Saturday, October 16, 2010


Charlie proposed to his sweetheart this morning up at Magness Tree Farm.
We assume it was suitably romantic, because she said "Yes."
Actually, Samantha already has most of the wedding plans down, so it was a moot point.
They will be married here on December 29th.
Yes, this December 29th.
When you're a Marine, you don't mess around. Charlie told me that one of his friends had to reschedule his wedding four times. After the invitations had been sent out.

So, I know you're all wondering how I feel about this, right?
After all, my blog, my life, it's all about me.
Well, my observation is that Charlie is as happy as I have ever seen him. He seems to be more comfortable in his own skin, not so restless as in times past. He is taking responsibility and making plans and dealing with some of the hard facts of life with determination and optimism. 
So I am happy too.

Guess who?

Friday, October 8, 2010

A pirate story

Today's story came to me in a round-about way.

Twenty five years ago today, Leon Klinghoffer was murdered by Palestinian pirates.
For those of you who are fuzzy on the details, as am I, let me re-cap.

Klinghoffer, a retired Jewish businessman, was confined to a wheelchair because of the effects of two strokes. He had no interest in a Mediterranean cruise, but went because he loved his wife, Marilyn. It was their 36th wedding anniversary. A few days into the cruise, four members of the PLO boarded the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, and made outrageous demands of Israel while the world watched helplessly. The pirates singled Klinghoffer out for execution, shot him in the head and chest and forced the ship's barber and a waiter to throw his body overboard. Marilyn didn't find out that he was dead until the pirates left the ship in Port Said, having being told that he was in the infirmary. She died of colon cancer a few months later and the couple's two daughters now work against terrorism in their names.

The fate of the pirates was rather a mixed bag and involved a little spat between our beloved Ronald Reagan and the Italians. The PLO did end up having to pay a sizable amount of money to the Klinghoffer daughters, which is now used to fund their foundation against terrorism. Delicious irony, don't you think?

Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer in 2003, holding a photo of Leon and Marilyn.
Photo from NYDailyNews.

Segue with me back to 1967.
This is the year that I sailed with my family on a 5-week voyage from England to New Zealand.
On the Angelina Lauro.
Sister ship to the Achille.
Which got me to thinking about that ship, wondering what happened to it, so I did a little Google.
It's amazing what you can find on the internet.

The Angelina started life as the MS Oranje, built in 1938 for a Netherlands shipping company. She spent most of World War II as a hospital ship for the Australian Navy. The Dutch government bore the full cost of the conversion to a hospital ship and the crew remained Dutch, even though the Captain was Australian. The Oranje served in multiple theatres during the war, made 41 voyages, and was a welcome sight in Australian and New Zealand ports.

After the War, the Oranje spent the next couple of decades as a cruise ship, sailing around the world. With passenger numbers dropping, she and her sister ship were sold to the Flotta Lauro Lines, an Italian company. She was extensively rebuilt, with one of the outstanding features being her tall, louvered funnel which was topped by a large smoke deflector wing. The newly outfitted Angelina Lauro took her maiden voyage in March 1966.

This photo is from Reuben Goossen's comprehensive maritime website. Isn't she a beauty?

One year later, my family boarded the boat in Southampton.
My Dad had bought himself a new-fangled Super-8 movie camera, with which he proceeded to make a menace of himself. In later years, we all laughed whenever we watched those family movies, because Dad would inevitably pan up to that awesome funnel whenever he filmed anything on board the ship. I guess I was under-impressed, being only eleven at the time and not understanding anything about engineering or design!

For more of my Dad's story, go here, in case you missed it the first time.

Well, we had an interesting voyage, because it was right after the Suez Canal closed and so they took the stabilizers off the ship in order to make up time. We had to go into the Mediterranean to Italy, then back out again to travel all the way around Africa. I have fond memories of the five weeks we spent mostly playing Monopoly with our little gang of like-minded kids. Mum would tell you several horror stories, but again, I guess I was oblivious.

What happened to the Angelina, you ask?
Well, she got another retrofit in 1972. In 1979, she burned and sank while in the U.S.Virgin Islands. 

I hope I haven't bored you with my little trip down memory lane. I found it fascinating to fill in the gaps for my own satisfaction. We experience so many things in life and we view them from our narrow field of vision, never seeing the bigger picture.
It's fun, sometimes, to enlarge that perspective, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Of graves and sniffles

In deference to my nasty head cold, which I won't mention because Jenny said it's tacky, I will be short on words.
This is Sunday's sunset, completely unedited.

Jeff and I had been over to the Friends' Cemetery to try to get some pictures of gravestones. I joined this site after taking a little detour during my day with Jenny in Columbia. It's pretty awesome. You sign up to go find gravestones for people who are working on their genealogy, take a photo of them and then upload them to the site. I'm not as into genealogy as the rest of my family so I thought this could be my contribution. 

Today, I dragged myself out of my sickbed and finally found the stones.
Mission accomplished.
And now, back to bed.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Petiole, schmetiole

On Saturday I became industrious and borrowed two, not one but two, juice steamers.
I gathered six humongous bowlfuls of grapes.
I steamed and gathered luscious purple grape juice.
Sixteen quarts and several large jugs of juice later, I tasted it.
Mouth-puckeringly sour!
Luckily, I hardly made a dent in the grape crop, so after Googling "grape harvest in Yamhill County" and discovering that the vineyards won't be harvesting for another two or maybe four weeks, I decided to hold off on the rest. Another victim of our cool summer. This batch will have to be sweetened, which is what I was hoping to avoid this year.

On a better note, the lemon cucumbers and green beans are still producing and the tomatoes are responding nicely to the clear plastic cover. Every day or two I roast another batch of tomatoes for the freezer.

And the rhubarb is still thriving, so I thought I would post our favourite rhubarb dessert recipe.
With suitably amazing photos to accompany said recipe.
This is the easiest thing you will ever make and it can be adapted to many different fruits and cake flavours. I first tasted it at a ballooning brunch, back in the days I used to chase balloons in the early mornings of summer. I have made it so often that people call it my recipe, but in truth I have seen it posted in many places on the internet. 
So, here it is .
Rhubarb Dump Cake.
Which name usually sets Charlie to tittering.

First, wash, trim and slice about 4 cups of rhubarb.
Don't let it go to seed in the early spring or it will be tough.
Oh, and I use quite a bit more than 4 cups, but that's the official amount.

Now, scatter a small packet of strawberry or raspberry Jello over the fruit.

Then sprinkle a cup of sugar over that. 
Other fruit may not need as much sugar.
And I use a little less sugar even with the rhubarb.
Because I do try to eat healthily, really I do!
Don't you wish I would just quit messing with things?

Next, cover with a package of cake mix. 
White or yellow.
I like the butter flavours, but you can experiment with lemon or spice.

Carefully pour 2 cups of water over the cake mix, then one cube (4oz) of melted butter over all.
I know, it goes against all your Mama ever taught you, but don't do it!

Bake at 350 degrees (oh, how I wish I knew where the "degree" sign was!) until golden brown and the cake is set. This is tricky, because, depending on how much fruit you use, it might be done in 45 minutes or up to an hour. It will be all bubbly and pink and smelling delicious.
It will look much better than this.
This is a stupid low-res internet photo, because I forgot to take a pic of the finished product.
But it's close enough.
Other fruits to try: blackberries, peaches, pears, plums. Spice cake would be delicious with pears or peaches, don't you think? 

Useless fact of the day: Rhubarb was used for medicinal purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years. The  use of the petioles as food is fairly recent, first recorded in 17th century England as sugar became affordable for common people.

Note to Samantha: If you really want to get on Charlie's good side, make him one of these. Because you know I will as soon as he gets home!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A gentle man

In a narrative that's totally out of order, go back with me, please, to the Monday afternoon of my trip to the East Coast. I was in the Columbia with Jenny and she told me that this garden, which I had seen on her blog, was right on my way back to Annie's house.
I was thrilled.
It was a mere five minutes off the freeway and I arrived in the early evening, about an hour before sunset. Jenny told me that she had stopped by the week before and spent about 45 minutes talking to Pearl Fryar, owner and gardener extraordinaire, so I was hopeful that I would get to see him.

I parked my car on the grass by the house and spied an elderly gentleman working by his tractor about forty yards away. I was a little shy, so I meandered around for a few minutes, taking pictures of this
and that
and generally trying to look as if I knew what I was doing.
Finally, I plucked up my gumption and walked nonchalantly over to him.
Pearl Fryar.
A gem of a man.

Pearl began his garden in 1984 in an effort to win his town's Yard of the Month. I could go on about how his garden developed, but you can go here to read an amusing account that is much better than anything I could have written. Go, read it, you'll be glad you did.
This is my favourite quote from Pearl. 

“Gardening books will tell you that some of these things in my garden can’t be done, but I had never read them when I got started. Not knowing ahead of time that something is supposed to be impossible often makes it possible to achieve. I didn’t have any limitations because I really didn’t know anything about horticulture. I just figured I could do whatever I wanted with any plant I had.”

Pearl and I had a nice little talk about Jenny and his garden and then he got antsy and said he'd be happy to talk some more when I had looked around but that he had some pruning to do. I can take a hint as well as the next guy, so on I walked and Pearl drove off.

Pearl is not your average topiarist.
He doesn't do animals, as much as abstractions.
His hedges flow

and his trees become individual statements of his imagination.

Mugo pines are an ordered row of sentinels 

and many shrubs become precise, geometric designs.

Every tree is a graceful statement against the blue South Carolina sky.

Pearl is also a metalworker and his art is everywhere, conveying his message of peace, love, and goodwill.

It was a beautiful evening, cooler than the day had been, with a light breeze blowing against my face. I continued my tour of the gardens and finally came face-to-face again with Pearl. He was working on a small live oak that had volunteered next to a bigger pine. He was very gracious and humble, telling me how he would train the tree and then move it to its own spot. He told me how amazed he was that people come from all over the world to see his garden. 
Pearl works on his garden every day that he is home. It has been designated a Preservation Project of the Garden Conservancy and Pearl is training interns to carry on his work when he can no longer do so. As near as I can tell, Pearl is in his late 60's now, so I hope he can continue to be an inspiration for many years to come.

I said goodbye reluctantly, knowing that I still had a long drive ahead of me. The evening was so serene and conversation with Pearl was so comforting and uplifting that I had to drag myself away. I continued the loop back to my car.

The ubiquitous palmetto tree. 
South Carolina-ans love their palmettos! Their neatly trimmed silhouettes are to be found on every street of Columbia, it seems.

Pearl is not one to leave a tree undecorated, even a dead one!

The gardener's famous ladder.

Pearl spreading the love.

I drove away, the sun in my rear-view mirror, feeling a better person for having known Pearl.

P.S. In a testament to Pearl's graciousness, I just saw on his website that visiting hours for his garden are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. till 4 p.m.
I visited on Monday at 6:30 p.m. and felt completely welcome.
I'm so relieved that I left some cash in his donation box!
Oh, and Tuesday morning I discovered that the mosquitoes had made a delicious meal of my arms and legs while I was enjoying Pearl's garden.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Not exactly the Garden of Eden

I can usually find redeeming features in almost any area I visit, but the area where Annie and Edwin live in North Carolina has been a tough one. I've visited in winter and now late summer and neither one appeals to me. Apologies to anyone who lives there and loves it, but it's not my cup of tea at all. I need four good seasons, flowers and fruit orchards and berry and vegetable fields and the ability to grow all of those things in my own garden. And diverse shopping possibilities, an airport reasonably close by and lots of cultural and artistic offerings.

Not much to ask for, is it?

Anyway, our baby Elsie will grow up with none of those things. Which is okay, because she will be awesomely loved and that's the most important thing. And she can come to visit me and I will show her everything.

The thing I miss most in their area is flowers. The summers are wicked, this summer especially, so you see very little colour in the gardens. As we were leaving for the airport, I noticed this perfect little rose bloom by the front door.

Driving to the airport, we passed by many fields of this crop

which is, of course, cotton. I always imagined cotton to be a tall plant, but it's only about 18"high. No wonder picking cotton is described as back-breaking work.

And then there is this other, ubiquitous crop. Can you guess what it is?

Tobacco, my darlings. 
The evil, evil crop. 
Not only does it kill people, but as a crop it destroys the soil at a faster rate than any other, necessitating the use of many pesticides and fertilizers, which then pollute our waterways. Tobacco was originally used by native Americans as a hallucinogen in religious ceremonies. It was then introduced to Europe and became a recreational drug. I do believe it may the best vengeance that was ever wreaked on a conquering society.

The other crop you see everywhere is soy beans, but they look just like any other bush bean, so I didn't bother with a photo.

It seems to me that the only crops grown in that neck of the woods are those that are subsidized by the nanny government. 

I just discovered that tobacco (genus Nicotiana) is related to this lovely that can be found in my back yard.
Also called Nicotiana.
Slapping self on the forehead.

Today, in the spirit of the harvest, I am picking grapes and making grape juice.
A post will surely follow.