree topper extravaganza, complete with the witch and the blue moon ... our usual toppers who cede the way to more traditional things to come below ... such as the following. You know, things like architecture from countries like such as.*
Actually there's a lot going on in this shot, but the highlights are obviously the infamous Tour Effel, and if you look closely, you'll the see the wine bottle not too far off. Birds of some sort have always been a constant on our trees, and you'll see some more soon as we get more individual shots taken of them. Fernymoss has been trying to get a lot of shots in ambient light, but with varying degrees of success, and frankly, though the flash gives better definition it does zap the colour of the lights. We're going to keep experimenting though and if anything good comes out you'll be seeing it here soon!

Oh yeah! I was at World Market yesterday and found a lovely little red dragon I just had to get for Fernymoss (after all they were 50% off!) He'll definitely be appearing here sooner or later!

*(And if you get that reference, you've been paying attention to Countdown and other YouTube type places for your teen airhead updates on vacuousness. I'm sure she's just a delightful girl in person, LOL. Like totally!)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tired Pups and Humans ...

And when the humans were done adorning the tree (well, at least temporarily), the dogs rested. Too much activity and getting shooed out of the way in the process, I suppose. It's going to be harder now that we're going to start to put things under it ... including a trip to Petco this week to get their holiday treats. Wait for the Christmas morning pics of their unwrapping of the goodies!

I went shopping for a few hours today and it damn near did me in ... I'm glad I'm almost done with this for this year! We're scaling back (like many, it seems) this year, so I think that's a relief of some sorts. Hedging against the economic storm that seems poised to hit in 2008 ... We're planning on going low key this year. Turkey breast and good food on Christmas Eve, some good champagne and a muted whoop ti doo on the big day.

I think the times call for it, with the Caucuses barely 2 days after New Year's! On January 4, we can start answering the phone again ...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Tree Blogging Begins ...

We got the tree last Friday night, just before another round of snow came through, a nearly weekly occurrence of late (if it's the weekend, a storm must be on tap!). In fact, this Scotch Pine we got from our usual tree purveyors from Wisconsin came complete with free snow on it! Amazingly, it went into the stand quickly and without issue and was ready on Saturday when we began to work on it ... Pepa and Rolly are less fascinated by the tree than they are something Fernymoss was doing in the dining room ... The tree, au naturel, before the lights went on.
Now most of the lights are on ... all 750 of them ... shimmering white, multicolour and faceted colours ... just waiting for the bead garland and ornaments.And one final shot for now, with a good number of the ornaments on the tree, with even more to come (details to come in later posts). Fernymoss has been adding more all during the past week, so it's pretty packed at this point! I just need to get down to some serious wrapping this weekend! Thank the almighty FSM for online shopping ... I've got maybe one or two more quick shopping trips to make before I'm officially done. And then the baking and candy making frenzy begins in earnest ...

* * * E N C A S E D * * *

Yep, this is still pretty much what it looks like out in front. At least the satellite dish melted off yesterday, so Countdown is finally back! In for another couple of inches of snow Saturday ... and, maybe if we're lucky we'll have a couple of days actually above freezing next week. It's definitely going to be a white Holiday here this year the way things have been going. I hope all the politicians and reporters in town are enjoying the weather! Last year we were unseasonbly warm and hadn't had much (if any) snow yet. Must be Iowa Caucus Karma ... barely three weeks away ... More on that later.Photos taken by Fernymoss on 13, December, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

. . . I C Y . . .

That's about the state of things here the past few days!
Photo by Fernymoss, taken 13, December 2007

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween Never Fades Away!

At least around this house, something from Halloween always fails to get put away, and the same goes with Christmas ... so I guess you could say that we've always got a bit of the Nightmare Before Christmas (or after) lurking around! So, if you don't mind, I'll be extending the spooky season just a day or two more ... I had considered a commemorative post for el día des los muertos, but didn't get it together in time (sorry Manny!), but I have another overall shot of the Witches and Wolves lair I featured the other night in more detail. Though you can't see the witches' lair in great detail, it's the (last) house on the left, with the stream bisecting the path to the wolves' lair, and finally the country spooky barn and people celebrating.

Though Fernymoss ran out of time to set up the entire Spooky Village this year, I think he did an outstanding job of incorporating our new piece for this year (the wolves' lair) into the overall country themed display. Oh well, so this Halloween wasn't as elaborate and detailed as usual, but due to our overall lack of time I think it did come together pretty well in the end. At least this year we won't be spending two weeks putting everything away! We're vowing (at this point) that we'll bring up the Christmas stuff we're using for the porch display early and storing it there till later (we don't spend much time out there in the fall and winter anyway!)

I hope everyone had a relaxing and (if you're into it) appropriately spooky Halloween! We didn't get around to Baby Jane after all, but I did receive my 10 disc Twin Peaks: the Definitive Gold Box Edition in the mail today! As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the ultimate Peaks fan's wet dream of boxed sets and we can't wait to dig in! It used to be our countdown to Halloween to watch an episode a night, but now it looks like it may be the lead-in to Christmas this year ... What better kind of seasonal time marking than a David Lynch creation?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

In honor of the harvest and the spookiest season of the year, as this cycle winds down to its close, what better icon than the pumpkin to commemorate this day?

This year we didn't get around to carving the pumpkins, but we still like to have them around gracing the steps ... and as you can see, the morning glories are still hanging in there at this late date. I took a few other ambient light shots along with this, but most of them didn't turn out ... I should have known better and used the flash!

In any case, however you celebrate the big spook day, I hope it's an enjoyable one for you! We usually just take it easy (now that the annual haunted open house and big trick or treat night are past) and watch a favorite scary movie, and I think this year's choice will most likely be Robert Aldrich's classic Bette Davis -- Joan Crawford guignol fest Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? the special edition (2 discs!) which I just received the other day. It's one of my favorite guilty pleasures and if you've never had the experience of watching Davis and Crawford tear each other to shreds, you should definitely treat yourself this Halloween. (Or any time you're in the mood for some grand guignol high octane theatrics!) It's a shocker you won't soon forget, during which you will find yourself chuckling at inappropriate times ... only one of the charms of this fine example of black comedic camp cinema.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Trick or Treat! As Hosted by Queen SkelePepa ...

Blogger finally seems to have gotten over its hissy fit from earlier this evening ...

I thought I'd post a few shots from our hometown Beggars' Night. Des Moines has a somewhat odd tradition: instead of a trick, kids are supposed to tell a joke, most of which barely register on the groaner scale. Most of the time, with the smaller ones, you can barely understand what they're saying, while some of the older kids try their best to come up with something a bit more risqué. Which also usually registers but a bit higher on the groaner scale.

We did have one particularly vocal little girl (about 3 or so) tonight dressed as a cat who was quite insistent that she tell us a joke ... she arrived chiming "I've got a joke for you!" and repeated it (and repeated it) until she made her turn up the cauldrons of candies and toys. "So what's your joke?" I ask her. She proudly declaims: "What does a dog eat?" "I don't know, what does it eat?" I oblige. "Dog food!" she proudly exclaims as she realizes she's accomplished her mission and the candy and toys are hers now. She was amply rewarded and left with a big grin on her face ...

Though the weather was great tonight, we had a lower than usual turnout this year, which seemed odd given the balmy temperatures. Last year the temperature plunged about 40 degrees from afternoon and evening accompanied by a fierce wind and we only had about 55 kids (a lot fewer than the previous year). Tonight seemed especially sparse and we ended up with just 42 in all, most of whom arrived in groups. In any case, those who did come by didn't leave disappointed!

Of course Pepa played exceptional greeter and (g)hostess to all, and seemed to earn quite a few fans with the kids. Why, you could even say she was glowing (she was)!

The first shot (not the greatest but the one that turned out acceptably without the flash) is Fernymoss the Crowboy and Queen SkelePepa lying in wait for the kids who were soon to arrive. As you can see, we were well stocked, with chips, candy and two cauldrons of toys for the lucky beggars .... They made a decent dent in the loot, but in previous years these would have been virtually empty by the end of the night. Maybe kids just aren't trick or treating like they used to, or the ones we used to see in previous years have grown up too much to find the activity "cool" anymore. Whatever the case, we've got a reputation to keep up in the neighborhood for some kids, who tell us each year we're the first place they go ... that always makes it worth it for us, so we'll keep on doing this each year until the kids quit coming.

Harvey, Pepa and the Mammoth Castors

Just a few quick shots of Queen SkelePepa and her friend Harvey, posing late this afternoon by the Mammoth Castors in the back yard ... all ready for the trick or treaters soon to arrive! The poor kids here only have a window of opportunity from 6-8 p.m. so this will be an abbreviated, photos only post for now!

Now who ever said IVG didn't like bunnies? Pepa likes this one and so do I!

Well, this is an update of sorts ... I tried to upload the photos to Blogger hours ago, but it was acting up at the time. So here they are, after the fact, as it were.

Trick or treat blogging will follow shortly!

Halloween Preview: The Wolf Lair

Well here we are, one night away from the big event, and we barely (and for us, sparsely) got it together in time ... This year, Halloween just came too soon, barreling at us and caught us unaware and unprepared. Instead of spending much of late September decorating (as we usually do), this year we were in the big clean up and rearranging mode, which took up much needed Halloween time. But anyway, with a manic push last week, we got the house cleaned up, a lot of Halloween decorations up and threw our annual Halloween Haunted Housewarming party last Saturday. Though hastily organized and not as big as previous years, we were quite content with the results and had a fun, relaxing evening with friends, topped off by watching one of my all time faves, William Castle's The Tingler which for me is always a treat, no matter what time of year. (Recommended seasonal viewing from a previous post)

The Wolf Lair is a new acquisition this year to our collection of Halloween Houses, and though Fernymoss didn't have the time to put up the whole displays (alas, the cemetery didn't happen this year), what he did with the Witch/Wolf Lairs I think is pretty remarkable. Perched atop the newly installed media centre, this particular display contains the witches' lair house and a spooky country scene integrated with a haunted barn and various people celebrating Halloween ... all guarded over by this pack of watchful wolves lurking in the nearby woods. I particularly like the reflections captured in the 'river' that leads up to the Witches' Lair (coming soon), which at least justifies having had to use the flash to take these shots. Unfortunately the flash also cancels out all the cool spooky lighting the pieces themselves emit (nifty LEDs, you know!) but it seems to be the only way to get the detail these pieces demand.

I should have a few more of these to post tomorrow (the whole view of this scene, with more detail) as well as some pre-Beggars' Night shots of the Halloween loot we are giving out this year (bigger and better!). We also have to get some good shots of 'Skeledog' (her highness Queen Pepa approximately, in case you hadn't guessed!) to include. She's become quite fond of her new outfit over the past few days and seems to enjoy lounging around in it (see previous post). And soon ... for Halloween Night itself, we should have this year's version of Grizelda's lair assembled on the porch, so stop by again soon ...

Photos and Arrangement by Fernymoss. Taken 28 October, 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Almost Halloween! ... sleeping on the job ...

This could quite likely be the night when we get our first frost or freeze ... though I suspect we'll get a glancing blow or light frost, I think the hard freeze is at least a few days off. So, for now, we still have the towering Castors in the garden, late blooming Toad Lilies and valiant mallows, morning glories, calendulas and other annuals still hanging in there. Amazingly, a lot are still blooming though the garden is clearly in definite decline ... just in time for Halloween.

Time for the bones and tombstones to take over the front bed ... the porch soon to be transformed into Grizelda the witch's lair, along with her ghostly entourage ... yep, we have a lot of work to do and have barely begun! At least we have all the candy and toys stocked and ready to go next week!

Oh, and Pepa has a new costume this year ... after a good 10 years of mostly being a Devil Dog (and sometimes a bumble bee), she's finally got some new spooky threads that she actually seems to enjoy. Though you can't tell in this picture, it's a body length skeleton shirt of sorts ... kind of like a doggie onesie? Anyway, she took to this immediately, since it's more like a cuddly t-shirt than a costume. Cool! And she glows in the dark as well, hehe. And the full moon is today ... hmm.... with it getting cold and windy, it's feeling like the season is truly upon us! I'll have more pics of the decorations as they are installed, so check back soon.

Film programming suggestions we've seen recently and recommend!

The Devil Rides Out -- a 1968 Hammer production with the stellar Christopher Lee fighting nasty Satanists who want to baptize a few of his friends into the dark arts ... it's a good one! Atmospheric and effective, with a great screenplay by Richard Matheson (see below).

The Legend of Hell House -- the 1973 and only (I hope) adaptation of Richard Matheson's Hell House, scripted by the author himself. I bet you're familiar with his work, even if the name is not familiar ... he wrote many classic Twilight Zone episodes, numerous screenplays (including the above title!) A tale somewhat reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting (so inferiorly remade a few years ago, wasting the talents of Catherine Zita Jones, Lili Taylor and Liam Neeson among others), it truly stands on its own in my esteem. And I was a huge fan of the book when I was a teenager (and Matheson in general too) ... it's an extremely literate --and yes, psychologically scary-- (read boring for the less patient modern audience) haunting tale well worth the effort of seeking out and viewing.

For that matter, the original Robert Wise version of The Haunting linked above is one of those haunted house stories that still gives me the shivers decades later. If you've never seen it, turn the lights down low and get ready for some real chills. Interesting lesbian character portrayal for the era too (1963), and Claire Bloom sure seems to love vamping it up as "Theo." I can't recommend this film highly enough ... that abomination remake probably had Shirley Jackson spinning wherever she is these days ....

For fans of the legendary William Castle, TCM recently broadcast an evening of his classics, one of which, Homicidal, I'd never heard of, nor seen ... so that was a real treat, though not quite on the par with his classics The House on Haunted Hill and my all time favorite, The Tingler. It is one to check out if you see it pop up on some late night schedule and unlike most Castle productions, managed to keep us guessing till almost the end of the film. Some see it as a blatant rip off of Psycho, and it does share some details, but it's still a fun, schlocky ride, as only William Castle could do them. I could go on for hours about his films (one of my many guilty pleasures), but I'll spare you for now.

One closing note for David Lynch and Twin Peaks fans out there (you know who you are!). Finally, this 30 October, the "Definitive Gold Box Edition" of the entire series, including the elusive pilot episode (and European version), is being released on DVD. Now, if you're a fan of the Peaks, I'm sure this is exciting news (I've had mine pre-ordered for over a month now, hehe). If you're not, but are open to discovering one of the most innovative and unique oddball soap operas to ever hit the prime time airwaves, you should at least see if this shows up in your local video store. (There's enough of a cult following and legend built up about this series that even FM's local video store might have it. After all he does live in a college town, no?) It also appears that they've included lots of goodies in this 10 disc set, so I'm going to be enjoying this one for a good, long while when it arrives. We used to countdown to Halloween by viewing one episode of Twin Peaks per night up until the big day, but this year decided we'd have to delay it due to the new set. Who knows? We may be marking advent this year by watching David Lynch's work instead ... damned secular liberals that we are.

More Halloween soon ...

Update 30 October, 2007: still barely a light frost and no freeze yet. First Halloween in many years this hasn't happened, to my memory.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Good Luck, Al ... We're Rooting For You!

In case you've been wondering when the announcement might come (or been living in a cave lately), today is the big day when we'll find out whether Al Gore will win the Nobel Peace Prize. Though most articles are saying he's "tipped" to bring home the award, we won't know for certain until Friday morning around 5:00 a.m. EDT. One tantalizing detail I saw today fueled speculation that he would indeed win because "Mr Gore cancelled his attendance at a global warming event in San Francisco on Thursday night, citing an unspecified overseas event on global warming." I also read that he was scheduled to appear at a fund raiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer, but called to cancel citing an "unexpected need to travel" to said "overseas event." (Sorry, but the link at RawStory was gone when I went back to find it tonight.)

Now I usually don't get so personally invested in who the Nobel Prize Committee ultimately selects for its awards, but this time it's different, and intensely personal for me, for various reasons, not the least of which is that many in this country desperately need to realize (and publicly recognize) just what a huge injustice was done to him in December, 2000. Of course his Nobel nomination has absolutely nothing to do with the criminal usurpation of his presidency. Nor should it. This Nobel nomination just serves to prove the unrecognized and much maligned brilliance of the man whom I consider to be the best president we never had.

I'm sure that if he wins, the right wing noise machine will still find it fodder for mockery and no doubt attribute the win to the evil liberal conspiracy in Oslo. Honestly, at this point, in what should by all rights have been Al's presidency, I could give a shit what they think. I'm way beyond trying to reason with wingnuts and neo-fascists, because if they aren't going to grant me the courtesy of hearing my views, I can stick my fingers in my ears and go nyah nyah nyah nyah as well as they can. The time for trying to reason with them is long past and they don't even deserve the effort. (Just witness this week the disgraceful smearing of 12 year old Graeme Frost and his family, as only the most recent example.) Nothing would make me happier than to hear the sound of wingnut heads exploding across the country in their rabid froth filled rage. Now, I'm not intrinsically a vindictive person, but where the likes of the minions of the right wing noise machine are concerned in their treatment of Al Gore, I take it very personally. Why? Because Al Gore has been a personal hero of mine for going on 20 years now, and I will defend his honor and his greatness tooth and claw.

I first saw Al Gore back in 1988 when he made his first run for the presidency and during that campaign I was lucky enough to hear him literally making his stump speech on the streets of Madison, WI, where I was finishing my graduate degree at th
e time. I was so impressed by his passion for the environment that he had me mesmerized ... no one else running was even bringing up the issue of global warming at the time, and many were mocking him for being a tree hugger hippie type. Now, I've known plenty of hippies in my time, but that passionately sincere man sweating in the suit on a hot Wisconsin summer day was anything but a hippie. He was so obviously brilliant that I was astonished that so few people were giving him serious consideration. I fell in love with him then and there (and, you have to admit he was then and still is a very handsome man, not that that should be a consideration, but still ... how many politicians can you say are truly handsome?). I was, being the dirty f*ckin ex-hippie I was at the time, totally on board and proudly voted for him in the primary. (To hell with that bland Massachusetts technocrat everyone was buzzing about, and for whom I ultimately would not vote, out of sheer disgust. And, for the record, that is the only time I have not voted in a presidential election because I was so disenchanted with the Democratic choice that year.) And for those who remember, the guy who blathered on for what seemed like hours on end at the Democratic Convention, (a guy from Arkansas named Bill Clinton), positively bored me to tears ... perhaps because I felt that Al got cheated in the race that year, even though a lot of what Clinton had to say did resonate with me at the time.

Fast forward to 1992. Clinton won my vote by choosing Al Gore as his running mate. I figured that if someone with Al's integrity would run with Clinton, there had to be something good about him, even if, in my gut, I had my doubts about him and his non "cookie baking" wife being in the White House. (Anyone else remember him promising to establish a "New Covenant?" That freaked me out....) All I hoped was that we could end the dreadful 12 years of Raygun and Shrub the elder. Gore was why I didn't have to hold my nose that year when I voted (in of all places, Sarasota, FL, where just getting registered to vote was an acrobatic feat in and of itsel
f). Well, we all know the rest of the story and how that all turned out. But, I would remind you, did Al ever give up on his environmental causes during the whole time? A resounding NO, even if he was, at times by circumstances, held back in his efforts.

Yeah, Al made some big mistakes in his campaign in 2000 (
the biggest of which was choosing LIEberman as his running mate), but I never once doubted his sincerity and integrity, even after the last few Clinton years. If only he were able to be in charge, I was certain that he would ultimately do the right thing for the country and stick to his principles. Well, we all well know how that turned out. I wept and spent an angry, sleepless night (well, many of them) that November and December. I've wept many times since for our country ... most recently last week when we watched An Inconvenient Truth again, especially during the part about the Florida recount, when I was sobbing uncontrollably about the loss imposed upon us.

But, you know what? Al Gore has acquitted himself admirably in the intervening years, despite the mockery, despite the charges of alarmism about global warming, despite all the shit he has had flung at him by the right wing noise machine. He has stuck to his principles above all and pursued his great passion for the preservation of the earth, no matter what his critics have said. That alone demonstrates his integrity and his dedication not only to this country but to the world at large. And finally he has gotten some of the well-deserved recognition he should have been getting all along. Let's hope that today brings him the prize that will cement him in history as the visionary he truly is, and will surely remain for the rest of his career, no matter what he chooses to do. I've had a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator for months now (it was intended to celebrate Rove's indictment, oh well...) and if Al brings it home we'll open it and toast his victory!

I'd be remiss if I didn't say at least a few words about whether Al should run this time around. Though he has yet to make the "Shermanesque" pronouncement about his future plans, I'd just like to say that whatever he decides to do, I will accept and profoundly respect his decision. He's already proven himself a true patriot and servant to his country and the world at large, and honestly, I'd not blame him one bit for deciding against running. But if he does (and if the Draft Gore movement does ultimately convince him to run), I will be on board one more time, with all my heart and hope and passion to ensure him the win he so richly deserves.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Tricyrtis Trifecta

If I haven't yet convinced you that Toad lilies are one of the most amazing unsung flowers of the shady perennial bed, maybe a few more recent shots will work their magic. I have to admit that before we planted our first specimen (top photo), I had no idea what they were and I took it on Fernymoss' word that they were "really cool and look like orchids."

So, at that point (about 7 years ago) we planted this unassuming looking little plant and waited. It grew a bit the first few years, but didn't bloom until it actually put on some size (at about, say 10 inches) and then -- whoa! We were delighted and amazed by the beauty of these diminutive shade lovers. Though the flowers rarely are bigger than maybe an inch or so, they make up for in quantity what they lack in size! Once this first specimen bloomed, we were hooked, and just had to add to the Toad Lily collection over the next few years.

At this point we now have some six specimens planted in two different shady areas, four in the Woodland Garden on the north and two just next to the front steps on the east. This year we added three to the mix because I found some intriguing cultivars in the spring ... one's a white one and the two others are varying shades of purple. We still have to get some good shots of the white and purple ones but with some sun and free time they should be gracing these posts sometime soon!

The second and third shots here are more examples of the Tricyrtis hirta 'Amethystina' cultivar, which was the second specimen we planted. And it's a doozy! I planted this one about three years ago in the fall when we put out a lot of bulbs, and this is the first year it has really bloomed with any passion, but if this year's show is any sign of things to come, we'll be waiting eagerly each September for its arrival. Lest you get the impression that Toad Lilies take a long while to bloom, I should say that the first two we ever planted were very small plants less than a year old, so I attribute their tardiness to bloom to having started with immature plants. And back then, they were harder to find in garden centers than they are today, when luckily, more mature specimens can be found that will often bloom the same year.

Tricyrtis isn't a particularly difficult plant to grow, provided you give it the basics it needs: a part or full shade exposure (it likes some early morning or late afternoon sun), a relatively moist loamy soil (and occasional feedings with fish emulsion) and plenty of room to spread out, as they are known to form colonies after a good number of years. And of course, you want to show them off as best you can, so planting them in the darkest, most inaccessible corner of the shade garden might not be the best idea if you really want to appreciate their beauty. I'm pretty certain that many gardeners have had the same experience we have -- initial success and delight with the first specimen leads to a desire to find more (and more) eye popping varieties to plant. We Midwestern gardeners do have to pay close attention to hardiness, because not all species can take our winters, but there seems to be an abundant number that do quite well in Zone 5. (In fact, the first couple of years we weren't too sure about that so we mulched it in the fall after the first freeze and the plants died back.)

Here's what I think is the best feature of Toad Lilies: when everything else in the garden is looking haggard and spent, when things are winding down in the early fall, they leap out of their shady spots and shower you with unusual vibrant colour! And once they start, they will bloom reliably up until the first hard freeze, then die back and go dormant until spring. One of the posts I found on them while researching this post (and so aptly titled), Better Toad Lily Than Never posited, they may be late to the party but they sure have a commanding presence when they arrive!

People often tell us that they have mostly shady areas in their gardens and bemoan the real lack of punchy colour with what's generally available, and we almost always recommend Toad Lilies as an unusual solution. Like most of the uninitiated, they're not impressed by the foliage at first until they see the blooms ... and then they're hooked. Another Tricyrtis junky in the making!

Note: Photos courtesy of Fernymoss, taken 30 September, 2007.
I just realized this is the 200th post here on Urban Oasis. Some kind of benchmark, I guess ....

Monday, October 01, 2007

October Surprises -- Toad Lilies!

Here's Fernymoss' greeting to the great month of October, a lovely afternoon capture of one of our Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis hirta 'Amethystina') currently blooming away out in the Woodland Garden amongst the ferns. I'll have more to say this week about these unassuming beauties, but for now, feast your eyes and senses on this one, 'Amethystina' is a specimen we put in about three years ago, and is just now hitting its stride. Fernymoss was out today clearing out the weeds and making space for two more new additions we hadn't gotten in the ground yet, and since fall definitely has the wind at its back, it was high time to get them 'grounded' so to speak. We just have a few more neglected perennials (well in the sense they're not in the ground yet!) to get planted, and then we can concentrate on getting things cleared out for fall and winter, then seeding down the plants we want to see next spring. We've also been talking about planting a few more Dragon Arums, but just need to order them and get them in the ground before a hard freeze ... we'll see if that happens!

Anyway, yes, it's been a long while again since I've posted .... things have been pretty busy of late, and just last night we finally tackled the great living room re-arrangement with the transfer of the media equipment into the Entertainment Armoire (I guess that's what you'd call it!). Transitional habitat change might be a better description, but in any case, when the work is done, our downstairs will be looking a lot classier, just in time for our favourite holiday Halloween! I'm sure the dogs will be somewhat disappointed that two chairs are going to the curb soon, thus opening up a lot more space in the room. I think they'll find a way to survive! We look at it more as uncluttered, more spacious digs, finally, LOL. Lots of fall change going on around here, and I think it's for the better ... and we can't wait to get the spookiness going soon ....

One other note: I just got a new computer system up and going this week. So here goes my venture into the world of MS Vista, and my first impressions are generally positive, despite my misgivings about putting XP into the past. Though the configuration I've linked to is only the bare bones CPU, the one I got also came with a 19" LCD widescreen monitor, and I souped it up slightly with a faster processor and some other goodies. So ... just getting transitioned from the 'old' system (a mere fast Pentium 4) and thinking about how we next get high speed access and a small home network going eventually! Thus far, I'm loving the new set up (especially the extra monitor real estate!) and have only experienced a few hiccups relative to software compatibility. Time will tell ... but honestly, if I'd had the option to go for XP again, I'd have taken it. But Vista does seem to be a prettier, cleaner looking version so far, so we'll see if my great trepidation was worth it after all. For the time being, let's just say that I'm having a lot of fun getting it adjusted to my liking!

Photo courtesy of Fernymoss, taken 30 September, 2007. Flash enabled on this one, thus the detail and colour ....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Return of the Mantis!

The mantis is back! Well, Fernymoss spotted and caught a mantis again a few times last week. He took these two shots last Tuesday as s/he was hanging out on the stucco near the back door of the house. We're pretty sure this isn't the one he brought back from work a while ago, but we're not ruling out either that it might be the little one I spotted on the Coreopsis earlier in the summer.

This got us to thinking about whether Mantids have the capability to change colour to blend in with the surroundings, especially since this one was playing near invisible on the stucco. I don't recall reading anything about such a talent, but with the huge number of species of Mantids, I can't say definitively ... I'm not an entomologist, nor do I try to play one on this blog. So your guess is as good as mine!

Notes on these shots: Taken by Fernymoss, 11 September, 2007. I think the first shot really gives a good view of the wings in detail, something that we don't usually focus on (at least I don't) probably because the pincers are so arresting that our attention naturally goes there directly. There's so much to take in when looking at a Mantis, and since time is usually pretty short to view them, I think it's just amazing that we sometimes have the chance to capture them up so close. The second shot could easily be called here's looking at you, for obvious reasons! If you look really closely at the enlarged version, you can actually see its pupils.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Heavenly Blues

Almost everyone loves Morning Glories (Ipomoea tricolor ), those carefree, easy to grow vines who reward gardeners almost everywhere with abundant flowers in late summer and early fall, often right up to frost if conditions are right. They also self seed with a vengeance, and depending on how you feel about having them in weed status in your garden, they can be either a joy or an infernal pest and sometimes both.

Years ago we planted a mix of blues, purple and pinks along the sidewalk fence and haven't replanted them since, and they've since reached noxious weed status in that part of the garden now, much to Fernymoss' chagrin about the profusion of pink blooms. We really have been striving to eliminate the pinks (sorry, Olivia!) the past couple of years, but we just can't keep up with the number of seedlings that come up every year. Though
I usually protest that we have more purples ('Grandpa Ott' variety), he's not going to be satisfied until the pinks have been eliminated ... so sometime soon before frost and before the seeds mature, all the Morning Glories along the fence are going to be pulled and sent to the compost.

The new plan is to plant Spanish Flag (Mina lobata) along the fence in an attempt to get it to self seed, and confine our Morning Glories solely to the 'Heavenly Blues' and 'Grandpa Ott' varieties. Lest this plan sound a bit harsh to you, I'd just say that once established, Morning Glories can really become a pest ... they travel around the garden coming up here and there, and unless they are provided with support to grow, they can become positively noxious when a few escape pulling and start dragging down flowers in other parts of the garden. The lesson we've learned is that we needed to be more scrupulous where we planted them, thus the attempt at eradication plan we feel is necessary at this point. Don't get me wrong, we love Morning Glories, especially the blues, but we've decided they need to be reined in a bit and confined to another area, which this year is the small bed to the right of our front steps, in with some Bee Balm, Primroses, Meadow Sage and a couple of Toad Lilies. We'd tried planting a couple of Clematis on a trellis we have in the bed, but they never amounted to anything and eventually died out ... so did the supposedly hardy Passion Flower vines we planted there as well. After all that costly effort to no avail, this year we said: purple and blue Morning Glories only there! And this is exactly where you'll find the flowers pictured tonight.

At least this way we can guiltlessly pull others where they come up and reserve a few seedlings in this area to grace the trellis for the next few years until we've completed the pink eradication. (I know, that sounds suspiciously like a 'final solution' but sometimes in the plant world if you want to get your way with aggressive plants, it's got to be done!) In any case, I do think that any gardener worth the salt (or pepper) should have Ipomoea tricolor somewhere in the garden, and if you're careful about where you let them get established you might escape weed status if you're vigilant about it. Still, even if they get away from you, you're almost guaranteed non-stop blooming pleasure once it starts ... as long as you obey the cardinal rule of growing Ipomoea: don't ever feed them with any kind of fertilizer. If you do, you'll get luscious, profuse, huge foliage and few if any blooms! Plant them only in poor to average soil in full to part sun, making sure that they have a support to grow up on and then let them do their thing. It's that simple. Let them die off at frost and either harvest the seeds or just let the vines go till spring (when they're all crispy and easy to clean up) and you'll be sure to have them come back the following year.

Photos by Fernymoss, taken 16 September, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Castormania Redux

So now that work has calmed down a bit (at least for this week) I hope I can get some more late season shots of the garden soon. Since rain is in the forecast for most of Tuesday and the evening, I'll have to rely on Fernymoss' shots from yesterday to tide me through the week ... I somehow suspect you won't mind with what else he has in store for you! It's a good thing he's taller than I am because it's getting harder to shoot the really interesting things that are going on in this Castor way up high. And of course since Fernymoss is fascinated by capturing textures he did quite a few in this series that do a great job of getting to the underside of things (by necessity ... point up, focus and hope for the best!) These two shots are the same plants seen in yesterday's post, just from different angles. In the first you can see the shadow of a maple leaf that got caught in the cup of one of the upper leaves ... and you can get a really great look at the texture of the undersides of the leaves as well. Castors just scream tropical! in everything they do, especially in the second shot which nicely highlights a few remaining blooms and a whole stalk of developing fruit.which (with luck and no early freeze) will soon develop into the full-blown seed pods. The blooms are toward the bottom (it blooms from the top down) and look a bit like cauliflower ... nothing quite as dramatic as the spiny fruit they become. Not that I can imagine any critters brave enough to try to eat the fruit (since the entire plant is toxic, remember), but Castors aren't taking any chances that their seeds will be gobbled up before they can start the next generation. Though not as painful to handle as Datura pods, they still get pretty prickly when they dry out, and harvesting the seeds does need to be done carefully. Each pod produces 4-5 seeds, so you can see that if this stalk makes it to maturity, we'll have plenty of these to share!

Now, way back when I first posted the earlier pictures of these Castors in August, I alluded to a story about a neighbor who was frightened by them the first year we planted them in the garden. We share a fence line with the woman behind us, and the second year we were in this house (hmm, that would be spring of 99), we went gung ho and planted all sorts of tall plants right along the fence line, just to see what we could do. We planted broom corn (which gets to about 9-10 feet tall too) and Castors, along with lots of morning glories which quickly came to be called those vines by our neighbor. Uh oh. We realized we had a plant phobe living behind us ... yikes! Come to find out, she was terrified of being 'tickled' by the dreaded vines when she walked her dog by each day.

Now of course we aren't the types to be terrified by plants of most kinds (unless they come with retractable jaws and very long, sharp teeth!) so we were a bit baffled by this and tried to keep them on our side of the fence as much as possible. That was nothing to compare with what came later in the summer as the Castors really hit their stride and grew to about 12 feet when a machete was threatened from her side of the fence. The broom corn wasn't a hit either. In fact, she was quite disturbed by these ferocious looking tropical trees that had sprung up in our garden ... so, we got an ultimatum: if it reaches over and tickles me, I will chop it off. So, in the interest of neighborhood peace (and our early reputation on the block), we said that was fine ... apologizing yet again for having troubled our neighbor (though we laughed a lot about it outside of her presence). Needless to say, the Castors lost a few branches and looked rather 'one-sided' from our perspective, but we had learned a lesson not to go for our gigantic plants in that particular location.

Since then, we try to keep the Castors far enough away from the fence or sidewalk so that no unprovoked tickling occurs ... though we do love to taunt her a bit by planting them in full view (ergo, where we have them this year), but at this point it's all good natured fun between the parties involved. You see, this was the eventual outcome of our friend the flower phobe ... after a couple of years, she got bitten by the bug and has taken up planting up small beds on her property, and no longer complains about the dreaded Castors (
though she did look a bit askance at the Dragon Arum in May!). In fact, we've shared a few perennials with her (the non-scary kinds) and have given her a hardy hibiscus and toad lilies as gifts that she thoroughly enjoys. We take a lot of satisfaction in having converted her to the rampant evils of gardening, and she's done quite a nice job planting various perennials and annuals in her yard. So ultimately, we not only made friends with our initially skeptical neighbor, but also now think of her as an essential person in the life of the immediate neighborhood. And though she's recently retired, we're doing our best to keep her from selling her house and moving away .... that's how much we would miss her. And, since her young son just got married two weeks ago, a bit of the landscape has changed ... a bit sadder with his absence, and the potential change of neighbors should his mom decide to move.

Further proof of our basic gardening philosophy: gardening is sharing and sharing is winning people over in time. The green brings us together ultimately. And that's a good thing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Random Thoughts and Notes on Recently Viewed Films

During my "hiatus" I did have the chance to see some really good films for entertainment and some of my precious off work hours were spent getting lost in a wide variety of films ... titles such as Tout va bien (classic Marxist/Maoist Jean-Luc Godard from the early 70's complete with Jane Fonda and Yves Montand), Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson's classic turn Sunset Boulevard (gloriously remastered for DVD finally!), Network (need I say more about this classic?), Altman's masterpiece (and perhaps my favorite of his) Nashville, And lest you think I've been dwelling in the 'serious film' world too much, we also got lots of laughs from our favorite British comics Simon Pegg and NIck Frost in both Shaun of the Dead and their newest, Hot Fuzz.

And just so you don't think I'm only about those 'British' comedies, I did spend an engrossing time watching Helen Mirren earn every bit of that Oscar for The Queen one night after work last week. Frankly, I could give a sh*t about the British royal family, but Mirren's performance was just so spot on that she had me mesmerized from the start ... if she proved no other point than that she could positively inhabit Queen Elizabeth II (without -- or is it despite? -- making her more interesting than she could possibly be) Mirren demonstrates that she is truly one of the greats of her generation (it's not all Prime Suspect you know, though most of those are really good). Stephen Frears really tapped into the British zeitgeist circa 1997 (e.g. Princess Diana's death) and has created a very smart film chronicling the whole rise to fame of Poodle Boy Tony Blair ... in fact, I more than once wondered if the film were more about him than Elizabeth, despite the titular focus

Add in a couple of Almodóvar films for good measure and just the other night, one of Woody Allen's neglected masterpieces, Zelig. Yes, all that escapism and more, but a lot of times when I'm swamped at work, the best I can do to relax is to lose myself in a well made film ... from which it's difficult to extract me when it's over.

Another title of particular note I'd like to mention because it was only recently released on DVD, (though I'd like to write about it more at some point) was David Lynch's newest cinematic puzzle, Inland Empire. By turns engrossing, confusing and downright infuriatingly abstract, it's likely a masterpiece to behold when all is said and done (I'd say, oh... maybe about twenty viewings later!). Must see viewing for Lynch fans, but it might be a bit too obtuse for the uninitated viewer of Lynch's work.

Late last night I watched the fascinating documentary Inside Deep Throat, (yes, that movie!) that is currently playing sporadically on HBO (check the IMDB link for next showings if you're interested). It's a remarkably light hearted examination of the 'liberating' and 'revolutionary' porno that almost thrust hardcore into the mainstream of cinema, but ultimately failed for almost everyone involved in its making. At times hilarious and at others sobering, it's an eye opening look into the demi monde of the nascent porno industry, nefarious gangland connections, wannabe censors and wingnut reactionaries of the Nixon era, with
commentary interspersed from luminaries as diverse as Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Helen Gurley Brown, Xaviera Hollander, Gloria Steinem, Dick Cavett, John Waters, Bill Maher (who no doubt masturbated to it in his teen years) and even the inimitable Gore Vidal. It made me think of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights more than once, a film that also grounds itself in those freewheeling days when audiences were more adventurous, the fringes more visible and before the so-called 'sexual revolution' stalled in its tracks. Yeah, another one of those films I have to dig out of the archives and spend some time with soon ....

Finally, we got around to watching The Illusionist last week (which I mentioned in a previous post where I referenced The Prestige), and I must say that it was truly impressive, though spinning a very different kind of narrative from that of The Prestige. While they deal with a similar romantic theme (a magician's love thwarted), the two films take an entirely different approach, and I must say that narratively, I think The Illusionist had a much more complex and ultimately surprising and rewarding story arc. (It was, after all based on a short story by Stephen Milhauser, an author I've long enjoyed for his quirky novels.) Both films, however, are well worth the time you could invest viewing them ... if I had to draw the distinguishing comparison, I'd have to say that The Prestige deals heavily with the 'how' of the illusions and the ultimate implications of the act, whereas The Illusionist focuses more on the 'why' of what we see through the protagonist's perspective. I'm not always a fan of 'period' type films, but both these films are remarkable for their recreations of the magical milieu of the late 19th century. I highly recommend them both if you're looking for an intelligent and literate drama you can really get lost in and let it take you where it will.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Late Summer Castormania!

Well, it certainly has been a while since I've posted, and I'm sorry for the unwelcome hiatus ... but given work demands the past month or so (über busy, one project after another), I've just not had the time or energy to spend here, as much as I would have liked to!

In the meantime, the garden has managed to go a bit wilder than usual, and with the incredible heat and humidity we had for quite a while, neither one of us was really inclined to get out and weed ... so as a consequence, it's positively savage around the place. But some things have persevered and carried on (at least we did have regular rains), in particular, these two Castors we have planted in the back yard. This particular variety is called Zanzibariensis mix, mostly the larger greens but one of these does have a reddish cast to it, much like the Carmencita variety we have out front. These two have passed at least the ten foot mark at this point and could potentially top out at twelve or more before the season ends ... barring any early freezes.

Since they're tropical trees, the Castors really enjoyed the heat and humidity, shooting up quickly since we planted them in late June. They're fast growers to begin with, but these two have truly excelled this year, thanks to Fernymoss' regular feedings with fish emulsion! Who knows how big they could have gotten had we planted them earlier (say, late May) ... in any case, they're a great dramatic accent in the garden and really don't ask for a lot, save an occasional feeding and regular watering. A while back I posted a picture of the smaller plants in August here, and comparing the two photos, you can see just how much they've grown in about a month and a half! The large green one pictured has already bloomed and is putting on its seed pods (more on that in an upcoming post) so we should, with any luck, be able to harvest a bounty of seeds to share and plant again in coming years. I've already reserved a few for some blogging friends, so if you're interested in seeds for next year, just let me know. Providing, that is, that we don't get a killing freeze before they have a chance to mature ....!

Notes on the photos: Taken by Fernymoss, 16 September, 2007. The first view is from an angle that shows the entire plants (and exaggerates a bit, I must admit) so you can get some perspective on how big they've gotten. The second is a closer view including our dear Queen Pepa (approximately) to add just a bit more perspective. I'll be posting a few more in coming entries, so stay tuned for more of these dramatic and fascinating plants. (And if you look carefully in these shots you can see a Kucinich 2004 tee shirt on the line ... right next to the Guiness boxer shorts! LOL)