Saturday, July 31, 2010

Night Blooming Cereus

Friday night friends invited us over to watch a flower bloom. Not your usual invite but sounded like a party to me. Turns out it's an annual event to watch their Queen of the Night strut her stuff on the one night a year she does.

We arrived about 8:30, the plant in center stage on the picnic table with 5 flowers beginning to open. By 11:00 they were fully open and the air scented with their perfume.

They've had this particular plant for about thirteen years and most of the time it's an ugly thing. Gangly stems and leaves, turning dull brown in the winter. It is a member of the cactus family and is native to the Sonoran Desert.

But one night each summer, in June or July, its flowers open as night falls and then close forever with the first rays of morning sun.

Here is a time lapse video of the flower blooming.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Measuring Door

On a lake in Maine is a summer cabin, a place called Moxie Ledge. It has been in one family for nearly 100 years. Handed down from its first buyers to their six children, it is a vacation haven to brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, in-laws and spouses, cousins and more cousins and all of their friends.

And the door to the kitchen has been used to measure them all. It is a record of family growth through generations. The oldest notation I could find was 1924.

Click to enlarge.

I picture a circle of children waiting their turn to make their mark upon the door. Some names are oft repeated, the mark a little higher with each successive  summer. But there are so many different names it did not appear to be exclusive, not family only, but instead inclusive, welcoming to all, just like this place.

View from the porch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010



"We're all vulnerable. Mix the wrong feelings together, the right kind of bad with the wrong kind of good, and you'll wind up with a total breakdown."
-Lewis Carroll
 Alice in Wonderland

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Thirty Year Quilt

One of Margy's best friends, Robin, married Lou in 1979. Thinking of a wedding gift for this special friend Margy decided it would be nice to make them a quilt. She had a lot of sewing experience and inspiration from a family heirloom but had never made one.  She bought a book, decided on a star pattern, and with her mother bought material at a Lancaster Amish fabric store. And so it began over thirty years ago.

What happens in thirty years? Margy finished college and then a masters degree. She bought a house and gave birth to and raised two children as did her friend. She named her daughter Robin. She got a job and then another and another following a shifting career path. And all the while she worked on the quilt when she could.

It was carried about in a yellow plastic bag, the ever growing star, the diamond shaped pieces. Each band a different color, each band 16 more pieces than the last, 800 in all, all stitched by hand. As the star grew it became a little celebration to move to the next color.

About three years ago the star was complete. Only thing left to do is the quilting. She bought the rest of the material, the dark blues and cotton batting, the white/light blue backing. I made a quilting frame for her which replaced the ping pong table. This is a big quilt, 8 feet on the short side, king size. And so for countless hours she worked away stitching the lines of the star and then a wave pattern out to the perimeter.

As this summer approached Margy's family planned a gathering in Maine not far from where Robin and Lou now live. We would of course stop to see them. Could she finish the quilt in time? Three days before we left the last stitches on the outer binding were made. Break out the champagne.

We often make plans with good intentions. The saying goes the road to hell is paved with them. Along with feelings of accomplishment Margy is a little relieved to have finally followed through on this one.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Repairing Things

It's gotten harder. Before, if you had the inclination and some aptitude, you could take apart many of the appliances, machines, and gadgets that we use and take a look. You could fiddle with the levers and cams and gears and springs and attempt to simulate its operation to see what was not operating as it should. You could tighten or replace a loose screw, clean and lubricate sticking parts, bend a lever to get more travel. In a pinch you might even make a replacement part from stuff you have in your shop.

But now, as electronics has been incorporated into nearly everything we own, you can't see what's going on. It's happening inside this black box, this module. If you are skilled in this work, and you have the right information, you know what is supposed to go in the black box and what is supposed to come out. If there are several black boxes chained together you must discern which box is the faulty one that needs to be replaced. And too often, much to your dismay, it may not be available or costs more than the entire item you are trying to fix.

Most of our electronic toys are made on robot assisted production lines. Robots are fantastic at assembly but not so good at figuring out what is wrong. Humans must still do this, an expensive proposition that more and more often will not be offered. Replacement is the norm. Repairing things used to be our first consideration but not so now days because even if you could get it fixed it won't have a frobnozzle that moobangs like the new ones do. It won't have the latest features. So into the land fill it goes.

A week ago I repaired this knife. Knives are old school. Very old school. With my years of experience and highly developed troubleshooting acumen I quickly detected what was wrong. The handle was falling off. This is a favorite knife in the household, one we've had for 30 years or more. The blade is regular steel, not stainless, that seems to hold a keener edge. The handle was ebony, I believe, but had become split and chipped at one end. I ordered brass rivets and found a small piece of cocobolo. An evening's work and it feels nice again. This tool might now go on to the next generation.

Friday, July 2, 2010


When you climb in your car you are king of the jungle. You are the hunter who is not hunted. Armed with firestones and windshield beware all who cross your path. You are mowin' 'em down.

In our cars we barely notice the carnage but on a bike one gets a more intimate view that is hard to ignore. A steep incline with a known deer carcass is to be avoided if possible. When sighted up ahead one tries to time the pass to a long exhale. The stench is enough to make you cheer on the carrion eaters. C'mon buzzards! Let's go crows! Make haste maggots! Get this thing outta here!

The numbers, though unsubstantiated, are big. In the US one million vertabrates a day. They correlate to rodent and animal populations gone unchecked by natural predators. No more are wolves and big cats and eagles who would cut down on the traffic.

And then there is our pets.  Estimates of 26 million cats and 6 million dogs annually. You could fill a tanker with the tears from all that heartbreak. 

a turtle, a cardinal, a red fox puppy

Apart from pets the ones I find most distressing for some reason are turtles. Maybe it's the imagined crunch of the shell.  Or the fact that it seems it could have been avoided. It isn't like they darted out in front, or ran willy-nilly back and forth like a chipmunk. Maybe it happens at night. Maybe I've hit one and thought it was a stone.

Louden Wainwright lll knows about roadkill. Tell us about the Dead Skunk Louden.