Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Cheeseball!

I hope everyone has the Thanksgiving they'd like to celebrate ... and not, of course, just the one you get! Everyone has their own family traditions that change or even evaporate over the years ... I have to say that ours have been pretty malleable for quite some time. Usually we spend it with Fernymoss' parents (and relatives) and this year is no exception. Aside from me not getting to cook the turkey in the way I like (which I usually compensate for by doing a Turkey breast for Christmas just for us), we've fallen into a pretty comfortable and enjoyable way of celebrating the holiday. Eat early in the afternoon, then retire to converse, have coffee and often watch a DVD. (I'm still trying to pick one out to offer, but my inclination would be The Fall. We'll see if that one flies....) Thankfully, football is always out of the picture (or I'd really have to beg off for a nap!) so options are usually open ... whew! Anyway, this year I've been asked to provide a salad, and Fernymoss was going to make a pumpkin pie (until he got lucky and his mom said she'd already baked one), and we also had the idea of making the cheeseball that was popular at our Halloween Bash ... So, here we have the subject of today's post!

I thought it might be fun to chronicle how easy this is to make, so as I set about putting it all together in the kitchen tonight, I decided to go all Food Network and show how this tasty snack/appetizer is made. Obviously, this first shot shows what you'll need ... As you can see, it's pretty mundane stuff easily found at your favorite supermarket .. 2 cans of Underwood Deviled Ham, a package each of cream cheese, a small (.4 oz) packet of dry Ranch salad dressing, 4 multicolor peppers (to use half of each), 2 Cups of shredded cheese (this is Colby Jack, but the original recipe calls for cheddar) and unsalted Sunflower Seeds (I refuse to call them 'nuts').

As for preparation, let the cream cheese come to room temperature for a couple of hours, then stir in the Ranch salad dressing mix and combine thoroughly. Add the 2 cans of deviled ham, and stir thoroughly to combine.

At this point, add the diced multicolor peppers, fold them in well, and add the 2 Cups of shredded cheese, again folding them in well. Now comes the relaxing time ... cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Fortunately, tonight that allowed me to watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Rachel Maddow Show, before I had to complete the final steps to this über complicated recipe. Once I had my current events/politics fix, I went back into the kitchen.

After its time chilling out, we're ready to shape this mass into some sort of ball or log. You have to use your hands here ... so either sheathe the whole ball into plastic wrap and roll it into a log or just free form it (the path I always take) into a rough ball. The way I figure it, once someone digs into it, all artistry then leaves the room, so I quit bothering about trying to be fancy. A cheeseball is what it is.

Now, here's the fun part ... you get to try to make unsalted sunflower seeds stick to the whole thing, once you've got it shaped to your satisfaction. It's not as easy as it might sound (and is perhaps the most complicated part of this recipe), but never fear. Just dump a fair amount of the seeds over the lump and spread them around, pressing them lightly to the lump. Work your way around until you have it covered to your satisfaction (or level of frustration). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you need to serve. With crackers, of course. Need I say more? You know already what you do with a cheeseball!

The other dish I made tonight was even a bit more "complicated" as the cheeseball. I guess you could call this IVG's Impromptu Pasta Salad, since we sort of made this one up as we brainstormed what items would be acceptable to a culinary audience other than ourselves. So here's what we came up with (for all audiences):

1 pkg (12 oz.) of Farfalle 'Bow Tie' pasta, cooked
1 Cup of diced multicolor sweet peppers, diced
1 Good size stalk of broccoli, trimmed to just the florets
1/2 bag of frozen peas (microwaved)
1 1/2 Cups of cubed cheese (Colby Jack, Cheddar, etc.)
1 Cup of Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
1 Small package (.4 oz.) Dry Ranch Dressing
A few grinds of fresh cracked pepper (optional)

Cook the pasta, and about 2 minutes before it's done (about 10 min.), add the broccoli florets to give them a quick cook. Drain and let cool a little bit before adding the rest of the ingredients. Add the cooked peas and diced peppers. If the pasta is still a little warm, let it cool some more and then add the cubed cheese. Once all those are combined, start working in the mayonnaise/Ranch mixture and fold until most parts appear coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until shortly before serving.

Now, I just gave you the generic bland version of how I'd like to do this the dressing, I'd add at least 1/4 Cup of Dijon Mustard, if not more. It all depends on taste, but we tend to the tangy and spicy. We'd also include various olives (green and black), sliced mushrooms and some diced red onion. But this was an improvised recipe we hope will please, and I think possible variations are an easy thing to adapt to one's own tastes.... What do you think?

Again, wishing you the best, most relaxing Thanksgiving Day as you conceive of it!

Oh yeah, one thing I was particularly thankful for was learning that Anne Coulter's Mouth Has Been Wired Shut! I know it's only for a month or so, but that made my day!

Not bad for Thanksgiving 2008, I'd say....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last Calendula Glimmers

Here it is, almost Thanksgiving and this post should be, by all rights, about the Sage plants we have in the herb bed behind the house. But due to significant work demands these past few weeks --plus the return of Standard "Dreary" Time-- I've barely been able to get outdoors during the day (if there's even sun!) except on weekends, thus no photos. To be honest, I think it also has something to do with a subliminal fear of fully comprehending the ever expanding browning die back of most of the plants. Of course, the Hollies still (and always) look smashingly green and healthy with their red berries. If I had dared venture out last Saturday when it was snowing lightly, I might have even been able to capture a bit of it against the holly, but no, it was too chilly and I didn't want to take my slippers off and have to put shoes and a jacket on.... Sloth won. No matter, there will be plenty of opportunities later this winter for just such occasions, I'm sure! Not that I'm looking forward to that, but I guess a garden photographer has to take the opportunities he has, not the ones he'd like to have.... (NO apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, but that was a particularly ridiculous turn of phrase that has always stuck in my mind!)
Anyway, this will be my final propagandistic plug for the humble Calendula officinalis for this year. I've repeatedly sung its praises far too long, but in case you missed those or can endure one more shameless plug, this is an annual that every gardener should grow somewhere in a sunny spot of the garden! And now is prime time to plant them so you'll have them up in the spring (if you live in an area where the ground is seriously starting to cool down now). Just lightly rake up an area where you get at least 4-5 hours of sun a day (soil is not a huge issue), toss the seeds around and cover them lightly with dirt and forget about them. They come up steadily over the early spring to summer months, and at first will look almost like lettuce seedlings, only more substantial and a bit hairy. Once you've identified the seedlings (thin if necessary), just let Nature take her course and prepare for early summer blooms that continue to last well after frost! Then you get the bonus of even more seeds for the following year, either to share with friends or let them run wild in your garden. As Ina Gartner would say, How easy is that? You can always pull them (*gasp*) if they're horning in on a favorite or you can dig and transplant them while they're still fairly small and they won't mind. Planting Calendula is a very small investment to make in the garden (especially if you get free seeds from a friend) that, if you're pleased with the results, will pay off handsomely in future years. Nuff said. No more Calendula till next year, I promise.

As the High Holidays bear down upon us (is Thanksgiving the feast before the frenzy or famine? This year, I'm not so sure.), so I'm not sure what direction this blog will take in the next few months, save for my annual Ornament Blogging features. Of course there will be snow ... and toward spring, the emergence of the courageous early bulbs, but in the interim, I'm always at a loss for pertinent subjects after the Holiday Blitz has concluded. So ... what would you loyal readers be interested in seeing here over the winter months? I love to post film reviews and commentary on politics and current events, but I'm never sure whether people find these posts interesting or informative, so I'm certainly open to suggestions. Let me know what you think in comments here and in future posts. Of course, when we get particularly great shots to post, they'll be appearing here, that's for certain. If random musings on something that captures my attention on a given day are something you'd like to see, I have plenty of those, lol.

As always, thanks for stopping by and reading! And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you all, if I don't manage to get that Sage up in time!

Jeff (aka IVG)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lingering Late Fall Fire

It appears that the technical issues from the other night have resolved themselves (Far, I do wonder if it was just a cache glitch w/the browser as you suggested) so I have a few photos from 2 November I've been wanting to share here. I first titled this post Survivors: November Post Frost Edition, because that's what these tough little flowers are! They even outlasted the Tricyrtis this year and some are, unbelievably, still around but looking pretty sad lately.

This shot is, of course, Escholzia californica, or California Poppy, the beloved state flower of California, and much beloved in many other gardens, such as ours! Over the past several years, our proliferous volunteers have diminished considerably and now they are much more a surprise accent annual in certain spots in the front boulder bed. Just three years ago we had wonderful drifts of them along the sidewalk in what is now a very bulby and Helleborish part of the Woodland Garden ... some got lost, others were crowded out by the likes of the Liatris, and just basically drastically thinned. But this year, now that we've got the bulbs in and still need to do some clean up, we plan on sowing a lot of seed before putting the bed to rest. We still have some seed left from a year ago, so it's going to be broadcast, as well as a bunch of Susans and Larkspur we've been sitting on. And not to forget, we have a lot of "Frank's Poppy" seeds to spread all over, since those were less prominent this year and I disposed of them promptly when they were done (there were other seeds to go in!) so not much new seed fell this year. If you're interested in these and can find the seed now, it's a great time to plant them. Much easier than working the ground while it's still partly frozen in the wee morns of very early Spring!

I was a bit surprised to spot this cheery little guy, complete with his tiny green bee ... nestled amid the leaves in the grass of the parking, a lowly Dandelion was making one of his likely last stands. We really don't see too many dandelion blooms so late in the season, especially after a few hard frosts ... I guess this one was just trying to remind me how pretty he really is and be happy when his clan reappears in the spring. I'm perfectly fine with having dandelions all over in the grass, but I'm ruthless about digging them from the boulder bed. But as I've preached before, they really are beneficial plant in the long run because they add nutrients to the soil and their long tap roots work wonders in breaking up clay. Nothing gets me more riled up than obsessive suburban "gardeners" (yes, those were air quotes) who are out dumping toxic chemicals into their soil just because they have some irrational fear about the dandelion and other beneficial weeds you should allow in the garden. Monoculture, bad. Polyculture, good. (Disclaimer: although we are at least 90% organic gardeners, and reserve the "big guns" only for noxious stuff like poison ivy and volunteer walnut trees that refuse to die a natural death.)

Gather ye dandelions while ye may, old time is still a flying...

This was another pleasant surprise: our Buddleia davidii Weyeriana that didn't bloom much in the height of summer but somehow gained a second wind and was still blooming as recently as a week ago. I have mixed feelings about this variety ... I love the intricate structure of the honeycomb like blooms, as well as its luscious yellow hue, but it's not the most flowerful of the Buddleias we've grown over the years. Though it has since died off (they're iffy in Iowa winters) our most floriferous was definitely Black Knight, one of the deep purple cultivars. At this point, I hate to say I've become a bit indifferent to Butterfly Bushes ... at least in our garden they're a crap shoot and they do require an inordinate amount of space and a hard pruning (that is hard to do) come spring. But at least as long as this, our last survivor continues to grow, I'll probably just let it go, though if it decided to die off, I wouldn't be in a hurry to replace it. Besides, the spot it occupies is prime Hibiscus Moscheutos planting area! Case closed.
Here you go, Gail, the last shot you'll see this year of Celosia Caracas ... I thought this still looked quite attractive and made me wish I had cut a few to keep dried in the house this winter. Next year, I'm not going to sweat it, as I'm sure there will be hundreds of them coming up out front around Finger Rock. Fortunately, Celosia seedlings are clearly identifiable when they're about an inch tall, with tiny replicas of the adult leaves. I'll be curious to see if Caracas shows any color at the seedling stage, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did....

So there you have it. I still have some nice shots of the Calendulas (who are still hanging around) to post, and a few other things I've gotten somewhat recently. But lately, either work (mostly) or the chilly weather has kept me from doing much outside, but I know there is still interesting life to be chronicled in the garden. So I'll close with my usual caveat that I'll be posting when I can find the time!

As for chilly: check the Weather Underground banner
on this page for the current temperature!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blogger's Super Glitchy Tonight!

Howdy folks, just an update here: I was all set to get a quick post up tonight, but Blogger's acting up again and though it claims to be uploading the photos I wanted to post, they're refusing to appear on the page. Hopefully this is just one of those temporary Blogger hissy fits (as it's wont to do from time to time), so sorry about the lack of photos!

With some halfway decent weather today (in the mid 40's) Fernymoss did manage get all the rest of the bulbs planted around in the garden and in parts of the yard, something we've been trying to get done for the past few weeks! First Halloween got in the way, then the weather went south (at least the good weather did!), and with all the rainy, cold days we've had lately it's been nearly impossible to complete the task. But thanks to Fernymoss, they're all in the cold ground now, ready for their winter naps before emerging in the spring. This year we decided to forego any new tulips, partly to save money and partly because we doubted we'd have the stamina to do such labor intensive plantings this fall, given how busy things around Casa IVG have been. So, since I can't post images right now, I'll just give you a preview of what all we planted, via links to our source, Van Bourgondien. We focused primarily on beefing up our stock of Crocus, though we did add some different bulbs, some old friends (Crocus and Camassia) and hopefully new ones Fritillaria 'Fox Grape' and 'Sicilian Honey Garlic' --an allium.

So here goes ... 96 of our favorite Snow Specie Crocus (click link to see descriptions and photos), the earliest. and to my mind, showiest of the Crocus we have. You may recall these from last Spring, and you'd have a good memory, because it's the exact same mix we first planted in 2005, and this mix has performed extremely well for us. There are some real beauties here! This addition now brings our Crocus total up to probably around 300 or so in various places ... and happily, they just keep spreading more each year! If you don't have Snow Crocus in your garden, you really owe it to yourself to indulge in a few dozen (at least) to start, because they are one of the very easiest bulbs to plant, only needing to go 3-4 inches down (unlike Tulips who require 6-8 inches!). For an afternoon's effort of planting them, you're more than amply rewarded with the splashes of color they provide to signal that winter's finally near its end!

30 more of the 'Giant Dutch Crocus,' also a repeat planting of a quite lovely mix of the later, bigger Crocus ... every one of this mix is a stunner when in bloom, though alas, they often fall victim to hard early rains and winds and lose their petals quickly, they are real beauties to see when they emerge and start blooming....

24 of the Fritillaria 'Fox Grape,' a new variety for us, and one we're quite excited about having in the garden. We've become real fans of the various Fritillaria in the past few years, and though we've lost both of our large, Crown Imperials due to bad winters, and our F. michailovski have been dwindling in number recently, so we decided to try another very attractive (and relatively cheap) variety. You'll have to wait until mid-spring to see them here, but I think the wait will be worth it....

8 'Sicilian Honey Garlic' (Allium sicculum) which we once tried years ago, but we were stupid and planted them in areas where they got engulfed by the early summer growth of Bee Balm and other taller plants. There's one surviving (barely) in the back corner bed bordering the sidewalk, but alas you really have to know when to expect it to bloom and then search for it, so these went in a much more prominent position out front near the Finger Rock, where we have several of the purple Globe Alliums planted. Yes, the choice of more alliums was deliberate. As I've frequently extolled the allium virtue of adding sulfur to the soil over time (protection from Powdery Mildew in susceptible plants such as Monarda), these were yet another addition to that particular soil modification. And we actually would like to see them perform in a spot where they can be appreciated too!

The last bulbs (24) to list are one of our emerging favorites, Camassia esculenta, aka 'Indian Hyacinth." This plant is also known as 'Quamash,' a Native American moniker because in the past they used them as a food source. If you search the blog, or use the labels below, you'll see some much better pictures than VB's image conveys. Camassia is a bit deceptive when it emerges because its foliage is easily mistaken for a tall grass, and it isn't until they bloom that they reveal their true beauty. We ordered the blue ones this year, and when we first planted them in 2005, we purchased a mix that also has a nice pink in it, but it's really the blue ones we now prefer. The mistake we made initially when we planted these is that we interspersed a few here and there among other larger bulbs (Tulips, Daffodils) where they tended to get lost. So this time, Fernymoss concentrated on a few mass plantings (1 bag per mass) so they'll stand out more and get their fair share of attention. Camassia does have a nice tendency to naturalize freely after a few years, so we're hoping that over time we'll get some really nice masses where they can strut their under appreciated stuff! We certainly don't have any intentions of eating them, so we're just going to encourage them to live long and prosper!

So there you have it, the inventory of fall bulbs recently planted here at the Oasis ... now the long winter wait begins.... But if you'd like revisit last Spring (what serious gardener wouldn't?), just click on the various labels below and enjoy!

Work continues to be an obstacle to blogging, but I'm going to try to post when I have some spare time at night, so do stop back frequently to see what's going on. Winter postings are always a challenge, but I've been mulling over some possible topics (ranging from film to recipes and archival photos not seen previously) to keep the garden going, while we wait for winter's passage and the renewal of the promise of a new season to come! And of course, there's always Christmas Ornament blogging in the offing ... much sooner than I'd like to admit!

So what have you folks out there been planting bulb and otherwise in your nearly slumbering fall gardens? I'd love to hear what gardeners in other zones have to say, though I'm sure that some of it would make me envious! Let us know....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saturday World Cinema: The Science of Sleep

Click image for Amazon listing
Last night I opined that I wanted to watch a "mindless" movie tonight to get work worries off my mind.... Well, I didn't actually "lie," I just misspoke and ended up changing my mind, ok? And I'm glad I did! The Science of Sleep is far removed from the "mindless" category, and refreshingly so, if I might add! I noticed this film on one of our movie channels a while back and the presence of Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of legendary French singer Serge) was enough to pique my interest in it. After perusing a few reviews on IMDB, I concluded that it would contain enough of the "weirdness" factor (plus Gael eye candy potential) to merit 105 minutes of my time, so I recorded it on the DVR several months ago. Tonight I finally got around to experiencing its unique charms and intellectual rewards ... I was even able to sell Fernymoss on watching it (I had seen about the first half hour before he came home from work) and soon he was enthusiastically on board with this unique French gem from the same director (Michel Gondry) as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which, I'll confess, I've never seen. I have Jim Carrey issues as yet unresolved.)

I also have to confess I'm a big García Bernal fan ever since I first saw him in the gritty and painfully existential Amores Perros back in 2000. He's since become a rapidly rising star in Latin America and Europe, turning in impressive, chameleon like performances in films as diverse as Y Tu Mamá También, Don't Tempt Me, Motorcycle Diaries (in which he portrayed the legendary Che Guevarra), and my personal favorite, Pedro Almodóvar's, Bad Education. He also received very positive reviews for his work in a film I've yet to see, The King, where he apparently plays a very sinister character modeled on Elvis ... or something like that. (Remember, I haven't seen it yet!) For a young actor of just 30 this year, he's already accumulated an impressive and diverse body of work, which also includes the much ballyhooed Babel, which I have recorded but alas, haven't seen yet. Such is the story of the films waiting on the DVR for their appropriate moment in time....

First and foremost, this film is an inventive meditation on the role of dreams, and how, for certain individuals, they can drive, inform and ultimately cross over into the more mundane "reality" of a life. Stéphane, our protagonist (recently returned to Paris after the death of his father), is a sweetly naïve man-child who arrives to assume a job at a commercial calendar company (procured by his well-meaning mother) where he innocently assumes he'll be designing calendars to exercise his obviously creative talents. Nope. He's just to be the cut and paste guy on generic advertising calendars, not exactly what he had in mind. And given his odd group of co-workers, he sees quickly that this venue is not the place for him to indulge his incredibly rich imagination and talents. Almost immediately, this stultifying crush of "reality" sends him back to his dream world, played out frequently in his Stéphane TV fantasies where he allows himself to roam the past, present and future effortlessly with often comic results.

Suddenly, an attractive new neighbor, Stéphanie (Gainsbourg), enters his life, (via an unfortunate incident involving a piano), and things really get inventive and the surrealistic tendencies we've already seen him display assume a driving force in the developing relationship between the two. From this point on, the flights of fancy take to the foreground of the film, and at times it's difficult to distinguish "reality" from dreams, though the latter are so filled with dream symbology that the viewer eventually catches on and tries to reground herself/himself ... but honestly, when viewing this film, it's best to adopt the old adage of going with the flow, and enjoying this wry, eye popping and clever ride. That's the key pleasure of this film at a surface level, though if one is so inclined, reading further into the dream sequences is an equally rich experience. In short, there's a lot of good stuff to ponder in this filmic treatise on the nature of dreams and their impact on our lives, and how one decides to go with it is a purely personal decision. One could view this as a strange --indeed bizarre-- love story, an exploration of our inner mental workings of the sleeping consciousness or any number of other pathways I've probably not yet contemplated, since I'm putting down first impressions here. Give me a few days to let it all sink in, and I might come back and contradict myself!

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this particular "under the commercial radar" film (apparently it was well received at the 2006 Sundance Festival, which probably led to its US release) and recommend it highly to those inclined to venture off the usual commercial movie path ... with its attractive and engaging principal actors and their convincing performances alone, it's worth a look if you see it pop up at your local video store, Netflix list or satellite movie channels. It's a rewarding and highly entertaining 105 minutes you could have otherwise wasted on something else (Food Network anyone?), though if you choose this, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

NOTE: I've made this review deliberately sketchy because I didn't want to spoil some of the truly "special" moments in the dreams ... to have revealed more than I have would potentially cheat viewers out of some really great "aha!" moments. I'm glad we watched this tonight....

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kale and Hearty

You know when I resort to punful post titles like this one, that I've had a rough week or so! As I warned earlier this week, work has gotten in the way of blogging quite a bit lately, and unfortunately it's going to remain that way for some time to come ... so bear with me, gentle readers, until I can get back into more regular posting!

This poor munched upon beauty (I blame the were-rabbits!) is a variety of Flowering Kale (Brassica oleracea Acephela group), one of my fall "blooming" favorites, though I don't always find my favorite varieties to plant each year, so sometimes I just have to settle for what I can get! I didn't remember to save the stake on this particular variety, but it's one of the more common ones you find in discerning gardens around the area, and it's no wonder why given how easy it is to grow!

Kale is pretty unimpressive when you get it because it looks just like many cabbages, except for its initial shading of color, which is, in this case, is its purplish tinge. They grow fairly slowly through late spring and early summer, but really launch into a full fledged spurt toward the end of the hotter months in late September, and from that point on they start to take on their true colors and put on some size ... they're at their prime in October and November and are undaunted by the first few frosts, succumbing only to the hard freeze that either kills the remaining annuals or sends hardy perennials off to their winter repose.

Kale likes full sun and isn't particularly picky about soil, as long as it's fairly well drained and doesn't stay soggy for long periods of time. Truly, this is one of those "plant it and forget it till it's ready to shine" plants because though for part of the summer they are fairly unremarkable, when they get going toward Fall, they're a more than welcome bright spot in the garden amongst the other tired and rapidly waning plants. As for the "Flowering" part, it's not really a flower per se, but rather a dense rosette of leaves (that never really forms a head) bearing the coloration of each cultivar. Ornamental Kales are perfectly fine to eat (though I've never had it) and according to Wikipedia, they are actually a great source of Vitamins A and C, so I should probably try it sometime!

Over the years we've tried several "ornamental" vegetables in the front boulder beds, most notably Swiss Chard Bright Lights, which though we haven't grown it in a couple of years, I intend to get it going again next year, because it's another late summer-fall stunner that can actually be harvested and eaten as well. Last year we planted an ornamental
pepper (e.g. don't eat it because it's too hot!) ... a deep purple variety with small fruit (purple too!), a very attractive plant that actually went to seed, though it didn't get very big this year before frost hit. We had planned on digging a few to keep in pots over the winter (since they only get about 5-8 inches tall), but we didn't get around to it before they bit it ... oh well, maybe next year, as the gardener's refrain goes!

I hope you all have a great weekend! I'll be working again.... Even so, I hope to catch up on a movie or two I have recorded --you know the mindless type!-- I think it's time to roll Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story with John C. Reilly. Yes, Annie, I do on occasion indulge in shamelessly commercial movie fare, though it's been a while since we last did that and enjoyed the truly shameless Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay. As one who has been often accused of being a film snob, I guess I just have to reaffirm my trash credentials from time to time....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Olbermann on Proposition H8

Click image for video
This one is personal ... We were devastated to see that California's "Proposition 8" passed last week, thanks in large part to millions that the LDS (Mormon) Church funneled into advocating denying same sex couples the right to marry in California, even though it was decreed into law this past summer. This is just an expression of profound ignorance or downright hate, pure and simple. It's tantamount to supporting the hateful miscengenation laws on the books until the late 1960's, which forbade interracial marriages. According to these laws, our newly elected President Obama's parents had an invalid marriage (he was born in 1961). See Loving vs. Virginia.

For all the right wing blather about "protecting the sanctity of marriage," who are the true victims here? Not those heterosexual couples who have a 50/50 chance of their marriages surviving a potential divorce. This is about civil rights, pure and simple. Why should same sex couples be denied the rights (tax breaks, Social Security benefits, visitation or adoption rights, etc.) that heterosexual couples take for granted? There is no conceivable rationalization for this mindset, because there is no palpable effect on "traditional marriages" of legalizing and recognizing same sex marriages for such couples. Everybody would be a winner here if same sex marriages were recognized and afforded comparable benefits: gay people would most certainly want to divorce at times (hooray for the lawyers!), and just think about how much the churches and city halls would make in charging for marriages? This is hate. Pure and simple. First it was the Jews. Then it was Black folks, and now, since the 80's onward, we gay folk are the targets of hate. Once the extremist theocrats are done with us, who will be the next victims? This is bigotry and idiocy, pure and simple.

Here are the arguments I've used when discussing this issue with people over the years...

Fernymoss and I met and fell in love in 1997 and we've been together ever since. According to most statistics I've seen, the divorce rate among heterosexual couples outpaces the chances we should have had at staying together these past 11 years. Why can't we file our taxes as a married couple and get that benefit? Because we're not "legal" according to state and federal law. That's not Equal Rights, that's no rights.

If either of us decided to enter into a sham marriage with a woman, and then died three weeks later, that woman would be entitled to collect Social Security benefits that we have paid all our working lives. Where's the equality in that?

We can't share equally in health care benefits either. Neither of us is recognized legally by the other's insurance. We're considered "single" workers and cannot benefit from the other's coverage. And I won't even go into the legal complications about whether either of us could legally make life or death decisions about the other (e.g. "pulling the plug on extraordinary measures" even if that were perfectly clear between the two of us). The only option I see as us having is granting power of attorney for such rights to the other, and even that has been challenged in certain state courts. But it's the best we have in the current state of things legally.

And then there's the whole issue of general respect. As gay tax payers who have dutifully paid into funds all our lives that protect others over many years, why should we be denied the same benefits? I guess that, according to current laws, it's OK for us to subsidize benefits for divorced, married or common law marriages, but when it concerns responsible, tax paying gay "singles," we're out in the cold. And we should, I guess, just be happy about not being herded into prisons or concentration camps for the privilege of subsidizing those who are more "pure" than we are?

It's no wonder that spontaneous protests against Proposition H8 have sprung up over the country since last week. I suspect there will be many more before this all ends up in the courts. Good on them I say....

Please click on Keith Olbermann's Special Comment from Monday (above), because he makes a much better general case than I can against this idiocy. For us, its just too personal, and we're not going to get over it any time soon, no matter how the mainstream media covers this.

I'll back down from my soapbox now. But this is an important issue to us, and I hope readers will understand where I'm coming from on this issue. And thanks for reading, as always!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Porcupine is Hibernating Now

Hi folks, just a quick post here tonight, but I promise I have more and better to come soon, once work calms down just a wee bit. Apologies for going AWOL again lately, but we're hitting a peak time at work and I've been working insane hours the past couple of weeks, thus the paucity of posts. I took these shots late in the afternoon on November 2, which was one of our last recent "warmish" days, and now we're in the sudden cold, with freezing rain, sleet and rain forecast for tonight and through tomorrow. So much for that brief fling of Indian Summer that lasted what ... about five days? Such are the caprices of Iowa fall/early winter weather!

Anyway, this first shot is a close up of the feathery plumes of Miscanthus sinensis, aka 'Porcupine Grass,' one of a few of our ornamental grasses we have planted. We started with two small pots of it about four years ago, and it has really staked out its territory now, and boasts a commanding presence just behind "Finger Rock" near the corner of the front Boulder Bed.

This second shot shows the entirety of its stand, as well as its numerous bloom stalks, which provide some really nice winter interest to the garden, especially when they're covered in snow! (Not that I'm in any big hurry to see that, there's plenty of time in December and January for it!) 'Porcupine Grass' didn't get its name by chance, and if you've ever encountered it up close and personal, you'll know why! It's very sharp and can inflict some nasty cuts and scratches to unprotected skin, but provided you keep your distance, it's a great garden specimen with lots of interest throughout the growing season and beyond, well into the winter months. It's really a very low maintenance plant that's not picky about soil, does well in heat and drought, and only asks for a cutting back (to about 3-4 inches) in early spring (about the time the bulbs start blooming), and it's quite happy to perform in sunny areas, expanding gradually to form a large clump over the ensuing years. Should it get too big for your space, you can easily divide it and plant the sections elsewhere or share with your gardening friends. That's not likely to happen with ours for a while at least, and if and when it outgrows its present spot, we'll probably just move new divisions to other parts of the garden ... that's how much we love this plant!

Though this shot is a bit dark in the foreground, if you look closely, you can just make out the Celosia 'Dark Caracas' lying down in front of the rock, a victim of both recent high winds and freezes. We tried collecting some seed from it this past weekend, but apparently it has already dropped most of it, so it should be popping up all over the area next year once the ground warms in late spring. We're still going to see if we can scrape up a bit from the two plants to start indoors so we can plant it elsewhere next year. (Note to Gail: now would be a good time to see if you can collect some, since you've had your first frost!) As I've noted previously, this is a must to plant if you're a fan of Celosia species, and if you're lucky enough to find it in garden centers next year, do consider giving it a sunny home for the season!

Just as an aside, I received an email from a woman in Clermont, France over the weekend about problems with aphids on this plant (she's valiantly trying to grow it indoors!), and though we've never had this problem with any of our various Celosias, I've wondered if anyone else has experienced this problem ... I recommended an infusion of Cayenne pepper steeped in boiling water with dish detergent added to it as an insecticidal spray. That has worked wonders for us in the past when we had an infestation of Whiteflies on our tomatoes one year, and also should work for some of the other common 'sucking' pests associated with certain plants (such as spider mites). It's an eco-friendly and organic solution that costs little and doesn't harm either the plant or the soil, so maybe you can put this tip to use with your own plants. If you don't have Cayenne on hand, you can also use those little packets of crushed red pepper that often come with pizza ordered for delivery! We've used those and they work fine as well, and you can pat yourself on the back for re-purposing something that you might ordinarily discard in the trash! (We keep those around just in case we need them for just this purpose!)

Ok, sorry for probably spotty posting this week, but hope springs eternal that I can get back on track again soon, and as always, I truly cherish my regular readers, whether you comment or not. You're the rays of sunshine who brighten the dreary days of fall and winter now upon us....

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Video: "A Night To Remember" courtesy of The Jed Report

I'd dearly love to paraphrase Gerald Ford's famous quote about Our long national nightmare is now over, but something tells me that we are only at the very beginning of the end of the national nightmare we've been forced to endure for the last eight years. There still remain so many constitutional wrongs to be righted, so many affronts to our personal liberties to be corrected, that it's probably unrealistic for us to expect that one man, our newly elected President Obama, will be able to address all these immediately, but I do have faith in his intrinsic goodness, integrity and honesty to believe that these things will not go neglected.

This remarkable man, who led a truly inspiring campaign to victory against many culturally ingrained odds and prevailed despite all the lies and hateful attacks, has made me so proud. And it's abundantly clear that the rest of the world (for the most part) is on board in cheering his election Tuesday night.... I remember several conversations that Fernymoss and I had last fall when the caucuses and primaries were getting going and I remarked that if Barack Obama were to be elected that it would be an instantaneous boost and corrective to our severely damaged image with the rest of the world. Even then, I had serious doubts that our country was ready to elect a biracial man to our highest office, but as the primaries progressed, I became increasingly hopeful that he could prevail to win the nomination and the presidency. And now it has happened for real and I'm still having a bit of difficulty truly believing that it really happened ... folks, people finally woke up and came out in record numbers (highest turnout since 1908) to make history. I am, after all these painful and depressing last eight years, proud of the promise of our country again ... now if we can only keep up the momentum, we may well be at a transformational turning point in our history. We've accomplished the first step, but there is still so much work to be done on OUR parts to make sure that we stay on the right track.

There's only so much one man can accomplish. But we need to pledge our faith and support to Obama's vision for transforming our politics and country. Really. Seriously. Look back on the insane degree of latitude given to Bu$h by the media after his illegitimate appointment by the Supreme Court back in 2000. At the very least, even those who voted against Obama owe it to our country to give him the benefit of the doubt and cease the scurrilous and downright hateful assaults against his character that were so poisonously lobbed at him during the campaign. Yes, I'm sure he will make missteps at points, but we need to be patient and let him steer the course out of these past eight horrid years.... He's been handed a plate full of nastiness that won't be resolved quickly, so we OWE him our support as he tackles these daunting challenges. Our country has reached the point of near economic collapse, due to the failed "conservative" policies of the last eight years (and since Reagan), and in the recession/depression that is either imminent or already happening, we're going to need some powerful and inspiring leadership, the likes of which we probably haven't seen since FDR. And I truly believe that Barack Obama will provide us with that leadership.

I could go on and on, but I hope I've made my basic point about how stunning his victory was on Tuesday ... I'm still pinching myself and after these few days I think it's finally starting to sink in. I remind myself every morning when I wake up that yes, indeed We Did It and come January 20, he will be our next president. What a relief! After imagining so many nightmare scenarios about how he could be prevented from assuming the office, it now looks that we're on track to have a president who will help bring this nation back from the brink, re-establish our international reputation, and begin to right the innumerable wrongs perpetrated upon our country by his illegitimate predecessor in the office.

Just consider how refreshing it will be to see our President speak at press conferences and such events ...a man who can construct an intelligent and coherent sentence ... who has a wry sense of honest humor ... who has the potential to put us back on a positive track to make us all proud to be citizens of the USA. There are no red states, there are no blue states, there are only the United States of America. Indeed ... I so look forward to that new beginning!

And to end on a lighter note, here's a brief clip of President-Elect Obama answering a question about the new dog soon to occupy the White House. I'm still in awe about how he can imbue such gravity and humor into a subject that many might find trivial, but I think is very weighty ... the choice of the right dog for Malia and Sasha....
I'm eagerly awaiting to see what the new "First Puppy" turns out to be ... One thing I'm pretty sure won't happen is that it will be a Scottish Terrier after that incident yesterday when Barney bit a reporter from Reuters!

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Few Halloween Sights

I hope you all had a great Halloween, however you chose to celebrate! Of course, I'm a bit late, given the stressful, busy week we had dealing with the tree damage and all the preparations, not to mention that little annoyance known as work! So, though late, here are some views of the front garden and exterior, and soon I'll have more shots of the spooky porch display inside .... Anyway, here's what confronted our Trick or Treaters on Thursday night as they approached the spookiest house on the block ... but the one with the most generous treats and prizes! (Note: the three pumpkins to the left of the door came from the garden ... there was another one out there, but it rotted before it was fully ripe, so we only ended up with three, all told.)
Here's a view of the primrose bed to the left of the steps ... I didn't get the tombstone into the shot because I wanted to make sure our garden stone made it in ... Isn't it cool? It was a homemade gift that Shady Gardener brought me when she visited the garden back in August. Thanks so much for your generous contribution to the garden Shady! I think we'll leave it there at least for the time being, though I am planning on putting some of the new crocus and fritillaria bulbs in there, so it may have to move eventually, but it will always have a privileged and visible place in the garden!
I know I posted this tombstone last week, but notice the new addition! Isn't he eerily magnificent? I'm not sure if we'll leave him out over the winter, but he certainly does look at home under the holly amidst the dead ostrich plume ferns, doesn't he? You can also see that despite the killing frosts we had last week, the Hellebore is doing just fine, and may well stay green all winter, even when it's buried under the snow....
Now you know what a zapped Castor Tree looks like after a killing frost! And sometime on Friday, this bony dude decided to drop by and hang around for a while, a sort of Halloween ornament on a spooky dead tree ... and in the shot below you can see that one of his less fortunate friends decided to take a rest at the base of the tree....
As for our usual Halloween festivities, we only unpacked about half of the decorations we had because we were so short on time this year, but still had plenty to go around! One of our neighbors told us that we always have the best decorations and spookiest display, so our reputation goes unchallenged yet again, even though we had much more grandiose plans, but we just ran out of time! We had a smaller than usual turnout of Trick or Treaters this year, which was really odd, because the evening was so mild for a change! Still, those who came by went home thrilled and loaded down with candy and toy prizes! All told, we had about 36 show up, and we had a great time making them squeal with delight at the decorations and treats ... and not to be outdone, Queen Skelepepa acted as a very accommodating "Ghostess" who charmed the little ones and got lots of attention and petting! After it was all over, she came in and just conked out for the night ... she was clearly pooped out but content with her contribution to the festivities!

We had our annual small Halloween Bash for a few friends and co-workers Friday night, and it was a very pleasant evening among friends with lots of good food, drink and spooky tricks. We were both wiped out with all the preparations and vow that next year, we're going to skip the party entirely so we don't stress ourselves out like we usually do. Next year, I think we'll just have a quiet Halloween at home watching spooky movies and snacking, without all the preparations we usually put ourselves through. All in all though, it was a great Halloween Weekend, and now it's on to the Election on Tuesday, which we're hoping will be a great celebration as well ... we will all know Tuesday night, won't we?

I hope to get back to a somewhat more regular posting schedule after the election, so keep stopping by and again, thanks for all the kind comments and positive thoughts you've been sending our way during these past stressful weeks! They really brighten our day!