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 ....