Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vignette: Crunchy


(A shift away from grumpy dialogue.)

"Chicken."

"No, fish."

"I'm cooking it, and it's going to be chicken."

"You're still making the batter. The batter doesn't care if you dip chicken or fish in it."

"Of course it cares. Chicken is...well, it's chicken. The golden meat. The crispy meat. The meat of picnics and Sunday dinner. The thing in every pot in the mythical time of prosperity. The happy surprise in the cardboard bucket when Dad comes home. It's chicken."

"Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

"Fine, but that doesn't mean he'll enjoy it."

"Haven't you ever heard of fish fries?"

"Yes; they're what happens when all the chickens have flown south for the winter."

"Chickens don't fly."

"That's by choice. As long as we don't insult them by bringing in a lot of stinky fish, they stay nearby because they love us. Like shmoos."

"Like whats?"

"Shmoos. They're shaped like a big chicken drumstick with legs. They want to be eaten."

"When did you open the wine?"

"I'm perfectly sober. Shmoos. From the Valley of the Shmoon. Go read Al Capp."

"So it's fiction."

"It's an allegory about something or other. Big political and sociological and economic implications."

"Which you're going to explain."

"Of course."

"Will you promise not to if I agree to chicken?"

"Of course."

Image: By Dougs Tech. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Vignette: Festivity

"I called to thank you for my presents!"

"No need, Mom, it's fine."

"The scarf is just beautiful. And cotton is so much more practical than something like lambswool or cashmere--I can throw it right in the wash with the towels."

"Actually, it's silk--"

"And the book looks fascinating. And so big! I was just telling my neighbor--she came in to say hello, because she knew that I was spending Christmas alone--that I might need a luggage cart just to carry it around and read it!"

"You said that large print--"

"Maybe I can exchange it for the Books on Tape version. Do you still have the receipt? Oh, and thank you for the candy! I can go off low carb just for a few days; it would be a tragedy to let it go to waste."

"You never mentioned that you were doing low--"

"Or maybe I can put it in the coffee room at the office. Though candy is really so unhealthy; that might be inconsiderate of me."

"Uh huh."

"To give people something as unhealthy as candy, I mean."

"Uh huh."

"Because you know what they say about refined sugar."

"Yeah."

"Is something wrong? You're so quiet."

"Nope. I'm just peachy."

"I think I hear a tone. I don't know why we can't have a nice conversation on Christmas, of all days."

Image: By Nevit Dilmen. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Link: Rambling on the other blog

So, I've been rather quiet on this blog, not so much as a word about the holiday, because I've been participating in a holiday-related joint perfume blogging project on the other blog. Normally, I wouldn't come here to point to my perfume posts there, because if you wanted to read about perfume, you'd already be there, right?

But these posts seem to be ending up only about twenty to forty percent perfume, and the rest could just as easily be over here. So I'm going to link to my gold post and my frankincense post.

And that is all. For now. I still have to figure out something to say about myrrh. (And now I have.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vignette: RSVP


When the bell went unanswered, Henry unlocked the door and fumbled to push the bakelite lightswitch. "Emily?"

The chandelier struggled to life. Emily blinked at him from the depths of the chaise in the corner. "Hey. Wow, you wore a suit?"

He pulled the chain of the standing lamp by the coat tree. "Were you asleep?"

"How was the party?"

"People asked after you." He peered at the label of the 78 on the phonograph, and gingerly rotated the switch. He watched until the needle landed safely, then added over the scratchy sound of drums, "They were worried. I tried to call your cell."

"Did they miss the spanakopita?"

"Spanakowhat?" The song started to skip. Henry stepped away from the phonograph.

"Those little puffed pastry spinach things. I was going to make some for the party, but I forgot them in the oven."

"I thought I smelled something."

She frowned at him as the same drumbeat repeated over and over. "Are you going to get that? This is one of my favorite songs."

He took another step away. "I know."

She got up, wiping her hands on her shirt, and approached the phonograph. "Who else was there?"

"That cousin of yours, the one with the hair. And Doctor Goldmark, and a lot of old ladies from the church. Did you fall asleep?"

Emily tapped the needle ever so gently. The drumming finished, and a mellow-voiced woman started to sing. "Doesn't sound like much of a party."

"Emily."

She frowned down at the record. "What? Why are you talking? This is the best part."

"Emily, I just came from Clara's funeral."

Image: By Norman Bruderhofer. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Vignette: Treasures


(The dialogue experiments continue, in a crankier vein.)

"Hello?"

"Do you know what I just found in the trash?"

"I'm sure you'll tell me, Mom."

"A sewing pattern. A collectible Issey Miyake sewing pattern. You threw it out, didn't you?"

"Yep. It was mine, from high school."

"You were a minor. That makes it mine to take care of. You were always irresponsible with your things."

"It's missing half the pieces."

"I'll find the other half."

"It's covered in mildew."

"I'll iron the tissue. That kills mold spores. You just don't value anything, do you? If you were in charge of the Smithsonian, you'd just call 1-800-Got-Junk and throw everything out."

"Absolutely. And then I'd move on to the Louvre. When was the last time you sewed anything?"

"This is about my life choices, isn't it? You never supported my decision to quit my job and become a homemaker."

"Mom? I was four."

"I found it in the trash!"

"Exactly."

"I need it. I'm getting back into sewing."

"Can you even open your sewing room door?"

"Well, that's hardly my fault. Nobody ever helps me clean up this place!"

Image: By KoS. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Link: Ramble: Tryptophan Girl


A link to a ramble about worrying, over on the other blog.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Vignette: Further Conversation

(The same pair.)

"Your tie's crooked."

He turned to the mirror and frowned at said tie. Pulling at it, he said, "You sure about this dress code?"

"Would I be wearing panty hose otherwise?"

Pfft. "Panty hose are nothing. Women enjoy wearing those, I've been told on good authority--you're just a weirdo. But ties, ties are mentioned in most documents on human rights."

She inserted herself between him and the mirror and reached to tighten the knot. "That's just misogyny among diplomats. It's well known."

And he loosened it again. "Nah. You're deluded. Haven't you seen those women in the Victoria's Secret commercials? They're always happy."

She shook her head. "Those aren't women. They're space aliens. And by the way, pouting and pushing out their chests is the way that that space aliens express pain."

"Is it legal to date space aliens?"

She stepped away. "They only go out with men wearing correctly tied ties."

He gingerly tightened the knot, millimeter by millimeter, steadily drawing the tie to a crooked angle again. Studying the result in the mirror, he said, "What about those T shirts with the tuxedo and ties printed on them?"

"They get one look at that, and they'll attack you. It's like gang colors. Don't mock ties. Ties are very important to space aliens."

"So you're a space alien?"

"No, I just work for them."

Image: By Bertow. Wikimedia Commons

Vignette: Conversation

(I'm playing with dialogue, so, a sample.)

"Passive aggressive."

"What do you mean, passive aggressive?"

"Well, I mean--you've never heard the term?"

"Nope."

"OK. Aunt Millie comes over to watch the election returns and hides in the corner somewhere. She has lousy hearing, so you offer her a seat closer to the TV. She says, no, no, she's just fine here, this is lovely, thank you. And then later when everybody's packing up to go home, you ask her a question about the speeches, and she says, oh, dear, she's so sorry, but she wasn't actually able to hear them."

"Oh. I've got one of those."

"You have relatives like that?"

"Every woman over the age of forty is like that."

"Hey!"

"You're barely thirty."

"I'm thirty-two."

"So you've got eight years."

"And when I'm forty?"

"I'll go find another friend. Maybe male this time. To avoid the deadline."

"So it's sort of like a friendship with a balloon payment."

"Exactly."

Photo: By Bjoertvedt. Painting: By Auguste Renoir. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Link: Ramble: Fashion Voice

Just a link to a ramble in the other blog, about fashion. Sort of.

Photo: Mine.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vignette: The Kitchen Is The Heart Of The Home



(A rewrite, based on comments. Thanks, Happy Dog!)

"Did you get the milk?"

"I brought in Annie's tricycle. It's going to get crushed on the driveway one of these days."

"I need to make the cream gravy."

"Dr. Vaccaro says my cholesterol is up again."

"I made chicken fried steak. Your favorite."

"My mother sent you a recipe for that pot pie I like. It'll be coming in the mail."

"Is the milk in the car?"

"I'll be in the den after dinner; they bumped up the deadline for the Crittenden project. Can you keep things quiet, please?"

"I guess the kids could have Coke just this once."

"The pot pie uses fresh peas, not frozen. Annie could shell them if you can't find the time."

"Would you like Coke or Dr. Pepper?"

"Is that my mother's recipe? It's supposed to have cream gravy. Weren't you listening?"


Image: By Jessica. Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vignette: Dedication


Dear Mom,

I'm afraid that I have bad news.
No. Sounds like a telegram in a war movie. He studied the screen, shaking a few more Cheetos out of the bag.

From the depths of the staircase, "You ready?"

"Hang on!"
Dear Mom,

Please don't be mad. Remember how I was worried about that paper about the causes of the Civil War? I was right. Professor Giammettei gave me a D, and it's forty percent of my grade.
"Are. You. Ready?"

"Just a minute!"
But I remembered what you always said about communicating with my teachers and how they always want the best for me. So I went to talk to him about it, and he's giving me another chance. He wants me to put more of my own original thoughts in the paper. Remember how you said that too? Next time I'll take your advice.

The bad part is that he wants the rewrite by noon Monday, so I think I better not come home for Thanksgiving. And I was really looking forward to the turkey and your six-layer cookies. Nothing here is half as good.

They don't let you use your cellphone in the library, so I probably won't get your email if you reply to this. But I promise I'll call you from the cafeteria on Thanksgiving, in between rewrites. I heard a rumor that they'll have turkey sandwiches, at least.

Love,

Michael
"Mike! You're paying the extra time on the meter!"

"Coming! Can you grab my skis, please?"

Image: By Tom Murphy VII. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Vignette: The Sandwich

(The 200-words-a-day resolution begins!)

On any normal rainy day, Meg would be buying pink mealy tomatoes indoors, not squashing through puddles at the farmer's market searching for the real thing. Actually, on any normal rainy day she'd be staying home eating boxed mac and cheese or the end of a tube of Pringles.

But Mom was coming for lunch--had, in fact, invited herself for lunch. And fifteen months ago, in the summertime, Meg had served her mother a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich that lived on in legend and song.

At first, Mom had been politely unimpressed. A sandwich listed on diner menus? But her attitude had changed when she bit into toasted homemade bread, hand-beaten mayonnaise, shattering bacon, overpriced pink boutique salt, and tomatoes less than an hour out of the garden. That BLT had been the product of one of Meg's rare culinary frenzies, a masterpiece never to be duplicated.

But Mom expected her to duplicate it. She had rarely expressed such approval for anything that Meg had done. And Meg wasn't (yet) ready to lose the legend over a little rain.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Link: Miss Mosaic (Blatant Friend Promotion!)

Just a post linking to a post linking to a friend who's opening her Etsy store. That mosaic with the cranky chicken? Her work.

Image: Copyright Miss Mosaic.

Friday, November 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Woohoo!

I got there!  52,245! I was just going for 50,000, but it turns out that my word counting method was low.

Now, the novel isn't done. Not remotely. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I wrote fifty (-two) thousand words. I'm pleased.

Now comes the post-fifty-thousand strategy, which is to write two hundred slower words of fiction every day until the end of November, and then a minimum of five days a week permanently. This time I want NaNoWriMo to be a jump-start for a permanent fiction writing habit, instead of a fun one-month stunt.

We'll see what really happens.

Image: NaNoWriMo

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NaNoWriMo: 35,000!


Woohoo!

So, I'm happier. My plot doesn't actually work, but I do have two characters that I like, that could work quite nicely in a better plot. And neither of them annoy me. And they both enjoy junk food. That's good, right? Right.

Image: By Janet Hudson. Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Halfway!


25,028 words, specifically. Halfway there!

I'm not actually much happier with my accomplishments than I was before. But we'll just see how it goes.

Image: By Waugsberg. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vignette: After the Breakup


(The following results from experiments relating to the old "how do you stuff a character description in there without being utterly obvious?" question.)

Jane extracted the photo for one last comparison before she walked into the salon. It was time to differentiate herself from Kyla. No one ever won by imitating the competition.

They both had long blond hair, maintained to the limit of everything that overpriced beauty products could achieve. Jane's brown eyes probably counted against her, compared to Kyla's big blue over-mascara'd versions. But those blue eyes were set in a pudgy, chocolate-box face of the type that would age into wrinkles the day Kyla turned fifty. Or maybe forty.

How could he ignore Jane's infinitely superior bone architecture? Those high cheekbones? That well-sculpted nose, neither overlong nor nauseatingly cute and buttonish? Jane (thought Jane) would be beautiful into her eighties, long after Kyla had collapsed like an aging Halloween pumpkin.

Feh. Who needed him anyway? Maybe it was time for a pixie-cut. And she'd always wanted to try being a redhead.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Vignette: Murder Mystery Scrap


Emily died at twenty minutes to midnight, the last Friday in April. And I could have prevented it, just by inviting her in.

I don't mean that her death was my fault. It was the fault of the man that broke into her apartment at three o'clock that afternoon. He spent almost nine hours there. According to the police, he used the toilet once, ate a bowl of cereal, and watched Breakfast at Tiffany's on her DVD player. He didn't bother to turn the television off when he left after shooting Emily once in the head. I'm never going to feel the same way about Audrey Hepburn again.

Emily knocked on my door at eleven o'clock that night. She didn't ask to stay. She never asked for anything, and that's why she died. If she'd just said, "I'm afraid to go home. Can I stay here tonight?" she'd still be alive.

Instead, she said, "I made it after all!" Standing on my doorstep, beaming and benificent and, as always, perfectly pressed.

Emily's perfectly pressed state always annoyed me. It annoyed me all the more at that hour, when any normal human woman wearing a linen sheath should be draped in a network of wrinkles. So I just looked at her, until she started to wilt.

She tried again. "To go through your wardrobe. Remember? We talked about it."

I didn't step back from the doorway. "We didn't talk about it. You said that I needed to get a wardrobe consultant if I ever wanted to break into management. Which I don't."

Emily laughed. Her laugh, well-modulated and synthetically sweet, annoyed me almost as much as her unwrinkled state. "Oh, I know, I know, you don't want to put me to any trouble. But what are friends for? I thought we'd have a slumber party - we could go through all your clothes, figure out some outfits, and maybe I could help you with your makeup."

I'd been reading about boundaries, and I set one. I didn't let her in, not for the "slumber party", not for a cup of coffee, not even when she asked to use the bathroom. I told her that the apartment and I weren't ready for entertaining, and I sent her on her way. The police came four hours later to tell me that she was dead.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

NaNoWriMo: Fifteen Thousand!


So, this year I'm ahead of schedule on NaNoWriMo. I've reached 15,500 words, which is where I should be on the ninth.

But I don't actually like many of the words. Or the plot. Or the setting. And aside from Henry and perhaps Drusilla, I'm a little dubious about the characters. Hannah in particular is really starting to annoy me, and not only because her age keeps changing. Oh, and that licorice mouse is severely lacking in personality. And why does Drusilla's home look exactly like the evil covered pony-cart that dropped Henry into the ocean?

Um. Ok. I'll get a grip and emerge from the surreal. My point is that while I don't expect to get even a first rough draft of a novel out of NaNoWriMo, I want to accomplish something. By this many words last year, I'd broken through much of my problem with writing dialogue. A few thousand words later, I'd created Henry, the first male character that I'd ever been able to empathize with from the inside, as opposed to just painting from the outside.

This year, I don't see that I've accomplished much. I've decided that after I kill off fifty thousand words, I'm going to immediately try to form a habit of writing two hundred words of more carefully crafted fiction every day. But what about during the fifty thousand?

I'll keep writing. Maybe it'll come to me soon.

Image: By AzaToth. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Vignette: Motives

(This one's probably only comprehensible to some of the folks currently in the throes of NaNoWriMo.)

"Sure. That doesn't mean that you need to take up sculpting ice cream. It probably doesn't pay very well. And you probably need a freezer to do it in."

"Sounds like a cold job."

"You talk about sculpting ice cream and it didn't immediately occur to you that it would be a cold job?"

"Pfft."

"Eat the ice cream."

"Have you heard of that fourth wall thing?"

"Fourth wall?"

"It's where a fictional story acknowledges that it's fictional. I think it's originally a theater metaphor. The theater has three walls, and the fourth wall is the audience. So to "break the fourth wall" is to address the audience. I think. Something like that."

"What if the audience addresses the actors? Does that break the fourth wall?"

"Only if the actors answer. The actors control the fourth wall. It's only broken if they're aware."

"And how is this relevant to our current discussion?"

"Well, we're talking endlessly about ice cream. On and on and on. And it's November. That doesn't tell you anything?"

Image: By Lumen GmbH. Wikimedia Commons.

NaNoWriFragment: It's Getting Surreal Already



Then the candy blew. Lemon drops flew apart in a thousand yellow-tinted sparkles of crunchy sugar. Licorice unfurled as if the separate strands had been sprung steel twisted to the limit of its tolerance. Turkish Delight became flying squashy missiles, hitting hard enough to chip more glass out of the window. Chocolate bubbled like lava. The licorice mice fled for their lives. And the clerk chased Henry and Hannah with a stack of glass jar-lids.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vignette: Thrift Shop Duel


"How much?"

The salesgirl blinked up, mouth full of tuna salad. She offered a questioning "Mmf?" and put her sandwich down as a sign of good faith.

Uninterested in good faith, the matron waggled a sad-looking rhinestone necklace and repeated, with pointedly clear syllables, "How. Much?"

Swallow accomplished. "Ma'am, we're closed on Sundays; I'm just here doing inventory. That necklace hasn't been priced yet."

With even more emphatic clarity, "Yes. That is why I was forced to ask."

Anticipating battle, the salesgirl moved the sandwich under the counter. "No, I'm sorry, I meant that the price hasn't been set."

"Then set it."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but the owner does that. She'll be here tomorrow morning, when we open for the week. I'd be happy to tell her that you're interested in -- "

Further words were drowned in the matron's exasperated puff of breath. "You can't have paid more than eight dollars for it. I'll give you ten." The matron fished a bill out of her beaded purse, placed it gingerly on the counter, then lowered the necklace into the same purse as she proceeded to the door.

"Ma'am! No, Ma'am, I'm sorry, I can't sell that to you until the owner prices it. Ma'am!"

The only response was the ringing of the shop-bell as the door slammed.

Image: By Richard Masoner. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vignette: Coriolis Effect


Emily knew she was in trouble when she saw the marzipan dog.

She'd sent the dog as a joking gift for Aunt Clara's birthday. Year before last.

Clara always denied being a hoarder. She denied it when she was sorting the newspapers by date, and organizing credit card solicitations by color and size, and scraping bits of sugar out of chocolate boxes and filing them in gold and silver stacks. The word was not to be spoken around Clara.

That marzipan dog should have been filed in the second shelf of the third refrigerator in the garage, along with the cherry cordials that Clara received every year from her accountant, and other items in the category Food:Candy:Types Clara Doesn't Eat. But it was on the hall table, in the center of the silver tray that was supposed to contain bent paper clips and pennies issued before 1950.

Food with pennies. Clara had abandoned organization.

Trouble. Big, big trouble.

Emily picked up the dog and examined it. It was as adorable as it had looked in the catalog--too much so, no doubt. Clara normally ate marzipan, though she saved the box and the paper cups. Apparently the dog had crossed over into "too good to use", and was doomed to live in Clara's house forever.

It was impossible to imagine Clara's possessions being disposed of, even after her death. Even moving them or packing them away was absurd. The 1968 cans of peas could end up in the same box as the 2007 cans of apricots--violation of fruit versus vegetable, expired versus unexpired, crossing of decades. No. Clara would surely rise out of her grave. Or perhaps time itself would stop, to enforce Clara's rules of order.

Emily grimaced and reached to put the marzipan dog down. Then she paused. Then she did it.

She carried the marzipan dog to the kitchen. She moved one of the flower vases filed in the left-hand side of the sink. She adjusted the faucet so that its stream would fall directly into the drain.

She turned on the garbage disposal, and she dropped the marzipan dog into the drain.

The grinding was brittle. Then it was gummy. Then it faded into the normal roaring of the disposal motor.

The dog was gone, its sugary remains draining away toward the sewer. Away from Clara's house.

Away. From Clara's house. One of Clara's possessions had left. And there was no thundercrack, no opening of the sky, no roaring of God's voice.

Emily smiled.

Image: By Frank Kovalchek. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Writing: Fiction. Vignettes. Maybe. It could happen.

So, NaNoWriMo is coming up. And every time NaNoWriMo comes up, I find myself realizing that I've barely written a single word of fiction since last year's NaNoWriMo. This is not a good thing, because I would like to find out whether I'm capable of writing fiction, and that's a little hard to do if I don't actually, y'know, write some. I may find that I write lousy fiction, but I can't be sure until I've written lots and lots of it and concluded that I'm not getting any better.

So I'm forming the tentative (ever so tentative) plan of starting to post short fictional vignettes in this blog. I'll start with ones that I wrote a while ago, so that if they're awful, I can blame my past self. But over time, I may actually (gulp) post something in the same month that I wrote it. Who knows - in the word-drunk state that NaNoWriMo brings on, I may even post something the same day that I write it.

We'll see. We'll just see. Yep.

I need to go drink some milk now.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Writing: Finding The Drive

I've been thinking lately that I need to write longer, deeper, more complicated, er, stuff. On the blog or off the blog. And I've been wondering why I seem to write mostly little short things - by which I mean, just a few paragraphs or even just a few lines, especially on the perfume blog. But I tell myself that short is the way I write, and I should embrace my own preferences, and blah blah blah.

But wait a minute.

I just started reading The Forest For The Trees, by Betsy Lerner, and read a bit about having to write - something like if you don't have to write, feel the need and drive to write, maybe that means you should wait for the drive. Something like that. And I thought, well, no, I like to write, but I'm rarely driven to write a blog post or story or some such thing. I rarely feel the words trying to escape, wanting to be written whether I like it or not.

But wait a minute.

I am driven to write. Long (comparatively) bits of writing, written eagerly, with a strong desire to express and persuade, and often with fascination with the structure of the writing, and eagerly edited and tightened and rearranged and re-read and re-read. I often write these several times a day - or, really, several times an evening. But I don't count them, because I'm writing them for forums, of all places. Internet forums. So for me, the urge and inspiration and the flood of words determined to escape comes on Internet forums, and apparently not anywhere else. What's with that?

I think that part of it is interactivity. I'll get back to that.

And part of it is the extent to which I feel that the writing represents me. Or, to put it another way, stage fright. The blogs have my name on them, and the presumption that I'm trying, at least a little, to write coherently and to write something that's interesting to someone other than myself. I think that I feel that coming to my blog has a "price of admission" aspect, and as such I owe people more. And so I end up giving people less, out of self-censorship. On the forums, I can contentedly write long, potentially self-indulgent, potentially overwrought, posts, and if I feel doubts as I press the submit button, I can quite easily shrug, "If they don't like it, well, too bad."

There's also anonymity, either real(ish) or imagined. On many of my forums, I've left (I hope) no link between my forum identity and my real life self. And on the others, my posts are buried in the forum clutter - it's not as if there are any secrets there, or even any guaranteed secrets on the forums where I hope I'm anonymous, but what I write doesn't feel nearly as "published." So if I want to ramble on and theorize about a problem with a toxic person, or my fears about something, or an attitude that I fear might be condemned, I feel more relaxed about expressing that.

So, back to interactivity. Forums hand me subjects, and people already prepared to disagree with me, or already eager for input on an issue. Like a recent NaNoWriMo debate about whether words unacceptable in everyday speech are acceptable in fiction. Or the ongoing debate on a blogging forum where I participate, over whether blogging is about money or not. Or someone asking for advice on what to do about a problematic family member. Stuff like that.

Do I have a conclusion? Not yet. But if you find that I start posting long, self-indulgent, overwrought posts, well, that'll be part of the experiment.

Image: By Ziko-C. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gardening: The Craving For Empty Spaces


Years ago, I remember reading an article by someone who successfully grew a "meadow in a can". Unsurprisingly, the idea of just scattering the seeds and waiting for flowers didn't work out. As I recall, she planted, and weeded, and hoed, and transplanted, and did the same thing the following year, and eventually she had a space filled with tough wildflowers, all set and ready to self-maintain.

Then she plowed it under and planted something else.

It often seems to me that the pleasure of a garden is in the planning, and an empty space can give the gardener more pleasure than all the flowers or foliage in the world.  I never used to understand annuals; you have to chose and buy and plant them every year, often more than once a year. Now I'm realizing that that may be the whole point.

See that photo up there of our side gate, with all that foliage and all those red roses? I admire it, but when I look at it part of my mind is saying, "Hmph. Ground's full."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cooking: Onion/Pastry Project


I have a list of Long Lost Foods that I mourn. Examples that have been floating in and out of my hungry consciousness lately include:
  • The eggy-bread buns that they used to sell at a bakery at the Fancy Mall, the ones that they slashed across the top and doused with greasy onions cooked to a near-caramelized state and mixed with ittybitty bits of something hamlike.
  • The gloriously fatty shallow onion tart with a fine, flaky crust and ittybitty bits of something baconlike that they used to sell at a nearby pseudo-French restaurant. It was also served with a few random sprouts, some cornichons, and some really good olives.
  • The gigantic deep onion tart, with a little bit of bacon, that they used to sell at a French restaurant in Vancouver. Well, no, they still sell it, but Vancouver is, well, Vancouver. I can't just run down there for lunch. Also, last time I tried it it didn't seem quite greasy enough, and they warned me about the bacon. Now, I appreciate that a restaurant might warn a patron about an apparently-vegetarian dish that emphatically isn't, but I worry that they might be developing qualms about saturated fat. And that would just be wrong.
You're seeing the theme here, right? Fat, caramelized onions, pastry, and bits of pig. The bits of pig are optional - the more I read about the high intelligence of pigs, the closer I get to finding ways to get along without bacon. But nobody ever made friends with an onion, so I've decided that it's time to lay off the helpless longing thing and take control of my greasy onion pastry supply. The eggy buns demonstrate a level of breadmaking talent that I'm unlikely to achieve, so I'm hunting for tart recipes.

Recipes with a halfhearted attitude toward onion caramelization are scored down in my book - anyone that tells me to cook the onions for a paltry twenty minutes, or tells me to add sugar, or refers to "pale golden" onions, isn't getting my point. Caramelized onions should be cooked slowly until neither you or the onion can take any more waiting - forty minutes, an hour, maybe a little more. They should be brown and shriveled - no "golden" or "translucent" or "starting to soften" about it.

And Walla Walla and Vidalia onions are right out, though I won't throw out the recipe, I'll just ignore the onion recommendation. In my book, "sweet" onions don't just have less heat, they have less flavor - a shortage of the volatile stuff and the sugar. I want rock-hard, sugar-filled onions that make me cry when I slice them. If I ever get my hands on those Copra onions that I keep dreaming about, I'll use them for this.

And I'm skipping the tarts with a quiche/custard base - I haven't mastered those skills yet. And the ones with a top crust. And the ones with things like clams, figs, or apples. On the other hand, olives, cheese, anchovies, and crispy bits of pig are just fine. Even if I perhaps decide to skip the pig.

I'm looking at the following candidates:
That looks like plenty to start with.

Image: By Flik R. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gardening: Vegetable Excuses and Shady Onions

Onions.

I want onions in my garden.

This would seem to be a perfectly reasonable goal for someone with a vegetable garden, if it weren't for the lack of sun mentioned in my previous post. I've tried, two years in a row, to grow shallots - really, potato onions - without success. The sensible thing would be to give up on growing my own onions and buy them from the grocery.

The problem is that groceries peel the papery skin off of onions, and as a result the onions go bad, quickly and unpredictably. I don't know why they do this. It's not as if they have the produce folks peeling potatoes or bananas or apples and putting them in stacks to rot and attract fruit flies. They add wax or even plastic to cucumbers, in spite of the cucumber's nice protective skin. But they're apparently under the illusion that the average grocery customer lives in terror of papery outer onion skin.

I've seen onions that appear to be the victims of frantic personnel _clawing_ off the last bit of loose skin that could possibly be separated from the bulb. I've seen gouges. I've seen almost entirely unprotected white or yellow union flesh. I've seen onions so naked that they attract fruit flies. Why, oh, why, can you tell me why they do this?!

Ahem. Anyway. Whatever the nefarious reason, the result is that onions from the grocery far, far too frequently turn up moldy when cut open. I'm tired of unreliable onions, so I want to grow my own - if not for all of my onion needs, at least for backup. What I grow doesn't have to be onion bulbs, it just has to taste of onion.

There are chives, of course - those are already growing. But they're a little too mellow and well-behaved for general onion purposes.

The Idiot Gardener tells me that leeks can grow in cool shade, so that's the first strategy.

And that makes me think of the mythical (to me) perennial bunching onion, an onion that's supposed to grow in stalks like scallions, bunching together and reproducing like chives. I've never successfully grown these, but that may be because I started the tiny seedlings in the same shady place where I planned to grow the onions on. If I instead start a patch in blazing sunlight (perhaps in a pot) maybe nice stocky divisions from a season or two later would consent to grow in less sun? It's worth a try.

The third strategy is onion sets grown to scallions. I've always vaguely disapproved of onion sets - such a big "seed" for such a small onion. But I find myself wondering if a set will consent to produce a decent scallion with limited sunlight, like a tulip is almost guaranteed to produce a flower the first year? And could I store a supply of sets in the fridge and plant a fresh handful every week or so, to keep the onions moving? If so, that could be a fine plan.

The last strategy is Egyptian walking onions. These are the onions that first put out normal green onion  stalks, then produce little bitty onions on top of the stalks, as if the onion failed to pay attention in onion class. These aerial onions, I'm told, can then be planted as if they were onion sets, and will produce scallions. So perhaps I could keep a small patch of walking onions in a sunny spot, producing enough sets to make scallions in the partial shade? I suspect that the answer is, no, I can't, but it's also worth a try.

Meanwhile, I will continue to complain about nude onions, and grocery personnel will continue to give me that good-natured confused look when I do so.

Image: By Hedwig Storch. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gardening: Leaves and Sun Denial

There's an area toward the back and side of the house that we've designated the vegetable garden. It's convenient to the back door, nestled into the fence, with a nice newish crazypaved path. We even added a light to enable evening herb-snipping. There's just one problem: It doesn't get full sun. Vegetables are supposed to have full sun. I know this. I believe this. But I continue to try to grow edibles in this space. They don't all fail - raspberries and herbs grow there, we had a couple of decent crops of snap beans, and rainbow chard put out a few leaves. And the shade is deciduous, so there will be a lot more sun from late fall to early spring.

So I thought, greens. Cold-weather greens while it's cold and sunny, and lettuce and other heat-sensitive greens while it's hot and shaded. This could give me a chance to use some of the information in various garden books that make me hungry. Joy Larkcom's The Salad Garden, for example, and her even more interesting Oriental Vegetables. And The Harrowsmith Salad Garden, by Turid Forsyth and Marilyn Simonds Mohr, always makes me feel as if I'm already tasting garlic and vineger and olive oil. And Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping books - I have a battered old original, I believe from before they were broken up into many smaller books, and the pictures of the French and German gardens in particular always make me want to plant something.

The problem is that even greens tend to fail for me, a fact that I find inexplicable given the success of the bush beans, which I could have sworn were more sun-demanding than lettuce. So I plan to take a proper geek experimental approach, choosing several, or maybe more like a dozen, different leafy plants and planting examples of each in all of the different sunny or shady areas of the vegetable garden, plus perhaps a few more spots around the yard. I'll plant them at an inappropriately close spacing, because the goal of this experiment is to see if the plants thrive at all - if a plant crowds out of its four-inch spacing, it's already doing better than the average lettuce plant that I put in.

So. That's the plan. There will be updates.

Image: By Forest & Kim Starr. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gardening: Very Funny

"Cool, damp fall," I said.

They're predicting temperatures of up to 95.

Hmph.

Image: By Brian Snelson. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gardening: Fall

In less than two weeks, we've shifted from sticky summer to cool, damp fall. Not "countdown to freeze" fall, but harvest fall - the plants are still thriving, but without that desperate grab-some-water-and-growgrowgrow! air that they had just week before last. They seem, well, relaxed.

The rose next to the neighbor's garage is blooming - I can't remember if I've ever seen its flowers, but they're lovely double white things with an unsweet, peppery scent. Sir Thomas Lipton, over by the shed, is producing disease-free flowers for the first time in years. L. D. Braithwaite is producing big, slowly opening, relaxed red roses. Sally Holmes still has that frantic air, but she always did have more work ethic than is really good for her.

And the Japanese anemones are blooming everywhere. Oh, and the hydrangeas. And the butterfly bush. And the unnamed hybrid tea.

I usually declare that May is my favorite garden time, but maybe late September is winning me over.

Image: Mine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gardening: Winter vegetables


Autumn may have arrived. Or it may, as I said elseblog, be another of this year's funny weather jokes. But right now the garden is cooler and wetter, and my mind is turning to winter vegetables.

But I failed to plan ahead. I'm dismayed to find that it's already too late for peas, at least according to the local gardening guide. And from experience, it's too late for lettuce from seeds. And I didn't order the gray French shallots that I kept talking about - though it may not be quite too late. And the main vegetable plot doesn't get as much sun as a vegetable plot should, so there's really no space appropriate for any other onions - Himself is OK with shallots in the sunnier flowerbeds, but dubious about any other vegetables.

So for the vegetable patch, I think I'm down to fava beans, or lettuce from already-stocky seedlings. I like the idea of lettuce, so that may be the plan.

Unfortunately, it's usually only the idea of lettuce that works for me. Dense stands of ruffly or rumpled green and red leaves. Memories of the rampion in the fairy tale. Thoughts of crushed garlic and vinegar and really good olive oil. Little minced scallions - will scallions grow from onion sets even in not enough sun? Hm.

It all sounds good, but the reality is generally that the lettuce grows and bolts without ever seeing a salad bowl. I may try it all the same.
Image: By Buen Gastronomico. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gardening: Flowers I wish I'd planted


This is the time of chrysanthemums and dahlias - big, bright, crazy flowers. I have no chrysanthemums, and my dahlias are languishing from lack of space and plushy conditions. So there are no crazy flowers. Right now, that makes me (slightly) sad.

In the spring, I briefly consider the fact that I'll want these flowers when fall comes. I eye the blank spaces in the garden or, more likely, the blank spaces that I could create by evicting something else. But in the spring, the roses and Oriental poppies and lilacs and irises are budding, and I'm certainly not going to evict any of them. And any existing blank spaces could be used for beans or tomatoes or nice stocky annual flower seedlings - things that will pay off sooner than chrysanthemums or dahlias. So the moment passes.

It's not as if the garden has no flowers right now. The Japanese anemones are in their prime, and they're my very favorite flower. And the roses aren't done yet. And our wisteria is still blooming, as it does all summer every summer. I don't know if it's sterile, or if there's no pollinating plant nearby, but I'm pleased either way.

But I like the crazy. I want Alice in Wonderland flowers, and right now I have none. Logically, now, when I'm feeling the lack, should be the time to motivate myself to clear out something else (driveway, Free sign - it'll get a good home) and plant some crazy-flowered hardy perennial chrysanthemum. But I fear that next September I'll be posting these same sentiments all over again.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rambling: Enabling the nonsense

OK, this is an old mystery, but, hey, it remains unsolved.

I can write about perfume. Incessantly. Without worrying about whether I make any sense, or have any expertise to offer; I just ramble happily. So the other blog goes rolling along, with many silly posts and cat pictures and the occasional coherent observation.

I can't seem to write about gardening - or, for that matter, chocolate or bacon or fried chicken or murder mysteries or any of the other topics that are on topic for this blog - in the same way.

Why is that?  It might, of course, just be practice. Maybe I need to write a few hundred gardening posts before I'm entirely comfortable writing nonsense about gardening.  And, yes, I think that  comfortably writing nonsense about gardening is a worthwhile goal at this point, because I have to be comfortable with the nonsense to have any hope of writing sense. I discussed that recently... in the other blog. In fact, come to think of it, the other blog also got the latest bacon and fried chicken post! That's not fair! This is the saturated fat blog!

Ahem. Anyway. The goal is to write just as much nonsense here, as I do there. So there.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gardening: So why do I only photograph the Before?

When we first moved into the house, I took photos of the garden. Lots of photos. As I look through them now, I notice that my photo-taking focus seems to be on the construction and planting phase of the garden areas that we changed. So I have lots and lots of pictures of areas of the garden looking like this:


or this:


But far fewer looking like this:


Or this:


The prettier the garden gets, the fewer photographs I take of it. Why is this?

Photos: Mine.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ramble: And I still don't get Twitter


I noticed today that I've produced five hundred tweets. Five hundred and three, to be exact. And I still don't get Twitter. Much.

I get bits of it. I've participated in a few interesting TweetChats, though there seems to be a critical mass factor - too few people and the chat is dull, too many and you can't possibly keep up. And I enjoy the remarks from people that I know. (But I read those people's blogs, and a blog seems like a much more reliable way to catch what they had to say.) And sometimes the conversation going on while lots of people are reacting to a television show or news event can be entertaining.

But when I consider it as a daily tool, or entertainment, or whatever it is, I remain puzzled. It feels mostly like eavesdropping on a mass scale. It doesn't have the ethical issues of eavesdropping, of course - everybody knows that their every word is available to everyone. But all the same, I suppose that I consider partial privacy and a limited audience to be an essential element of any conversation.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rambling: Hobby Overload!

I used to sew. Long ago. Well, not that long ago, but it's been a couple of years since I fired up the sewing machine.

All that time, I've had two skirts hanging in my closet, one in linen and one in silk noil, both made from the HotPatterns Miss Moneypenny Trumpet Skirt pattern. These were, uncharacteristically, finished projects - I altered the pattern, made the muslin, and cut out, stitched, topstitched, and even (gasp) hemmed the skirts. I even hemmed them with a little extra in the back, to account for, er, extra on my person, so that they'd hang even. Then I hung them in the closet and never looked at them again.

Until today. When I wore the linen one because the only other option was black polyester, on a summer day. And I liked it. It was nice and long and swishy, and the little flare at the hem worked just the way it was supposed to, and it looked good with my new girly sandals. And after that couple of years of aging, I was no longer aware of any flaws in the construction - at least, on the outside.

So, of course, now I want to start sewing again. Even though I just took up knitting. And there are still the 100+ books and chicken frying and gardening and blogging and the tricycle and my likely participation in NaNoWriMo and and and. And. (And now I've gone and written a post about my hobby cycles. Here.)

But I'm doomed. I already went to look at PatternReview. And HotPatterns. And no doubt I'll be looking through pattern books before the month is out. And digging through old boxes to find, I fervantly hope, that already-altered skirt pattern. And inventorying my remaining fabric and pattern stash.

Will I actually start something, and finish it, and use it? That is the issue. If I start small, I might. Like with pajamas.  Or, for months I've been imagining a Chicken Frying Coat to keep me from smelling like the chicken after I fry it - something silly, with three-quarter-length sleeves that won't catch fire, and something to tie a kitchen towel to for constant hand-wiping. I could make it in, say, blue chambray, with white pique cuffs, and applique a chicken on it...

Maybe I should lie down with a cold compress for a while.

Image: By PKM. Wikimedia Commons.

Rambling: Rambling


I've been Away. From the blog, that is. From this blog, that is. On the other blog, I've been babbling away happily about perfume.

I suspect that the time that would normally belong to poor Rambling Chicken has been devoted to making progress my 100+ books. I'm up to forty-eight out of the hundred, thirteen of them in July. If I can keep that up I may break one hundred.

There's been very little gardening or cooking, the things that I most often Chicken Ramble about.  And I haven't had any strong opinions about blogging, or plastic, or clutter, or books.  I did have a recent internal Onion Tantrum. (Why do they insist on peeling all the papery skin off of the onions at the grocery, so that they mold faster? Why why why why why?) But it didn't seem worthy of a full post.

So did I just post to tell you about what I'm doing and not doing? It appears that I did just that. Now that I've broken the ice, maybe I'll return sooner.

Meanwhile, I present Still Life With Shoes. Because I'm strange that way.

Image: Mine.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Plastic Reduction: Emz Blendz Shampoo Moons


I've posted about our increased efforts to reduce plastic use, inspired by our viewing of the movie Bag It!. One of the changes under consideration was switching from shampoo in plastic bottles to shampoo in the form of shampoo bars. But I never quite got around to sending off for any shampoo bars.

Himself pointed out that we have a fine independent soap purveyor, Emz Blendz, a fifteen-minute walk away. We went in, and indeed there were shampoo bars - referred to as "shampoo moons", because they're formed in a nice faintly irregular ball shape. And they're wrapped in paper. I bought one Mandarin Mint and one Tree Hugger shampoo moon, and started using the Mandarin Mint.

I can't tell you how Tree Hugger is, because what seems like dozens of shampoos later, Mandarin Mint is not appreciably smaller than it was when I bought it. And, yes, it's working - five or six swipes on my long hair are enough for a head full of soapy bubbles. The writeup in the store states that conditioner is "optional" and, yep, I don't have that "oh, no, I forgot to use conditioner" experience when I brush my hair out afterward.

The scent of Mandarin Mint is a nice, clean, quiet almost-edible mint, like the best versions of those little soft mints that they used to offer at restaurants. Comparing it against actual mint plants, it makes me think more of Corsican mint than peppermint or spearmint, though it doesn't seem like a dead ringer for any of them. (Maybe that's the mandarin, shifting the mint spectrum a little?)

So the shampoo bar experiment is a success, and I'd definitely recommend the Emz Blendz version.

Image: By Immanuel Giel. Wikimedia Commons.

Link: More things to do! (In this case, felted knitting.)


Just a quick pointer to my post about taking up felted knitting, in The Perfume Blog, because it suddenly seems relevant to this blog.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rambling: The Tricycle Has Arrived!

Woohoo! The tricycle is here! Actually, it's been here for nine days, I'm just a little late in the arrival announcement. It looks exactly like its picture. I accessorize it with this lovely helmet - I fell in love with the 1960's linoleum pattern.

It turns out that while, yes, you never forget how to ride a bicycle, that knowledge doesn't altogether translate to a tricycle. So I'm still learning. That third wheel, and the plane made by those three wheels, changes things.

For example, you don't steer by leaning, you steer entirely with the handlebars, which was unexpectedly difficult to accept. I almost drove smack into three parked cars the first day, and had to ride in sine waves up and down the bike path for a while before my muscles, rather than just my logic circuits, started to master the obvious fact that you go in the direction that you turn the handlebars. And corners are risky - a modest speed is required, because you really don't want to lean and lift one of those wheels. And when the road tilts sideways, you tilt sideways. And you have to remember that a space wide enough for the front wheel isn't necessarily wide enough to ride through.

The good part is that I can sit still, with both feet on the pedals. For some reason, I really enjoy pulling up to a stop sign and stopping, without having to put a foot on the ground and do that little balance dance. And I can ride just as slooooowly as I please, without tipping over.

And, of course, there's all that cargo capacity. Enough for blankets and books and bottles of Coke and water bottles, for a luxurious day in the park. Or a bunch of groceries. Or, theoretically, plants.

I'd forgotten how much fun a cycle was - I haven't really ridden one in years. When I was a teenager I used to ride around mindlessly for hours, and I'm looking forward to doing that again. (And also hauling fried chicken to the park. I do have my priorities.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gardening, A Plant Wardrobe, Plant Three: International Orange Oriental Poppies


Our neighbors, three houses down, have a stand of gorgeous blood-red Oriental poppies. And I've been lusting after them for years, without quite having the nerve to ask for a root cutting. I planted a tiny plantlet of Beauty of Livermere last year, with great hopes, and early this month it started blazing blood-red right outside my desk window. I couldn't be more delighted.

I thought that as a result, I could live without the more common orange Oriental poppies. You know the ones. Life vest orange. Traffic cone orange. Goldfish orange. Orange. The orange that wreaks havoc with almost any color scheme. That orange.

I was wrong. I can't live without them. Beauty of Livermere is magnificent, and I'll love it year after year. But I need the gaudy orange.

Photo: Mine.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gardening: A Plant Wardrobe, Plant Two - Dr. Huey Rose

I'm not supposed to like Dr. Huey.

In case you don't know, I should explain that Dr. Huey is primarily a rootstock. When those self-important primadonna hybrid teas...

Ahem.

... when gardeners want to grow a fine and attractive rose that has limited tolerance for cold or other issues, that rose will often be grafted onto a rootstock that can tolerate those issues. Dr. Huey is one of the most commonly used rootstocks. So when you buy a hybrid tea rose, the rose above the ground will be the hybrid tea, and the roots below the ground will, most of the time, be Dr. Huey.

But Dr. Huey is rarely content to just leave it at that. His roots will merrily send up branches from below the ground, or from bits of the rootstock that may not be altogether buried. The whole Frankenstein-like rose structure is then said to be "suckering". The branches, or suckers, grow eagerly into long arches, since Dr. Huey is a climber, and the arches are covered, for a few weeks in spring, with lovely semi-double red roses. After that, Dr. Huey subsides into foliage and, um, blackspot.

At the very first signs of this process, proper rose growers descend on the rose with various investigative tools, trace the suckers down below the ground, and rip them right off the roots.

Me? I celebrate. Why? Because I normally can't grow hybrid teas, at all. They don't like me, probably because I fail to give them all of the things - like fungicides and pesticides and, well, regular feeding - that they demand. I normally get two or three grudging blossoms per year from hybrid teas.

Until Dr. Huey breaks ground. When that happens, not only do I get lots and lots of Dr. Huey foliage and flowers, I get lots more blossoms from the original hybrid tea. My theory, perhaps expressed in this blog before, is that all of that enthusiastic Dr. Huey foliage manufactures extra food that the good Doctor generously shares with the hybrid tea. Unlike hybrid teas, Dr. Huey seems to be able to feed itself from prosaic substances like, um, dirt.

But I don't love Dr. Huey primarily for its kindly food-distribution ways. I love Dr. Huey because I love Dr. Huey. Spring isn't spring without those sprays of red flowers. I can see them all over town, because when a hybrid tea dies, Dr. Huey usually survives. But I still need my very own Dr. Huey - or two or three.

In fact (go ahead, laugh) I ordered, and paid real money for, a custom root plant of Dr Huey - an action not unlike paying money for dandelions or crabgrass.  When we moved to our present house and garden, the one hybrid tea was slow to sucker, and I feared that I'd have to live with no Huey. So I panicked and submitted my order. Of course, the hybrid tea started suckering before the custom plant arrived, so now I have two. And that's just fine with me, even taking the blackspot into account.

Image: Mine. A bad shot, but look at all those flowers!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gardening: A Plant Wardrobe, Plant One - Honorine Jobert


In the perfume world, my other major area of obsession, it's common to discuss the idea of a fragrance wardrobe. An essential part of this concept is that it's a limited fragrance wardrobe. It would probably consist of more bottles than the average person owns (two? three? none?), but not so many that that average person would eye me worriedly and back slowly away. So, less than a hundred. One common figure is ten. I recently posted about this concept, and listed nine perfumes.

So if we're limiting perfumes, if only theoretically, why not go through the same mental exercise for plants? The obvious "why not" is because people don't think that you're crazy if you have a few hundred different plants. But all the same, all the brave talk about simplicity and limiting choices and appreciating what's left could, in theory, also apply to gardening.

So if I were to limit myself to...

OK, I can't limit myself to nine plants. In the whole plant world, from ground cover to trees, only nine different kinds? No. Very funny.

So if I were to limit myself to nine different perennial flowers, what would they be? Nine cultivars - no fair cheating by including "roses" as just one plant.

The first one is obvious: Japanese Anemone Honorine Jobert. The most beautiful flower on the face of the earth. Period. Look. Just look. Could anything be better?

Yes, yes, I understand that no doubt you have a plant that you think is better. In fact, I'm continually surprised that this flower is my favorite. I would have expected myself to pick some dripping, quartered rose, or an exploding peony. When did I become a minimalist?

But there it is. Nothing is more beautiful than Honorine Jobert. No doubt the exploding petals will be represented further down the list.

What about you? Got a favorite?

Image: Mine

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rant? Ramble? Blogging: It's about voice

I hang around on a forum about blogging. It's partly a forum about making money through blogging, so there's a fair bit of discussion about moneymaking, rather than pure blogging, strategies. (Moneymaking, as you can no doubt guess, is not part of the agenda for my blogs.) Some of these discussions make me a little crazy.

The most crazymaking are the posts about getting "content for your blog". There are cheerful discussions about where you can get "free content!" and how you can find the "best article directories" and other ways to solve that pesky, pesky problem of having, you know, posts in your blog.

When I read these discussions, I find myself shaking my head and moaning, no, no, you don't get it.

But I've been a little puzzled about exactly how to phrase what they "don't get". I know that it has to do with writing your own blog and producing your own content, but that doesn't seem like enough of an explanation. Because how does the reader know that you lovingly wrote and polished every word in your blog, as opposed to briskly selecting those words from an article directory and writing a check?

I've also been doing a lot of reading about writing, and that's where I finally found a way to express the idea:

It's about voice.

"Voice", in writing, is about the way that the writer translates his personality to the page. It's about word choices, and phrases, and mood, and structure. It's how you can distinguish a paragraph written by your very favorite author from one written by the person who wrote the history textbook that you passionately hated in eleventh grade, even if the two writers are writing about precisely the same thing.

Voice is what makes you chuckle and drive your companions mad by your insistence on reading the good parts aloud. Voice is what makes you buy the whole series and put yourself on the waiting list for the next book. And voice is what makes you come back to a website or blog, over and over.

I read writers for their voice.

I don't read the garden books of the late Henry Mitchell, long-time gardening columnist for the Washington Post, because he knows about, say, tulips. I read them because I want to "hear" Henry Mitchell talk about tulips.  I want to read Henry Mitchell's musing about how tulips are "reminiscent of brisk terriers, except better behaved" and his discussion of "the high delight of examining the bulbs" of species tulips. Anyone can tell me about tulip varieties, and how to plant the things, and how to keep them alive. But only Henry Mitchell can be Henry Mitchell.

I don't read Calvin Trillin because he knows where to eat; I read to hear, in his words, what he thinks about the food. I read to hear him dismiss rotating restaurants with "I never eat in a restaurant that's over a hundred feet off the ground and won't stand still." I read him because every moment of reading his work is a moment of sheer enjoyment.

In the same way, I read websites and blogs not for information, not for facts, not for statistics, not for how-tos, but for voice. And when I find a voice that I love, I want to return to that voice again and again.

Information is cheap. Voice is priceless. And that's what people crying "buy content for your blog heeeeeere!" just don't get.

Image: By Glide. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gardening: The Last Square inches

Did I mention that the garden is full?

It is. Full. There will be no new, expansive plantings anytime soon.

In fact, to point to just one sample spot, there are bearded irises, a buddleia, a rose, an oakleaf hydrangea, a few lilies, some hardy geraniums, and some creeping thyme in a spot that's really only adequately roomy for the buddleia.

So far, this problem has been solved by cruelly pruning back the buddleia and convincing myself that the rose and the hydrangea are perfectly happy waving their leafy arms in the same airspace. And it does all look nice. Lush. Enthusiastic. Leafy-flowery and all that.

The problem with all of this is that my interest in the garden is triggered mostly by planting. No matter how gorgeously leafy-flowery the garden may be, there's something missing if I can't plant at all.

These are the times that I hunt for tiny unplanted or underplanted spaces, and plot what I might do with them. With similarly tiny plants. Microplants.

Violets, for example. We already have a lot of violets, but they're the sort of plant where near-infinite variety is just fine. I still haven't found true fragrant sweet violets, for example; I keep searching for these, and I keep finding lovely blossoms but no fragrance to speak of.

And Corsican mint. Low to the ground, barely thicker than paint, and incredibly fragrant. And creeping thyme, already flowing all over the garden.

And species tulips, in the fall when it comes time to plant them. Itty bitty often-perennial plants, like the little clown-striped Clusiana ones. And blue Siberian squills. And crocuses.

And nasturtiums. No, they're not actually small, but you can plant the fat little seeds in the smallest of spaces, and watch the resulting lily-pad leaves politely negotiate their way into any available space.

And... I'm sure that there are more. Lots more. I'll be posting again.

Tulip photo: By Scott. Wikimedia Commons.