Tag Archives: nablopomo

Day trips – Sculpture Garden

For various reasons, we won’t be taking an official Vacation this year. Instead, we’re going to visit several touristy places that we never go to because, after all, they’re right around here and we can visit them any old time.

Any old time is now.

So last weekend we got on the interstate and drove up a little north of Trenton to take a look at “Grounds for Sculpture“, located on what was once the State Fairground.

It’s the kind of place that puts the “garden” in “sculpture garden”.

You never know what you’ll find next

as you wander around narrow pathways

and climb towers

and walk through the woods. (For those who care: I’m not going to post photos of them, but there are one or two very very nude sculptures in the woods.)

Sometimes the sculptures mingle with the visitors

and sometimes you start to wonder “Is this more art, or just furniture?”

They can be a little frightening

or charming

or strange.

Oh, and there are water lilies and koi and peacocks. (Did you know peacocks roost in trees? I didn’t. Unfortunately, they were so very high up that my camera wasn’t up to taking a good picture; being silhouetted against the sun didn’t help.)

We had a wonderful time, though it’s just as well we didn’t stop at this little cafe. You can’t count on prompt service from the waiter.

100 Word Challenge – On the Border

It’s Week 51 of Julia’s 100 Word Challenge for Grownups. This time our prompt is ….the line was drawn…. There are all sorts of lines; for this story, the question is what makes a line real, and how much keeping it real might cost.

If you’re a young border guard, it might cost more than you have…

On the Border

The line was drawn on maps, but here there’s just sand and scrub and coyotes and jackrabbits, and little trails. Some made by the jackrabbits, who wouldn’t understand a map no matter what you said. Some made by the men called coyotes, who wouldn’t care.

My job’s stopping coyotes from crossing the line on the map. I remember what one of the old-timers said to me. “Sure, there’s rules. In the book. Out there? You’re God out there. You make the rules.” I kept wondering if I ought to be a cruel God or a kind one.

But you know that last coyote? The one with the good gun and good aim? He showed me it don’t matter which I am.

186 Cookbooks: Who can resist?

Seriously, who can resist a title like “Forever Summer”? We may not long for the heat and humidity, but when you’re thinking about food, summer is the magic land of luscious fresh produce, more of it than you can eat, more delicious than you could remember after a whole year of waiting for it to return.

And the recipe I tested is so flexible it’s almost shapeless; it’s almost cheating to try it. I (mostly) followed Nigella Lawson’s basic recipe: marinate chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, onion, and rosemary, and grill it. (I used drumsticks instead of whole chickens, and white onion instead of red; I had white onion.) But Nigella tells us that she also marinates chicken in peppercorns, garlic, and wine vinegar, or replaces the rosemary with tarragon, or uses sambal oelek (chili paste).

I haven’t tried those variations, but this one is great. Of course, chicken, lemon, onion, and olive oil are available year round; but the rosemary was about as fresh as it gets, straight off the little rosemary plant at the corner of my backyard garden. So that’s definitely summery.

And a small confession: this cookbook could be classified as a ringer, if this project is intended to identify cookbooks I’m willing to get rid of. There are a few authors whose recipes match my taste so well that there’s no chance I’ll ever give up one of their books: Julia Child, Rick Bayless, and the wonderful Nigella. On the other hand, it is true that I bought this book a year or two ago and hadn’t gotten around to trying anything from it yet. About time. Yum.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

And here we go again with WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge! This time the topic is “Inside”. But what if you find something inside that ought to be outside??

I saw these cows grazing

and chewing their cud

inside the Amsterdam airport terminal several years ago.

Friday Fictioneers: Vintage

It’s Friday Fictioneers time again, and this week Madison Woods wants us to tell a story about grapevines. Inspired by grapevines. Somehow related to vines.


“Well, we’ll have a party,” Grandma said. “Make sure your Brian knows he’s welcome.”

So the family squeezed together under Grandpa’s grape arbor. And Grandma brought out the good wine. Trouble was, that meant Grandma was going to make a speech.

“Tina and Brian.” She beamed. “We wish you a marriage that endures like this wine. But remember, great wines suffer. They survive drought and heat and grow strong. We wish you happiness – but as the years pass only the strong stay happy. We wish…”

Tina stopped listening. None of it had anything to do with her and Brian. They were young and in love and life stretched forward like this summer day in the shade of the big grape leaves. Happy.

* * *

(This story took more cutting than anything I’ve written yet for Friday Fictioneers, and it’s still 122 words long. Of course, that means that I managed to get rid of 170 words, and I wish I could put some of them back. I especially liked the little glimpse of Tina’s Mom and Tina’s Dad’s current girlfriend managing to avoid each other because the family is so enormous…but Mom, Dad, and girlfriend all had to be evicted. Alas.)

Classics Reading Challenge: The first blogger?

Review: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
(translated and edited by Ivan Morris)

(A keeper? Yes, yes, yes.)

Such a strange book. About a thousand years ago, the woman we remember as “Sei Shonagon” (Sei was her family name; Shonagon was a rank or job title – so it’s a little bit like knowing her only as “Assistant Director Johnson”) worked as a lady in waiting to the Empress – well, one of the Empresses – of Japan. (Emperors of the time routinely had several wives, plus various ladies of lower status.) “Her” empress gave Sei Shonagon a supply of blank paper, and she used it to record her experiences and opinions, things she saw and did and thought and said.

Notice all the parenthetical explanations I had to stick into that first paragraph? Well, let’s get the most annoying flaw of this book out of the way right now: Sei Shonagon lived in an alien world. Many of the details of her daily life make no sense at all to us, without explanations. And, in the Ivan Morris edition, we certainly get explanations. Footnote after footnote…many of them are interesting in themselves, all of them are informative, but there are So. Many. Of. Them – a total of 584 footnotes for 264 pages.

Actually, if you don’t already know something about Heian Japan, you should probably start by reading through the Appendices, which will introduce you to the basics of Sei’s world. The drawings of houses and clothes – so important to her, and so different from what we’re familiar with – are particularly useful.

By this time, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth your time to bother with the Pillow Book. Yes, it is. Not every writer can make you care about ancient gossip and scandals; Sei Shonagon can. (Maybe it helps that, to her, all of this involved cutting edge fashion and life-or-death politics.)

More than anything, reading the Pillow Book is like reading a really good blog, one where you never know what the next post will focus on. There are lists – often funny – of things she finds offensive or beautiful or embarrassing.  There are odd little incidents involving people she knows and likes or dislikes. She gives us vivid short stories, probably fictional, about the adventures of young men at court, or tells us how the court ladies built a snow mountain and made bets about when it would melt away – and then tried to manipulate the results.

And, just when we’re overcome by the strangeness of her world, she gives us something universal: “Adorable Things:….One picks up a pretty baby and holds him for a while…he clings to one’s neck and then falls asleep.”

100 Word Challenge: Rain

Here we are at week 50 of Julia’s 100 Word Challenge for Grownups. And this week’s prompt is

… the rain turned the road into a river…


During the night, the old man could hear rain hammering his roof.

Disaster, the TV said. Floods. The doorbell rang.

“Sir, do you need a ride to the shelter?”

“No. This is my house.”

“Yes, sir, but you need to evacuate now.” The old man slammed the door. Later, the rain turned the road into a river.

Good, he thought. Keep them away. In the morning, the living room was flooded. He splashed to the kitchen, gathered crackers, retreated upstairs.

Police with a bullhorn and a rowboat. “Mister, time to get out.”

“You’re not taking my house.”

“It’s dangerous!”

He retreated to the attic. Huh, watch them get him out of here.

Ever so slightly, the house shifted on its foundations.

So how am I doing, halfway through the year?

Recently Marge Katherine over at Inside Out Cafe (the home of No Comfort Zone) took stock to see how far she’s come toward meeting her beginning-of-2012 goals. How about me? Have I been bold enough to thrust my snout beyond the edge of my comfort zone and sniff the strange breezes out in the wide wild world?

Well, yes and no. Life caught up with me, as it so often does, and elbowed me into spending an unexpectedly large amount of time propping up my mother so that, for now, she can go on living (pseudo) independently. I remind her to take her daily pills; I nag her into keeping her doctor’s appointments; we (my husband and I) pick up her prescriptions, buy her groceries, pay her bills…it doesn’t end. And taking charge of her life certainly puts me far, far outside my comfort zone; but it hardly counts as one of the goals I wanted to achieve for this year.

Beyond that? I’m learning to be thrifty myself, and more usefully, I’m involved in a couple of projects at church to extend what help we can to people who don’t have enough. My house is as much of a mess as ever, but the outdoors is doing pretty well. And as usual, I’m fat.

Best of all, I’m learning to write. Daily blogging helps; so do the weekly writing projects at Friday Fictioneers and the 100 Word Challenge – both of them exercises in concise, vivid storytelling. And at last, after way too many false starts – I’m an expert on how not to finish a novel – I’m bulldozing my way through inventing a world with its history and politics and economics, and telling the stories of people who live there and have problems that I think are interesting.

Visiting a world I made up out of my own head? Now, that’s a worthwhile trip beyond my comfort zone.

Weekly photo challenge: Dreaming

This week, the topic for the Weekly Photo Challenge is dreaming. I dream about various things – but this is the one that caught my attention today.

Once, people lived here in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

Once, this was the floor of somebody’s entrance hall in Ephesus.

Once, this was someone’s private garden in Pompeii.

Once, these were all new and ordinary, as much a part of daily life as my front door. Sometimes I dream about what it could have been like to be among the people who lived with these ancient things, and never thought of them as ancient.

186 Cookbooks: Strangely organized, but tasty

Not your standard “natural food” cookbook! I have a variety of other cookbooks focusing on “natural” food, and they’re typically vegetarian (though some have a few fish recipes). Shepherd’s cookbook contains vegetarian forms (see next paragraph) of most of the recipes, but also tells you how to cook chicken and beef and pork and lamb. But this is a very early example of the category, copyright 1975. Maybe people have become more restrictive over the years. This would fit with the fairly recent growth of vegan cookbooks – it seems as if some vegetarians have decided that milk products and eggs just aren’t pure enough, even if they used to eat them.

The way the recipes are presented is unusual, and I think the easiest way to explain it is to give an example from the first chapter (Chinese cooking). First, we get a list of ingredients and cooking instructions for “Broccoli and Onions with Nuts”, a vegetarian dish. Next, “Broccoli and Onions with Bean Curd”; replace the nuts with bean curd. After that, on the next page, broccoli and onions with chicken, green beans and onions with bean curd, green beans and onions with nuts, green beans and onions with meat (pork or beef), and so on. The variations aren’t written out in full – you’re just told what to do with the new ingredient and otherwise told to follow the first recipe in the series.

But how does the food taste? So far, so good. I tried a shishkabob recipe that sounded as if it might be too simple to be interesting: Marinate meat in onion, parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice. Grill. Sprinkle with a little cumin. And it was delicious. (And tastier than the plain grilled meat would have been. Though I don’t think the cumin added much – I like cumin, but I’ll probably leave it out next time. It was the lemon juice, parsley, and onion that made the dish.)

There are a lot of recipes in Natural Food Feasts that I haven’t tried yet. And by today’s strenuous standards for authentic food, this book may be much too Westernized. But some days, cooking a meal that’s somewhat unusual but doesn’t require a two-week search for ingredients has a lot of charm. Another keeper.