Saturday, 14 April 2018

Saturday Photo: Trying to Get a Jade Plant to Bloom in a Difficult World

There are some plants I can get to bloom year after year.  The various sorts of Christmas cactus are one, and recently I've been having pretty good luck with hibiscus.  But Jade Plant, also called crassula, is one I would love to see blooming, but which is resisting my attempts to recreate the circumstances in which it flowers naturally.

Thalassa Cruso in her classic guide to indoor gardening, Making Things Grow, talks about hers rewarding her with fragrant flowers every spring. My mother--never much of a gardener--had  big one that bloomed occasionally when I was a kid in San Diego.  But I've never got a flower.

Apparently the plant is a native to a coastal Mediterranean-type climate, so I'm trying to imitate the conditions.  It's not easy, as you can see in the photo which shows the snow outside.  But I'll keep trying.

Of course, it's an insignificant challenge considered against the problems of the world.  But sometimes finding solutions to small things gives one the energy to go to bigger ones...

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Saturday Photo: Brasília....

Sad news from Brazil about the right wing campaign to stamp out any politician to the right of centre.  Lula (former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva)  this morning still seems to be holding out, but we shall see...

In the meantime, read this by Mark Weisbrot. A sample:

"If Mr. da Silva is barred from the presidential election, the result could have very little legitimacy, as in the Honduran election in November that was widely seen as stolen. A poll last year found that 42.7 percent of Brazilians believed that Mr. da Silva was being persecuted by the news media and the judiciary. A noncredible election could be politically destabilizing.
Perhaps most important, Brazil will have reconstituted itself as a much more limited form of electoral democracy, in which a politicized judiciary can exclude a popular political leader from running for office. That would be a calamity for Brazilians, the region and the world."

The photo was one I took four years ago in Brasília from the gorgeous Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer.  Note the big Brazilian flag in the background.  Things appeared better then, with Dilma Rouseff poised to win re-election.  How times have changed.  Wonder if the view has. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Saturday Photo: Marmalade from Ornamental Oranges!

Last Sunday Jeanne, Thomas and I harvested the bumper crop of little oranges that our ornamental orange tree had this year.  There must have been 40-50 (I forgot to count.)  We planted several in three little pots; one for each of them, and one for little Louis who didn't get the idea but will probably be old enough to be pleased to have a little tree whenever the seeds germinate.

Then I made marmalade with a little help from them, although they wanted to go out to play in the snow that remained.  The result was pretty good, if not enormous in quantity!

The second photo is of the tree at its most abundant.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Road through Time is an Indies Prize Finalist!

Great way to start a Saturday:  An email announcing that Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move (University of Regina Press) has been short-listed for the 2017 Indies Book of the Year Award in the History category!

Hosted by Foreword Reviews, these awards highlight the best books from university and indie publishers across the U.S. and Canada and were chosen from more than 2000 entries across 68 genres. The winners will be announced June 15, 2018. Got my fingers crossed! 

The photo, by the way, is of one of the many roads I traveled researching the book, the new highway across the Andes from Peru to Brazil. That's the bus we traveled on from Cuzco to Rio Branco.

Saturday Photo: When Will the Winter End?

The little deer have been out in the cold all winter, part of a Christmas installation, I think.  But right now even they must be wondering when the winter will be over.

Spring came last week, we're told.  Certainly the sun is higher in the sky. Yet the temperatures around here don't feel like the season has changed.

At least I don't have to stand around in the cold, though...

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Saturday Photo: March Sun..

Spring doesn't come until the end of next week, but the sun is already quite high in the sky.

We're back in the deep freeze for a few days, with fresh snow on the ground, but the spring light is blinding.

Of course, if you look at the progress of the sun  through the year, it currently is at the point it is near the end of September, which frequently is still summer-like. 

So for the moment, it's blue skies, nothing but blue skies.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Saturday Photo: Drowning in Concrete

There are days when I feel like I'm trapped in concrete.  This book about the marvelous material is taking up more and more of my head space...

Goal: get a draft done by the end of April.  Probability?  Well, I've never missed a deadline yet.

Deformation professional, I guess.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Saturday Photo: Borderline Behaviour, Why Places That Should Be Alike Aren't.

It looks like we've got a title for my book about pairs of places that have much in common, but diverge in significant ways: Borderline Behaviour, Why Places That Should Be Alike Aren't.  The University of Regina Press will be bringing it out in the run-up to the 2020 US presidential elections, since one of the ten pairs of places I compare is the US and Canada.

Originally I had called it Unidentical Twins: Why Places That Should Alike Aren't Alike, but Bruce Walsh, the wizard who runs the shop, said that bookstores would shelve it with parenting books, and that's not at all what it was about.  I toyed with Different: Why Places That Should Alike Aren't Alike, but this week Sean Prpick, who does acquisitions, came up with this new one.

A winner, I think.

The other pairs of places I'll be looking at are: the (formerly) two Vietnams; Tunisia and Algeria;  the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu; Brazil and Spanish-speaking South America; Haiti and the Dominican Republic; Burundi and Rwanda;  Scotland and Ireland; Vermont and New Hampshire; and Alberta and Saskatchewan. The photo is a Wikipedia shot of Hai Van Pass which is the natural divide between north and south Vietnam, and near where the country was split after the French colonial war.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Saturday Photo: Pot Hole Season...

Actually the ones this year are worse.  The photo was taken a couple of years ago after some of the pot holes were filled.  This year, though, we've had rock 'n' roll weather, with days of hard freeze followed by thaws followed by more hard freezes.

This means that water enters into every crack in pavement and then expands when it turns to ice.  Yesterday afternoon I found myself driving much below the speed limit on main streets in order not to break an axle.  What a mess!

When I was at World of Concrete in January there was some talk about what concrete works best when there's much freeze-and-thaw.  But I don't think anybody had a prescription for countering our cycles, which are much more frequent than elsewhere.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Saturday Photo: Good Luck in Bad Luck or It Wasn't Raindrops Falling on My Head

Report from an optimist.

Last Saturday evening I was sitting in the living room when I began to hear drip! drip! drip!  A little investigation found water dripping from the ceiling in the dining room which was bulging downward. 

Quick work by my husband led piercing the sagging plaster, catching about two gallons of water in a big bucket, and, subsequently, pulling down a lot of wet lath and plaster. This is what things looked like on Monday morning.

What a mess, you might say.  One of the joys of home ownership, you might add.  We discovered a leak in the pipe leading from the reservoir of the toilet upstairs to the pipe leading to the sewer, which in turn led to an expensive visit from plumbers who replaced the pipe and the toilet, and discovered another leak in the bath tub drain.  All that is fixed now, only the holes remain.

The good thing about this is that it occurred when it did.  The night before we had a dinner party and at the same time the leak sprang forth on Saturday, on Friday we were just about to begin the cheese course.  The wine and the conversation  were flowing, we were having a lovely time.  So glad we didn't have to hustle everyone out so that water-rescue could begin!

Also since we were home and awake when the leak began, there was little if any collateral damage.  I shudder to think what would have happened to our books, hardwood floors (replaced seven years ago after our fire,) book and artwork if the water had flowed for a significant amount of time. 

Is there a lesson here? Maybe its that being optimistic doesn't stop life's glitches from happening, but it makes facing them a bit easier to deal with.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Saturday Photo: Oranges Inside, and Out

At some point I acquired an ornamental orange tree.  It was probably 20  or more years ago, and each year I put it outside for the summer and brought it in October, where it might--or might not--bear one tiny orange.

This year I must have done something right, because it had a lot of blossoms when I brought it in, which have transformed into perhaps three dozen oranges.  Quite wonderful, I think.  Later on when they start to fall, I'll get the grandkids to plant some of their seeds so they can have their own little tree.

This comes just after I read a very interesting social history of California, Trees in Paradise by Jared Farmer.  The book  tells the stories of four sorts of trees in the Golden State, the Sequoia, Eucalyptus, orange and palm. Farmer uses these as points of departure for a detailed, pretty rigorous account of California since 1850, and for reflections on how people have remade the landscape, for good (a bit) or for ill (mostly.)

I found the method particularly interesting because I'm currently struggling to organize the vast amount of material I've been collecting about concrete for my next book Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It.    Right now I'm wondering: Why not use the four elements the Ancients recognized--earth, fire, water and air--to tell this story? 

To be continued...

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Saturday Photo: Beauty, Fading But Beautiful

Looking for photos to illustrate a presentation I'm giving about concrete, I came across this one I took in Lisbon several years ago.  The stucco on these buildings with the elegant iron work is peeling, but the flowers are lovely and the open windows are inviting.

Beauty can be found in a lot of places, não é?

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Saturday Photo: Concrete...

The material that can last for thousands of years, frequently is falling down these days.  This is the Turcot Interchange in Montreal that is being destroyed for all kinds of reasons....

I'm headed off Saturday o learn the latest about concrete at the World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas.  More later.

Saturday Photo: Big Machines at World of Concrete

Spent a very interesting few days in Las Vegas learning about concrete and construction at the World of Concrete trade show.  Several thousand attendees and 1500 exhibitors, plus folks like me.  This is a shot of some of the stuff they couldn't get in the exhibit halls.  Most impressive!

The reason for the trip was to research my next non-fiction project, Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World As We Know It.  It was definitely worth it.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Saturday Photo: The Lantern Waste?

One of the delights of having children is revisiting books you've read as a child, or reading books that have been written since then.  The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are a case in point.  I'm sure I read at least one of them when I was about 12, but then read the whole series to Lukas and Elin.  (Lee may have read some of them, too, I think.)

"It will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern either we shall find strange adventures or else some great change in our fortunes," says one of the character in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  And the spell that has fallen on Narnia is one that means winter forever but Christmas, never.

This scene in a Parc Beaubien reminded me of the stories this week.  The lamp post, the little house, the snow: all were evocative of the best things in the books, so I decided to share it this week.

But as I thought more and more about Lewis and Narnia, I realized that the series, while captivating, has many doubtful elements.  The Witch, for example, could be seen as just a very strong woman: why portray her so negatively?  Later in the series, a horde of brown, mounted adventurers from the South are the enemies for The Horse and His Boy: Arabs, Muslims, foreshadowing of  ISIS?  And there is Aislin who, Lewis said himself, is a Christ-like figure. 

I suppose an enlightened parent could use the reading of these parts as teachable moments.  I didn't, and I wonder if I should have even though the kids, by any measure are All Right. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Saturday Photo: Picnic Anyone?

The winter grinds on.  We were spared the Snow Bomb, but the temperatures have plunged again, and what snow fell in the last couple of days was whipped around yesterday.  It even came in under the front door, the first time that we can remember, although we've lived in this house more than 40 years.

All this to say that we must remember we're talking about "climate change," not "global warming."  Extreme weather in other words.  Don't know how we're going to get out of this one.

But I expect that some time--may in July--these picnic tables will be in use by people complaining about the heat.