Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Girls' Getaway

Six of us (Louise, Sharon, Idella, Molly, Janet, and I) traveled to St. Louis for the Chinese Lantern Festival in the gorgeous Missouri Botanical Gardens. Each time I visit St. Louis I like it a little bit more. Kansas City is a tad closer, but feels more like an outpost with suburban sprawl than a real city. I love catching sight of the arch and knowing that the Mississippi River is just beyond.

This was not a traveling exhibit as I had originally thought; it was specifically constructed for this event, funded by local corporate and private sponsors. The exhibits were made from silk on wire frames and illuminated from within in some cases. Others were made from repurposed materials, plastic water bottles, pill bottles, and porcelain dishware. When the exhibit closes, the displays will be dismantled and again recycled. They were beautifully arranged within the existing plantings of the gardens -- very well done St. Louis!

Not only did we get to enjoy the gardens, but the company was great, and Sharon guided us to explore a great Italian neighborhood known as "the Hill." I'm going back!

We ended the trip with a stop at Trader Joe's. I don't miss a lot about California, but I sure miss TJ's!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Home Again, At Last!

Logan's home from his visit with Tom, Nichole, and Mallaika. At least I think that's where he was. In typical teen-aged fashion, he hasn't told me much about it, but I'll piece it together over time by eavesdropping when he talks to his friends. I told him to take lots of pictures of the people and what I got was this photo of Brown University's gate, one of his left hand holding a lobster, and one of his right hand holding a large burrito. I'll spare you those and instead post my own food pictures. He did come home very excited about trying to get into Harvard. He has a plan in place to try to establish a project with the Christian County Courts to demonstrate leadership, commitment, and community service, and to bolster his chances for admission to Harvard. It sounds interesting and possible, I hope he stays with it.
He was two days late getting home because of a fierce storm that closed the Providence airport, cancelling his scheduled flight. When I called the airline to rebook him, they told me the first available seat was Friday, two days later. Seemed odd to me, so I looked online and found eight coach seats available on the plane a day earlier. Not willing to spend another half hour on hold while I tried to negotiate for the earlier flight, I left well enough alone. But, I really don't understand. It left me feeling sad about the state of the industry and just a tad anxious about my upcoming trip in September.
Here's my food picture -- the table topper of the month, and the week's haul from the Farmer's Market. I got long red beans, eggplant, and beets from the Millsap's and carrots, corn, and cantaloupe from other vendors. The carrots aren't very good -- woody and bitter, but the rest is yummy. We're having the corn tonight with cedar-planked salmon (Ben gets a cedar-planked veggie burger).

Friday was Ben's seventeenth birthday. He seems so adult in many ways and yet so young in others. I guess that's what adolescence is all about. We celebrated quietly, he started the day with his traditional birthday batch of monkey bread and opening gifts from me -- a few nature and science books. I hope he likes them. And then ended the day with strawberry shortcake.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hanging Out With Ben

I've missed Logan and will be happy to see him home again tomorrow evening. Ben and I have kept busy in his absence doing things he wouldn't enjoy. Like eating vegetables. I've tried to eat vegetarian along with Ben this week and to cook up some interesting food. Last night I made a quiche with kale (from Millap"s Farm), oyster mushrooms, and caramelized onions. It was yummy, but I must say the oyster mushrooms were a surprise. I bought them at the farmer's market last Saturday and had a choice between white ones or some of a grayish color. I took the gray ones for no particular reason. The surprise was that they actually smelled and tasted like fresh fish. The texture, even after sauteing before using, was quite firm, almost woody, and a nice contrast to the mooshy quiche.

Grandpa Steve took us to the opera last week at the Opera in the Ozarks festival in Eureka Springs where we saw a wonderful performance of La Boheme. Opera in the Ozarks is an eight week workshop for aspiring opera singers -- four weeks of rehearsal and four weeks of performance.  That northwest corner of Arkansas is quite a cultural hotspot : Opera in the Ozarks is in its 62nd year, Crystal Bridges opened last year, and there are many artists and writers in the region.

On Sunday we went to the Springfield library to see a performance of "Walking Toward America" based on the experience of Ilga Vise as a WWII Latvian refugee in her early teens who walked with her family from Riga to Germany to escape the Russian Army at the close of WWII.  It was scripted by Sandra Fenichel Asher and performed by Annie Meek Montgomery who played the roles of several people and of Ilga at different ages. Very powerful and moving. All three women, Ilga, Annie, and Sandra have ties to Springfield. Ilga was present and answered questions from the audience after the performance. Amazing woman!

Yesterday Ben and I went to the zoo where he spent a couple of hours observing a Madagascar Cockroach expel an egg sac. We learned a lot about the very unusual process, but I won't say anymore about it, leaving it to Ben to describe on his Facebook status page. Last evening he went on a bird hunt, hoping to spot the elusive Painted Bunting, but only heard its song.
 Last week he returned to field station where they were restoring habitat for the Swainson's   Warbler. Here's what that guy looks like.
Today I booked my flight for my September trip to California for a "Golden Girls" reunion. Five of us from high school are going to get together in Mendocino at Little River Inn for four days of reliving the 1950's. I plan to be in the Sacramento area for a few days, September 22nd, 23rd, 29th and 30th.  Drop me an email so we can plan to get together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

All Aboard for Providence

He rarely lets me take his picture these days, that's why I post so many pictures of food, quilts and other non-Logan photos. But, I persuaded him that this would be the picture I would give to the police if he failed to turn up in Providence this evening. Guess I won't be needing it.

He's a pretty experienced and savvy traveler and he checks in with me at each transfer point along the way,  but I'm still a very crazy woman until I know he has arrived safely and then I calm down to my normal sort of crazy woman state.

He thinks his T-shirt is pretty cool because it is a FOOTBALL T-shirt and he's sure it will impress everyone he encounters in the Chicago airport while he waits for the second leg of his flight. Little does he know they will only see the word OZARK and wonder where in the Ozarks he is from.

Cousin Tom, Nichole, and Mallaika will host him for a week and show him some of the sights between Providence and Salem, MA. They'll probably check out some historical stuff, some silly stuff, and some colleges.

While Logan was traveling half way across the country, Ben was at the Bull Shoals field station watering the cane they had planted during his GLADE week. If I understand the project, I think they are trying to restore habitat to encourage an increase in the numbers of Swainson's Warblers, rare birds that like to hang out in giant cane. It's been a struggle for the new starts of the cane to take hold because of the heat and drought conditions we've experienced in the past couple of weeks.  Some of the cane is hanging in there, but no warblers yet. Ben did bring home a few inchworm specimens he intends to nurture while they turn into moths. He is really enjoying the afterglow from GLADE

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

As the Page Turns

I read a lot and I forget a lot, so I can reread a book a year later and find it new all over again. This has some advantages:
  • It saves money - don't have to buy the book again
  • It's a known good -- I wouldn't have kept the book if I hadn't liked it
  • It's convenient -- don't have to try to find something good to read
On the other hand, I kind of feel it's a waste of time and an indication of my decline. Usually about half way through the second reading, I have recalled enough of the story to make it pointless to plow on.

As a way to hammer a book into my memory, I've begun writing book reviews on amazon. com. I have now climbed to the staggering rank of 50,172 in Amazon's ranking of top reviewers. I find that when I reread  a review I've written, it brings the book back to mind. And it's kind of fun to watch the ranking numbers climb while collecting comments and "helpful" tick marks. My reviews are pretty brief and superficial, mostly about why I liked or didn't like the book -- not much meaningful analysis. I tend to focus on a critique of the writing with enough of a glimpse at the story to bring it to mind.

What have I read lately, but not yet reviewed?
  • Freedom   by Jonathan Franzen. This is a second reading because my book club has chosen it for this month and I can't recall enough of it to discuss. 
  • Another Kind of Cell by W. Paul Jones. Recommended by fellow book club member Sharon Harmon, a strange and compelling account of the relationship of a murderer and Roman Catholic monk.
  • Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges. A very intense and fascinating discourse on how we have come to delude ourselves and the consequences of those delusions. Convincing, powerful, and frightening.
  • The Good German by Joseph Kanon. Twice I have bought and read part way through this book, only to lose the book before finishing it. I don't normally lose books (yeah, I misplace them for a while, but they always turn up).  Both times I was traveling and the book was left behind and irretrievable. I tried to tell myself it was an omen; I wasn't meant to read the book. But, I couldn't shake the feeling of unfinished business and an intriguing story, so several years later, I broke down and bought a third copy, this time on my Kindle. I'm glad I did.
  • Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy. When I'm really desperate for something simple to read and feeling overburdened by heavy thoughts, I turn to Maeve Binchy. She always offers an Irish holiday from the cares of my world. Her stories (and her writing style) are pretty sappy, but they serve the purpose.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


 I have an uneasy feeling that what I'm doing on this post is a bit unethical or at least intrusive, but I can't help myself. Ben has emerged from his Social Luddite cave to join Facebook. As with everything that kid does, he does it with own particular flair. I love his precision in writing and his dry humor and I am compelled to share a bit of it with you folks who are not his Facebook friends. I try to hold back from participating with him on Facebook because I'm hoping for him that it is a place he communicates with his age-group or interest-group peers. So, I've lifted a few of his early postings that report on his GLADE experience. These are all Ben's unedited status updates.
Benjamin Maples
Hmm, it really bothers me that every little thing I do here becomes recorded on this page, and everyone has access to almost every action I do here. This... is going to take a while to get used to. Also, yes, my profile picture is that of a wasp. Specifically, a wasp of the thread-waisted sort, an Ammophila, lover of sand. I stared at it as it was kicking sand into a hole last week! Fascinating.
Oh dear. It has only been approximately a day since I made an account on this insane website, and I have already been given 19 friend requests from family and GLADE people. I accepted all of them, apparently. I think I might need to redefine my personal meaning of 'friend' just for Facebook...
And how does this webpage know that I went to Bull Shoals last week? I never entered that information. This 'tagging' thing seems to do much more than what it initially appears to do. Why is it recording all those photos of me!? It is doing all sorts of crazy things!
Benjamin Maples
I will now begin a series of 'Status updates' in which I describe various memories of encounters with individual wild things because I feel like it. The first ones I describe shall all be from GLADE. As the people at GLADE found out very quickly, I am very fascinated by insects and other such creepy-crawly-things, so most will be regarding insects, probably. Because these words are just an introductory thing for this, no memory shall be included in this particular one. The first one will be... later! Now for the first of these things that I intend to be doing...
Sometime during the first day of GLADE (I think it was the first), we were sitting around in the pavilion thing, and there was a juvenile praying mantis on a bench. So, I picked it up. There is a picture of it somewhere at Hope Believe Inspire Photography. It could not fly away because it had not yet developed wings, so it resorted to crawling all over my hands and arms. I would watch it sway back and forth to determine depth, so it could jump and land safely. If I put the palm of my other hand in front of it, it would usually sway and jump onto it. If I waved my fingers past it, it would lash out with its claw-like forelegs. At some point, I let it crawl all the way up my arm to the back of my head, where it attempted to crawl to the top, but it would keep falling down after trying to climb over my hair. When I first let it go on another bench, we left to do another activity thing for a few hours; after we had come back and were watching the person from the zoo, I randomly found it again on my left knee. It was somewhat awkward trying to keep it away from the surely hungry reptiles being passed around. People said I was an 'insect whisperer' or something since it returned to me, but it did not come back after I released it a second time. On the third day of GLADE, Tuesday, we woke up rather early to catch birds, using ten bird nets set up in the forest around where we were. The staff recorded various data and observations about each bird and banded them, and the students were able to observe and hold the birds. The birds are not the focus of this, however.

When we were taking down the nets, somebody (I do not recall exactly who) found a rather large caterpillar nearby one of the nets; since I am the student entomologist person, it was quickly handed to me. I would describe what it looks like, but there are pictures of it at Hope Believe Inspire Photography (and elsewhere on the Internet) that make my job somewhat easier. After searching on the Internet a bit, I am fairly certain it is the caterpillar of the 'Cecropia moth' (Hyalophora cecropia), which happens to be the largest native North American moth. Most of the time, particularly while the branch it was on was moving around with my hand, its head was tucked in a bit, as if trying to hide from these gigantic monsters that were ogling the poor creature. At some point, it did move around and try to grab at the leaf that was on the stick I was holding it with, but it never actually ate it. I refrained from touching it, for I was unsure of whether its protuberances would have some sort of adverse effect or something (but, I doubt it now).

Soon after this caterpillar was found, we found a rough green snake on the road leading to the boys' residence. We found two small, docile, hard-to-find animals within minutes! I held the snake in one hand and the caterpillar in the other, which was amusing. I had a 'staring contest' with the snake, too, and it actually stared back; of course, the snake always wins because it cannot blink, but I think I kept my eyes open longer than I ever have. It was shown to the herpetologist that came later.

I placed the caterpillar on a small tree in the forest near the pavilion, and it stayed in that general area while I went and did other things. I checked on it between activities every day and sometimes brought people to see it, and it stayed for the whole week of GLADE. I could see it crawling and gorging itself with leaves; once, I happened to come upon it as it was pooping! I showed the small acorn-shaped 'frass' to other people, who thought I should put it in someone's salad or something. Instead, I put it in a petri dish under a microscope.