Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bird update.

So there I was, late Tuesday afternoon, minding my own business (read: dusting), when a bird was spotted in the distance!

Of course, I snatched the camera and started taking snapshots. Mind you, the panorama below consists of cut-outs from pictures that were taken with x16 zoom; it wasn't that my hand was shaky.

It looked like a cross between a seagull and a woodpecker; the fact that it was actively foraging on the ground was befuddling.

The kicker? Just as I've managed to identify it as a Northern Flicker (one of the few migrating woodpeckers/the only one which primarily forages on the ground) and share the joy with Elrin via the grand thing that is AIM, the bird reappeared in a much more photogenically feasible location.

Is getting a major ego boost from bird identification a necessarily bad thing?

Yellow plants and peeping frogs


A Sugar Hollow hike last weekend yielded a surprise: colts’ foot along side of the trail! It’s not native to the Americas, which makes me wonder how this particular little patch got there.

Additionally, a possible morel relation has been spotted.

And, of course, turtles!

The woods around the dam were filled with chirping of tree frogs, waves of sound which Elrin originally mistook for the singing of birds. The frogs were spring peepers, which can occasionally be spotted in Indiana, as well. I’m glad to find them here.

This webpage’s got a pretty nice overview of different frog species found in Virginia.

In the spirit of all things coming out of hibernation, one of the huge (blooming) maple trees…

Had a number of bugs, emerging from underneath its bark. The bugs were kind of cute, but I’m not sure what they might be.


There’s been a few events which I’ve missed catching on camera, among them the invasion of the squirrel upon the bird feeder (to be chased off by OtherKitty), the mating of two red-breasted woodpeckers, and the war of the said woodpeckers and a small flock of starlings. Apparently, starlings felt like invading into some nest-holes, and the woodpeckers didn’t feel like sharing.

A brown thrasher sighting has been recorded (I’m pretty sure it’s not a thrush).

Likewise, a mystery cat, or, as he shall hereafter be called, Mr. Fuzzy Bum.


We’ve added a second planter, one of those huge whiskey-half-barrels. In it, we’ve planted tomatoes, chives, a mixture of greens, and several scarlet runner-beans. Not sure how many of these are actually going to sprout (as we’re not past our last frost date just yet), but if worst comes to worst, I’ve got some left-over seed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

There is no art, for art is a lie.

There are, however..


I’m fond of web comics. From CRFH (College roomies from hell) to I love Wendy (a naughty, naughty thing), I’ve traversed the intricacies of the web, seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are some that I’m following up at the present moment.

Alaskan Robotics: A whimsical bit from the point of view of some Alaskan small-business owners. Reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes, for some reason.

Do not let the stick figurines deceive you into believing that this person doesn’t have a (twisted) sense of humor.

Erfworld: A fantasy board-game oriented webcomic. It’s one of the more original/well done ones that I’ve ever read. You –emphasize- with the characters.

Looking for group: A relatively cheesy World of Warcraft-themed thing. The quality on this one’s gone down overtime, with less memorable (and loveable) character expressions, and more group shots for no apparent reason. Bleh.

The title says it all. It’s about working in retail.

Order of the Stick:
You wouldn’t get it if you’ve never played tabletop D&D. And that’s a promise.

Roster- Timmy

Berry, berry, gecko-berry,
Sweet sweet berry, mul-berry!

Do you find yourself making up silly little rhymes about your animals? If not, you’re overdue for a gecko.

Timmy is a Vietnamese golden gecko, who’s been with us for about 6 years. The tale of his coming to us is as follows.

Before going to college, Elrin took a few years off and worked at one of those small-scale pet stores. The store in question’s imparted him with a definitive hatred for cleaning up crap, and irresponsible people. Timmy’s ex-owners fall under the latter category.

Timmy was brought into El’s store by the neighbors of the owners, because they (the owners) apparently wanted to flush him down a toilet. This is because they’ve gotten Timmy about 8 months ago, 6 of which he spent being lost (!!!) in their garage, and now they were bored of him.
How he survived in an unheated Virginian garage in the middle of the winter is anyone’s guess.

When he originally came in, Timmy was missing his tail, one toe, and was skinny as all heck. He ravenously ate up the crickets that Elrin tossed him, and wanted more. As El’s store was filled up on reptiles, he went ahead and phoned me, asking if I wanted to take him in. I did, and Elrin took the gecko into his home.

Ironically, Timmy (named under an imaginary and invisible little boy that stalked me in the elevator of the dorms in the university, but that’s another story) turned out to be the nicest golden gecko ever, allowing El to hold him, pet him, and just about tie him in a noose.

Timmy was smuggled from Virginia to Illinois on a plane, in Elrin’s shirt. In Illinois, we moved him into a 10-gallon tank, and found out that he was an absolute little pig for waxworms and mulberries (actually, any kind of berries. Hence his nickname, “Timmy-berry”). Even later on, he moved back with us to Virginia, and continues to inhabit the same 10 gallon tank.

We let him out every other evening, or so, and he climbs all over us. He still doesn’t bite. I like to think that he realizes how good he’s got it here, comparatively.

Golden gecko lifespan is said to be 10 to 15 years, but we’re not sure how old he was to begin with. Here’s to hoping that Timmy will stay with us for a long time yet.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A post in which the entire concept of topic differentiation went down the drain.

A combination of art/book post, once again.


By Jonathan Kellerman
Read by John Rubinstein


“A self-centered male character goes off to be self-centered”
“Sherlock Holmes and the case of Premature Conclusions”

Summary: A psychologist and a police man take on a case of.. something or another. I couldn’t bear to finish the first disk.

Rating: Do not pick this book up. Ever. Even if this is the last book on earth, and you’re out of toilet paper.

Rating of the reader: It’s likely that Rubinstein does have some good works behind his belt, but have elected to forget the meaning of punctuation in order to get the reading of this thing over with. I’ll be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Summary: Seems that I’ve been cursed by two crappy books in a row. First “Plague of Doves” (good book, bad narration), and now this. To summarize my feelings about it, the shrink and the cop visit a scene connected to disappearance of a woman, and immediately blame the obviously mentally challenged janitor. Yup. The janitor. I mean, some people do come across as slow, but to jump from ‘janitor’ to ‘rapist, murderer, etc, etc’ is just silly.

Currently plowing through “Bell curve” and “The March”


Did this little piece (8x8 inches, gouache and ink on Bristol board) as a continuation of the Daon theme. Ruytimat, the Rightmost—the color scheme is consistent with a little private contest that one of the folks over at deviantart.com is having.

"Its sleep lasted years, the weariness- gray
Rolled over most barren of lands
Till two golden shapes glided in from the north
And flitted, as fluff, through terrain.

Watched they and wondered at land without soul
Resting as corpse in the dust
"Nothing is here." Growled the Left
"There will be." Then promised the Right."

In the long run, I’m thinking of building up the thematic drawings to 25 or so, and doing an exhibit. How does the title “Seeds of fantasy” sound?


The promised daffodil.

And a bonus cherry blossom ala Elrin, taken by the library. Took us something like 10 minutes of standing around and refocusing the camera to get that one.


Once upon a time, there was a blue jay that hasn’t been clued in on the function of the bird feeder…

One cowbird…

…Brought friends. (The abundance of seed on the ground is due to mourning doves being picky eaters. One sat there and tossed seed out of the feeder. By beak full. I think he/she just liked making a mess.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The day of blurry photos.


This past Saturday, Mina, myself, and two other girls from M’s gardening class went out to Biltmore estate. To anyone who’s in the area and haven’t been there… … go. Go now, or forever hold your peace.

The Biltmore house was built at the turn of the previous century. It, along with a large number of other structures on the property (which spans more than 8000 acres) was created with self-sufficiency in mind. It has a farm, a dairy-turned-winery, and something like 70 acres of cultured gardens.

The house itself is magnificent, containing more than 200 rooms and over 40 bathrooms. It’s been a tourist attraction since the 30s, and no wonder. I went through the place in starry-eyed wonder. The oriental rugs, the inlaid wooden cabinets, the overstuffed furniture, trimmed with ribbons or leather, the wall-papers, heavily textured, the paintings, the drapes, the statuary… it makes one realize how deprived of senses life in a little town-house can be. White walls, gray carpet with a senseless, blurred pattern are depressing after that high-grade opulence.

Of course, I forgot the camera. (To my chagrin, so did 2 out of 3 of the other people in our group).

The conservatory, adjacent to the house, was yet another wonder. Some of the plants reached immense size, and many were familiar. Among the familiar ones was a succulent that looked identical to my Russian cactus. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a tag. Neither did a lot of other things on the grounds. That, perhaps, is the only complaint I have about that entire place (and the entrĂ©e fees, though we’ve gotten in on a deal with Mina’s ticket).

I did end up getting a seasonal pass, so it’s likely that we’re going to go out there to bike, at some point or another.

Elrin’s project(s)

Here’s the shelf and the flowers that El put in. Urge to hum that “Handy man” song, rising.


A starling’s been excavating a little hole in a tree in the back yard. Perhaps it was once a woodpecker hole. Whatever the case may be, it’s a hole full of dirt and rotting wood, now. The birdie is persistent, removing crap from it for an hour or so every morning.

There’s been numerous eastern towhee sightings, on the bushes, below the bushes, but never on the feeder.

A pack of dark-eyed juncos intermingled with mourning doves on one occasion. You'll have to imagine the mourning doves off on the left.

A pair of house finches.

A mocking bird, also never seen on the feeder.

And a chipping sparrow! These little buggers used to be common as heck at my folks’ farm in Indiana. They’d hop along the gravel driveway, often in pairs, and bathe vigorously in any bodies of water they could find.

Not sure what this wasp’s called, but it’s got wings, therefore joining bird rather than plant section.


Hyacinths are getting ready to bloom, with both of the daffodils opening up already. Couldn’t get a good picture of the latter, so I’ll try again when Elrin gets home.


OtherOtherKitty, also known as OtherKitty’s Evil Nemesis, has shown up on the back porch after several months’ hiatus. As he was nothing but skin and bones, it’d be fair to say that the constant snowfalls of this winter have been hard on him. I’m guessing he’s the father or older sibling of OtherKitty, seeing as they’ve got similar coloration and the same hoarse, slightly squeaky meow. Whatever their relationship is, they’ve never been on very good terms, hissing and warily circling one another when chance threw them together.

And lastly, one of mom's cats, a black one named Kitty (original cat naming, or the lack of, seems to run in the family) succumbed to old age. The new cat (which I disapprove of, since they've already got 2 dogs, 2 more cats, and 1 small child) is nevertheless a very pretty one. We're currently trying to come up with a name for it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A number of (long overdue) books.

It is to be noted that this past Saturday, Mina, myself, and two other people drove over to Biltmore estate. It was a stunning day that shall be described on Tuesday, because 4 pages of a blog-post is too much as is.

It is also to be noted that Elrin surprised me with two newly installed shelves (positioned low for Errant's short-person convenience -_-) upon my return. And fresh flowers. Can I say "SQUEE!"?

And now, for the recent books..

World without End
By Ken Follett
Read by John Lee


“Women’s liberation movement in 12th century Europe”
“The day when everyone had everyone else’s kid, and got away with it”

Summary: A sequel to “The Pillars of the Earth”, this book picks up the events of the fictional town of Kingsbridge some 200 years later. Rather than a conflict between the priory and the earl of Shiring, it focuses on the conflict between the traders’ guild and the priory, with the former clearly being the good guys.

Rating: A definitely-must-read, if you liked “The Pillars of the Earth”.
Rating for the reader: Still lovely. Lee’s a great reader, and manages to pull off both character voices and intonations appropriate to the moment.

(Spoilers ahead).

The first thing that comes to mind, when I think of this book, is the amount of violence. There’s a certain amount of sadism that is slightly difficult for me to stomach (ironically, it’s not the rape scenes that’re the problem.. it’s the cruelty to animals). Nevertheless, it’s a well-written piece of work, with five main characters, and a rather large number of secondaries.

I’m not sure how well this one would do, if read through in a paper version, as it’s just over a thousand pages. This might scare off some people, or might mean that those who are slow readers might not pick it up to begin with. (Elrin’s been plowing through Thomas Jefferson’s biography.. and that’s half as long. Not sure what he’s going to do with the most recent Wheel of Time book, which he’s checked out, renewed once already, and has yet to open.)

The author tries to focus a bit more on female characters, which is mildly amusing, as he insists on giving most/all of them a rather unrealistic sex drive. And then there is the mandatory lesbian nun coupling… To give him full credit, Follett does put in a gay monk coupling, as well, though in a lot less detail. One thing that he avoids is bestiality, which, with any luck, we will have in the sequel to this one.

The story follows a similar pattern to “The Pillars of the Earth”, namely “Main character is faced with a problem-> main character tries to resolve the problem-> main character fails-> main character eventually succeeds-> rewind, repeat”. The bad guy (one of the two, anyway) is shown to have a bit more heart/motivations, but ends up dying in the end, as does the secondary bad guy, who dies half-way through.

Also to the author’s credit is a well-written bit on the Black Plague, which serves as a frequent visitor and a rabid axe-man, allowing for disposal of many more secondary characters than otherwise would’ve been possible.

Overall, I liked this book, and would listen to it again, given the chance.

… Now all that’s left is to finish “Scratch Beginnings” and the “Bell curve”..

Scratch Beginnings: Me, 25$, and the Search for the American Dream
By Adam Shepard


“The best 25$ I’ve ever spent”
“Optimist’s guide to poverty”

Summary: Can be read as a rebuke to "Nickel and Dimed". A guy takes 25$, a sleeping bag and a backpack, gets dropped off in a middle of an unknown city (Charleston, South Carolina) and has a goal to have a car/apartment/2k in savings by the end of the year.

Rating: A must-read. In caps, and underlined. This book made my day.

This is a book written by an optimist. The author does have a lot of things going for him, such as his age, gender, level of fitness, and level of motivation (high). He is not in a relationship, and does not have family to take care of. Still, such ‘lack of fetters’ isn’t what you’d find yourself thinking of, while reading it.

“Scratch Beginnings” is written in a freehand, loose style of a recent college graduate, peppered with anecdotes from Adam’s experiences, and ending in an upbeat, moralistic note. Positively moralistic, mind you.

The outlook of the author reminds me greatly of Elrin’s own life philosophy, a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”, “work hard, enjoy life” sort of deal. It’s an outlook somewhat different from the “education is everything” and “it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know” sort, that my family’s long been trying to instill into me. The first of these sunk in, the last haven’t. It takes all sorts of people to make up a society, after all.

The book ends prematurely, with the author moving closer to home to support his mother. Still, its original goal is achieved, and the author admits to learning something in the process.

The Gingerbread Girl
By Stephen King
Read by Mare Winningham


“Run, M, RUN!”
“A month from a life of potential divorcee, knife-wielding murderers included”

Summary: A woman gets some mental issues (or possibly starts off on a quest for self-discovery) after the death of her newborn child. She proceeds to find fulfillment in running, and moves out to her father’s property on an island to pursue this style of life. TGDFT (things go downhill from there).

Rating: Read if very bored.

Audio rating: What can I say.. it’s well-read. Female narration’s entirely appropriate, and the intonation does keep you on the edge of your seat at times.

Typical Stephen King drivel. I’m not sure why I keep reading his stories. Wait. Yes, I am. Some of them are actually good. Such as Salem’s Lot, or The Walk. Sadly, the main character in this short story is developed nowhere near enough for us to care about her on a level above that of a cardboard cut-out.

The Plague of Doves

By Louise Erdrich
Read by Peter Francis James and Kathleen McInerney


“The promising book I had to put down”

Summary: It begins to talk about the family and family history of a certain girl on a reservation in North Dakota.

Rating: Undetermined.

Audio rating: I propose that anything containing the voice of Kathleen McInerney is collected, melted down into a human-shaped block of plastic, and subsequently burnt at stake.

The book was promising, very promising. It was peppered with those short, anecdotal stories that make semi-fictional reading worthwhile. It was also read by the singularly most annoying voice I’ve encountered so far. Too high-pitched. Too gushy. Too squeaky. Maybe Peter Francis James is better, but after one disk of grinding my teeth, I’m not about to find out.

The book, if I find time for it in the non-audio form, is probably actually worth the read. Sadly, until I do, this remains the only book put down due to irritating voice acting.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Because this couldn't wait until Sunday.

Finished both the painting and World Without End, just now. The photograph turned out weirdly.. the seemingly white bubbles are actually a pale shade of blue, but don't show up against back background.

Anyways, here we are. "Lady of the Fall".

"Widow's sorrow", she called it
As the earth was ripped asunder
Drew it forth, and steel became it
Soul-forged and acid-quenched

From the Fall that is the Border
From the waters of the dreamworld
Sharp as wind and vile as whisper
Weapon of the dead and damned

20th post. Of doom!

Woohoo! Post #20. Who would’of thought I’d have lasted this far.

Anniversaries aside, Errant is still plowing through World Without End and Scratch Beginnings, disk 31 in the former, and something like half-way in the latter. Both are still quite awesome, if graphic in parts.

To blame for the tardiness is the uncommon amount of artful productivity: reading yourself is a lot faster than listening to an audio-book (a 300 page book takes about 1-3 days, depending on the subject matter) , and one can’t read and paint at the same time.

To make up for the insufficient progress, here’s a sampler panel for an upcoming 8x11,

…and a sneak peek of the not-even-half-way-done 8x11 in question.

.. And some links of interest!

Seagulls prey on whales. It surprises me that it took birds this long to come up with this, considering that whales are basically large, slow-moving tins of meat. And seagulls’ve got –wings-.

A site of a guy with an interesting knife collection. Who also happens to carve wood. The guy’s grasp of English is interesting, but the pictures are worth it.

A site of a woman who breeds crested geckos, and does some art that also happens to be gecko-related. Some very neat lizard pictures and commentary!

A site of a small business that imports/breeds reptiles and some cats. Their uromastyx collection is especially worth looking through, if you like living jewels. Ornate uromastyx in particular… Swoon-worthy. Definitely swoon-worthy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On star-lings.

Rainclouds cling to the mountain sides, hanging over us like a massive, suffocating mess of unprocessed felt. Warmth of the spring isn’t too keen on getting here just yet, but the grass is already reaching up, sending green spears, that summarily turn unsightly tan slopes into unsightly tan slopes with a vague sheen of a more interesting color. The overall effect is a vomit-green with sore orange patches, where the clay-laden soil shows through.

The little speckled bastards don’t mind, and descend upon these same mountain sides in a flurry of black wings and gnashing beaks. White specks on their plumage are surely why they are named ‘star-lings’, European Starlings, to be exact, an invasive specie in the Americas and another sign that spring is, indeed, upon us.

“Skvoretz” is what a starling is called in Russian; “skvortzy” in plural, a name that is fitting to the unholy squawks that pass for starling language. The batch which occasionally frequents our back yard is quite intent on showing the world just how verbal they can be. The chirps and squeaks resemble anything from a dying cat to a very creaky door, slammed over an over by an enthusiastic poltergeist.

On occasion, an uppity male might decide that that isn’t enough, and would impose himself onto one of the surrounding trees, to perform the horrifying solo, punctuated by an ecstatic flapping of wings. Yes, sir. As if we can’t tell where you are by your (rather melodious, truth be told) creaks alone.


African violets continue to bloom. Not a white one among them.

I’m seriously contemplating on getting a named one from a breeder, probably Lyndon Lyon greenhouses. Maybe, Easter Angel- a standard, though that’s not exactly pure white. Or even Winter Smiles, which is a white Russian variety.. Both of these are going to be rather large plants, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that quantity=/=quality. Might as well get the big, pretty ones that I’d enjoy, rather than three mini-sized ones, which I’d have difficulty keeping watered. (Never did get a hang of the wick-watering trick).

Repotted the non-variegated hoya and the odd oak, which sprouted in a cactus pot from an acorn which I’ve apparently put there and forgotten about. Maybe this means that I should be watering the cactus in question less?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tales of Daon, Fini.

We went to Johnson city this past weekend, again. Despite the somewhat rainy weather and sightings of dead deer with a complimentary ring of ravens, the trip was enjoyable. There was much browsing of all-and-any-stores-that-had-plants-in-them, along with Michael’s and one of those “all natural” food stores.

The stuff in that type of grocery stores tends to be exceptionally overpriced, but, hey, where else are you going to get dried mango and cranberries?


Picked up another skein of silky-blue stuff, and am continuing on a small scarf with a somewhat simplistic pattern.

Here goes another uneventful post.


Finished “Tales of Daon”. 8x11 inches, gouache paint on board. It turned out to be a bit dark, since the background wasn't white.. Also, ran across some thicker paper at Michael’s and will be illustrating one of the poems on that same subject. Hooray for speculative fiction.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The blah-ness of too much art.

Due to the amount of outing time (it's been a rather nice week, weather-wise) and progress on "Tales of Daon", aka "Growth #3", I've fallen behind on the readings. Thus, to compensate for an overlong post about all things natural, here's a super-short one.

The Stranger Beside Me

By Ann Rule

"The nice young men I thought I knew"
"This is the trial that never ends,
It goes on and on, my friends.."

Summary: A true account by a woman who knew Ted Bundy before he was accused with a rather large number of murders. This book covers Ann's personal interactions and correspondences, as well as the details of Ted's trial(s) and appeal(s).

Rating: Read if really, really bored. Or interested in serial killers.

Don't take me wrong, this is an interesting book about a sociopath. It is also a documentary-style book, which means an enormous listing of everyones' names, and an excruciatingly long tale of the guy's trial. Since Errant's always had difficulty remembering names and is used to the fictional style of -resolution- (or, at least, science writing's style of -explanation-), this book was mildly difficult for her to read.

It did make me want to read more about the natural chameleons of human world, but not so much about Ted Bundy. (Though "The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy" by Elizabeth Kendall is tempting.)

Currently reading:

"World without end"
- on disk 9. So far, so good!

"Scratch Beginnings" - Wow. Just... wow. Glowing review, coming up. A must-read companion to "Nickel and Dimed".

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The planter LIIIIIVES!

The house sits alongside Main street, a white, peeling construction from the first half of 20th century. It is enclosed by a natural fence of yews, once bushes, now trees; it stares with unseen, curtained eyes into the dull shade of its guardian oaks.

There is a dozen houses like this one throughout Abingdon, some of which have been abandoned and shuttered up, and some of which still function as bed-and-breakfasts, or even modern ghost-castles for retired recluses. What makes this particular house different from all the rest is purple.


We thought we were hallucinating, the first time we drove by it. The entire lawn was covered in seamless carpet of crocuses, a fuzzy blanket of petals. The effect was absolutely stunning.

Elrin's project

The planter is done! The construction has been filled with top soil, compost (about 6$) and 26 bulb flowers (2 containers, one of white-edged red tulips, and one of mixed tulips, daffodils and hyacinths; would have been 10$ ea., but I've gotten 5$ off the tulips, since their pot was broken). Yay for bargaining!

I've of a firm opinion that 4 screws on either end (total) is -not- enough to hold the thing together, and that it will warp/pop apart/explode after the next rain.

Elrin remains stoutly optimistic.


The hiking over the weekend (mostly in Sugar Hollow park, but some downtown Abingdon, too) brought sightings of additional plants (deadnettle and bitter cress, according to Gardenweb folks). Brownie points for guessing which is which.

Hint: deadnettle leaves look a bit like regular nettle ones.

Since a major warm spell’s been upon us, ground’s been unthawing, and, in some places, forming this interesting patchwork of vertical ice crystals. They fall over if you poke at them, creating a sort of fur effect.

This is what a chunk of the stuff looks like, atop a glove..


African violets continue to bloom. Sadly, none of them are what you'd call 'pure white'. Also, a leaf of curly purple-green one finally decided to grace the world with some babies. This time around, there's actually more than one of them.

Non-variegated spider plant (grown from seed, thank you very much) has decided to send off a single off-shoot, which ended in a tuft of flower buds rather than little green plantlet. The plantlet might develop later on, but even if it does not, I'd have found this tuft of flowers interesting by comparison.

Potted grape hyacinths are about spent; if weather will continue on being as warm as it's been this weekend, they're going outside with the rest of the bulb flowers.

The mosaic plant (a 1.50$ purchase from the clearance shelf at Lowe's) may be in serious need for repotting, as are 3 out of 4 seed-grown lemons. ... and then there are individual growths of some sort of sedum and a few Russian cactus off-shoots, that really need their own containers...

Russia has no cacti, you say?

Well, no.

Therein lies a story.

(Third person point of view starts here.)

In the pre-9/11 days, little Errant brought to the US of A three cactus babies from a potted plant that's been in her family for something like 20 years. The first one she stuck in a pot and proceeded to drag around with her to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and, just now, Virginia. The other two went to Err's mom, to live contentedly in a single pot, and grow fat'n'happy.

The first Russian cactus (labeled as Jeremy and Lawrence at different times, for humor's sake) has been sunburnt, beaded, rubbed against by a variety of cats, and, once, dropped. Its longevity through times of trouble is an inspiration to us all. Or to Err, anyway.

(Third person point of view ends here.)

Hereafter referred to as Lawremy, the cactus has stubbornly refused to bloom, despite its large size. Instead, it insisted on asexually propagating at an alarming speed, while occasionally shooting off an extra rib from the top. If the house was burning down and I had to rush in to save any single plant, Lawremy would be it.

Others would've included the aloe, parent-plant of which was originally saved from a frigid ceramics studio during boarding school days, a kalanchoe (mother of millions), gotten in my first-ever horticulture class, and a variegated dwarf sansevieria, which was a product of a friendship with a graduate student in the horticulture department back in the university days.

After all, potted plants with stories to them are just that much more special.


White crowned/throated sparrows have been all but replaced by song sparrows in the adjacent bushes. I hope some of the latter end up nesting in viewing distance..

Monday morning, we've also got a chance to hear a rather odd blue jay vocalization: a sort of two-toned call, rather loud and shrill. The call was repeated a few times, as the bird hopped from branch to branch. Not sure what that was all about.

But Tuesday was a –real- treat. A red-breasted woodpecker on the feeder! You know something exciting is spotted, when Elrin interrupts scone-making with a “ComeherecomeherecomeherecomehereFAST” in a low, urgent tone of voice.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Scarves, and painting, and dancing.

It’s almost 10 o’clock on a Saturday evening, I’m dead on my feet, and this is going to be short and sweet.


Finished the scarf, as seen in the adjacent picture. The pattern did not exactly turn out evenly, but life goes on and I’m going to wear it anyway! Also started another scarf, not quite as wide and with an actual manual pattern, out of silky yarn.

Elrin’s project

This morning, we had a long debate on where a TV should go, should we get a TV. The debate (which continued over lunch prep, lunch, and bath) somehow ended up with us in the back yard, looking over the slope.

The slope with its satellite dishes and sparse grass is, frankly, an eye-sore. There isn’t much we can do about it due to a stipulation in the lease. Elrin would absolutely love to extend the back patio, though, and I’d absolutely love to terrace the slope, and stick in an obnoxious amount of plants. Since neither is happening, we promptly turned our attention to the front yard (can you call a 2x6 feet of gravelly space and parking spots a ‘yard’?).

The front yard is going to be the scene of the first ever Errand-and-Elrin container garden, and, since it was an absolutely gorgeous day out (sunny, in the 50s), we went ahead and measured everything. And went to Lowe’s. Because, you know, one just opened across town, and they had such nice planters.

After looking at their wooden planter boxes and realizing that 70$ is a bit steep, we’ve decided to go ahead and make our own. Apparently, sitting for an hour on the floor of Lowe’s next to the craft woods and spiritedly debating construction of a planter box (a debate complete with visual aides, which didn’t always stay upright for long) makes you invisible to any of Lowe’s personnel. Never knew that.

Planter which will hold together for a year- 70$
Materials for a planter which may, or may not, do the above- 38$
Sneaking off to stare at potted plants for sale- Priceless


Started on another stylized painting. Gouache on board, roughly 8x10 inches. It’s taking forever, but with World Without End on tape (recently checked out from the library), there’s at least scenes of violence and carnage to go with it!


Yup. Mina brought up a certain contra dancing event that happens twice monthly, and we went. They had a waltzing workshop beforehand, too. Danced for 2 and a half hours. Had an awesome time, and screwed up too many times to count. Definitely going back there again.

There was maybe 70-80 people there when we left, and we merely stayed there for half of it.

This is the place that organizes the stuff.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The creepy novel-reading continues.

The Turn of the Screw
By Henry James


“Too many words, not enough creepiness”
“There’s a Freudian moral in there somewhere”

Summary: A young woman comes in as a governess into a country house, stocked with quite a few servants and two adorable young children. The conditions of her job are somewhat peculiar. And then there are ghosts.

Rating: Read only if you happen to have a good attention span for late 19th century writing.

Here’s a little admission: I’ve little patience for a lot of older ‘classical’ writings, and could barely get through half of James Joyce’s Ulysses; even Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, read for a book club, was a teary-eyed bore. It’s not about the language, I love the language with its twists and turns, its cascades of meaning . It’s that things are written for –no particular reason-, and you can almost feel these guys writing things down, just to see themselves write. Maybe if I was literature major or had additional knowledge of the writings of the period, my understanding of this book would’ve been different. Or if I had an attention span of something other than a chipmunk riding the wave of sugar rush.

Sadly, this is not the case. Turn of the Screw was somewhat of a disappointment, primarily because it was not creepy at all, for a ghost story that it was supposed to be. (Though it did have a ghost, or, rather, two, and it most certainly had a linear narrative of a story, so one can’t blame it for lack of everything.) Screw could’ve been creepy, and probably was, to a certain audience some 80 years ago. Yet the sheer amount of words dissolved any kind of suspense to the young people of today, and agonizings of a main character (female) present themselves as just.. oh, I don’t know. Bland?

Why do guys insist in writing up stories from the first person point of view, with female protagonists? WHY? Show me one book in which a guy actually does this convincingly. Hint: having the character refer to themselves as “members of inferior sex” in their head is not convincing.

I do realize that womens’ liberation was but a vague smear on the horizon at the time this was written. The rant above is there because I’ve got a license.

That’s right.

A recreational outrage license.

It is a complimentary supplement to the age of 20 and above.

To be fair, the novelette did have a rather adoringly creepy pair of small children, which makes one wonder why, exactly, children are so darn creepy. Mini-us, running around with malicious thoughts in their little blonde heads..

The Little Stranger

By Sarah Waters

“The haunting of Hundreds Hall”
“Ss s Sss ss su suu Sukey”

Summary: Shortly after the second world war, a doctor befriends a local genteel family, in their decaying house. There are no ghosts, but a fair amount of interesting events, and in some parts, this novel reads like a love story.

Rating: Read if bored, bordering on a must-read for horror novel lovers.

This book was refreshing, because it was actually scary in certain parts. It also made me get up, go to the next room to get a pillow, place the pillow on the desk, and subsequently bang my head on the said padded desk, because it took forever to get to those parts.

Like House of Leaves, the Little Stranger makes a good use of non-standard text to emphasize the creepiness. Unlike House of Leaves, it does not go overboard with text formatting. Also unlike House of Leaves, it is a book about class and passage of time as much as it is about poltergeists. In some places, the latter seems tucked-on.

Stranger’s got a lot in common with Haunting of Hill House as well, successfully describing the setting to emphasize the emotional impact of the strange things that go within it.

As mentioned above, I dislike people pulling main characters of opposite gender, and this book only goes to show that there is no double-standard, as the shoddiness goes both ways. Or maybe I’ve got a problem with male characters who come across as too empathetic. Who knows!

Still in progress:

The Pillars of the Earth
By Ken Follett
Read by: John Lee

Rating: Falling from a “must-read” to “must-read if you’ve got lots of time on your hands”.

Currently am on disk 26 out of 32. The story seriously needs more supporting characters, at this point. There’s been a few other graphic sexual scenes, but one finds that one gets used to them. Still, the author manages to pull new plot twists out of his pants and keep it interesting.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

No white AVs? I blame you, Mother Nature!

Mother Nature’s gone on her monthlies (centuries’ses?). Earthquakes in Haiti, earthquakes in Chile, one massive, continuous snowstorm over east coast of the US… Dear Mother Nature, please think of the birds. They have to live on this planet too, it’s not just us people. Granted, I don’t see how earthquakes might have an effect on birds, except for maybe disturb their nesting sites. But the thaw->freeze->thaw->freeze->2 inches of snow->thaw->etc cycle isn’t good for wildlife.

Black-capped chickadees are telling this to us by emptying the second feeder of its sunflower seed load in under 4 days. It is possible that chickadees may just be sneaking the seeds off to hide them in cracks of bark (similar to bluejays and woodpeckers at my grandmothers’ feeder in the midwest. She must be going through a pound of nuts a week for those avian thieves.), but I’m going to go out on a limb and blame their resourcefulness on global coo..warming.


African violets are still in bloom, and I’m afraid that the mystery-violet grown from the leaves gotten through a plant trade will turn out to be solid purple, after all. There goes Errant’s long-standing dream of a mostly-white violet.

While the conjunction of the words “white” and “violet” may seem nonsensical, this is actually far from the case. African Violet (AV) hybridizers have developed literally thousands of varieties, and their work continues around the world (or, at least, in US and Russia. Though when I was growing up in the latter, all –we- had were several pots of solid purple ones, which faded from the scene shortly after a power outage in the middle of the winter).

Colors of AV vary enormously, from trademark purple, to white, green, pink, light blue and red, with yellow making an occasional much-discussed appearance. There is also an AV society of America, which has a website with a good photo library. I’ve long thought of actually going to an AV convention, and there –was- one in Virginia sometime last November, but in the end, the date disappeared under a pile of other concerns and things to do. That’s life, I guess.

For me, AVs have been a challenge (though flowers make it all worth it): they’re somewhat finicky in terms of preferred level of light, and it’s very easy to under/overwater them due to the size of their containers. Water on the leaves spots them, and preferred growth medium is what you’d call ‘soilless soil’, aka peat/vermiculite/perilite at a ratio of 1:1:1. This soil ratio is not sold commercially outside spring/sprouting season, so the rest of the year you’re stuck hunting down the ingredients, and mixing the stuff yourself.

For some time, I’ve used this mix for all of my potted plants with exception of cacti, with mixed results. Spider plants absolutely adore it, but need to be kept an eye on, because they do dry easily. Kalanchoes (both mother of millions and chandelier plant) did well, too. Begonia absolutely hated it, and grown-from-seed lemon are still undecided. The dislike on begonia’s part may’ve been due to under-fertilization. I’ve been using a 7-7-7 fertilizer for most all plants, but have now reformed and mixed a batch of 24-8-16 for everything but the violets. With soilless media, you’re the only source of nutrients that the plant has access to, which means that 99% of the time, you’re watering with very diluted plant food.


Robins continue to stalk the neighborhood, glaring from under cars and behind buildings. A number of hawks has been sighted, majestically gliding above the highway, or balancing precariously on telephone wires. Outside our windows, song and white-crowned* sparrows seem content to raid feeders and start up ungodly cacophony of “I’m hawt!” and “Your place, or mine!?” sort earlier and earlier every morning.

There was (what I suspect is) an eastern phoebe in the back yard a few days back.. identifying a new specie is refreshing, to say the least.

*I’ve yet to determine if these are white-crowned or white-throated. The birds definitely have the white throat, but not the yellow spot that would identify them as white-throated. Will try to get a better look and/or a picture this week.