21 February 2009

Shall we overcome?

I read an interesting column by New York Times columnist Charles Blow about racial prejudice this morning. In it, Blow talks about the innate negative bias whites seem to have against blacks, even when they are trying not to be prejudiced. He mentions Attorney General Eric Holder's recent speech in which he accused America of being a “nation of cowards” because we don't have “frank” conversations about race.

Mr. Blow also talks about a study called Project Implicit, a virtual laboratory maintained by the University of Washington and the University of Virginia, that seems to back up this assertion – much to the chagrin of those “prejudiced” whites who took the project's online test.

I was one of those who took the test. I've never thought of myself as prejudiced – indeed, I've tried since I was old enough to understand what it meant not to be – and yet my score in the test did show that I have a positive bias toward whites and a negative one toward blacks. It disturbed me. Yet I have to admit that I wasn't entirely surprised at what the test revealed about me. Nor was I surprised to learn that a resounding majority of the whites who took the test, and who think of themselves as unprejudiced, also harbor this hidden ugliness in their souls.

The theory posited by the makers of the test is that our unconscious minds are “set” when we're very small – by the age of six – and that try as we might, changing that unconscious bias is close to impossible. But if this is really the case, that even if we consciously try not to be biased but deep-seated mental triggers make us so anyway, how are we ever to overcome it? How can we ever achieve a truly “equal” society?

The test's creators think that if whites can be taught to distinguish individuality in black facial features – if we can learn to see each black man or black woman we encounter as an individual – then we'll overcome this handicap. Mr. Blow feels that we can do it through dialogue – whites talking frankly to blacks, and vice versa – as well.

Certainly, having a black man (yes, I know he's half white, but this is the general perception in our society) as President will help break down these racial barriers, especially in the youngest of our children. Perhaps when they're grown, this innate bias won't be so marked. Or perhaps it won't exist anymore. But that's 20 or 30 years out. What about now, when prejudice, conscious or otherwise, still darkens our culture and society? Even the words we use, like “darkens,” work to further the bias.

I don't have the answer. Mr. Blow's idea is a nice one, but when and how do we have this dialogue? Who will teach whites to look beyond skin color to the subtleties of facial features as a way to see blacks as individuals? Is this something that will be taught in Kindergarten? And what about the other, myriad biases and prejudices we all harbor? What about gender prejudices? How about the prejudices against other skin colors and cultures? Here in America, the most volatile struggle for equality has been between the white and black people and cultures. But there are many, many others, equally as serious. Look at America's xenophobia regarding Hispanic immigrants, legal or otherwise.

And how about our geographic divides? In Philadelphia and New York City, in Boston and Savannah and New Orleans, black and white people live closely together, for the most part. But in my county, I can count the number of black people who live here on one hand. There is a visible minority of Hispanics here, but nearly everyone else is white.

I didn't grow up here, but the town I did grow up in was just the same, except there were even fewer Hispanics. My parents were both prejudiced against blacks; indeed, against anyone who didn't have a white skin like ours. Dad grew up in Detroit; his experience of blacks there and later, in the military, wasn't positive. He felt his prejudice was justified. Mom grew up in northern Idaho. Until she moved to California as a young adult, she'd never had any experience with black people, but her times and culture shaped her anyway. And, as a woman who came into adulthood in the '50s, she naturally adopted her husband's views on the world.

And they passed that prejudice on to their children. It wasn't overt. They were affected by the Civil Rights movement, just like everyone else in America, so they didn't talk about their own prejudices much. But where we lived said a lot – in suburbs that were basically free of black, brown and yellow faces. The subject, naturally, rarely came up.

My experience isn't unique. We do self-segregate. How do we overcome the natural inclination to live near and with those who look like ourselves? How do we overcome our ingrained fear of the “other” if, even when we consciously make a sustained effort to do so, our unconscious minds tenaciously hold onto that fear? Is this instinctual? Is it ancestral memory? How do we break this mold?

I can only keep making my conscious effort not to be biased and prejudiced and hope that by doing so, I help to change my culture for the better. It will naturally take a very long time. Mr. Blow's ideas are good ones and will help move us all in the right direction, too. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We shall overcome.”

What do you think? Can we overcome our prejudices?

Update: This is a fascinating read on this subject. Highly recommended.

20 February 2009

Thanks to greed ...

This is the best explanation of our (OK, the world's) economic crisis I've seen yet. I can actually understand it though it makes me angry. I'd say "enjoy" but ... well, you know:


I tried to embed the video itself but blogger didn't like the coding. Sigh. Do check it out anyway when you've got 10 minutes to spare. It's quite eye-opening.

h/t Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish.

18 February 2009

Collapse, cont.

First, I shoveled a new path around the collapsed carport to the driveway. That bit where the corner is sticking out over the path is dicey. I don't like it.

Once I'd connected up to yesterday's path, it was just a matter of shoveling an inch or so, all the way up to to the lane. And there I stopped, turned around, and took another photo. Pretty, isn't it? Except for the carport. And my poor old Celica.

It's well after noon and the insurance people haven't called yet, so I'm going to call them. Again. While I was out there working, making sure that whoever they send can get to the house, I realised that the cart we use for bringing wood inside was under the carport, too, and impossible to get to right now. That's a real problem. We've got about 24 hours worth of wood in the house, so I guess Mr Wren and I will be carrying in precarious, heavy armloads.

In addition, the weather is supposed to get bad again this weekend. New snow? Just rain? They're not saying yet. But this mess just has to be cleared by then.

And finally, my daughter and her fiance are moving home this month, and we'd planned to get as much of the move done as possible this upcoming weekend. If the collapsed carport is still blocking the bottom of the driveway then, it's gonna be pretty tough carrying boxes, furniture and etc. in.

Later: I reached the insurance folks. The claims person hasn't called yet because "frankly, we're swamped." Apparently they've been deluged with claims following the series of storms that went through the state. Which means that my claim will just have to wait until they can get to it.

This would be a wonderful moment for a smoke and a stiff drink. I can't have either one.


Last night, a little after 10 p.m. I’d just fed the woodstove a couple of fresh logs and I was warm and comfortable, even with the world outside clogged with heavy, slowly melting snow. I thought of snuggling into bed under thick quilts, laying my head on a soft pillow and closing my eyes. I yawned.

There was a deep, muffled, ominous whumpfffff from Out There, loud enough to get my attention but not loud enough to make me startle.

“What was that?” I wondered, a little concerned.

“Dunno,” said Mr Wren, not taking his eyes off the television. Disinterest oozed from his every pore.

I went to the slider and turned the light on. Everything looked normal. I went around to the laundry room door and hit the porch light switch. Opened the door and peered out.

OMG. The carport had collapsed under the weight of a foot or so of snow on its roof. Beneath it, buried, was my late father’s 1988 Celica. My old Celica. It was because of that car, and the damage the weather was doing to its ragtop and general, overall condition that we got the carport in the first place.

I called to Mr Wren, “You’d … um … better come look.”

“What? What is it?” I heard the thump of the recliner’s footrest snapping down in the family room as he stood. “What happened?”

“The … the thingy fell.” I couldn’t for the life of me remember the word “carport.” In my shock, it just disappeared.

“The what fell!?” His irritation was palpable.

“The … um … the over-thing. Out here…”

He got to the door, looked out. For a long moment he said nothing, then cursed and stalked back to his recliner and his TV, leaving me standing there, blinking.

I don’t know how badly my dear old car is damaged. I can’t get to it. There was nothing else under the carport of any value, fortunately – we’d moved the new Kia up the steep driveway to the lane so we could get out if we needed to go anywhere. So we’re good there.

But I spent quite a while outside yesterday, moving back and forth beneath the shelter of the carport as I shoveled my way through the snow to the woodpile. Halfway through the chore, I went in for ice-melter to scatter and a little later, for a hot coffee to sip while I worked. Thank goodness the carport didn’t collapse then, while I was standing under it.

I’m still a bit stunned. I’d never have guessed that a thick cover of snow would stress that structure to this point; the carport roof was pitched and it seemed quite sturdy. But it’s been a decade since we’ve had this much snow all at once, and we’ve only had the carport for a little over two years.

Live and learn.

I called our insurance company last night and made a claim for the carport and the car, which I figured was damaged, though I won’t really know until we can get the carport removed. I’m waiting for a call back from them now. Don’t know yet if they’ll cover this, but I’m hoping they will.

More later.

17 February 2009

How I earned my lunch...

First, I shoveled snow:

Then I carried a lot more firewood into the house.

As I was resting from my labors and thinking about what to have for lunch, I saw these newcomers out at the feeders:

House finches. Haven't seen any of them since last summer. Another gift.

Be careful IV ...

Update, for those who care:
The snowstorm continues. Yesterday it spat rain, icy pellets and snow off and on all day; then it snowed overnight, leaving a fresh two-and-a-half inches on top of the rotting snow from previous days. And today, it started snowing again at around 7 a.m., sometimes heavily, sometimes lightly, but continuously. It’s hard to say how much of it is sticking; it’s 36 degrees, so it’s a wet snow with fat, clumpy, feather-like flakes. The sound of the older snow melting from underneath – drip, drip, drip – is prevalent outside.

Inside, the woodstove has been blazing night and day, its little fan blowing heated air into the room. By mid-day, the temp reaches between 68-70. It depends on how faithful I am about feeding the stove fresh firewood. But the rest of the house is chillier. My den ranges between 55 and 60, so I’m spending most of my time in the sitting room and kitchen. So are the cat and the dog. They’re smart.

And I’m grateful I don’t have anywhere else I have to be right now.

16 February 2009


Thirty-some years ago our next-door-neighbor planted a long line of fir trees along the edge of his property. His lot is right above ours – literally above, as in perhaps 20 feet up an abrupt embankment cut into the mountainside. He wanted a privacy screen between the houses.

The firs grew. Every few years he’d lop the tops off them, so that over time they formed a dense evergreen hedge about five feet high. In the meantime, he planted table grapes and tall blue irises next to them, and they grew and multiplied as the seasons passed.

Today, H’s hedge completely hides his property from ours, and likewise. The firs’ trunks are about a foot thick and sturdy, but the trees still only stand about five feet high. Woven all through them are grapevines and blackberry brambles. On our side at their roots is a thick groundcover of tough blue vinca, a volunteer cherry tree, a variety of other trees both large and small, and some no-name, very hardy shrubbery. All of it has been here since long before we arrived.

It was this hedgerow – that’s what I call it – that made up my mind about buying this house. Though it was wild and messy and unruly, at least on our side, I loved the idea that within that hedgerow a whole ecosystem thrived. It was a little world all its own.

I was right, too. Within the hedgerow live Bewick’s wrens, titmice, nuthatches and bush tits. Stellar’s jays launch themselves from the top of the hedge and, in fall, dine on the overripe bunches of deep purple grapes that hang here and there. The cherry trees bear fruit in late spring each year, but the cherries are small and bitter, not tasty by human standards. But that doesn’t matter to the birds. When the cherries turn red and ripe, they last about two days before they’re gone. Mr. Wren and I have talked for years about taking that cherry tree out – it leans precariously over the patio and isn’t particularly attractive, but we always end up leaving it there because the birds enjoy the fruit so much. And of course, they perch in its sparse, leggy branches, too, giving us a year-round show.

Other creatures also live in or near our hedgerow. We’ve seen opossums there at dusk, and raccoons after dark, their eyes glowing from the cover of grapevine and evergreen branch. We’ve often seen (unfortunately) big gray rats. There are alligator and blue-bellied lizards, and a host of insects of every kind, from ants to beetles to black widow spiders to butterflies and bumblebees.

As I stand at my kitchen sink, I love to gaze out the window at the Japanese maple branches just outside and the hedgerow beyond. I’ve seen mama and baby hummingbirds perched in the maple. Goldfinches, too.

I was washing out a casserole dish a little while ago, mostly paying attention to that, but glancing out at the hedgerow now and then, too. There’s still snow along the top of it in patches and down at the base of the embankment. Today, under a low gunmetal sky, the dead leaves of the grapevine and the branches of the firs rustled by gusts of wind, the hedgerow looks gloomy, cold and damp. It made me feel glad to be inside, dry and warm.

And then I saw, perched in a hollow of the hedge, a junco. He was all puffed up, staying warm, but mostly protected by the hedgerow itself from the wind. And he wasn’t alone. Within moments I realized the hedgerow was absolutely stuffed with juncos. They were perched all through it, each one of them with their feathers puffed as they hunkered down over their tiny pink feet. I’d always wondered where the flocks of juncos go at night, or when the weather is rough. Now I know. It made me laugh to see so many of them sheltering right before my eyes, yet so easily missed. I pointed them out to Mr Wren. And a few minutes later, it started to snow.

I was feeling blue today, and restless. But seeing the juncos in the hedgerow was an unexpected gift from the world. It lifted my spirits right up. All I had to do was stop thinking about myself for a moment – and look.

15 February 2009

Oh, this is fun ...

In the right-hand column you'll see a new widget I just posted called "Write or Die" by Dr. Wicked. I found it through Samcandide's blog "Otherwise" and thought, sure, I can do this.

So I did, setting a goal of 100 words in 10 minutes. As you can see by the widget, I beat my own clock! Here's what I wrote:

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, so they say. I have to agree. How can you not? After all, the other days of your life are already gone. Yesterday is yesterday, lost. You can't do it over. You've really only got today. And today, there are so many distractions that keep you from doing things just as you'd like. Although today, I did do something just as I liked. I took a shower with the window wide open, and just outside, it was snowing and windy. I pretended while I was in the shower that I lived in Norway, and that soon, I would run outside naked and throw myself into the snow and roll around and get all tingly down to my soul before running back inside to get dry and warm and drink hot chocolate and maybe eat a big steamy bowl of potato soup with crusty bread.

Heh. Not Hemingway by any stretch, but it was fun. And great practice. Writing, like any other skill, requires constant practice if it's to be any good at all. I keep striving.

Give it a try.

14 February 2009

Careful What You Wish For III

(In an awed, slightly quavery whisper) woo-hoo.

It’s like the world was covered in whipped cream while I slept.

I measured the snow out the patio door with my trusty old ruler. Six-and-a-half inches. It’s still snowing, though just lightly at the moment. I’d entertained fantasies of perhaps running a few errands today. Um … I think not. Well, unless I can figure out how to put sled runners on the yard cart and teach the dog to mush.
Seriously, though. This is the most snow I’ve seen in more than 11 years living in this town, at this elevation. It’s more snow than I’ve seen in the more than 15 years since I came back to the Placerville area from my German adventures. The first winter we lived in this house we had a lot of snow, a whole lot more than we’d expected. That was a cold, cold winter for the Wren family, but we’ve never had that much since, until now. In fact, there’s more snow right now than during The Freezing Winter of ’97, which went down in family history.
Fortunately, we’re much better equipped to deal with snow now.
Oh, hey (looks around guiltily) … Do you suppose all my complaining about the unseasonably warm, mild weather we were having angered the weather gods? The snow god in particular? I just had to go off, didn’t I, badmouthing sunshine. Got my comeuppance, I did. Holy Schnee, Batman!

Heheh (a little weakly) … According to the National Weather Service, a fine group of meteorologists whom I will never denigrate again, I promise, there’s another hugemonsterholyf**kingsh*t storm coming in tonight. This is the one they’re warning, and I quote: “May spread heavy snow and strong winds over the region tonight into Monday …” and urges us seriously and without the slightest hysterical note to “Continue to monitor NWS forecasts on this potentially dangerous storm.”

I think tonight would be a good one for potato soup and brown soda bread. What do you think?

13 February 2009

Be careful II ...

305 PM PST FRI FEB 13 2009

Oh, yes. Now THAT’S a “Severe Weather Alert.”

Putting aside my admittedly freakish enjoyment of this Actual Winter Weather in a state where the people consider 70 degrees “chilly,” we really, really need this snow. Higher up in the mountains feet of the stuff is building up. There’s not enough up there yet to know if this series of storms will produce enough snow (and in spring, water) to relieve the dangerous drought conditions we’ve been living with, but my fingers are crossed.

Years back we had a bunch of very dry years. The state authorities were seriously talking water rationing. When the rainy season came, there wasn’t any. It was dry as could be. January and February passed with almost no rain, and very little snow in the higher elevations.

And then March arrived, and it was as if someone had thrown open the “storm doors.” Along the coast and in the valley it rained and rained and rained, day after day of rain and Californians everywhere were moaning and groaning about the grey, wet, chilly weather. And up in the mountains, it snowed.

“Miracle March” saved California’s butt that year. I’m hoping that perhaps this will go down in history as “Fabulous February.” We’ll see.

I did get outside and shovel paths through the snow again this afternoon, but as you can also see, it’s snowing again. No matter. I enjoyed the shoveling after my sore muscles warmed up a bit. And though tonight I’m dealing with achy, arthritic wrists and fingers, I don’t mind. I made tomorrow’s shoveling chore easier.

And I just realized: I’m live-snow blogging!

Nordic dreams

“I've a friend who worked on an ice breaker ship that went to the Arctic regions. I have a feeling you would have been a good shipboard companion.”
So commented Bill Stankus in response to my post (scroll down a bit), “Your Wren at Work.” In it I bragged about shoveling a path through the snow from the patio slider, around the house and up the steep driveway to the lane. Now there’s a lot more snow out there and my path is buried. We’ve had 7 fresh inches since 5 a.m. Since the snowfall has finally stopped for a while, I’ll be out there again soon, but my muscles are a little sore-ish today. Heh. Guess what? I’m not looking forward to shoveling that snow quite so much this time.
But back to that comment. Bill, your feeling is spot on. In fact, you made me grin because one of the things I’ve most wanted to do in my life is to take a journey by ship – icebreaker or otherwise – to the Arctic. The fact of the deep cold and that I might get seasick doesn’t deter me in the least. Given the opportunity, I’d go. Tomorrow. I dream of icebergs, with their incredibly beautiful array of blues and purples contrasting with the white of snow and the black of the ocean they float on. I dream of seeing the mysterious and otherworldly aurora borealis shimmering and folding and flickering in the night sky. I dream of puffy parkas, mittens, scarves and hats, snowsuits and boots, blizzards and when they’re over, the primeval silence that falls over the world. And I have to admit, I dream of the comfort of coming in from the cold to the toasty warm, of tingly fingers and hot cups of joe spiked with a dollop of good brandy. Yes, I know. My dream is of something outside of the hard, actual reality I’d encounter in the Arctic. But it doesn’t stop me.
I really do think that my attraction to snow and cold is ancestral. A strong quarter of the blood in my veins is Finnish, and I have the blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin to prove it. Another dream, this one less unrealistic, is to visit Finland someday and see it for myself. I’d like to go there and stay a few years so I could experience all the seasons and meet as many people and do as many things as possible. I’d write about it all. I’d take photographs. What would I do? I’d love to take a ride on a Finnish icebreaker; I’d love to go Nordic skiing through the vast forests of birch and pine, then bake for a while in a sauna before crawling beneath a thick feather blanket to sleep. I’d love to see real reindeer and again, the northern lights. This particular dream also includes train travel, a journey up the coast of Finland to Lapland and across, over to Norway and Sweden. Perhaps I’d even venture into Russia and see St. Petersburg, and Moscow. And of course, it would need to be winter. For the snow.
I know I’ve written way too much about the weather lately. But I can’t apologize. My delight in the snow, that cold, clear grey light that comes with it, and the glowing ultramarine of the snowy dawn is seated deep in my bones, my blood, my being, and my soul. I’m going to enjoy it while it’s here, because this is California. It won’t stay long.
Note: Once again, Blogger won't publish with the usual spaces between grafs. Anyone have any idea why?

Be careful ...

... what you ask for. You might get it.

I took these shots about a half-hour ago.
8:15 a.m. It's still snowing. Wind's gusting. Inside, the woodstove is blazing, the beasties are snoozing in front of it and I'm near it too, telling you about it. So much for my path-making yesterday. If it keeps snowing like this much longer, I won't be able to tell where it was. Once again there is no sound outside, as if the world has been wrapped in cotton. It's 28 degrees, by the thermometer. Dog went out, came back in covered with snow and happy with it. He barrelled past me, headed for the pantry, from which his breakfast appears each morning. He shook all the snow off just as I caught up with him, giving me a snow shower.

As long as the electricity doesn't fail, life is good.

12 February 2009

Your Wren at Work

Rumor has it that there's another storm coming in tonight, with another 3-5 inches of snow. So I donned my trusty fleece jacket, my snow boots with the grippy soles, my gloves and a hat and set to work shoveling a path up to the road. I figured if we do get another good snow, I'll only have to shovel the new stuff.

The wood ring on the hearth is down to about half-full, too. So de-iced paths from the stacked wood to the door will also make life a little easier.

It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to make my path, and shovel the area in front of the mailbox up on the street so the mailperson can get to it. Did my neighbor's box too, since I was right there. And our other neighbor, J, was out on his little tractor with the snowplow on front, scraping the lane so that everyone living along it can get down to the main road.
I like J. He and his family have lived here almost as long as we have, and I've never seen him without a big smile on his face. A few winters back, when he first got his tractor and snowplow (he's one of those boys who loves his toys), I happened to be out shoveling the first time he used it. The sheer joy on his face as he scraped a half a foot of snow off the lane was contagious. When he saw me watching him, and saw the shovel in my hand, he offered to scrape off our entire, steep driveway.
I wasn't going to turn that down. I still had the steepest part to do, the snow was the wet kind -- very heavy -- and I was getting tired. So J got busy and just did it for me. That big smile of his never left his face.

Just because ...

... deep winter has swooped back into Northern California with a series of cold, wet storms all the way from Alaska. Naturally, I had to take photos. This first one is a close-up of nandina berries.

We've had snow over the last two nights. The first storm left about three inches. Last night's storm put us up to about 8 inches. The hush that has fallen over the immediate world is striking. So this is what it was like 100 years ago, before highways and cars and chainsaws and sirens.

Mr Wren put suet blocks out for the local birds. They'd gotten used to the warm, spring-like weather, but now have to hunt for food in a world gone icy and white. Below is a rufous towhee, but a brown towhee, a variety of sparrows, and a small flock of Oregon juncos have also been enjoying the feast.

I took this shot at around 5:30 yesterday morning. It's a strange one and probably not the best, but I like the way it came out. It's of the top of an arbor-style bench and table on the side patio and the steep, vinca and kamchatka rose-covered hill. At its top is the road.

Yes, I do love the winter snows, particularly since I don't have to struggle through it to get to work each day. Soon enough, I won't have this luxury anymore. I'm savoring it while I can.

11 February 2009

Bacon sarnie

So, I was surfing the BBC News site this morning. It's a nice way to start the day – the bad news in Great Britain doesn't seem quite as bad as ours. Or maybe it is, but it's a different sort of bad. Anyway, the BBC is enticing. Before I move on to other websites, I've usually read four or five news stories from across the pond.

One that I read today was "In Orwell's Steps," by Paul Mason, BBC2's Newsnight economics editor. Mason decided he would follow the route taken in "The Road to Wigan Pier," written by George Orwell during the Depression in 1936. The book is an account of how the dismal economic times affected the people and countryside of England.

And today? Mason wondered. Roughly 2 million people are now unemployed in Great Britain, a great many of them recently. How is the recession affecting the people living along the route from London to Manchester and Wigan Pier these grim days?
Mason's article is excellent. Do go read. Then come back, because I'm not done yet.

You're back already? OK, we'll move on. At one point in the story, Mason describes stopping to eat a bacon sarnie. Well, the name stopped me. What in the world is a sarnie? So I Googled, naturally.

A bacon sarnie* is a bacon sandwich, I discovered, "sarnie" being British Cockney rhyming slang. I also discovered a recipe, which I devoured with my eyes.

I'd been thinking, vaguely, of having some breakfast. What to have, what to have? A bowl of granola? Maybe some of that brown basmati rice I made a couple of days ago to eat for breakfast, with a banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon and a little soymilk? Egg on wholegrain toast? Lowfat and un-sugary, yes, but none of those sounded very appealing. But after reading that recipe, I had to try a bacon sarnie.

Trouble was, I didn't have any bacon. And even if I had, it wouldn't have been the meaty, British-style "rashers" they love so much. But I did have thin-sliced, packaged lunch ham from the deli section at the grocery store. Might that work? I decided I'd give it a try, got out the fry pan and went to work.

Ohmigod. That has to be the most delicious thing I've had since Christmas. I've been eating very carefully these days, slowly dropping excess poundage and keeping it off, so something as decadent and fattening as a bacon sarnie hasn't passed my lips in, well, just about forever.

Substituting the ham for the bacon worked well, for me. It's still very rich, and when fried until it's starting to brown and crisp, it's delicious. I always have wholegrain bread on hand, and by a strange stroke of serendipity, I even have a bottle of HP "brown" sauce, that British staple, in the fridge. And, because of all the mild, sunny weather we've had around here, The Girls (our five Rhode Island Red hens) have been fooled into thinking Spring is here and have started laying eggs again. So I fried one of those, breaking the yoke on purpose and cooking it until it was soft, not runny, and then put it on the bread with the ham.

The world seems to be righting itself, for now, and the weather is how it ought to be the second week in February – cold and snowy. Having that bacon (OK, ham-and-egg) sarnie really hit the spot. Was it calorific? Yes. Was it probably bad for me in a variety of nasty but subtle ways? Indubitably. But it was worth every single, savory and sensuous bite. Besides, tonight's dinner is spaghetti squash and salad. Look at the recipe I found!

Note: The photo is of the second half of the sarnie I made this morning. I ate it immediately after shooting the photo. There WAS a second photo, for a while, of the snow outside my window. But I didn't like it stuck at the bottom of the post, and Blogger wouldn't let me place it anywhere else without screwing up the text. Sometimes I hate Blogger.

*"bacon sarnie" is also Cockney rhyming slang for "Pakistani." I'm not gonna go there.

09 February 2009

07 February 2009

Saturday night cat blogging ...

... because only a cat can be this comfortable.

It's Witch Hazel!

"I love seeing the witch hazel outside the window when I wake up," Mr. Wren told me the other morning. "It's just so bright and cheerful."

I hadn't noticed that it was blooming, myself. But a little while ago I went out and looked, armed with the camera. I picked my way down the soggy path behind the house, trying not to get my feet tangled in Mr. Wren's wisteria prunings, which he left for picking up later. And then, there she was, illuminated by the setting sun: Witch Hazel.

We actually have two witch hazel shrubs. We planted them beneath the master bedroom window when we first moved into this house. Now they dominate the window, but witch hazels aren't at all dense with foliage. Instead, the long, whippy branches have big leaves every six inches or so along, alternating sides. In summer, they're thick and greeny-yellow and leathery. In the fall they slowly, slowly turn brittle and brown.

In winter, the leaves still cling to the branches, shriveled and rattling in the breeze. But then the tiny buds open, right in the coldest part of the year. The flowers are no bigger around than, say, a quarter, but they're all over both shrubs, tiny wild yellow mopheads, like scraggly pom-poms. They've no scent, just brilliant color. And, I discovered today, the local honeybees are quite fond of them.

I wanted witch hazel because of the winter-blooming flowers. But this is the first year -- 11 years after they were planted -- that they've had so many. It may be too warm around here for me these days, and too aggravatingly nice, but my witch hazels lift my spirits and remind me that winter isn't quite over yet.

05 February 2009

The bare truth

I just have to say that I'm pretty tired of hearing the same ol' BS from the Republicans that we've heard for most of the last decade. That our Republican senators are so partisan, so politically motivated, and so full of their own sense of power and worth that they'd allow their own country to fall apart, literally and figuratively, just for the satisfaction of having thwarted the opposing political party, disgusts me.

Fortunately, since Jan. 20, my fellow Americans and I have someone on our side:

"In the last few days, we've seen proposals arise from some in Congress that you may not have read but you'd be very familiar with because you've been hearing them for the last 10 years, maybe longer. They're rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems; that government doesn't have a role to play; that half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough; that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges -- the crushing cost of health care, the inadequate state of so many of our schools, our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.

"So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about. The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action."

-- President Barack Obama,
speaking at the Energy Dept., Feb. 5, 2009

Thanks, Mr. President. Most of the Republicans are not going to listen, but we are. America is. And we'll remember who was working for who in the end.

01 February 2009

Singing for love ...

Our local wren, as he sang for his mate in Italian musical terms:

Allegro, forte, delicamente, dolcessimo, expressivo, festivimente, fuocoso, animato, bravura, brillante, calore, con brio, gaudioso, magico, pastorale, scherzoso, soave, e sognando.

And in English: Brisk, loud, delicate, very sweet, expressive, cheerful, fiery, animated, bold, brilliant, with sparkle, warm, spirited, joyful, magical, peaceful and simple, playful, smooth and dreamy.

We heard this fellow while bringing in groceries from Costco a few afternoons ago. His song stopped Mr. Wren and me in our tracks as we listened and smiled and said, almost simultaneously, “Oh, I love that!"

To hear the Bewick’s wren’s songs, click here.