Monday, August 28, 2006

You Want Some of This? 'Cause I'm Not Sharing It.

The chipmunks at the lake house are getting bolder all the time. My mom took a picture of this fine fellow who decided to join her reading group on the front porch.

Of course when Emily, my fearless cattle-dog mouser comes to visit, the chipmunks will prove a bit scarcer.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Only Vacation I Ever Get Is Virtual

Thank you, Owen, for this bit of fun. Thank you, Rum and Monkey, for publishing it on your blog. Thank you, Astrid, for including it on yours; and on yours, Poppalina, which is where I found it and which is always full of wacky fun and artistic inspiration.

I am Al-Aziziyah, Libya!
Which Extremity of the World Are You?
From the towering colossi at Rum and Monkey.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blog Zen and the Art of Home Maintenance

It is far more amusing than it should be to make subtle variations in the design of this blog. Unfortunately, Blogger has temporarily taken away the ability to make changes in the xhtml code, so (after finally learning a bit of coding) I can't make some of the changes I'd like. We'll all just have to live with it. While my legions of fans (all one or two of you) may neither notice nor care, blog decorating is cheaper and easier than home decorating, so I'm disappointed.

Daughter M's room is the current focus. She chose the colors, and we painted the walls a soft medium blue with pale yellow trim. We remade her closet into a bed nook, painted soft green (no doors, of course) and are building a wardrobe into a corner of the room. A shelf will line the room a foot or so below the ceiling to hold a freize of stuffed animals (she has gobs of them). Photos as the work gets done.

We celebrated her birthday this week with a trip to Ikea. What a store! Lucky it's an hour away, or I would shop there far more than would be prudent. I love their simple styling, large selection, and low prices. "The Swedish K*Mart" is an apt description. I found the quality on some of the pieces a bit iffy, but most of it seemed sturdy and a good bargain. I can't wait to go again.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dividing the Daylilies

I've been invited to a friend's house to share our perennials. Instead of waiting till the last minute like I usually do, I've begun to dig the perennials several days in advance. This is so unlike me that I don't recognize myself in the mirror.

My gardens seem to specialize in red daylilies. I've got enormous clumps of them, all subtle variations on the theme of Red with a Yellow Throat. Out they go! Last spring I got rid of the dreaded Stella D'Oros (far too reminiscent of school-bus yellow), and with the reds gone, I can indulge my taste for clear yellows, peaches, and pastels.

dug-up dayliliesIt's not that I don't like red flowers. I do. Red cannas are glorious. I've got lots of crocosmia 'Lucifer' scattered about, and they're staying. Red tulips? The ultimate. But my red daylilies are trying a bit too hard to be red; it doesn't sit well on them. I remember a quote from somewhere: "There are a million different colors of daylilies, and all of them are orange." Underneath the red of these ones is a strong orange gene pushing hard to get out. It makes for an edgy plant, and I don't need edgy in my garden.

My favorite daylily (well, right now it's my favorite, because it's about the only one blooming) is 'August Orange.' I got it from Bob Stewart's Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville. You have got to read this guy's catalog. Here are just two entries:

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding'
Purple foliage, my muse hates plum pudding, altogether too cute, I just want to gag, how can I write a description about plum pudding; no, we will have no Dickens–Christmas Carol sickly sweet prose here.

Heuchera 'Yeti'
The Abominable Heuchera, this nearly ate Sir Edmund Hillary in the western Himalaya in 1958, no wait I’m confused that was a crappy Heuchera we bought out of tissue culture that looked nothing like the photo. Hmm, that’s not quite right either this yeti is a good looking white flowered plant with nicely marbled leaves, it will enchant your garden causing fox tracks in the snow to magically sublime into yeti tracks and creating no end of panic when the local tv station runs the tape.

He is some kind of whacko, and I wish we could be best friends. Arrowhead carries rock garden and difficult-to-find plants as well as (against his will, I think) more marketable varieties. Many of them are very tricky to grow, which he freely admits. To use his parlance, I've croaked a bunch of them.

But 'August Orange' is sublime: a bright orange-yellow like a candle flame. It blooms profusely throughout August and September, continuing through October and with a few scattered blooms (sans foliage) right into late November. The plant looks like hell by then, to be sure, but I won't argue against anything that blooms so late in arctic Michigan.

I also dug up a big mass of irises. Their corms (I think they're corms, not rhizomes or tubers) were so layered and tangled amongst themselves that I had to work at them with a garden fork and hose for quite some time before I could tease them apart. This is such satisfying work to me. I can't wait to go back out and replant some of them back into their refreshed bed.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Up North

There's a lot of talk about "up north."
It's the place everyone seems to want to go
to escape the pressures and frantic pace of everyday life.
But where is "up north"?
For "up north" is not so much a location as it is a state of mind.
So, how do you know when you've arrived "up north"?
When you feel the cares of the world begin to slip away . . .
When you find yourself breathing a little deeper
because the air seems purer somehow . . .
When you notice that the sky is bluer, the pines are taller
and the people smile a lot more . . .
It's then that you know you're up north!

--Suzanne Kindler

My mom has a watercolor of pines and a lake in her house on the shores of Lake Huron. On it is this poem in calligraphy that swirls like mist through the trees. It is a rather ordinary poem, without particularly poetic language or subtle meaning. And Up North is a common, ordinary concept, familiar to anyone in the midwestern United States. Lower Michiganders go Up North, either to the thumb, or higher up the mitten, or even across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula. Minnesotans have their Up North lake country, New Englanders have the Maine coast and woods, Massachusetts has the Cape. I suppose northern California is an escape to those who live in the more populated south. Are the Rocky Mountains another kind of Up North to the people in the western plains states?

My Up North is a stretch of woods on the shore of Lake Huron. The coastline forms a cove about 5 miles long. For a good long stretch, maybe a mile and a half, it's fairly rare to see more than a handful of people on even the brightest summer day.

The lake is a huge presence. Its waves crash or whisper ceaselessly, forming a silvery aural backdrop to daily life. Is that why the regular chores of cooking and cleaning seem so trivial here? At home, the household chores are a grind. The dirty laundry piles up faster than I can run it through the washer and dryer. I can't sort the fresh clothes into their closets and drawers before the laundry heap towers by the machines again. And the kitchen is never clean. Before breakfast, the late-night snacks must be cleaned up. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, plus constant snacking by the kids ensures a neverending state of sticky counters and a sinkful of dishes. Cleaning the floor is a horrendous task that hangs over my head, for it, too, seems to attract a steady buildup of dirt and debris. It is too much. My home demands my life as sacrifice if it is to remain even marginally clean and uncluttered and with food on the table at appropriate times.

But up north, a sandy floor is quickly swept, and mom and I can whip up meals, and clean up after them, without planning our day around them. These things are trivial, mere interruptions in long days full of beachwalking, kayaking, gardening, reading, sewing, painting, and just plain living.

And the kids aren't glued to computers and video games for hours and hours, as they are at home. Granted, they do get a video fix. Here at Grandma and Grandpa's, they watch cartoons on TV when they need a break from the sun or for half an hour before a meal. But most of their time is spent playing in the sand and water.

I love up north. I hope you have one, too.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Calling Into Question

A post on Wendy's blog today brought back my previous life as a grad student of literature. She commented on students' overuse of the pretentious phrase, "as it were," in their speech. Back in my day, the phrase of choice was "call into question." "Doesn't Foucault's use of the prison icon paradigmatically call into question the predominant theory of Baudrillard's metasequoical randomness?" one would ask, parenthetically of course. No arguing with that. (Extra points for bringing Baudrillard into the nonsense.) Theory was the hot approach -- the right theory, of course. Deconstructionism was in the past. Post- deconstructionism (anything is better if you toss "post" in front of it) was better, if not exactly up to the minute. The meaning of literature (and, of course, "meaning" itself was called into question) was only worth talking about if it was a political discourse on the inequity of the blah, blah, blah -- I usually dropped off about here.

It's not as if I weren't interested in studying inequalities in literature. I was as critical of the white-male-dominated canon as anyone else and have a distinctly feminist viewpoint when approaching any literary piece (and by literary, I mean anything written). I'm probably more left-leaning, politically, than anyone I know, and my circle includes a whole host of left-of-democratic granola-crunchers. I am the proud owner of Birkenstock sandals. (Well, knock-off Birkenstocks. I'm cheap.)

But what I'm getting at here (yes, Virginia, there is a point) is that these well-meaning students were, in the end, poseurs. It didn't take any deep thought to call something into question. Zefrank noted just a few days ago that you can put down any argument with, "Well, it's more complicated than that." It makes you sound knowledgeable without actually adding anything to the discussion. Calling something into question achieves the same end.

And when a nationally-known and controversial speaker came to campus, these students boycotted her. They urged their students not to attend, and sat outside the lecture hall, encouraging people to go away. When I questioned their own political correctness in refusing to listen to another point of view, furthermore telling other people not to listen to it, they looked at me like I had two heads. I didn't get it. Simply listening to her was falling under the influence of the dominant paradigm. We couldn't be trusted to critically examine her arguments.

I remember an amusing incident one slow day down in the bowels of the grad students' basement offices. There was an old sports magazine lying around with a picture of a college-age woman in a bikini. My friends and I, tired of grading papers, were flipping through the magazine. "Huh," I said. "She has really big boobs." (And she really did. Either she had one heck of a plastic surgeon, or she was substantially endowed.) One of the sharky grad students came in just then, examined the picture, and chuckled. "We examine things on such different levels," he said. "What I see is how she is being forced to agree with the dominant paradigm of female sexuality." Oh, really? That was your first thought?

I left grad school, though not because of that incident. I got married, then pregnant with our first child, thus submitting to the ultimate expression of the dominant paradigm of my female sexuality.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Originally uploaded by lab.m0nkey.
I don't know if it's the colors, the reflections, the smoothness of the glass, the texture of the cement, or the contrast of sharp and soft focus, but this picture has real appeal.

Friday, August 04, 2006

August Is the Cruelest Month

April has certainly got cruel down pat. Here in Michigan, after we've suffered through months of cold and gloom and slush and frozen noses, we expect a little something in March. A single tiny snowdrop flower, for instance, or a warm ray of sun. But no. March is not spring here. Now May is definitely spring, with snow fairly rare (but not unheard of). So April, in between, must have some spring, right? Oh, no. April can be so cold and dark, so full of icy black slush and indoor recess, that one gives up hope altogether.

August, however, wins the prize. She puts on the sunniest, most glorious face. The lake is warm, the days long and hot and lazy, the garden bursting with lilies and dahlias and late daylilies coming on strong.

Under this perfect summer show, however, is a knife, probing at one's guts. An unexpectedly cool night. A dingy feather poking through a goldfinch's shiny yellow plumage. And worst of all, Traitor Trees. You know the ones. Maples with a startling orange branch blazing among the green. "Sorry, darlings," they laugh, "fall is here!"

It is that combination of summer perfection and the sting of something autumn that twists the knife. I'll take the unrelenting heat that drives others nuts. Go away, prematurely-turning finches. Be patriots to summer, trees, and refuse to don any of fall's colors. Just let me enjoy this last blast of summer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The great thing about taking pictures of individual flowers is that doing so edits out the weeds. I have weeds. Lots of weeds. I also have lots of excuses: biting ants live here, making weeding painful. It's too hot to weed. I have too many things to do, too many other weeds to pull. This area is awaiting a double-digging and re-edging by DH, so why weed it now?

The truth is that my yard and garden is filled with weeds, and is likely to remain so. Someday I hope to have a handle on everything that needs doing, but until then, I think I'll develop a partiality towards weeds.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Don't Felt the Dog

Y'know, checking gauge just might be important after all. This is supposed to be a small bag for carrying a paperback, keys, and a wallet. What I have here is a bag big enough to stuff half a Golden Retriever in. Finished measurements are 13" x 9 1/2" x 3 1/2", down from 16" x 11" x 4" before felting.

Other than the size issue, I'm happy with the bag. It calls for stuffed I-cord handles and a tab closure held by buttons on both sides. I'm sure I'd lose that tab, so I'm thinking about other ways to fasten it. A lining is definitely called for, as the top edge flared a lot in the washer. I pinned that sucker down like crazy while it blocked, but it'll need help to keep its shape. A nonstretchy lining should do it, as the felted fabric is quite sturdy otherwise. Making a lining will also give me the opportunity to add lots of little pockets for the cell phone, notepad, and pencils.

As happy as I am with the bag, I may end up giving it to my mom and making a smaller one, a true paperback rider instead of Golden Retriever tote.