Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Balance of Things

There is an old snowball bush here, snowball viburnum (as opposed to the kind that is actually a hydrangea); it belonged to my husband's grandmother, and has bloomed repeatedly for decades.

The problem was, it was covered with little green aphids, which meant I could never pick the blooms and bring them inside, because of my house plants. But they never seemed to harm the plant, and short of spraying (and killing the bees), there was little I would or could do.

some years back some new japanese ladybugs were released into this country, and I suspect there are few people who have not been treated to them in the fall, marching across the computer screens, queueing up for snacks (I use apple sections) in winter, and in some cases coating, literally, doors and walls and porches.

They LOVE little green aphids. The summer after the new ladybugs arrived the little green aphids were gone, and haven't been seen since. Now it gets interesting. Two years ago I noticed my nasturtiums were covered on the underside with smeary black microscopic aphids that looked more like soot than bugs. yueuuuwww. Then I noticed that the snowball bush was too. within a week the fifteen foot high plant became a skeleton, all the flowers gone, and the leaves just totally destroyed. I sprayed the ground under the bush, cut it back, and it seemed okay last year.

It has just breathed its last. The black aphids are back, the last of the flowers has turned brown, and the leaves are gone, all in three days. Tomorrow we are uprooting it and putting it on the brush pile at the end of the field. What I think happened (and this makes sense, clear to the ground) is that the little green aphids had a kind of symbiotic relationship with the snowball bush, and the balance was even. When the thousands of new japanese ladybugs arrived, they took out the green aphids, leaving the bush open for attack from anything out there. What was out there were the utterly devastating black aphids, who have no qualms about the bush, and then move on to other things.

The balance has been disrupted, and I'm not sure replacing the bush is an option.

Most of our problem plants and insects come from the far east, where over there they are part of a very different organic structure, and are kept neatly in their own niches. When they arrive here the climate is different, as is the soil and the way we grow our plants and crops. Fresh meat, they gurgle. oboyoboyoboy. Our own native plants have their own relationships with insects and the soil, and when something new shows up they have no defenses against it. Japanese beetles, asiatic beetles, (not to mention the Asiatic lilies we buy apparently just to feed them), gypsy moths, etc etc.

I think, on a very small scale, this is what we keep doing on a very much larger scale, and never learn from.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Unread Books

It may be partly because I don't have the time left, in years, anyway, to read all the books I would like to read, or the patience to struggle through the ones that seem to be written in Exclamation Points or sludge.

Some years back I realized that a book that hasn't gotten my attention by the end of the first chapter is probably not going to be worth the walk through the rest. I was reading a book at that point in which the hero "shirted and panted himself" (now there's an image to take with you) and this arch style of writing--which seems to have foretold the advent of the verbing of America--so annoyed me I closed the book and took it back to the library. It took me four tries before I finally understood that I will never read "Vanity Fair", no matter how I try. I have started and abandoned "Hard Times" at least that many times, and even though I have read and enjoyed most of Dickens, for some reason i always lose interest at exactly the same spot in this book, every time.

The idea has always been planted in our heads that these authors worked very hard on this stuff, and it's almost sacriligeous to start a book and never finish it. Like taking two bites out of a piece of cake and then throwing it away. It's the equivalent of the Clean Plate Club, which only fosters guilt and fat. And once I understood that no one was going to suffer if I didn't finish a truly dull book, and someone would if I did (me, usually), life got just a tad simpler.

I will admit to a pang of guilt when someone loans or gives me a book that they love, and I can't even wade through the first chapter of it, but that passes. One truly disappointing book was Barbara Kingsolver's "Prodigal Summer", which, by the end of the first chapter had degenerated into a cross between "Girl of the Limberlost" and "Lady Chatterley's Lover", and since it also was turning out to be a Save the Animal Story (which I cannot abide), I quietly retired it to the giveaway bag.

Life is too short. Read what you like.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We seem to be regressing, here

it was 41 degrees this morning at what was probably dawn, and by noon it had warmed up to 42. At this point, we are just 10 degrees shy of snow. It's still raining, the cats refuse to go out (Albert went out after four tries and came back soaked, smelling like wet wool socks), and in my one trip across the garden at top speed I noticed the poppies all wearing small finely knitted wooly hats, and there was a hint of gloves and sweaters among the pepper plants. Who could blame them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

oh its raining

What a lovely deep chilly rain. The temps never got above 45 all day, and Ive been running a low fire of wood chips (which come with the wood we buy, in huge quantity) all day, rather than
dip into next wintah's wood.

I love the way potatoes sprout, they sort of boil up out of the hill already green and leafed out, ready to do battle with the elements. None of this wussy 'first delicate shoots' stuff, nossir.

Havent had much chance to tend the garden this spring because of the wood cutting we've been doing, but when I went out to the compost bin earlier, between downpours (well, almost) I realized that all the work I've done over the past few years means it now tends itself the way I think a garden should without being micromanaged into neat (read boring) weedless rows. I admire people who can do that, but I'd not want to be one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden stuff among other things

we survived a near frost last night; 34 deg. when I got up at 5:30, and apparently the peppers survived, as did the day lilies.

The potatoes are sprouting, go potatoes, go...

The last of the four cords of boughten wood came yesterday, and what was almost an empty woodyard is now, once again, a full wood yard. Sigh.

Found an interesting article in the NY Times (not sure which edition) about a woman who is attempting to "reduce her carbon footprint", and along with other things has gotten rid of the refrigerator.

if you have to make frequent trips to the store and throw out food because you have no place to store it safely, and if you have to cook food in AN OVEN or on a STOVE you are using more energy rather than less.

When I bought a new fridge two years ago I bought a low-end no-frills refrigerator freezer for not much more than I paid for my last one 30 years ago, incredibly. I could not see one bit of energy difference in the fridge touted to be "green' and energy efficient and the old one that wasn't. But the important thing is, if I had bought an electric stove, my energy bill would have probably gone up by 25%.

In a way it's like buying a car that uses alternative sources for power. A Green Car. If you factor in the cost of recharging mr. battery every night, and possibly having to carry a spare battery with you, it turns out that the savings in energy will kick in in about, oh, ten years. And if you pay full price for it, and use credit, you may never recover the cost.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New toy for the word addicts

Thanks to Gary Blankenship's blog for Visuwords, which is pure interactive word play, with a bit of discovery thrown in.

Friday, May 22, 2009


A good friend of mine seems unable to receive anything from me with images in it.
But he's a faithful reader, bless him, and wanted to know what my cook stove looked like. Here you go, Harvey.

He takes good care of me

makes sure the axe is sharp, the chopping block is cut flat but with a slight tilt, reminds me when it's time to clean the chimney. Good man. Today he brought home a new pair of lopping shears to replace the old ones that are probably as old as we are, and have been used hard and often. These are longer, lighter, and with a cutting edge that only Fiskars could manage.

He even went down to the edge of the woods, took out a few maples that had been uprooted, and let me have my way with the clippers. No more excuses, nossir.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The weather elves declared what I had been thinking for about two weeks--it's damned cold for May, where's the balmy stuff?

We are still having at least morning and evening fires, and yesterday kept the kitchen stove on a low fire all day. This morning at 5 AM the temp was 34. I did the Good Thing late yesterday and covered over everything out there that was coverable, with plant pots and such, and a large plastic sheet over the day lilies. I've waited far too long for those things, and I refuse to let them freeze at this stage.

I fully expected to look out this morning and see the entire garden frosted in white. We had a 'flurry' some years back on the 18th of May, 8 inches of flurry and the sorriest jonquils you ever saw...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Garden Stuff

the radishes are up, the carrots are planted, as are the pepper plants and entirely too many hills of potatoes, but I thought Id give 'em a go this year. I found two onions sprouting in the crisper and thought, well, if they want to that they are out now, well planted, and we'll see what they look like come summer.

In the herb garden I now have last year's tarragon, spearmint, sage--and added two kinds of lavender, lemon mint, portulaca against the stone wall and something called armeria (sea pink) which is also referred to as a 'ground cover'. Usually that's garden talk for "you'll be SORRY...". Im hoping in a few years for a gentle blended effect, but knowing the vitality and attitude of most mints something tells me it will be more of a battle ground.

That's half the fun of gardening, seeing what happens further down the road, and how things play off of each other. One of the most important things I learned is that there are almost no color combinations or plant groupings that don't work, at some level. The secret is to moosh them all together and let them sort it out themselves.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Messages From My Father

Just finished up a book that has been on my bookshelf for far too long--a slim, read-in-one-sitting book by Calvin Trillin, called "Messages From My Father"--charming, funny, and wry; not, I suspect, unlike Abe Trillin himself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eureka time

Lightweight plastic snowshovels are absolutely perfect for spreading compost in a nice thin layer on the garden, for moving small amounts of dirt from this place to that, and for cleaning out the flatbottomed garden cart right to the corners.

They also work very well in a garage or shop if you have quantities of sawdust or whatever that you need to move, and a regular shovel or dustpan just isnt big enough to be efficient. I don't know why I never thought of it before.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation

Brushpile 2009

Yes, it's big, but ain't it purty. It got too high to add to, so we started another one elsewhere.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How to Find a Human...

in the world of automated companies.

Several years ago I needed to contact my insurance company by phone. Up until then there had always been a person on the other end of the line and we did just fine together. Suddenly I am confronted with a "menu'. A very long menu. Press one for English, press 2 for Spanish. Press one for account information, press 2 for billing, press 3 for policy information, on and on into the depths of the system.

After the third try (most of these responses are actually bots telling YOU what you already know about your policy, your account, etc) I started over and hit 2 for billing. Immediately there was a woman at the other end. Oh my. I said, "Im sorry, I must have hit the wrong button, Im looking for someone in Accounts." She laughed and said, "let me transfer you." It was that easy.

Next time I needed to talk to a Big Company about Important Stuff I tried the same thing, figuring that any company needs a human in billing to explain that yes you did pay that bill twice...It worked again.

Last week a friend was having trouble connecting to anyone in her own insurance company, so I told her to wait for the "Press X for Billing" and see if it works. The next day she called me and said, "it worked like a charm, I got right in."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

stat counters--read ALL the words

over the past two months I have been experimenting with stat counters, with varying degrees of success. The first one, WebStat, is by far the best I've found. However, after the free trial, it can cost anywhere from 5.95 to 9.95 a month. That's a lot of bread to lay out, no matter how curious you are about who reads you, for only maybe 50 visitors a month. The last one i tried, StatCounter, turns out to be free but buggy as all getout, and it seems to deteriorate over time.

In reading about it online, there appear to be some software problems, and the site itself has been hacked into more than once. I finally removed the program when I could no longer access my account without signing in every time (and being told "I must have done something"). And after removing all the bits of it on this site, I found last night that it has still been attached but invisible at the bottom of the page. Gone should be gone.

I think the best way to find out about such things is to type in the name of the program you're interested in, and add "problems" or "forums" in the search line. This takes you not to the site, necessarily, but often to a list of user forums where the disgruntled and the pleased sound off as to how well it worked, and how much they love/hate it, and you can decide if this is the program for you, or not.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Labels belong on soup cans

When we label someone, either positively or negatively, it often places a burden on the labelee to either live up to the appellation, live it down, or try to escape the whole mess entirely by denying what is so patently not them.

Hell, i dont even like name tags.

Labels are meant to define things. They belong on packages, soup cans, and book covers, so we can tell what's inside. They set up expectations about the contents. People are not soup cans, and they are a hell of a lot more complex than a can of chicken noodle soup. Slapping a label on someone whittles him down to one or two things, and everything else hangs from that.

Call someone a senior citizen and suddenly our attitude toward them (and toward ourselves) changes. Senior now covers anyone over 50, and it allows younger people to smile kindly (nay, benevolently) at us, or diss us, because, as one charming young man online told me, "you too old for everything". It also sends a message to younger people that old age is just beyond the 49th birthday, and old means useless and senile. Subtle, but deadly. It also colors our own perceptions of ourselves. We are living longer, and living better, nutritionally and medically, than any other generation before. Yet the bar has been lowered so that over one third of our remaining life is under that dreadful appellation, "Senior".

My closest friend is 87. She is just starting to get acclimated enough to where she lives, now, to try some new things with her very extraordinary art. I told her, once, when I grow up, I want to be just like you. she laughed and said, so do I...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Where I live

We've lived here for 37 years. The first time I saw this house, sitting like a dusty shabby jewel in the middle of a field in the middle of the woods, I knew, even at 19, this was where I wanted to live.

As hard as the first 10 years (or thereabouts) were, physically, not once did either of us ever say, maybe we could spend the winter with my folks--or your folks--or some place in simply never occurred to us to move out, even temporarily.

My husband was a little boy here, he learned to run his dad's tractor when he was maybe 11 or twelve--rite of passage, apparently, for farm boys;

And as hard as it can still be, 37 years later, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Year of the Woodpile

After nearly three weeks of relatively intensive labor we have managed to cut down and limb out three large maples, one oak, half a chestnut tree, one black birch and assorted limbs and stuff that had broken off or were just hanging there. The brush pile is eight feet high and growing, and the wood i've managed to throw in and stack so far is over a cord, with more to come. Not next winter's wood, but the winter after.

Considering what it cost us last year for wood (somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 a cord), this is found gold. It does look like this will be my main industry this summer, ticks and blackflies notwithstanding.


The kitchen cupboards are all but finished; one more door, and then paint next fall when there's time for it. I don't really like latex paint, it tends to dry too fast on large pieces, and it simply does not smell like real paint. The only advantage is that it's easy to clean the brushes, so you don't lose that terribly expensive brush to too much paint in the bristles and not enough brush cleaner.

I guess it's all about settling, balancing what works against how much effort you're willing to put into what you really want/prefer.