Monday, June 30, 2008

The Fourth

I thought we already celebrated the Fourth of July with fireworks in my small town, but I heard and saw more tonight, so I don't know what that's all about. Well, I guess you can't celebrate Independence Day too many times. Maybe this is a private celebration, but I'm seeing these fireworks in the same place as the others. Anyway, they are pretty, and I love being able to watch them from my study window.

I worked my part-time part-time job today for four-and-a-half hours--that was all I could stand. The air conditioning wasn't working in the receiving room, so Hunter (the receiving manager) and I spent our time sweating--he unpacked boxes and I packed them. I was so hot my shirt and pants were damp--I mean DAMP. I planned to work longer, but I can sweat at my own house, and I can get some gardening done while I do it. So I came home.

And, hooray, I received season 3 of The Closer and Pirates of the Caribbean--At World's End. So I had an excuse to stay inside and not sweat. But that means I need to get up early tomorrow morning and mow the front yard, which I didn't do this afternoon. Oh, well. I'll do it sooner or later. And I'm waiting for a cordless string trimmer so I can tackle the front ditch and the back corner where I can't reach with the mower. I ordered it Friday and it should be here any day. I love the Internet. I can get what I need without leaving home.

I'm finding that I don't much like leaving home these days. I realize I have to leave once in a while. Otherwise, I'll become the crazy cat lady who talks to her plants. But I also realize that I can get so much done here when I'm not distracted by trips to "the big city." And I've discovered that going out involves planning. I make extensive lists, map travel routes, and calculate gas use--I plan every stop so that I don't have to double back. I've become almost obsessive about it. I think that's good, though. I only go to town when I need to, so I'm not using up as much gas as often.

If I don't have to go to town for myself, my mom will always have a reason for me to go. This weekend, we have a baby shower, and my brother is going to finish what he started last week--putting a new hard drive in my laptop. By then, I should have the rest of the memory for it. I think I'll have a brand new laptop for less than half the cost of a new one.

I sometimes think I lead a boring life. When I write it out, though, it seems more interesting--to me, anyway!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another Post

I've posted once today, but Nissa suggested that I make a list of "recommended reading."

When and if I teach literature, I usually teach Intro to Fiction or the second freshman comp course that covers fiction, poetry, and drama. My friends will not be surprised when I say that I love poetry, but despair because so many of my students don't "get it." Poetry, for me, is about the human heart in all it's fragility and beauty. It's more feeling; I think of fiction and drama as more cerebral, which may not be entirely true, but that's how I feel about it.

If I listed all of the poets and poems I love (and I mean that), this blog site would kick me off for exceeding my alloted space. So, here are a smattering, in no particular order of preference:

Mary Oliver--she's one of my favorite modern nature poets, but she also touches on her own hard life growing up. Those poems sneak up on you and smack you upside the head. Her nature poetry takes my breath away.

Margaret Atwood--also one of my favorite fiction and nonfiction writers. My favorite poem is "This is a Picture of Me." It's been a jumping off point for many poetry exercises.

Emily Dickinson--I don't think I need to explain this choice. I've been reading her for years, and she never ceases to surprise and confound me.

As odd as this sounds, war poets--Randall Jarrell ("The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"), Howard Nemerov ("The War in the Air") , Henry Reed ("The Naming of Parts"), Stephen Crane ("War is Kind")--because they don't glorify war. For them, war is bloody, senseless, and deadly.

Well, just begin with Sappho and work your way forward. The Imagists (William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, H.D., Archibald MacLeish ("Ars Poetica")) are some of my favorites, but I also like the Romantics and the Victorians, and Shakespeare's sonnets.

I just scanned my bookshelves and was reminded of the poets I envy--Gerard Manley Hopkins for his language ("The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord"), and Elizabeth Bishop for her specificity (read "One Art," a wonderful sestina).

These are, by no means, all. Just some to start with.

For fiction, again, too many to list.

For short stories and novels, I like the quirky and surprising. In my Intro to Fiction class, I go for the startling endings--"The Lottery," Shirley Jackson; "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin; and I like angel/devil stories: "The Demon Lover," Elizabeth Bowen; "Gimpel the Fool," Issac Bashevis Singer; "The Man in the Black Suit," Stephen King' ; "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," Gabriel Garcia Marquez; "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne.

For depth, I like "The Death of Ivan Illych," by Leo Tolstoy; "The Metamorphosis," Franz Kafka; and "Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad.

And you can't go wrong with anything by T. C. Boyle. Some of his stories are apocalyptic and weird, while some are painfully real ("The Love of My Life").

Again, I have more, but that's a start.

With novels, again, too many to list. I've read a few in the last couple of years that are good--Atonement, by Ian McEwan; The Road, by Cormac McCarthy; Life of Pi, by Yann Martel; Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks. But I also love the African novels of Alexander McCall Smith.

Take a look at Modern Books' list (just Google it). I can't agree with Ulysses by James Joyce. I've never been able to get through it, and I don't particularly care for Ayn Rand. I like apocalyptic fiction--1984, Animal Farm, The Sparrow and Fahrenheit 451 (the last two are classified as "science fiction"). Love The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all the Harry Potter books, and The Mists of Avalon.

I had to come back in here (it's Sunday) and add the original "chick lit" (hate the modern stuff) by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Add Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca to that.

For drama, anything by Shakespeare. I particularly love "Othello" and "King Lear." I'm drawn more to his dramas and history plays. I like the comedies, but the tragedies seem to resonate with me.

In more modern drama, I like Susan Glaspell's "Trifles," and any of Wendy Wasserstein's plays. Also, Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" and "The Crucible." I like "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams. But, then, I like the Greeks, too--Sophocles and Euripedes .("Medea"--Wow! She's one angry woman.)

That's the short list. If I went through my bookshelves and boxes, I'd be typing here all night. And, of course, I haven't mentioned nonfiction--Amy Tan's The Opposite of Fate, Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead, Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, and Peter Godwin's When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (about Zimbabwe--a must read for these times).

Again, that's a short-short list of nonfiction, and these are all books I've read recently. Add to that Stephen King's On Writing, and so many other books about writing.

That's enough for now. I've spent about an hour typing all of this, and I promised myself I wouldn't spend the whole night on the computer. Ha!

So, if you have anything to add, leave a comment--agree, disagree, amplify! I'd love to hear what you're reading right now.

Pass-along Plants

I had a lovely visit from an "almost" former student today. I say "almost" because she wasn't in my class for long before she dropped it and withdrew from the university to pursue another direction, but she's kept up with me through this blog.

When she came out, she brought me two types of mint--a "regular" mint and a "rough" spearmint. I planted those earlier this afternoon. Thank you, Nissa, for the plants and the visit.

Armed with a trowel, we walked around my yard and dug up some plants she wanted to try in her yard--Purslane (which is an edible succulent), periwinkles (they multiply like crabgrass), and a small juniper-like tree (the birds drop the seeds all over my yard; they spring up like weeds, too). She came out to get some of those spider lily bulbs (I filled up a huge bag for her). We talked about plants and she gave me some good ideas about what to plant for ground cover. We took a look at the plum, peach and mayhaw trees.

And we talked and talked. I so enjoy good conversation and funny people, and I had both today. I don't get many visitors, so I cherish the ones I do get. With gas prices so high, it's difficult to just jump in the car and drive 45 miles (90, round-trip) to chat for an hour or two. I do appreciate it, though, when someone does that.

I love when people bring me plants from their yards. I feel that I have a bit of that person with me all of the time. I look at all of the plants my sister, my mother and my friends have given me and appreciate their contributions to the landscape. And I love to pass on what I have that others want. That's the beauty of gardening--getting to know the plants, learning how to care for them, and sharing them with others. The more plants I get, the more I learn and the more I can share.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

WiFi in the Backyard

My brother, showing off with his iPhone, located two WiFi signals in my backyard--can't get them in the house, but that's fine. One is secured, so it probably belongs to the police department; the other is not, so all I have to do is plop down in one of the Adirondack Chairs, plug in my WiFi card, and the computer connects. This morning I answered all of my email and looked up birds on the Internet while I let the sprinkler water the vegetable garden. I took care of the email before 8am and did a bit of birdwatching and identifying.

I don't know where the signal is coming from, but to whoever--Thanks!

The garden is doing well. I saw two nice-sized squash and a few baby ones; I have a bell pepper and an eggplant and a few tomato flowers. I think I have a cucumber--and the vines are blooming all over. The watermelon and the butternut squash have spread out over the garden border, so I need to make sure I don't mow them down.

The sunflowers haven't sprouted any blossoms, but they are tall. I expect they'll start busting out soon. I have a few corn plants, but I don't think those are going to produce. I could be wrong; we'll see. Overall, everything's doing well. I think the Miracle Gro has kicked in. I try to "feed" the gardens once a week. I hope the bees are working, but I haven't see too many lately. I think I'll get some Mason bees in the spring just to make sure I have bees when I need them.

George Carlin died. He is/was one of my counterculture heroes. I first heard his "7 Words You Can't Say on Television" on his album "Class Clown," which is one of the funniest comedy recordings. My brother made me a copy of it (on audio tape--that gives you an idea of how long ago that was!), and, while shocking, that routine is one that has stayed with me for the last 40 years. I could even tell you what those words are, but I'd probably get arrested! So I won't detail them here. But he did some funny riffs on going to Catholic school (I did), and his routine about "stuff" is a classic (and so true). His "Hippie Dippy Weatherman" on The Smothers' Brothers Comedy Hour is a classic character. As long as I can listen to his comedy routines and reread his books, he won't leave me. I think he falls in the comedy ranks of Bob Hope, George Burns, Lenny Bruce, the Marx Brothers, and Steve Martin! He broke new ground for comedy and he wasn't afraid to take risks; he pointed out our foibles and idiocies and made us laugh at ourselves. I will miss his presence, but his comedy will endure.

I learned yesterday that I need to keep my cell phone on when I'm driving. I left my wallet at my mom's house--it fell out of my purse--and she tried to call me to tell me it was there. She's mailing it back to me because it's "too far" to drive to my house to return it! I drive that 90 mile trip as often as necessary, but it's too far for my family! What's with that? I drove in Sunday and Monday--that's 180 miles or so in two days. I don't get it. I've started bribing them with homemade bread and a good meal to get them to visit.

Maybe the WiFi will get them out here more often. That could be a selling point, if I market it right!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

They're Odd, But They're Family

Well, this has been an interesting Father's Day weekend. I spent Saturday babysitting Skype, waiting for my youngest brother (he lives in Colorado) to install it and contact me. Then I spent the rest of the day waiting for two of my sisters to show up to drop off a load of stuff for me.

My sister Lydia has taken on my yard as a "project," I think, which I don't mind in the least. It's big (about an acre), and I can use all the help I can get. I've planted a few small gardens--I posted pictures of the herb garden she and I created--but I also have my vegetable garden, my camellia garden (flowers), the fence garden (an old piece of fence stuck in the yard for who-knows-what reason), and the front garden (the one where I dug up all of the spider lilies--and I still have those bulbs, if anyone's interested).

When her big red Suburban pulled into the driveway, I had no idea what lurked inside. Two plastic Adirondack chairs (for my birthday), two cedar poles (for the "secret garden" we're working on), several cedar planks left over from fencing her yard (for raised planters), some scrap lumber (I'll do something creative with it), a rack to hang my tools, a hose for the veg. garden (dedicated to that only), two hose hangers, a straight shovel (it's great), and a host of plants (some from the nursery, some from her housekeeper). I have ginger plants, coleus, wandering Jew, and those wonderful orange lilies--not tiger lilies--but the ones that spew out bloom after bloom on the same stalk, and three Esperanzas. I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but I think that gives you an idea. A gardener's Christmas in June! Too bad it's so hot. Working in the yard makes me sweat heavily.

Today, Sunday, I went to my parents' for Father's Day. Usually, these kinds of celebrations cause the house to bulge at the seams, but, today, my father was surrounded by women, most of us single. My brothers were fishing and celebrating with their own children. When I got to the house, my sister had more stuff she forgot to give me--hangers for whatever, and an Off mosquito lantern with refills! And my mom insisted I pull up the remaining edging from her front garden. I'd gotten about half of it when I helped her clean out one side of her front flowerbed. I'm recycling the edging for my front walkway garden. I'll take a picture when I finally get it all in place (I managed to get three more pieces in place today, but was so soaked in sweat, I couldn't finish the job--and that was at 7pm. The sun was behind the trees, but I was so hot I couldn't stand it).

When I talked to my mom on Saturday, she told me to bring the pictures of the chicken coops I was interested in building. So, today, she plotted out how I should build my chicken coop using the shed structure in my backyard. I was thinking about tearing it down, but she sketched out how I could use it to build my frame and chicken run. I had thought about that, but thought I should make a fresh start. She then regaled me with tales about the chickens her grandmother had. My mom's grandmother, Annie, had intended to keep the chickens for food--not eggs, meat. But Annie got rid of the chickens because my mom and her brother, Chris, wouldn't eat the chickens their grandmother killed. The chickens had become pets to them. I don't want to eat any chickens I get; I just want the eggs and the manure for the gardens, so no worries there. I don't mind buying chicken in the store, but I'm not about to start killing them.

When I left to come home, they were hunkered in the living room watching Tiger Woods play golf.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Got My Answer!

I have the annoying habit of losing track of time when I'm reading. It's a terrible curse, I know! So, if I'm reading late at night (or early in the morning, depending on how you look at it), I don't realize how late/early it is until I take a break. That means I usually don't get to bed until 2am or so. One of the perks (?) of getting older is that I don't sleep as much (unless I'm exhausted), and I get up early in the morning.

Right before I went to bed at 2am this morning, the rain began. Well, we did have a brief, heavy rainstorm yesterday afternoon (right after I watered the garden), but the rain at 2am was fierce. I crawled into bed to strikes of lightning and growls of thunder. I couldn't sleep with Mother Nature's grumbling. At 3am, I was sitting in the living room, waiting for the dish TV system to locate a signal. I think I finally went to sleep at about 4 or 5am. And I got up at 8:30am, so I know one person who will take a nap this afternoon.

My garden loved the rain, in spite of the small limbs that the wind shook down on it. I found my one tomato on the ground. I'll let it ripen on the window sill. I had to stake another tomato plant, but, other than that, everything seems to have survived. I just hope all of my gardens have enough water for a few days. I guess this calls for a tour of the yard to make sure everything is okay.

To change the subject, my cats annoy me. We were down to the bottom of the food bucket where the "old" food is. It stays fresh because the lid snaps on tight, but it's a brand of cat food they don't like, so none of them would eat it. I filled the bowls up yesterday and this morning, and they just sniffed at it and walked away. And, boy, do they complain! "Meow, meow, meow. Lady, when are you going to get some decent food? We want the good stuff, and we mean NOW!"

So, off to the store I went, the dutiful servant--I mean "master." For a large bag of cat food and a four-pack of toilet tissue, I spent almost $20. What the heck is going on here? I guess I could lead the cats away with a breadcrumb trail of expensive treats. They'd just come back. I just know it. But how can you not buy toilet paper? Can anyone recommend a substitute? Gee, on second thought, I don't want to contemplate an alternative.

I guess what I'm saving on gas for the car I'll be spending at the store. Since I'm a big conspiracy buff, this is what I'm thinking. I think the oil companies are helping themselves to our money in order to persuade us (extort us?) into letting them drill for oil in the Alaska Reserve and off the coasts of our beaches. That's just what I think. Of course, I think we're contributing to our own hardships by driving huge cars, driving too fast, and driving too much. I'd love to see more people in jobs where they could telecommute. Companies would save overhead by not having to rent huge buildings (sorry, realtors!), and people wouldn't be driving so much. I realize this isn't possible in every type of business. Sometimes, you have to have an office, and you have to drive. But wouldn't it be nice if more people didn't have to? We could cut our oil dependency somewhat if we could just stay home.

It's too bad more people don't live closer to the necessities, such as grocery stores and dry cleaners. Maybe the "old days" have something to teach us about community living that we've forgotten.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Where's the Rain?

June has just barely arrived, and I can hardly stand to go outside. These 90-degree temps have me hunkering in the house. The thermostat is set to 76 to hold down the energy costs (Ha!), and I'm comfortable, but I have so much I need to do outside; I just can't face those chores right now.

On Tuesday, I planted two climbing bushes my mom and my sis gave me on the back fence. I got up yesterday and found a large tree limb straddling the fence right where I planted the bushes. What are the odds of that? So, early Wednesday, armed with my saws and loppers, I took down the limb on my side of the fence, leaving the rest for my neighbor. I think she got the heavier end of it!

I spent the hottest part of the day cleaning out the closet in my study. How can one person cram so much stuff in a closet? And it's not a big closet, either. I took out three bags of clothes--some for my daughter, some for Goodwill--and I put the computer gadget bookshelf in there to get it out of my sight. I feel as though I have a bit more space in the room; it doesn't feel so wall-to-wall. And everything is organized. I just love organization. So, today, I need to tackle the closet in my bedroom--but I haven't had enough coffee yet!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Staying at Home

I'm enjoying not driving on a daily basis. I mean, I still drive, just not as often. I did go into the big city yesterday to visit my parents and drop a check in the night deposit slot at the bank, but I don't drive four or five days a week. And, since I'm not driving 90 miles a day and staying away from home for long hours, I've been working around, on and in my house.

So, today, I tackled the garage. Since I moved in three years ago and unpacked most of my stuff, I've had a stack of empty boxes piled in there. I finally broke them down; I filled up my trash can and have another stack that won't fit in there this time. I used nails and hooks to hang up my hand tools and an old rack someone gave me for my long-handled tools. I neatly restacked the boxes of books I don't have shelves for on the wall opposite the tools. I swept out the garage. If not for the riding lawnmower, I'd have room to park my car!

Before the day got too hot, I put some edging around the front garden I dug up this week, but I don't have enough of it. My mom needs to finish her front flower bed before I'll get the rest of the edging, but, so far, the front garden looks good. And I finished mowing the front yard.

I washed all of my dirty clothes. I had company last week--my sister--and I've been ignoring that chore. And I still need to close up the back wall of the shower. I'm so tempted to start pulling up carpet, but I have to think through that project before I start it--I'd need a pry bar and sandpaper, and polyurethane, and who knows what. So I'd better put that off for a while. But it's on the list of things to do, along with the chicken coop and yard, the compost bin, raised planting beds...