Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Don't Fear the Victorians

I never intended the Friday reading assignment to be about what I am reading currently, and neither of the books I'm reading right now are assignment-worthy.  On the other hand, it's difficult to write about books I've read years in the past, no matter how much I loved them.  As Vladimir Nabokov said, "Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it.  A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader."  I am a rereader, but I keep track of the books that I love enough to reread, and the number I haven't gotten to yet is staggering.  I should probably devote six months just to reread all these books.  Anyway, today's assignment is one of a series of books that I loved and intend to reread someday.

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope is my favorite Victorian writer.  People are afraid of him for some reason and when you recommend his novels, they groan, and complain about dull, overblown, dreary "classics."  I can only assume that the groaners have never read him, because he's not dull or dreary at all.  Yet this was my reaction when Trollope's Barchester Towers was assigned in one of my English classes, so I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the assignment after all, and I seem to recall a class discussion in which other students said they'd been pleasantly surprised as well.

I did reread Barchester Towers, about eight years ago and loved it even more.  It's the second book in the Barsetshire Chronicles series.  There's no need to read the first book, (The Warden) and it's probably best to save The Warden for when you are a confirmed Trollope fan.  Which won't take long.

It's set in a fictional cathedral town in England, and all the main characters are connected with the church.  It has all the essentials for a good comfort read: a lovable old man, a young woman, the young man she eventually marries, a Bishop with political connections, and his ridiculous wife.  You could almost be reading Emma, but not really because it's nothing like Emma and there's a lot of un-Austen church politics.

Trollope himself was a contemporary of Dickens and Thackeray.  He was an extraordinarily prolific writer, publishing forty-seven novels as well as several short stories, two plays, and works of non fiction, all while working full time for the British post office.  I've only read six of his novels and I loved them all.  They're absorbing, comfortable, gently funny, and mildly sexy.  My blog name, Patience Crabstick, is the name of a minor character in Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds.  So don't fear the Victorian and check out some Trollope.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend Medley

Dirt Pile be Gone

Remains of Mt. Crabstick

And where it went.

We finally, finally built a new raised bed in the back yard, not because I'm particularly enthusiastic about more gardening, but because we needed to do something with the pile of dirt in the driveway.  Even after filling in the raised bed, there was still dirt left over.  Jon used the last of it to fill in some eroded areas and planted grass over it.  I had gotten adept at backing down the driveway and slotting my car between the dirt pile and the embankment. I felt bad ass doing that, so I kind of miss it.

Bean Burgergate

I've been buying very expensive vegetarian burgers at Whole Foods.  They're made by a local business, and I do think it's worthwhile to spend more if it supports the local economy but I'm starting to question my habit of just buying whatever appeals to me without considering the price.

The old me would have found a way to make them myself. As was pointed out to me on Twitter, why are beans more expensive than meat?  Especially lentils, for crying out loud.  So I made the bean burgers from Thug Kitchen.  Of course they are cheaper than the ones at the store, but they taste a lot better too.  I really need to re-read my beloved copy of The Tightwad Gazette and return to my thrifty ways.  I'm ashamed of how much I spend on groceries each week.

Speaking of  expensive groceries, I went to the Farmer's market again.  I'm suspicious of some of the produce booths.  What's with the guy selling apples in May?  I will only shop at booths that show evidence of being truly local.  A plaque stating the name and location of the farm is a good sign.  Also, less variety, not more.   This time of year, a modest selection of crop offerings seems realistic for a small farmer, not a vast stall with dozens of different things, all slickly packaged.

Is it local?

Didn't your mother tell you not to crack your joints?

My left wrist has developed some extra moving parts.  Two weeks ago it was killing me, and I walked around for a week, cradling my wrist like it was an injured bird.  I got a splint and wore it splint for a week, and now the pain has calmed down enough that I've been able to identify its locus as the point where my second metacarpal meets my wrist.  All is well until I flex my hand forward and a bump arises out of my wrist and the metacarpals move in a nauseating way that suggests they are not as firmly attached to the wrist as they ought to be.

I have a terrible habit of joint cracking, and I remember being half asleep one night and cranking down hard on my wrist with my chin in an attempt to crack it, and feeling a searing pain and then going back to sleep and forgetting all about it.  I must have torn the ligament.  I'm left-handed and I always assumed that I was fairly well ambidextrous, but it turns out there are lots of things that I can do only with my left hand.  So don't crack your joints, kids.

To make up for such a boring post, I will leave you with this corgi.

And this bunny.
This is what work is like after a holiday.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: movies from books

I love it when books I've read are made into movies, although watching them can sometimes lead to rage, if you don't agree with the treatment of a particularly beloved novel.  For the most part, I'm pretty tolerant, and I know of one instance (The Secret of Roan Inish) in which the movie is actually better than the book.

I recently watched the Masterpiece Theater production of The Cazelets, based on the series by Elizabeth Jane Howard, which I loved.  This is a six-hour miniseries, made in 2001.  It doesn't star anyone particularly famous (except for Hugh Bonneville, who I think has been legally obligated to appear in every single British film made since 1998).  The only cast member I recognized is Anna Chancellor, who plays Diana, Edward Cazalet's lover.  She was Miss Bingley in the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice.

The cast may not be famous, but the acting is excellent.  I particularly liked Patsy Rowlands as Miss Millament the governess, Stephen Dillane as Edward Cazalet, (though his character is such a shit) Lesley Manville as Villy Cazalet, and Florence Hoath as Clary.
Patsy Rowlands as Miss Millament

My one complaint is that the movie really only covers the first two books in the series. Several stories, such as the romance between Tonbridge, the chauffeur and Mrs.Cripps, the cook, were still developing at the conclusion.  I wonder if there was a plan to make a second series and they never followed through.  The DVDs from Netflix were damaged, so there were chunks that I couldn't see, including the very end.  Maybe they did a hasty wrap up, but the rest of the movie is so sensitively filmed that I'd be surprised if they stooped to such a cheap trick.

Overall, I loved the movie.  It's respectful of the novels and thoughtfully casted, costumed, and directed.  It's also unbearably sad.  I think for me, some of the sad scenes were difficult because they closely paralleled things that have happened in my own life, and I found myself crying more than once.  Indeed, my children were so concerned that they asked me to stop watching. It's not all tears, though, and I loved naughty Neville Cazalet, and there are delicious gossipy-fashiony scenes too.  The damaged discs were a bummer though.  Unfortunately, there's no hope for a second series at this point.  Patsy Rowlands died in 2005 and the other cast members have grown up and moved on.

What's your favorite film adaptation of a novel?  Also, name one that you found disappointing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weekday Pleasures

I've always liked Mondays.  They're a fresh start and a return to the comforting daily round.  When I was at home full time with my children, I hated weekends.  Jon often had to work, and weekends, alone with small children, are so much more difficult than weekdays.  Now I work in the nine-to-five world and I've found myself living for the weekend.   Jon is about to start a new, normal business hours job, which means for the first time in our twenty-one year marriage, we will both be off every weekend. (Also, for the first time ever, we will both have all the holidays off. Imagine you or your spouse working Christmas and/or Thanksgiving and all the minor holidays.  That has been our life for the past twenty-one years.) It will be nice, but I'd like to correct my current attitude that there's nothing to celebrate about the work week.

Anyway, this weekend was dull.  It mostly rained, and the house had that icky, sticky feel it gets during damp weather.  It was graduation weekend, so it was necessary to either hide in the house, or get caught up among hordes of UVA people.

On the plus side, for dinner Sunday, we had a delicious Indian spinach-peanut-curry soup from the Cabagetown Cafe cookbook and homemade naan bread. Also, this semolina cake.

It's an Italian dessert, and I found the recipe on pinterest.  You cook a porridge of semolina and milk, add almond meal, sugar, lemon zest and eggs.  Bake.  Dust with powdered sugar.  It's a custardy cake, not very sweet.  Would probably be delicious with fresh raspberries.  I like this sort of plain, virtuous cake that can stand alone without frosting.  Still, I wouldn't go rushing out to buy semolina just to make this. (I happened to have some on hand.)

Now it is Monday again.  I resolved to do two things:  accomplish something at home every day, so I don't feel pressured to do everything on the weekend, and enjoy the pleasures specific to the weekday.  What might these be?

  • Blissfully relaxing at home after a day's work.
  • No pressure to go out in the evening.  On the weekend, one feels bored and unhappy at home in the evening.  During the week, one wants to stay in.
  • Mornings before work:  I get up extra early so I can have time to myself to drink coffee, read, catch up on blogs.  I love my early mornings.
  • Walking to work.  I love listening to my ipod and walking the two miles to work.  I walk home too, but I don't enjoy it because I'm tired and there are more asshole drivers in the afternoon. 
  • Work itself.  I can't say it's all fun and games, but it's usually pleasant to be there and I have my cozy workday rituals:  tea at 11:00, occasional trips to the Corner Cup for a mocha. If I plan carefully, I can run to the Alderman library, check out a few books and be back at my desk in my allotted half hour lunch.
  • Fun stuff on the internet.  More blog posts to read, more chatter and gossip than on the weekends.
  • Anticipation of the weekend.  I'm trying to enjoy the week, but the building anticipation, once Monday and Tuesday are out of the way, is enjoyable in its own way.  I doubt I will ever find anything nice to say about late Friday afternoon meetings.  
What do you like about weekdays?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Cookbooks

Raise your hand if you like to read cookbooks!  Barbara Pym's novels have many references to characters who soothe themselves to sleep by reading "cookery" books, and it's true that reading a good cookbook is an easy way to arrive at a happy place.  Not all cookbooks make good reading, and I haven't noticed any correlation between a cookbook's readability and the quality of its recipes.  Here are a few of my favorites.

My most frequently used cookbooks

The Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook by Julie Jordan.  Recipes from a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York.  A fascinating glimpse at What Hippies Ate, circa 1972.  Many of the recipes are associated with different people who worked at the cafe over the years and are punctuated with anecdotes (but not too many anecdotes).  Everything that can be made with flour is made with whole wheat flour.  Every recipe that is sweetened is sweetened with honey. (The desserts are terrible.) Butter and cheese are added lavishly wherever possible. You'll find yourself rolling your eyes, but that's part of the fun, and the "Wings of Life" salad recipe is worth the price of the book.

Good Things in England by Florence White.  Written in 1932, a compilation of classic English recipes and domestic lore.

The Settlement Cookbook by Simon Kander.  This cookbook has been reprinted many times, with the first edition published in the early 20th century.  I believe it was intended to be a resource for new immigrants to the United States.  I bought the 1976 edition for Brigid when she asked for a good, basic cookbook, and I read it cover to cover before giving it to her.  It has a great menu planning chart and is the mother lode of thrifty recipes.  I loved it because reading it was like reliving my childhood and my mother's cooking, although she did not own this book herself.  (We were a Fannie Farmer family.)

More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.  A thoughtful collection of simple, thrifty recipes.  I read it years ago, from the library and I feel like this is one book I need to own.  It's companion, Living More with Less is a guide to simple living--one that doesn't involve consuming more in order to live simply as promoted in a certain notorious magazine.

Anything by Elizabeth David.  Her "cookbooks" are histories of food and this is a fascinating subject for me.  She writes with a certain authority.  If Elizabeth David prescribes a method for making say, lentil soup, then that is the method you should use.  The end.

English Food by Jane Grigson.  Like Good Things in England, above, but with more lore.

The Tasha Tudor Cookbook: Recipes and Reminiscences from Corgi Cottage by Tasha Tudor  One reads this one for the pictures.  This is also my go-to cookbook for traditional recipes.  It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without Tudor's "rolls for special occasions." I am a huge fan of Tasha Tudor's insistence on creating an 1830's life for herself in the twentieth century.  I was very sorry when she died.

Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.  The ultimate, all-time best cookbooks for readers.  Reading Laurie Colwin is like having a conversation with your best friend.  She's funny and warm and understanding and she also points you in the direction of many more good cookbooks.  Her recipes are good too.  If you'll forgive the self-promotion, I'll just mention that one of my favorite posts compares Laurie Colwin to Martha Stewart.

I know you are all wondering, WHAT ABOUT GWYNETH?  I haven't read her cookbooks, but I would check them out of the library just for the lolz. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Disingenuous garden tour

I complain incessantly about how awful my garden looks, and now I am going to show you some photos in which it doesn't look all that bad, which may cause you to suspect me of humble bragging.  Just keep in mind that it's only May and the poke weed and trumpet vine are not out yet.

The garden used to be a wondrous place but after fourteen years of my bungling, only the hardiest plants have survived.  I'm making an effort now, but once summer comes, it will be a lot more important to not step on a wasps' nest than to keep the poke weed under control.

Here's a tour, going counterclockwise around the perimeter of our city lot.  If you're really interested in seeing the details, click on the photos to enlarge them.

Far back corner.  This bed is mostly shaded.  Planted here are coral bells (hidden behind trashy wood slabs) Japanese painted fern, black cohosh  (good for women's troubles; my midwife made me drink it when I was in labor with Seamus) and something that I think the previous owner told me are anemones.  She implied that they are fragile, but they have survived my neglect more sturdily than just about every other plant.  They produce pink and white flowers at the end of summer.  The lily of the valley and Jack-in-the-pulpit that once lived here are dead.

The next bed:  blue spikes are ajuga.  There are also a few day lilies here, rudbekia, and a cheerful yellow flower called a sun drop.  Also heavily infested with wild strawberry and ground ivy.  

The rescued garden.  I took this picture before planting tomatoes and habanero peppers. Those are stray rudbekia along the wall.

This bed is day lilies with a small clump of sedums. Once upon a time it also held wild foxglove.  Poke weed alert on the right. 

More ajuga, a Virginia sweet spire, and an inconvenient dogwood, which seeded itself from our next-door neighbor's tree.  Inconvenient, because much as I love dogwoods, this one is growing up from the middle of the sweet spire.  They're like conjoined twins.  Separating them would probably kill one or both, and the dogwood is already a good twelve feet tall.  Hidden behind the sweet spire is an enormous hydrangea.  Our friend's girlfriend, a gardener at UVA, on seeing the robust hydrangea, said, "I bet all you do is breathe on it."  Not even that, actually, although once I fed it some Holly Tone, which turned the flowers pink.  I prefer blue hydrangeas, so we don't feed it any more.

Side yard.  Tulips in the foreground and mint.  That's a peony poking up among the daffodils.  Unfortunately, it doesn't get any sun during what must be a critical infancy stage, so it doesn't flower very well.  The year I carefully tied back the daffodil stems and watered the peony with bunny-dropping tea, I managed to get two blooms.  Also in this bed, Siberian iris, which I prefer to bearded iris, and a flower I haven't identified.  There's a close up below.  It's another flower that has thrived through my neglect.  We mourn the pretty blue flax and the pink dianthus that used to grow here.

Who can identify this silvery white flower?

The "waste bed."  Where the previous owners tossed all their extra day lilies and vinca.  Did you know that an anti neoplastic agent is made from vinca?  It's called vincristine and it's used for leukemia.  

 That's a bleeding heart and something with big waxy leaves the produces a sort of bloom in December.  Also, a Solomon's Seal (I think) and hidden behind the bleeding heart, a primrose and a hosta.

This bed will be overrun with mint soon.  I have tried and tried and tried to get foxgloves to grow against the wall, without success.  

Butterfly bush and spider wort.  This bed used to also have a riot of candy tuft and blue globe thistle.

Rhododendron and a crepe myrtle in front.


Continuing up the other side, rose of Sharon, sedums, and a sad, sad lilac.  Jon transplanted it here from the front yard.  We hoped the additional sun exposure would help it along, but it hasn't grown an inch or produced a flower for as long as we've lived here.

My bunny-fed rose. (Bunny fed because I planted it with George's droppings, which I used to collect and distribute to plants that needed care.) It's a not-fancy, old fashioned variety that I bought at Cville market.  I'm proud of it because it's one of the few things I've planted that has lived for longer than two years.  (The others being the butterfly bush, primrose, and hosta in front.)

This bed used to be bee balm and purple cone flower.  Now in the grip of a particularly malevolent trumpet vine.  I find it hard to believe that people actually plant them on purpose.


An early fig.

I think this is a Russian sage.

Probably the worst bed of all.  It once had more varied perennials than all the other beds: lady's mantle, oriental poppy, Joe Pye weed, rose mallow, black and blue cohosh, ferns, phlox, butterfly weed, daisies, and others.  Now it's mostly poke weed as big as small trees. Boxwoods, transplanted from the front yard in the background. We have long term plans to build a studio here.

Allspice bush, which brings us full circle.  It has a lovely, spicy smell in the autumn.

In the middle of the yard are plantings grouped around the deck: Russian kiwi, clematis, and bright orange polka dotted lilies that grow taller than my head.  They're like fake flowers on a 1930's movie set.

The previous owners thought it was romantic to have day lilies growing up between the steps.  We don't agree, but as much as I hack at these, they always come back.

Our plants have always bloomed a few weeks later than others in C'ville.  We seem to be in a tiny cool spot. Cold air sinks, and it's a fact that hollows like ours will have frost when slightly higher areas don't. For years, I've observed that we will have frost on our grass, and the next door neighbors, slightly higher on the hill, do not.  We had a frost on Monday night when the rest of the neighborhood did not.

I'm happy to see that the family of bunnies survived the winter.  Twice now, I've seen a baby bunny, nearly spherical because his ears haven't grown yet, playing near the rose bush.  When I went to get a closer look, he darted under the deck stairs and quivered there, apparently unaware that his bottom was sticking out of his hiding place.  We hope to see Trevor the sociable toad, or his offspring soon too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Oatmeal! Canisters!

In 1997, I had an epiphany.  My mother had just died of cancer, my sister had just been diagnosed with cancer, Ian had a new heart murmur, Grace, who was an infant, was failing to gain weight, and Brigid had developed terrifying asthma.*  Jon worked twelve hour shifts on the weekends, so I'd spent Mother's day alone with three children under the age of four.  It was one of the most stressful times of my entire life.  The next day I was at a friend's house, listening to her rant about her disastrous Mother's Day in which they'd had to spend Sunday afternoon visiting her mother-in-law and how her husband, who should have devoted two full days to her had selfishly chosen to visit his own mother and thus, her "Mother's Day weekend experience" was ruined.

Mother's Day weekend experience?  FUCK. YOU.   I was smarting from guilt because a year earlier, my mother had spent her last mother's day alive babysitting for me so that I could go to an adults-only party with Jon's family.  (None of us knew she she was sick then.) I realized that Mother's Day sets us up for failure, by raising expectations and entitlements and tossing chains of guilt around us all.  I decided to set myself and my children free and ban all Mother's Day observance.

Except not, because it's impossible to ignore and even though I tell myself it's a day like any other, I find myself suppressing, "Really? On Mother's Day?" type thoughts when everyday conflicts and issues crop up.  But I really do try not to have expectations.  Ordinary days are really the best days.

What did we do this fine weekend of ordinary days?  Friday night we went with our neighbors for a beer to The Farm  and later put in an appearance at Friday's after five where we met Jon's brother who was in town, packing up our nephew from his first year at UVA.  We finished off the night with a drink at Ten.

Saturday afternoon I went to Fifth Season, ostensibly to buy tomato stakes.  I had no idea they have a nursery out back!  It's also the mother lode of canning, cheese making, and beer brewing supplies.  I left with the stakes and two astilbes, a wide-mouth funnel and canning rack, and a giant canister which now stores our sugar.  Isn't it glorious?
A five pound bag would get lost in here

Why, when sugar and flour come in five pound bags, are canisters so small?  For twenty-one years, I've been pouring partial five-pound bags into my inadequate sugar canister and leaving the half-empty bag in the cupboard until there was room in the canister for it.  I have a similar problem with oatmeal, so as soon as I have time I'm going back for another one.  Years ago, I bought a canister that holds fifteen pounds of flour and I still consider it one of my all-time best purchases.  Suspect I have passed a blogger threshold in photographing my canisters and in shamelessly using mention of oatmeal as an SEO.

Seamus obliged me by taking pictures of the canister shelf at Williams Sonoma when we were in Short Pump on Sunday.  Paltry.  Serious cooks need serious food storage.

Back to Saturday: Seamus made us Alice Waters' Bolognese sauce for dinner on and Jon and I went out for martinis later that night. Sunday afternoon we drove to Richmond to collect Brigid, who will be with us all week until the summer semester starts, which I would consider an awesome Mother's Day present, were I to celebrate it, which I don't, and yet, seem to anyway, at least a tiny bit.

Here's a picture of my mom in 1970 (in the middle) looking groovy with her sister and sister-in-law in the matching skirts that my grandmother crocheted for them.

*My sister was cured, Ian's heart murmur turned out to be harmless, Grace eventually began to gain weight, although it took months to get her back on track, and Brigid's asthma became less severe as she grew, although for many years, we traveled everywhere with a nebulizer.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Trying to achieve respectability

Friday evening we had an official meeting (as opposed to casual mentions over beers) with contractors.   We're hoping to paint the exterior house, replace a damaged soffit, install new gutters and squirrel-proof attic vents, and possibly restore our front door.

I am especially excited about the door.  It's over 100 years old and has been clawed to shit by the dogs--both ours and the previous owners--and one of Seamus' friends shot a bb through the largest glass pane and we haven't gotten around to fixing it.  (We were forced to put a new pane in one of the sidelights after one of the kids hurled a shoe through it.)  I am hoping they will take it away to a magical workshop and dip it in stripper and remove the superfluous lock and lovingly fill in all the claw marks with wood putty and paint it a gleaming white and deliver it home in pristine condition.

Dog claw marks + useless lock

The contractors went all over the house.  I balked a bit when they wanted to see the basement, but was told, "If we're working on it, we get to see it all."  They didn't seem to think it was as bad I thought, although there was a festival of fiberglass insulation all over the floor, which definitely had not been there the last time I visited.  I had horrifying visions of rodents scrabbling under the floors, but then remembered that Jon had torn it down the day of the kitchen pipe explosion.  (It had been dripping into the the circuit breaker box.)  They remarked on the mystery machine, which is still entrenched, although last summer the air conditioner repairman kindly pushed it upright so it is no longer blocking the doorway.

For the exterior paint, we want yellow.  Not an anemic "Ryan homes" yellow, but a strong, golden yellow with crisp white trim.  We saw many good examples of this color in Lisbon.
Yellow House in the Distance

And a couple in our neighborhood.

This yellow is the perfect yellow

I asked the contractors if our house could ever be rescued from its current shabby state.  "It'll be the nicest house on the street," they said.  So we went out for martinis to celebrate.  Saturday I got to the farmer's market early, ahead of the kinfolk hipsters and the Hateful Yuppie Families.  I bought a few more plants, as well as local strawberries and eggs and a bunch of asparagus that became a transcendent creamy lemon/asparagus pasta for dinner.

I put all my plants in: tomatoes and habaneros into the old vegetable plot that I'm trying to save and some perennials into the beds in front.  At the nursery this week, I found two little cone shaped boxwoods that will be transplanted into elegant planters.  The guy at the nursery told me that they could grow in containers and that I would have "total control" over their size and shape.  His words were confident, but his voice was less so.

Since this has degenerated into a "what I did on the weekend" post, I'll just conclude by telling you that I also launched an anti-ant offensive that involved emptying the pantry and counters and spraying them with cucumber-scented cleaner.  This has not deterred the ants, but at least I have confirmation that there is no sticky bag of dates or stale sugar cookies that is attracting them.  Also reorganized my pinterest boards and began process of transferring my CDs to my itunes library and tossing them.  Those flimsy "jewel cases" are the worst.

Friday, May 03, 2013

On the Nightstand

Let's take a look at what's in my reading lineup.

Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804 by Richard Holmes  I am reading this now. You'd think Coleridge would offer a wealth of material to a biographer, what with the drinking, whoring, joining the army under the fake name Silas Tomkyn Comberbache, (the name for my next dog), and becoming a "pantisocrat*" which, I am sure you will be disappointed to learn, has nothing to do with wearing fancy pants.  All this, AND he was hot, in a puffy sort of way, but the bio is a bit dull.

Summertime by Rafaella Barker.  A loan from Becky and the sequel to Hens Dancing, which was an earlier assignment.  I am reading this now too and it is a nice, funny counterpart to the Coleridge biography.

The Good Apprentice by Iris Murdoch.  I am reading my way through all of Murdoch's books and this is the next one on the list.

Three Doors to Death by Rex Stout  I am also reading my way through all of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books.  Formulaic and less intellectually stimulating than Murdoch but entertaining in its way and Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's assistant, hilariously refers to himself as "getting erect" when he stands up.

The Faber Book of Letters edited by Felix Pryor  A collection of letters written over the course of history, beginning with Sir Philip Sydney to Edmund Molyneux in 1578 and ending with Franklin D. Roosevelt to Albert Einstein in 1939.

Getting the Message: The Story of the British Post Office by Christopher Browne.

White House Diary by Henrietta Nesbitt.  Nesbitt was the housekeeper for the Franklin Roosevelts.  She was a famously terrible cook and it has been suggested that Eleanor deliberately allowed her to make the White House meals as unappealing as possible as a passive-aggressive punishment for Franklin's infidelities.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.  A permanent denizen of the nightstand, although I have read three or four pages since I last did one of these posts.

Flea Market Chic: The Thrifty Way to Create a Stylish Home by Liz Bauwens and Alexandra Campbell.  Technically, has no business on the nightstand, as it is not serious reading and I usually put my picture books on the floor.  This book has pretty pictures, but can hardly be considered an example of thrift, with its $8,000 Aga cookers and rooms full of exquisite trinkets that one's decorator's assistant found.

Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside.  Another loan from Becky.

Taffy's Tips to Teens by Dolly Martin (1964).  I was obsessed with this book when I was twelve and found it recently after a decades-long search.  It will be getting its own post.

What's on your nightstand?

* You may be asking, "What is a pantisocrat?"  Coleridge coined the term himself.  It's a sort of 1790's hippie.  Coleridge planned to set up a utopian community in Kentucky, but only got as far as a walking tour of Wales.  Holmes cautions:  "Coleridge created the word from the Greek roots pant-isocratia, an all-governing society; not of course from the Latin root panto-mimus, meaning a comic dumb-show." That's a relief, but I still want to know: where do pants fit into all of this?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Can This Garden Be Saved?

That's not a rhetorical question.  I told myself I wouldn't worry about the back yard this year, and focus only on making the front presentable, but I found myself back there, literally weeping over the state it is in.  I thought I'd take one bed--one of the worst ones--and restore it.

This bed has always been reserved for annuals and vegetables.  I haven't planted anything in it in years, so the grass has taken over. Here's how it looked the evening I decided to reclaim it from the weeds.  As you can see, we have a dire problem with Japanese honeysuckle along the top of the wall.

In addition to a sharpie marker, a brick, and a Frisbee, I found a stress ball, handed out on the nursing unit where I worked when our hospital went live with Epic in March, 2011, proof that I have been in the vicinity of this garden, at least once in the last two years, although it's also possible that I hurled it out the back door in a rage. The text around the lightning bolt says, "The future is coming."  Indeed.

After the weeping, Ian mowed the lawn, and things look less hopeless. Jon cut back most of the Japanese honeysuckle on the top of the wall.  I've pulled the weeds and added a couple of wheelbarrow loads of the new dirt.  A clean slate!

I am planning to go to the nursery today after work, although just for flowers, as I feel like vegetable plants should come from the farmer's market.  Also hoping to find elegant topiaries for the patio.   I have to admit that an indoor boxwood topiary would really class up my living room, at least until the dog knocked it over.