Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grave Goods

I recently read Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin, and enjoyed it immensely.

Set in the late 12th century Britain, under the rule of Henry II, this is a nice little piece of historical fiction. Adelia Aguilar is a trained doctor and something of an early forensic scientist. Glastonbury Abby has just burned to the ground, Henry is having troubles with the Welsh, and two skeletons just dug up on the abbey grounds may be those of the legendary Arthur and Guinevere.

King Henry may be able to help the abbey in its efforts to rebuild and help repress the Welsh uprisings if these skeletons are found to be authentic. He calls on his Mistress of the Art of Death - Adelia - to find out what's what with regard to the remains.

But there is more than meets the eye to this tricky diagnosis. A danger lurks around the ruined town of Glastonbury that may mean the end of the Mistress of the Art of Death.

Historical fiction, bones, early feminism, and a good, old fashioned love story thrown in. What's not to like?

I need to take a book with me on my upcoming vacation (for a very long airport lay-over). I'm thinking of taking along one of Ariana Franklin's other books - unless anyone out there has a favorite that they'd like to recommend??

Thursday, May 28, 2009


There is an early 1800's farmhouse and barn nearby. I walk by it every day. A foundation owns it which gives tours and raises money to help with restoration and upkeep. They also have a nice little herb garden, grow grapes, and have recently added a larger, kitchen garden and a few fruit trees.

And now I've noticed a beehive out by the fruit trees. It doesn't appear to have any bees in it yet, but I think it's very exciting. If the little farmhouse foundation starts keeping bees, it'll be a treat to watch the process.

I'm a fan of the Birdchick Blog, where you can learn all sorts of interesting things about birds and hear of her exploits now and then as beekeeper for author Neil Gaiman's bees.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Sunburn Song

Here's my post for last Memorial Day Weekend. It's as fun now as it was then:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Space - the final frontier

This is a picture of deep space. You can see individual stars shining among masses of more stars and glowing gasses:

Actually I'm just pulling your leg! It's a picture of water spilling over a small, local waterfall.

And for proof, here's the inhabitant of the space behind the falls:


Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I almost broke my hand yesterday - but it turns out it's just bruised and swollen. It's a beautiful day so I'll still try to get some work done on the new herb garden bed, even with the bum hand.

Maybe all I'll be up to is ordering the kids around while sipping lemonade : )

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wood for chopping

Apart from the new herb garden project (see previous post), we finally got a dead poplar taken down today.

It was the tallest tree in our yard (alive or dead):

Now it lies strewn on the ground:

We were too cheap to pay to have the wood and debris hauled away. Hey, I have children, why do I need to pay someone to do all that?

Seriously though, I have a friend who heats her home with a wood stove and is always looking for more fuel. If it turns out that she can't take it, then my family will take turns chopping it into firewood four our own use. I've done it before (albeit, in my youth). Between the four of us, I'm sure we can get the job done.

Pulling up the sod

I've been creating a new space for an herb garden.

Phase one is complete (removal of sod).

Phase two will be amending the soil. Phase three will consist of sectioning and planting.

I figure I'll have it all worked out just in time to go on vacation and come back to withered plants : ) Actually, I'm kidding. I'm sure the person who'll be taking care of everything will take - well - good care of everything.

You can see the sod that I took up was a combination of dandelion, clover, and wild violet, with a little bit of grass in the mix. The little brown thing sticking out of the ground is our well. We hesitate to put chemicals on the lawn because we figure they'll end up in our water.

As long as the ground cover is green, right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Queen's Thief

I just found out that the fourth book in Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series is due out in 2010. Hurray!

The other books in the series are:

The Newberry Award winning The Thief

Book two, The Queen of Attolia

Book three, The King of Attolia

These are extremely clever, extremely entertaining books by one smart author. If you haven't read any of them, I would suggest you pick pick them up an read. Ms. Turner isn't the type of author to chug out one book after another. She takes her time and rewards her readers with clever gems to relish.

Oh, that I could be that clever.....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Garlic Mustard

Last year a mystery plant appeared in my yard. It seemed at first a welcome addition, a nice, green ground cover in a very shady spot.

I thought that it might be wild ginger. The leaves were very similar and when crushed they smelled vaguely onion-y. They were a rounded heart shape:

This year, however, the plants shot up, the leaves became elongated and pointy, and the plants flowered

I found a nice picture of this very same plant while visiting the Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife blog. She identified the plant as garlic mustard.

I googled it and found that it's an invasive plant in our area. It's edible, with a garlic/mustard taste, and it can be used medicinally as well. I ate one small leaf. Wow! I can still taste it, and I'm sure that I now have a nasty case of garlic breath.

The medicinal uses can be found here and here.

Right now I'm thinking that I want to erradicate what I have in my yard so that It doesn't begin to take over. I'm not a huge garlic lover, so I don't think I'll be tossing it into my salads, and I know of other plants which can do the medicinal duties that this one is said to be good for.

So it looks like I'll be saying goodbye soon to my garlic mustard.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A little history of my back yard

My yard lies right up against a park which used to be a farm. In the picture below you can see the little strip of no-man's land which runs between my yard (you can see my back yard fence) to the left and a long, narrow hill rising up at the right which serves as a buffer between my house and the park. The park people are responsible for mowing and upkeep here:

In the back corner of my back yard, looking just over the fence into the park, you can see some old irrigation piping from the farm, plowed-up rocks which were dumped in what used to be a shrubby buffer between farm fields. and some old fence posts still standing:

There's even an old bundle of barbed fencing wire:

My little town was an important junction on the underground railroad and it's said that the farm was one of the many safe stops here. Runaway slaves would hide out in the forest on the edge of the fields during the day, and find safe shelter in the barn at night until they could be transported to another safe place. We like to think that the forest they hid in during the day is where our back yard is now.

Ohio was a northern state, but runaway slaves weren't safe even in the northern states. They were hunted down by people who made money off of finding and returning them. They were only really safe when they reached Canada. Lake Erie and a boat to Canada was the goal of the runaways. Today, Lake Erie is only about a 40 minute drive away.

If you want to read an excellent children's book involving runaways and the underground railroad, then pick up Shelley Pearsall's book, Trouble Don't Last. It involves Ohio (though not my little town) and one of the routes which led to a boat and safety in Canada.

In the picture below, I'm standing in the back corner of my yard, looking toward the baseball fields in the park. In the foreground is the fence, then the remains of a horde of wild rose brambles which used to flow over my fence. For some reason they died off, but there are plenty more out there. The park left the brushy border between farm fields and it is now a brushy border between the baseball fields and the soccer fields.

If you have good eyes, you can just make out the tall lights that were erected only last week around the furthest ball fields. I'm not looking forward to their being turned on (if you click on the picture you can see them). I've posted about my feelings on artificial nighttime lighting before (you can find the posts - including this one - here):
In a spot just on the other side of my fence, in an area where the brambles died off, I found a clump of lemon balm growing. That made me happy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

There's a Froggy on my Bloggy!

Happy Mother's Day!

My daughter took these pictures yesterday. She found some frogs on a walk in the woods:

She always finds bones in the woods. This time there was a tiny frog on one of the bones:

This frog hopes you enjoyed today, Rrrribit!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mega Mutant Dandelions

We're in trouble if these things ever take over. I've noticed them in the park next door when walking the dog (click on the first photo for the full effect):

On a brighter note, here's an aerial view of the dogwood at the corner of my house:

I leaned out of an upper story window to snap the photos:

Dogwoods always remind me of clouds.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Making Candied Violets and Violet Syrup

I have scads of violets in bloom right now:

So I decided to try my hand at making candied violets. I've never done it before - but when has that ever stopped me?

I snipped several lovely blooms - here are a few:

And dunked them into a mixture of egg whites slightly whipped with a little bit of water:

Then coated them with sugar:

And plunked them on a parchment-covered cookie sheet:

Until they were all done:

Right now they are drying in a slightly warm oven. I'm curious to see how they turn out. Something like this may take a few tries to get right.

The other day I made some violet syrup. It's supposed to be good for coughs, although I didn't use V. odorata because my violets are V. somethingelseita.

To make the syrup I gathered a quart of violet blossoms, leaves, and stems. I mashed them up with my mortar and pestle and then covered them with a quart of cool water. I let this sit overnight. The next morning I transferred everything to a pot and simmered it on low for fifteen minutes and then strained the violets out. To the liquid I added six cups of sugar and stirred over medium heat until the sugar was dissolved.

It made a lovely blue-green syrup which tastes like syrupy broccoli water :

And along with violets, my two apple trees are in full bloom and they smell heavenly:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Of Amish and Costa Rican Cloud Forests

While my mother was visiting we saw many interesting things in the area. I've put up a few pictures of two of the places we went. The first set of pictures is from the botanical gardens in Cleveland . The second set of pictures is from our visit to the Amish country here in Ohio.

Step into the jungle:

There were lots of butterflies in the cloud forest, this one was a mesmerizing blue when it opened its wings:

Two of the butterflies loved my mom:

Orchids bloomed everywhere:

And lots of other colorful flowers:

It was misty, hot and humid in the cloud forest:

The Amish country was a bit different. The Amish are a religious order that came here from Germany. They eschew modern technology and live simply without mechanization and things like electricity. Here's how they get around:

This is a typical Amish farmstead. There is often more than one house close together. When Children grow up and marry, they take over the large house and a smaller one is built for Grandma and Grandpa:

The women wear their hair up and a bonnet over that. Bonnets are stored over cans so that the backs stay flat:

Here is a kitchen garden kept near the house:

Farm buildings:

This is a pie safe that is inside a home that you can tour which was built in 1866. Hot pies are placed in the pie safe and they cool down inside. The holes in the tin front are for circulation:

The buggies are on the roadways so motorists have to take care in the Amish country:

Here's an Amish man (dark clothing, straw hat) selling handmade baskets on the roadside:

A team of workhorses plowing a field (I took this picture as we drove past - hence only the horses and not the plowman and his plow):

And those are just two of the places we visited during my mom's stay. We had lots of fun!