Saturday, January 31, 2009

the sky is falling

Once upon a time there was a dear little chicken named Chicken Little.

One morning as she was scratching in her garden, a pebble fell off the roof and hit her on the head.

"Oh, dear me!" she cried, "the sky is falling. I must go and tell the King," and away she ran down the road.

By and by she met Henny Penny going to the store. "Where are you going?" asked Henny Penny.

"I'm going to tell the King the sky is falling," answered Chicken Little.

"How do you know the sky is falling?" asked Henny Penny.

"Because a piece of it fell on my head," she replied. "May I go with you?" begged Henny Penny. "Certainly," answered Chicken Little, and she hastened on, followed by Henny Penny.

Continue with Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Daddles, Goosey Poosey, Turkey Lurkey, Gander Pander, Foxy Loxy and the King. The Chicken Little story was one of the Jakata tales from Buddhist Indian folklore.

Sometimes it really does feel like the sky is falling. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

for winter inside

Great Northern beans




red onion


ham shanks


Please bear with me while I love winter a little longer. (I really wasn't trying to escape it with my walking out of winter poem, but how could you know that? I just wanted to be like a bird in it: warm, light, industrious and with a broad vantage point.)

We who love winter love it not only for the beauty of snow blanketed landscapes, snowflakes falling softly on our faces, ice crystals in the air sparkling like a million diamond suns, blizzards, north winds, sledding, sliding, tobogganing, skating, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, the squeaky crunch of boots plodding in snow, red cardinals scattering snow on a spruce bough, frosted skeletal flower stalks, snowmen, icicles, drifts, shadows, snow angels, snow forts, snowball fights, quirky hats, rosy cheeks, blue nights, moon haloes, and bare black tree limbs against pink sunrises.

We also love winter for Christmas, pink grapefruit, oblique daylight, Vivaldi, candles, the scraping sound of snow plows heard from bed after school was cancelled due to inclement weather, building sizzling fires in the woodstove or fireplace, reading by lamplight under a handknitted afghan, gingerly sipping hot cocoa, and . . .

. . . eating hot soup       
after smelling it
in the crock pot all day.

If you love food and cooking, here is that Website again that I shared before: Laylita's recipes. Wonderful!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

feeling yucca

What must this yucca think of Michigan? Yuccas love dry, hot climates. No wonder this one's leaves look a little combative jutting through the snow, but the tall stalk of blossoms looks happy in the July heat last summer, below. Well, I guess it's me who's feeling that it doesn't belong here. Do plants feel?

I don't really understand planting yuccas in the Midwest (what does "Midwest" mean anyway? We are not west at all - see the red area in the map - though we once were, compared to the "East," that is, New England there along the Atlantic and thumbing up into New Brunswick and Quebec.) Even though this is a hardy species, the plant seems like a desert misfit here in the north. (Amazing how it stays evergreen through the winter. Tough plant.)

Spiky points? They belong with Saguaro cactus, Joshua trees and Birds of Paradise -- all picturesque. Oh, the desert must be beautiful in bloom in springtime. But that's where they belong, in the desert. We have lived on two farms in Michigan, and both had yuccas planted by the previous residents. The energy doesn't feel quite right, but I can't bring myself to remove them.

When we lived in California five years I was a misfit living there among yardfuls of succulents - a northern girl in a desert landscape. I am at home among pine forests, goldenrod and Timothy grass, white sand dunes in view of Lake Michigan's layered aquas and blues, autumn leaves, winter snow and ice, and a wood stove glowing with heat. I suppose it doesn't always follow that where you grow up you also feel at home in the landscape. Or that you don't feel at home where you didn't grow up.
As for this yucca, does it long for the Mojave Desert, or feel glad to cool down here? Just because it's a tough plant doesn't mean it has to live in a hot arid place. Maybe its toughness helps it thrive through Michigan winters.

When the spent yucca blossoms fall from the chandelier atop the stalk and get impailed on the spiky leaves, would you call it self mutilation? Ouch!

This is the only photo I have of a full yucca plant - cropped from one Peter took with my Holga. The tall stalk's blossoms have passed (and a second next to it without a flowering stalk, and another behind it). It's hard to see the 10-foot stalk in this shot, but in case you're not familiar with yuccas, I wanted to show you.

Oh, I miss hanging laundry outside.

Truth is, the yucca stands just as tall and striking in Michigan as it does in the Mojave Desert. Maybe I just need my Bedouin receptors opened, and I could learn some toughness from the yucca too.

Map image, above, used under Wiki Commons agreement from this site. (My words added.)

Yucca illustration, right, found here.

Please check out Charlie's February alphabet challenge here and on my sidebar. I've already posted a photo a day for 3 months at East Lansing Daily Photo back in 2006, so I won't be participating. But if you want to try, it's fun to do at least once! And February is a short month, so here's your chance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I am walking out of winter

I am walking out of winter

one booted foot
up and down
after another
like iron pistons
in deep snow

starting at the pines'
hollow deer beds

into the deep
white bowl of the meadow

aching up the hill
past the barn
and its stones as heavy
as my snow-drifted feet

past the iced herbs
and silvered
scraps of wind and sleep

past the column of moon
loose white feather
floating in the blue sky)

Trudging out of winter
toward the house
toward my birds

slipping off my knee boots
I climb up with them

my birds
my birds

and ascend
the leafless black ladders
of trees
to and from the feeders

my birds
my birds

- Ruth M., January 2009

I created the bird image using my photo of starlings, then at processed it with the the panography effect and framed it with the mirrored frame.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

stars and stripes

When we moved to the farm five years ago there was a flag in the basement, which we were not inclined to hang. We didn't have anything against displaying the American flag in the holder on the front porch. We just weren't flag wavers.

Tonight after watching the inauguration, we decided it's time. For the first time in a long time the American flag feels like a symbol of unity, not division. So we dug out the flag with its little eagle at the end of the pole, and I trudged out in knee-deep snow at 8pm and mounted it in the bracket, near the snow-covered spirea bush. We turned on the porch light, since you're supposed to have a light on it if you leave it out at night.

But there was already a light on it, a 'star.' You can see the planet Venus in the western sky behind the flag, the planet named for the goddess of beauty and love. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration Day: for the eyes

A photo-booth shot of John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, possibly taken during their honeymoon, in 1953. From the John F. Kennedy Library.

I am a visual person. So much so that I think it trumps every other sense a lot of the time, making me vulnerable to the beauties of cinematography, paintings, a sunrise, an ornamental chicken, and photographs.

The advertising industry knows many of us are in this same boat. Gorgeous images of beautiful people sell products. The Marlboro Man - simultaneously macho on his horse and romantic in the great wild West - sold lots of cigarettes, including to himself: Wayne McLaren, leading to his death from lung cancer at age 51.

In politics, being handsome and charming sure doesn't hurt. In the famous debate between Nixon and Kennedy, Nixon's chances to win might have slid into thin air, like the sweat off his ski-jump nose - partly because of that visual.
We'll never know how much of the Kennedys' Camelot was based in visual appeal, but it has to be a lot. How do you not stare at Jackie and Jack's faces in the photobooth image, above, and then want them to be your mom and dad, or leaders (king and queen)? Anyone with such genuine gorgeous smiles has to want what's best for me, right?

VF Feb. 2007 cover, one of 20 different covers for the Africa issue, guest edited by Bono, photograph by Annie Leibovitz

When I found Vanity Fair's slideshow of their Presidential portraits over the years (all the photos here are from that gallery), I felt the power of the visual image. Even this cover of Rice and Bush, above, conjured sympathy and even some affection for a man I have found little of either for these long eight years. It's a brilliant stroke, actually, that we will always have Liebovitz' portrait of Bush for the Africa issue, since his contribution to raising funds and awareness for the AIDS epidemic in Africa is a true legacy. How many lives have been, and will be saved and improved because of him? That is a strange question, and my insides do somersaults around it and the conflicting answers. But I can't deny this, and if I were one of the saved ones, I might gently hand him my shoes, gratefully.

photograph appears here, by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson

Our new President takes office Tuesday. People have compared his wife Michelle to Jackie visually, and not all favorably (yeah, Ann Coulter). The new First Lady's style is of utmost importance to some: she wears sleeveless dresses like Jackie, what does it mean? (There wasn't a portrait of Michelle in the Vanity Fair gallery, so I didn't include an image of her here.)
As for Himself, there is so much going on in images of him, that I have to keep checking my emotions with hard facts to keep myself from hoping too much. He's handsome, tall and lean (my instinct is to follow him), African American (a hallelujah FIRST!), has a genuine-looking smile (I want to have a cup of coffee with him and tell him about myself), dresses well without flash (I don't want to see a man dress with too much attention to his clothes), walks with a confident - almost cocky - gait (he reminds me of guys I didn't like who thought too highly of themselves), puts his hand on people's shoulder - including President Bush's (making me think that he feels a little sorry for him too), wears baseball caps and cargo shorts (he's like me), has impressive abs (not like me), scowls at the press when he isn't left alone at times of grief (cool, he's real and doesn't always have to be Mr. Nice), looks people in the eye (nothing to hide), wore shoes during the campaign that had holes after already being re-soled (a sense of thrift and recycling), and puts his hand on his wife's knee, snuggling with her during TV interviews (he respects his wife and genuinely loves her, but maybe too much PDA - public display of affection? Nah.).
Decisions, policies, crises, mistakes and thousands of mundane details that lie ahead for this President will be communicated to us in more ways than during any other Presidential term, from the puppy the Obamas bring to the White House, to protracting the war in Afghanistan. Visual images will help me relish them or cringe, but I'm going to try to balance them with the facts the best I can - that is after curling up on the couch watching Tuesday's Inauguration, relishing the visuals of a million people crowding Washington's mall and Mr. Obama being sworn in on the Bible with his wife standing behind. And will she be wearing a hat?
Jan. 20 12:34: You can read the text of President Obama's inaugural speech here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

thanks to Blogger

It's time to put some flowers round the room! I was stunned to see that synch-ro-ni-zing got Blog of Note Friday. Thank you to Blogger, and to all you nice people for visiting. Have a warm, cozy weekend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

pink ice

Sometimes driving to work on two-lane Meridian Road I'm glad no cars are around me because I am mesmerized by Nature. -15 F (-26 C) temps put hoar frost on every twig this morning. With the rising sun pinking up the frosting and clouds, I thanked my lucky cars - I mean stars - to be living in a winter wonderland.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I drove to the store for birdseed - black oiler sunflower seeds to attract cardinals, and wild bird seed for whatever other birds might be around. I brushed eight inches of snow off the bench in the middle of the meadow and scattered birdseed on and around it.

I set up Don's little deer blind tent near the bench (the red camouflage thing you can't see, above), mounted the camera on the tripod inside, opened the zipper window enough for the camera lens to stick out, focused it on the small tree behind the bench, and waited. I was going to get some stellar close-ups with my new zoom lens of cardinals, or something. I sat on a chair inside, layered in warm clothes and a fleece blanket wrapped around my legs. Oh, and I brought a banana, Oreo cookies and Gatorade. As I say, I waited for the sweet birdies that were sure to light on the pile of seeds for a mid-winter treat. Free food on display! 

Below is the view I could see out of the tiny opening, of the poplars behind the pond. Occasionally clumps of snow fell from the trees, and I jumped (erm, I mean I would have jumped if I'd been moving) thinking a bird had knocked off the snow. But it was only the sun trying to warm things up a bit that made the snow shift off branches. It was around 17 F (-8 C).

If I had the other three flaps of the tent open (I didn't since I wanted to keep the wind out), I'd see this view to the left - the 15-foot sumac and Don's barn. The as-yet-unpainted corner door in the lower left hiding behind the sumac is the door to the chicken coop. Strange how the snow had slid off the black roof in three patches:

. . . this view to my right, of the deer's piney bedroom:

. . . and this view of the neighbor's black walnuts out the back:

In an hour and a half of sitting there, trying not to move or make a sound, I saw birds but only at a distance. They didn't even discover the birdseed. Well, it was a new spot for it.
I started shivering, and so I decided to go in. I'll try again. As Peter said when I came in chilled and disappointed, the TV series Planet Earth took five years to film 11 episodes. They sometimes waited and watched hundreds of hours resulting in one video clip.
I need patience. And I need to develop an expectation in the birds that seed will be at this spot consistently. If I don't disappoint them, maybe they won't disappoint me.-

I processed the image above at with the lomo filter.

For breathtaking snow photographs, please visit Vincent Munier's site. His book White Nature has inspired me to work on snow photography.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

cook's night off

Peter is home for a break between his band's cruise ship gigs. He heads back out soon.
How nice after the holiday busy-ness that he and his buddy Josh - his friend since 4th grade - wanted to buy groceries and make us Mexican pizza.

While I watched with the camera, became ravenous with the smell of Mexican seasoning and also made guacamole, I was thinking, "One pizza? There are four of us, and three are guys." So I quietly resolved to fill up on chips and guacamole if I was still hungry after my portion of pizza.

They used one of the Boboli-type thin crusts (they're already baked and packaged in the store), ground beef sauteed with taco seasoning (if you don't have packets at the store, here's a recipe for it), vegetarian refried beans (no lard), and cheese, black olives, peppers and tomatoes, all on Josh's cool holey pizza pan that lets air circulate and make the crust crispy. Bake at 400° F for just under 20 minutes.

So we each ooohed and aaahed while we served up our 1/4 of the pizza, dolloped on the sour cream, guac and salsa, and sat down. I dug in and after 2/3 of my piece I was so stuffed I had to push my plate away and took the rest to work for lunch the next day. The boys all felt just right after one piece.
I'd like to get one of these high tech pizza pans for "cripsy crust," as somebody in my family used to say. Josh forgot to forget it and leave it.

Margaritas were the perfect light accompaniment.

I ran a cut lime around the lip of my glass and dipped it in coarse salt for the photo, but we all prefer them without salt since it makes the drink too rich. Besides, salt ain't so good for you. Not that we were terribly worried about that.

Here's the guacamole recipe I use if you're interested, adapted slightly from one at Cooks Illustrated. (I can't link the actual recipe because you need a subscription, sorry.) I used four avacados for four people (yes, we are pigs).

1 ripe avacado
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
salt to taste - remember chips are salty
1 garlic clove, crushed
chopped cilantro leaves to taste
(*cilantro in the Western Hemisphere is the same as coriander in the Eastern Hemisphere, though when you think of cilantro you tend to think of leaves and when you think of coriander you tend to think of the dried seeds)
chopped red onion, optional
chopped tomato, optional
Mush ingredients together with a fork to your desired consistency. I like it chunky, so I mush one half and cube the other half by slicing cubes right in the avacado shell, then scoop it out. Careful not to poke your finger with the knife through the shell.
*This used to be me: I hate, then I was converted through one very delicious salad dressing.

Friday, January 09, 2009

White House Victory Garden

Over at Slow Food Nation I found this Eat the View campaign to get the Obamas to model something good for the nation: devote a portion of the White House grounds to an organic edible garden. You can vote for it here:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

for you, for me, for all of us

Can’t take my eyes off of you

I follow you, like you are a woodsy deer, and I am your tail.
There is no movement I do not feel and see, for I and my eyes are fixed on you,
the way these shiny black stones are fixed in the path’s snow.
With each leap over a log, each delicate side-step around a foot-sized hole I can’t see, with each hand stroke of a low branch held until I am clear,
I am one with your movement - protected, because you are ahead of me.
The scratches that scar your face, don’t scar mine.

As Leonard Cohen’s hunchback says, you say:
Your pain is the shadow of my wound.

Who is becoming my tail?
And what follower is bearing the shadow of my wound?

We are all. We are one.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

green-eyed lady

When my edges feel too rough.

When complications of the human exchange seem beyond my ability to maneuver.
When I need to cool down.

When I need to remember that circumstances are not what give, or take away, peace.

When I need to close my eyes and feel Nature's riches.

My elegant green-eyed goddess barncat comes to the rescue.
She looks into my eyes.
She eliminates Time, and Distance, and Separateness.
She says, "I love you."
And I say, "I love you too."

Friday, January 02, 2009

young year, old dog

I like the way 2009 is starting.
Against my wishes, I learned a new game, Settlers of Catan. Theoretically, I think board games are good for developing young minds to think, and plan strategies. But not the ones I grew up with: Chutes and Ladders, Chinese Checkers and Sorry, which are just for fun - all that slipping and sliding and stealing. I missed developing thinking skills partly because I didn't play strategy games like Monopoly and Chess. So now, at age 52, learning a new game feels like going ice fishing with nothing but a sewing needle to chip through the ice.
Christmas week I felt unsociable avoiding Catan, but after all, only 4 could play, and I was a 5th wheel. Too bad, so sad. But this week, my sister Ginnie is here (YAY!), Lesley and Brian are gone (BOO!), and there are exactly four of us. Rats. No more excuses. So the other night I fought the delicious temptation to go to bed and sleep at 7:30 (I'm becoming my mother) and at around 7:45 sat down at the kitchen table to learn the intricacies of Catan, feeling dull and resistant. Why do games have to be part of holiday family time?
About a half hour into game setup and Peter's lyrical instructions, I started waking up. Suddenly it was 9pm, the game was rolling, and I was eager to build settlements and buy roads. I've lost count of how many times we've played Catan since then. I am currently fantasizing how to set up the board differently to get more ore and wool.-
Today is January 2nd and I've learned something new that I didn't want to one little bit. It's a good way to start the year. Maybe next time Don explains how something like electricity works I'll have a crochet hook for chipping through the thick ice of my brain.