Sunday, November 29, 2009

Honest Scrap

I've been tagged by ricki over at spring to twig with Honest Scrap.

I am supposed reveal some honest truths about myself and then tag some fellow bloggers so that they can be scrapily honest as well. Okay, here goes:

  1. I am flattered when I receive tags and awards and I like to get them, but to be perfectly honest, I am also very shy. For that reason I rarely tag anyone else because I always hate to impose. So, with that in mind, I challenge all readers of this to be perfectly honest with themselves about themselves and maybe find something new and interesting about your very own person. See, in that way I've tagged everyone, and no one has to feel as though they must share anything.
  2. I love gardening, but I hate to water things. I'm very lazy that way. So it's great when I find native plants that look great and don't have to be pampered. I hate pampering.
  3. I absolutely hate cleaning house, so don't EVER come over unannounced. Give me some warning so that I can wipe a few surfaces down, hide the clutter, and sweep up the stray cat hair. If you pop in unexpected, I may not let you in the door : )
  4. I absolutely love a dogwood tree in winter - the way the buds are held facing upward at the end of an artfully curved twig. In the winter I sometimes stand at the window by which my dogwood grows, and just look at the beauty and the grace of the thing. Sometimes for very long stretches at a time.
  5. My dog loves going for walks in snowstorms. And secretly I do too.

So that's the honest scrap on me : )

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of herbs and things

Here are some of the things I've been able to put away over the past few months. They are herbs, medicinal and culinary, that I've either grown in my garden or wildharvested:

Also pictured are some infused oils I've made with some of the herbs and some tins of various salves I've made with the oils.

This past summer was my first attempt at a medicinal herb garden. Next year I will expand the varieties a bit, but this year I tended in my garden:

Evening Primrose
Holy Basil
Sage (S. officinalis)
St. John's Wort
Lavender, Hidcote and Munstead varieties

The things I gathered from the wild include:

Lemon Balm
Elderberry blossoms
Violets (probably dogtooth) - Edit: that's dog violet not dogtooth violet : )
Blackberry leaves
Raspberry leaves

The culinary herbs included:

English Thyme
Pineapple Sage
Corinthian Mint
Pesto Basil
Genovese Basil

And now I will plan my garden for next year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gaaa! The new Megan Whalen Turner book will be out this spring! March 2010!

A Conspiracy of Kings is next in the Attolia series and will be out this spring! I can't wait. And even better news? Megan Whalen Turner says that there will be two more books after this one. See her recent interview over at HipWriterMama.

And for two different Conspiracy of Kings teasers from Greenwillow Books, go here and then here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple trees and visitors

I've been busy cleaning up the aftermath of a drastic pruning of our apple tree in the backyard. What used to be almost as tall as our house is now as tall as maybe two of me stacked up.If we didn't kill it, it may come back and someday be a manageable fruit tree.

And then there's the house cleaning, too. We're having overnight company early next week. I love company, but I hate cleaning. I would much rather tidy up the apple tree mess than scrub tubs, toilets and floors. But the tree mess has now been taken care of and I have no more excuses to put off going inside and tidying up in there.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

To those who wait...

... answers come.

Last summer I came across these wildflowers and didn't know what they were. I snapped their picture in hopes of identifying the plant. I searched on the Internet, but that's a difficult way to identify a plant when all you know about it is that it's a tall, yellow wildflower. I didn't have any luck finding my particular flower.

But I didn't forget about it.

Recently I checked out a Peterson Field Guide from the library for Eastern/Central [United States] Medicinal Plants and Herbs. And what did I come across while perusing its pages, but this exact flower. The field guide identified it as elecampane, or Inula helenium.

I use elecampane root in teas that I make to treat the symptoms of cold and flu. Until now I have mail-ordered it from an organic source. Late last winter I started some plants from seed and in the spring I planted them in my garden, but the root is supposed to be harvested from second-year plants. The first year plants look nothing like the picture. They stay low to the ground, and the leaves spring out sort-of like a rosette. That's why I had no idea that the tall beauty was the same plant, only in its more mature, flowering stage.

So today, while walking the dog, I went back to where I had spied these flowers in late summer. I didn't know if I'd find them because by now the plants have died back, leaving only the root alive to send another plant shooting skyward again next year.

But I did find them, the withered, dried remains of stalks, leaves and flowerheads, waiting to be flattened by winter winds and heavy snowfall so that they can reconnect with the soil and become a part of it again.

The only way to be sure these plants were indeed elecampane was to dig up a root and smell. Elecampane root has a very distinctive smell. I took the dog back home, put him in the back yard with his little cup of doggie ice cream, got my shovel, and returned to the withered plants.

I chose one, dug, pulled, and was rewarded with a nice, fat root. I brushed the earth off of it as best I could, scratched at a section with my fingernail, and smelled. Elecampane! Ha!

Boy did I feel just like a wise woman of old, able to identify and find the plants I need in the wild.

I've had a lot of fun over the past couple of years growing more serious about learning the wise woman's ways. Soon I hope put up a post showing the things I've been able to find, or grow, and put away for later use, and the things I've made.

I absolutely love knowing about the things that grow around me and how to use them, gratefully, for my own benefit, or the benefit of others.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some good books I've read lately - both young adult fantasy

Fire, by Kristin Cashore. It's a companion book to Graceling, and well worth the read. If you like love stories, fantasy, young adult fantasy, strong women, and new and inspiring people and places, and wonderful writing, then Fire is for you.

Fire's father was a literal monster - but monsters in this world are beautiful almost beyond enduring, and can sway the minds of ordinary people. Unfortunately his actions were more like the monsters we are familiar with, and as advisor to the king, he held undue influence and almost ruined the kingdom.

Fire's monster beauty drives men wild, including the new king -son of the ruined king her father advised. He needs her help with traitorous nobles who are closing in on the throne. The king calls for her to help, despite his brother's objections - who bears a hate and a wariness for her because she is her father's daughter.

And Fire, the last human monster, must decide whether or not to help the kingdom that her father put at risk, when it might mean becoming what her father was.

There is so much depth and feeling to the story. If you read this book, I promise you won't be disappointed. Kristin Cashore has a wonderful gift for storytelling.

The Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima. This book kicks off a new trilogy by this imaginative author. Her first three books, The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir, were contemporary fantasies, set in today's world - mostly in Ohio, as a matter of fact.

Her new book is set in a different world - one with seven realms that have a very interesting history, and a rocky present. With wars going on, a Queendom at stake, some upstart wizards, and a street rogue trying to turn his life around without much luck, Chima weaves a wonderful start to what promises to be an engaging trilogy. The characters draw you in with lots of twists and complexities, and you can't help but wonder what's going to happen next with each of them, and what it will mean in the larger scope of things. I can't wait for the next book to come out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fall Color

Here are a couple of images of the fall color that we've enjoyed in our area this year - these are courtesy of my husband:

These were taken about a week ago. Unfortunately time has caused the spectacular color to fade, and now the raking begins...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Some questions about Trufocals (now called Superfocus) answered from my own experience thus far

(Edit: TruFocals are now called Superfocus) In my last Trufocals post, an anonymous commenter asked some questions, which I will here answer in the context of my Trufocals experience thus far.

The questions were:
  1. How heavy are they to wear?
  2. How well do they fit?
  3. How easy/difficult are they to clean & how would one clean the inner membrane should one get dust or other contaminants on it?
  4. How is the overall quality of the materials?
I'll answer questions 1 & 2 together:
I was surprised when I first picked my Trifocals up out of the box, they seemed much lighter than I had anticipated. They come with a certificate so that you can take them to an optometrist to get them professionally fitted - which I did right away. There are sort of instructions on the certificate which explain to the optometrist what they can and can't adjust in order to achieve a good fit. Basically they can adjust the nosepads with their special little pliers, and that's about it. My optometrist also adjusted the ends of the arms so that they held to my ears better, otherwise they would have slid off of my face.
Honestly, I think I need to go back for an adjustment because after long wear, my ears are a little sore, and the sides of my nose where the nosepads sit are also sore. (See the Edit below)
They are a little heavier than my wire-framed bifocals and my faux tortoise shell prescription reading glasses and maybe that's why my nose is sore - or, like I said, maybe I need a readjustment with the fit. (Edit: I found out why my nose and ears were sore. It wasn't the glasses, it was the neck-chain with the little rubberized ends that I had put on my Trufocals so that they would hang around my neck when I took them off. It wasn't a good fit for my glasses and caused the problems. I finally took the chain off today and, voila! No more nose or ear pain.)
Question 3:
They are just a tad more involved to clean than my other glasses. Here are the instructions that came with my Trufocals:
Caring for your TruFocals is also easy. Like conventional glasses, TruFocals should be cleaned regularly. Always use a soft cloth and rinse first with tap water to flush away any dust or grit (which can, if rubbed into optical surfaces, cause scratches). Mild soap may be used when appropriate.
... When inner surfaces need cleaning, simply remove the front lenses by pulling them forward, and cleanse with mild soap, water and a soft cloth.
They note that this is the only approved way to clean your Trufocals - which, I suppose, may have implications for the warranty.
They also warn to keep sand out of the focusing mechanism when at the beach. If you should get sand in there, then a blast of compressed air (from the pressurized dust-off cans you can buy in office supply stores) will clear the mechanism.
I don't have any problems taking the front lenses off and cleaning them, but I'm always nervous about cleaning the inner membranes. I do everything very gently. So it's a bit more involved than with regular glasses.
Question 4:
The overall quality of the materials seems to be very good. They seem to be sturdy and well made. The only thing I might say against the materials, is that perhaps the arms seem a tad light compared to the rest of the frames. But I haven't had any problems with the arms, and I'm sure that they were designed to be light to help lessen the overall weight of the glasses since the front part of the frames with the lenses includes stainless steel.
And there is one comment which I read in another user's review that I agree with. The lenses themselves are a little on the small side. It'd be nice if they were maybe a bit bigger.
I also want to add that the Trufocals people have been very nice so far. They even called me to make sure my glasses had arrived safely, to answer any questions I might have had, and to let me know that they are just a phone call or an email away if I have any problems or questions. They even read one of my posts and emailed me with the answers to some hypothetical questions I had posed. You can find the questions with their answers here, the answers are in red.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Trufocals (now called Superfocus) update - OR - maybe I'm just a coward

(Edit: TruFocals are now called Superfocus) Okay, I haven't worn my Trufocals out of the house since the day I got them. I've worn them in the house plenty. I'm just sissy to wear them in public, I guess.

Did I mention that they look a tad different? As in, funny?

Before I got my Trufocals, I wore my progressive (no-line bifocal) lens glasses when shopping, visiting museums, etc. They were extremely useful when I was taking classes at a local university and I had to look at the board and then down at my notebook to take notes, but my distance vision isn't so bad that I need to wear them during all waking hours. At home I wore my reading glasses when reading, at the computer, knitting, etc.

So I have fallen into the same pattern with my Trufocals, except for the fact that I am a little embarrassed to wear them out and about.

I haven't taken any university classes lately (I had been working on a 2nd degree part time), but I'm not sure how the Trufocals would work in that situation. Having to adjust the focus between the board and your notebook might present a problem. The board is sometimes pretty far away in the big lecture halls, so it would be hard to find a focus that would work for the board and your notebook at the same time.

And, here's the thing - you can focus so well with the Trufocals that it really is bothersome when something isn't in super sharp focus, so finding a mid-focus for the board and the notebook for the duration of a lecture might actually make your eyes feel bad, or maybe give you one of those vision headaches.

But again, I haven't been in the classroom lately, so all of that is conjecture. My husband teaches at the local university, maybe he'd let me sit in on one of his classes so that I could try it out. I'll have to see about that.

One other thing that has cropped up in my "what if?" files - what if your hands were really goopy, or otherwise occupied and you found that you needed to adjust focus? This came up while carving my Halloween pumpkin. I was wearing my Trufocals and rejoicing in being able to see the tiny marks I had made on the pumpkin which formed the outline of the pattern I was attempting to cut out. But my hands were goopy with pumpkin goo and, although I didn't need to change focus while carving, I thought about what a pain it would be to have to clean my hands first and then focus, so as not to slime up my glasses and the focusing mechanism, if the need to change focus arose.

But here is another positive. One of my cats had an altercation with another cat and received an injury to her eye. I was able to focus in and really see what was going on with her eye. It's nice to be able to see little things up close and in focus (her eye will be fine, but her third eyelid will be forever ragged-looking, so says the vet).

I have to toughen up and wear the things out shopping again. Wow. I didn't know I was so vain. Gotta get over that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy November!

A few snowflakes are falling from the sky this morning. I hope they don't start falling en masse anytime soon - I've still got the whole backyard to rake!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween in our yard

I hope your Halloween was spooky and fun!

A crypt appeared in our yard for the evening:

My daughter and her boyfriend became vampires and handed out candy in the crypt:

Trick-or-treaters made their way to ours, the last house on a dead-end street, to receive their treats. I was a ghostly figure hovering here and there, replenishing the treat cauldron when supplies got low, adjusting the fogger, and generally haunting the accompanying graveyard:

My offspring were artsy with their Jack-O'lanterns:

As the night grew darker, the vampires became spookier:

We had a fun night - although all had been foretold that morning. I went to the library earlier in the day. There, at the checkout desk was a fortune teller with this sign, "Are you fortune's friend or foe? Ask me a question and I will know." And there, before me, was a magic eight ball.

I grasped the eight ball and asked, "Will our Halloween be a success?"

I shook, turned the ball over, and the ghostly answer floated to the the surface of the dark little window, "Without a doubt."

And it was right.