Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Roosters, Frogs, Birthday Girls

Some days are just busy with a couple dozen things to do. Today is Julia's birthday -- she's 17 years old! In addition to trying to celebrate my baby's big day accordingly, I'm also making more fig preserves. I give them a stir as I dash by through the kitchen. This was two pints.
I dashed because I was doing laundry. In between loads I was also washing dishes, 
putting plantain oil through a sieve, driving to Dollar General for a handful of items,
and taking care of a sick rooster.
Yes, we have a rooster in residence, in the dining room.
Rooster Cogburn came inside two days ago because he flew into the pasture from his yard, and Ned got a hold of him. We didn't see the event; I found Bernie later, hunkered down under a pecan tree trying to look Very Still. I brought him inside to assess the damage. He was quite docile for a bird who had never allowed me to get without two feet of him.
He had a bad owie on his back and was missing loads of feathers, especially from around his neck and under his wings.
This was two days ago. It's much better now,
and VERY purple.
I treated the wound with triple antibiotic. Later I bought some bactine. Yesterday I bought some Blu-Kote and am using it. Blu-Kote turns absolutely everything it touches a vivid purple, and it's in a spray bottle. If you ever want to BE PURPLE, a couple of minutes with a Blu-Kote can is the way to go!
I must say, Bernie is now quite tame, and we are good friends. I think he likes me. I've tried twice to return him to his lady friends, but they insist on pecking his back, and that can't be allowed, so for now he is in a dog kennel in the house. Pitiful.
So ... I got one laundry load on the clothesline, visited the chickens a second time, started my second load. Then I needed to move some potted plants and water them. It's been outrageously hot these days, and I'm not the only living thing withering out there!
I filled my little watering can and tried to give a drink to my Jerusalem cherry and my wandering fig plant. I tipped the can into the plants. I tipped more. Nothing came out, and then water tumbled from the opening in the top. Hmm. I dumped the water onto the plants ... but clearly something was blocking the spout.
I peered into the end of the spout. At first I saw nothing. Then I saw a small green mouth, breathing in and out. Some critter was stuck in the spout of that can! Ugh.
I can't bear to see animals suffer, trapped, dying. I thumped the watering can on the deck railing hard, pounding it, and then pounding it again. I could have stuck something thin into the spout and forced the critter's face (and body) back into the can. But I couldn't do that. I could injure him. I'd rather do it the harder way and preserve his life. Just like, with one whack!!! we could have been done with Bernie and all the fuss and trouble of caring for him inside.
I determine to be pro-life. Pro-everybody's-life. I thumped on that watering can until a plump, perfect tiny green frog fell back into the can and I turned him onto the deck. He hopped away. Bernie now snuggles in my arms and tucks his beak next to me. He coos. It's so much better, so much more loving and gratifying, to promote life instead of death.
Speaking of living, Julia's birthday will have the fun of yet another Chinese birthday candle, thanks to Anna who ordered this online and had it sent to us! She's a hoot!
It's kinda creepy looking. That's nothing to how creepy it will look when it's going, and how creepy it will sound in a couple of days when it's still painfully, crankilly, sputtering its birthday tune on the back deck. It'll drive you insane if you leave it inside the house.
From us, Julia asked for a bag full of random, fun, silly stuff. I obliged. I found her a pair of camo sleeping shorts with pink lace trim. Mike-n-Ikes. Chocolate. A candle. Earbuds. A pair of nerf guns. She likes things with skulls on them ... so a t-shirt and a bandana with that hideous decor. A Monsters Inc. balloon. A few boxes of sparklers. And these:
We suffer with mild pyromania around here.
We won't light the Chinese candle until she gets back home from work. I need to make her pumpkin pie, which is what she prefers to a cake. Adam is napping after making an asparagus bed and strawberry bed this morning. Like I said -- it's hot out there! After the pumpkin pie I'll take the chickens some more water and examine those new beds. And hang out more laundry. And pick a few figs and tomatoes. So many things living around here, and we try to appreciate them all.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Stillness of Midsummer

What we affectionately call the Pecan Grove --
a peaceful view of a ceiling of branches and leaves.
Trees this large are overwhelming to look into.
I never showed you my birthday dinner. 
That was nearly two months ago, but the photo has stayed on my camera.
We don't eat much beef, but Adam made a delectable steak, 
mashed sweet potatoes, and broccoli. And Texas toast.
It wasn't off the farm, but it was yummy.
Last night's dinner was so colorful! The cucumbers and tomatoes 
and yes -- some of the apples came from our farm. 
The corn came from a friend with an acre of sweet corn.
I feel us heading into the end of summer, into a second shift on the farm. I started asparagus, which is looking lovely. Adam will put it into raised beds. This morning I started new yellow squash and zucchini seeds. We want fall crops too, and since we have a long growing season here there are some things we can grow twice with good timing. No more tomatoes, though! No more cucumbers either. We have figs coming in each day. I'm taking some to the farmers' market, and we'll see if anybody is interested.

For more farm posts, feel free to click on the farm link over on the right sidebar.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lucy Boston's Green Knowe Novels

Do you adore children's books and always wish you could find a new, delicious series? I do, and I have. A few years ago I found an old movie on Youtube: The Children of Green Knowe. I loved watching it -- magical, delightful, sweet, innocent, with a fabulous old house/castle and twisty stairs. My kinda place.

Then I found a movie on Netflix called From Time to Time, also taken from the Green Knowe series. It stars so many British favorites! Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Timothy Spall (aka Peter Pettigrew), Harriet Walter (aka Fanny Dashwood). Be sure to watch it too. Set in WWII, it's beautifully done.

Finally I decided it was time to read the books and discover who this imaginative writer was -- Lucy Boston. I turned to my favorite cheap book procurement site: Abebooks. For about $14, I purchased The Children of Green Knowe, The Chimneys of Green Knowe, An Enemy at Green Knowe, and The Stones of Green Knowe (including shipping). I researched about the various books to ensure I ordered the best. Two others in the series didn't sound quite so good as these.
Now I want this copy, rather than the one I ordered,
 because this one is illustrated by her son, Peter.
I'm nearly done with the first one, The Children of Green Knowe. Boston is a skilled writer with an inventive mind and a lovely turn of phrase. I'll share with you an assortment of passages that show her skill:

"Tolly followed, and found himself in a room rather like his bedroom but much larger, smelling of hay and sawdust, and rich with a soft, musty kind of darkness. There was only one small round window covered with cobwebs, so that the light that came through was dove-gray."

She has an enchanted sense of place and communicates it well to the reader. When a writer describes light as "dove-gray," I know I'm reading something special.

"Great flakes of snow blotted out all the distant view. The bushes in the garden were upholstered with fat snow cushions. The yew trees by the house were like huge tattered snow umbrellas. The branches were weighed down nearly to the ground and shielded it from snow."

"Fat snow cushions"! I love it!

"The lantern hanging from a nail on the wall only lit a corner of the stable corridor. Outside, the rising moon was hidden from the earth by mist and trees, but high-sailing clouds caught its light and with their silver-gilt brightness reflected a glimmer through the stable windows that was enough for a thief's trained eyes."

In the middle of describing a stable, and a character's actions and thoughts, Boston takes the time to help us understand exactly how the light is falling, and why. And she does it beautifully. It's so important to give our children beautiful writing, beautiful language.

"If she listened for the outside noises she could hear the water going through the water gates and over the weir. There was no flood, but a deep strong current. She could hear occasionally the owls and the desolate herons. Once she heard a fox bark. Inside her room perhaps one of the birds shifted and chirped softly in its sleep. She could hear Orlando breathing into his own fur. She could hear the candle flame fluttering like a little flag. It was all so very quiet."

There's so much to admire in this passage! Boston always appeals strongly to the senses and pulls her young readers into the experience. Each of the sounds described above is "spot-on" and precise; that precision is her skill. Then, she'll give you something quite new and delightful like a the muffled sound of a candle flame resembling a fluttering flag. Perfect.

Here's another water description:

"The stone giant strode across the lawns with his bare feet and soon came to the river. At the edge there was thin, loose ice that shivered like a windowpane as he stepped in. The water rushed round his legs and the reflection of the moon was torn to wet ribbons."

Ah! I admit the first time I read that last line I caught my breath in wonder and had to read it again. (Then I read it aloud to my husband and daughter because that's what we do around here.) Can you see it? The ribbons of the sliced moon in the water? Isn't it exact and perfect? She's so good.

One more:

"Mrs. Oldknow's fears were justified. It did freeze that night. The air sang with frost as Toseland lay in bed, and the birds roosted in his hospitable branches. The owls hooted outside. Their sound seemed to echo from a glassy, frost-hard sky. Tolly could literally hear how wide the meadows were."

Boston takes it to a new level. Frost is usually something you see, but instead you hear it. The width of a meadow is usually something you see, but instead Tolly can hear its width as he lies in bed, by listening to the nigh echos of the owls against the ice. Some writers are in a hurry to get the plot to you, rather like rushing the pot roast onto the platter and into the dining room without carving and garnishing it. Boston is ever careful, precise, electric, rich in her comparisons. I'll be sad when I'm done with her writing. I hope I've tempted you to dip in!

And now, back to Austen


I've continued to plod my way through Sense and Sensibility. It's a lovely book, and as with most books, after you've mastered the first handful of chapters the plot takes off, the dialogue becomes fun, and you're in. Here are a few more discrepancies with the nearly-as-lovely movie:

* When Willoughby breaks up with Marianne, the family has not gone to church. They've only gone for a day visit to Sir John's house. Otherwise, however, I'll admit the movie-makers stuck fairly close to truth in this scene.

* Remember how Edward Ferrars doesn't come to Barton Cottage to visit them until the very end of the movie, after they've returned from London, etc.? Not so in the book! I'm currently in a passage where he's come to visit the Dashwoods, right after Willoughby has left.

*Regarding Col. Brandon's rushed departure on the day of the Delaford picnic (a property, by the way, that does not belong to him), there is some serious disconnect. It comes from the elderly Mrs. Jennings. She's itching with curiosity about what has taken Brandon to town so quickly and secretly. "I can guess what his business is, however," she says. "Yes, it is about Miss Williams, I'm sure," she adds next. Marianne knows nothing of Miss Williams. "She is a relation of the Colonel's," Mrs. Jennings tells her. "She is his natural daughter."

I'll admit that while watching the movie over the years I always expected that the old love interest of Brandon's ("Eliza" in the movie) had produced the child ("Beth") with HIM. But in the movie, it's made quite clear that the child is not his. Brandon is not portrayed in the same demeaning role that Willoughby later will fill. But in the novel, Austen begins with this accusation, however quietly spoken, on Mrs. Jennings lips. I'll be interested to see how this plays out in the book. I truly do not remember the book's plot well at all; it's been too many years since I've read it.

* Finally, an important theme running through the book is absent in the movie, and that's Marianne's firm belief -- indeed, her personal love maxim -- "that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life." [An aside for us grammar sticklers: you see that even Austen put incorrect pronoun agreement in her characters' mouths! "One" does not align with "their." Ah well! And her spellings are surprising. Twice she's used "her's." First I thought it was merely a typo, but when it happened again, and then again with another possessive pronoun, I conceded Austen's language was less prescriptive and more descriptive.] On to Marianne's Maxim: I don't recall its being mentioned in the movie at all! The point of her belief is, of course, that Brandon could not really love again, after his early disappointment. And Willoughby would not be able to love again after Marianne, nor would Marianne after Willoughby. And after they discover his history, all would have to say that Edward could not love again after his early engagement with Lucy Steele -- a character who has yet to appear in the book, although in the movie she arrives for the failed picnic at Delaford.

I'm on page 91 now. Lots more to come. I'm eager to discover what else the movie took liberties with. Did you know that Emma Thompson wrote the screen play for the movie, and it took her about five years? Pretty impressive!

(Right now, I'm also reading The Cat Who Came to Breakfast. and The Children of Green Knowe, which explains why I'm so slow at assessing Austen's book. A post about Green Knowe will be coming soon.)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Emerald Isle, Part Two

I feel kinda silly doing a part one/part two. But honestly, at my age, trying to do a really long blog post can stretch the capabilities of one's brain.
Anyway ... Thursday afternoon we relaxed in our room. And this brings up another topic: the layout of a B&B establishment. Most B&B's are houses with front doors, hallways, and bedrooms with baths attached. But the Harborside Guesthouse is unusual. The porches wrap around the building with stairs connecting them. These are the "hallways." Every room/suite has an exterior door onto a deck with a table, but NO interior, connected space. It's lovely looking. But it means that if you're not in your room, you're sitting on a blistering hot deck in the full sun and heat in July. We did eat breakfast out there, and that was lovely, if a bit windy. But once the sun hit the deck ... boom! It's hot as blazes and off limits. And although there is a lounge, we'd have to walk all the way around the building on the hot deck, down some stairs, through the lobby, and into the lounge. Too much trouble, especially if you find you've left your glasses in your room.
The end result is this: Harborside is a B&B where you tend to stay in your room the whole time instead of enjoying the entire house. That's a significant limitation, IMO.
For dinner we returned to Flipperz, a beachy/casual restaurant. We anticipated a wait; they told us an hour, but it was only 35 minutes. It was hot waiting outside. We had a waitress and a waitress-in-training.
I was still full from lunch, so I told Adam I didn't want to order a full meal for myself. We'd had the fried green beans before, so he ordered those first. $7.99. And not a large basket - this is it:
Adam ordered fried shrimp. His salad arrived -- very pretty.
That chunk of bread is just that: a chunk of bread. Boring, dry. 
Should have been buttered and garlicked and toasted.
When it came time to order, I said I'd have a bowl of seafood bisque. I thought I remembered that we'd ordered it last time, and somebody liked it. Seemed safe. A bowl of soup is small.
Both waitresses stood over my head.
The waitress asked me, "Do you want a cup or a bowl?"
"Uh..." I said."A bowl?"
 I didn't want a little cup of soup. Besides, I wasn't getting anything else.
When the soup arrived, the bowl was about 12" across. It was massive.
And boring, and too sweet, and I didn't like it.
So Adam ate most of it.
(What was I thinking anyway? I don't usually like seafood!)
Adam's dinner came. It was supposed to be a shrimp platter ...
It was a plate with some popcorn shrimp and some french fries. $17.99.
I nibbled half of his fries.
And that bowl of soup? $9.99.
In the end, with a tip, that meal cost us over $43. And we drank WATER.
Such is eating out at the beach, and I'm mightily weary of it.
I'm even considering dumping the whole B&B idea and 
renting a little condo next time so Adam can cook for us.
 It was a grouchy drive to the B&B, I'm sorry to say. I'm a miser and hate to spend money, and this B&B trip was fast becoming a pricey enterprise. But as the sun set I asked Adam if he wanted to walk around outside, in spite of the latent warmth. We sat on the dock, on the bench.
 This is a shot of the ground floor deck and lounge for use by the guests.
I wish I could say we took advantage of it much. It's lovely, but just too warm to walk around there.
The deck seating from above:
Here's an outside view of Harborside Guesthouse. You can see how it's laid out a bit. Our room was right in the center of that middle floor. You can see one of our red breakfast chairs.
You can see that each room has many windows -- ours had 5 in the bedroom and 2 in the bath! All had white mini-blinds. See all those deck lights, especially the glaring one on the left? Those are security lights, and they shone all night long. It was tough sleeping with them.
 It's a very lovely building with fabulous views of  Bogue Sound on three sides. Quiet and peaceful. Sweet, kind very-young innkeepers who work hard. I think it would be much more enjoyable in the fall or spring, or even winter!

 I realize I've not posted a photo of myself, and this is all I've got - haha! It was quite dark on the dock, giving these a watercolor effect.

I also watched part of a Tom Hanks movie and read more in the "Cat Who" book. I'm ashamed to admit it has replaced Jane Austen temporarily. Adam moved on to more serious reading: The Collapse of the Third Republic by William Shirer about France in 1940. Adam has wide reading tastes.
Speaking of taste, here was our breakfast appetizer this morning, a peach something-or-other. Crumble?
Very yummy. Then nutella pancakes with sausage links and watermelon. One of my pancakes was still gooey in the middle, and the sweet innkeeper apologetically took it back and brought me another one. 
 Breakfast is served at 9:00 and not before, which is unusual for a B&B. But it gave me time each morning to read, sip tea, and paint. I did this:
Some flowers on their deck.
We planned to take our time returning home, spending several hours at the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knolls, but such was not the Lord's plan! Julia called and said that Ned was injured and crying loudly. His face was very swollen and he was in extreme pain. She had to go to work. So we headed straight home. Julia had a lot to care for in our absence, what with dogs and chickens and her own job. Adam took Ned to the vet, and the poor pup had been bitten by a snake. He's much better now. He was so pitiful! No idea where the snake went, but we do seem to be having a snakey summer. Did I mention that Adam killed a 4-foot king snake for me that was in the chicken coop? Yep.
So that's our little vacation. Adam and I do perhaps over-analyze these B&B trips, but they are important to us, and (for us) they are expensive. Because we can only do them about every other year, we want them to be perfect. This time we really conversed about the most important criteria (for us) in a perfect B&B weekend. I may be posting about that another time. I think sometimes we've gotten distracted from what actually makes us content and happy. Vacationing in 95 degree weather with a heat index of 105 and full-blown humidity is probably not the first good step. Crowds dampen our spirits too. Next time we should go in February!

Emerald Isle, Part One

Wednesday lunch -- Thursday afternoon
Adam and I celebrated our 27th anniversary with a little vacation to Emerald Isle. For those of you unfamiliar with the North Carolina coast, this is a gem on the outer banks, south of Atlantic Beach and north of Topsail. We started with lunch in Jacksonville at a restaurant Adam was eager to visit: Marakesh. This is a Mediterranean restaurant, #1 on TripAdvisor for quite a while. Adam ate their food when a church catered the presbytery meeting from them this past year.
We had the lunch special: shawarma meat from a roasting spit (beef/lamb combo), rice, hummus, tabouli, tahini, cucumber salad, and couscous. Adam is more fond of Moroccan food than I am.
He had Turkish coffee. I sipped it too because honestly the food is quite mild in flavor, and I needed something to give it a kick.

Very nice pita bread:
Lovely interior decor:
We wasted a little time in Jacksonville in blistering heat, 
and arrived at our B&B in Emerald Isle at 3:00 on the dot.
It looks out over Bogue Sound, a very quiet, calm, HOT place.
taken from the Emerald Isle bridge
I chose this place weeks ago after looking at B&Bs all over eastern NC. It had extremely good reviews; the morning we left I read online that a young couple had bought the guesthouse in May, but reviews were still quite good, and we were packed to go. The view from our balcony was lovely afternoon, sunset, or morning:
We arrived only to discover that we had come a week early. Do not inquire, dear readers, of the miscommunication that produced this mishap. Suffice it to say that it occurred and that it was our fault. The kind innkeeper informed us that our room was taken (of course), but that another room was available for only $20/night more. I sat, dejected and exhausted in the lobby, feeling the anxiety welling inside me. But in the end, one must do something, and I certainly wasn't going back home, unpacking, waiting another week, packing again, and then coming on vacation. Not when I was already here. So we took the room, which is a very nice room. It's only drawback was that it does not have a deep, clawfoot bathtub, which the other room had. It's the reason I picked the room, and why I picked this B&B. Sigh. Isn't there a saying about the best-laid plans...?
I like to watercolor on vacations. I find it relaxing. I'm no good, but I don't do it because I'm good. I do it to relax. That takes the performance pressure off -- haha!

Our breakfast spot.
Adam was finishing up one of those Lillian Braun "The Cat Who..." books. He picked it up at a thrift store in Swansboro the day before. We stopped there because I (of course) had dropped Moroccan food on my shirt and needed a replacement. And being a loyal thrift store shopper, I cannot stomach paying department store prices.
Thankfully we could just type "thrift stores in Jacksonville, NC"
 into Google Maps, and several popped up.
Did I say something about breakfast?
These sausage/cream cheese--in--croissant rolls were quite good.
This was to waken the palate.
A few minutes later: fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, grit cake
Before that we were brought a pot of coffee, but before that we'd served ourselves coffee and creamy sweet chai in the lounge downstairs.
I told Adam I wanted at leastto  see the beach and wiggle my toes in sand, so we took advantage of free parking at the Bogue Inlet Pier.
The B&B provided us with chairs, towels, and umbrella, and Adam lugged those to the beach.
He finished the Cat book, and then he passed it on to me. I hadn't read one of these before, but it sounded like light, silly reading, just right for the beach.
Adam slathers himself in sun block, covers with a towel and collared shirt, and sits under the umbrella. We do not come for sun burn anymore, thankyouverymuch. We are too old.
We'd barely sat down when a group of children with a flag ambled onto the beach. I thought they were a Boy Scout troop, but there were a few girls mixed in. Adam thought they were a Jr. ROTC group, doing a beach run. He went to ask.
These mere children are new US army soldiers. We watched their swearing-in ceremony. They are so utterly green -- they didn't know how to stand. One particularly naughty-looking boy with his ball cap perched backwards on his head the whole time will soon have his life altered at boot camp. After teaching high school English for a decade I can spot a naughty 17 year old a mile away. Oh dear. Bless them.
We only stayed until the beach became too heavily populated for my comfort, until nearly lunch.
We showered and headed to lunch at the Village Market. We'd been there two years ago when we took a B&B trip to Salter Path.
Adam had the Village Club sandwich.
I had the Cobb Salad with ginger/sesame dressing.
We also spent a lot of time in the car driving, and Adam reminded me of how tiresome it is to look at old vacation photos and not see any humans in them. So here he is again. I don't get tired of that handsome face :)
More to come ...