Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving is over...

Well, the holiday is over, and I had a very nice relaxing holiday.

Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a trip to Luby's with my mom. This usually surprises people who know me. I, generally, like to cook, and my mom is an excellent cook... and I will admit that I've cooked a few turkeys in my life... but ultimately, it was just me and mom, and neither of us particualarly wanted to cook, and neither of us wanted to put the other to the trouble, so off to Luby's. It was certainly nice to have all morning out of the kitchen cooking and all afternoon out of the kitchen cleaning up the mess... Treated myself to a nice long nap.

But I was listening to National Public Radio and heard a great cooking tip... Now if you're one of those people who have a hard time making pie crusts... (Some of us just can't do it... There's probably a support group somewhere... ) this might be worth trying.

To make a wonderful pie crust, use cold vodka instead of cold water. The reasoning is this... the water combines with the flour to make gluten, which is that wonderful hard crust on breads... but the gluten is what turns your pie crust into something hard and rubbery.... alcohol, ie: vodka, will not form gluten with flour. Plus, the vodka evaporates and leaves behind the flour and shortening to make a really flakey crust. This was all according to a real live chef on NPR, so I'm gonna assume he knows what he's talking about... I haven't tried it yet. I make about 4 pie crusts a year and they turn out better than some but not as good as others, so I'm gonna try it eventually, but if any of you are feeling adventurous, let me know how it turns out. Also, I'm wondering if I could use whisky or rum to give the crust a flavor with pecan pie or something... although now that I think about it, pecan pie is usually pretty overwhelming flavored all by itself so I'm not sure I'd bother.

Anyway, later today, I'm off to the flea market. I gotta start packing because I'm going to have to move the booth next month. There's a better booth closer to the front and actually a little bit smaller and cheaper.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

a week in review 4

well, not much of a week... Didn't take any pics at all. A month ago my dispatcher at work was laid off, and I got a new one. This week, he was laid off, so now I have a third... I think this one will stick around, primarily because there aren't that many dispatchers left. They say the economy will get worse before it gets better... so as much as I was thinking of looking for a new job, I don't think I'll be making any drastic moves right now.

The cats have been up to their old tricks... Charcoal has taken to perching herself in my computer chair, so that everytime I want to get on this thing, I have to pry her loose. This involves me trying to pick her up off of it at which point she makes that lovely cat yowl and digs her claws into the upholstery. When I finally get her loose, (kind of like prying apart industrial grade velcro) I sit her on my lap, and she gives me a dirty look, jumps onto the floor and sits staring at me. After about 2 minutes, she jumps back in my lap and curls up.

Now, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why she decided this computer chair was the place to be... there are plenty of other places for her to curl up where she wouldn't be disturbed, but I think I've figured it out. See, if she's in the computer chair, she can see the back door, and that gives her a good chance to have a good hiss every time the other cat, Phennig, comes in to the house. Her primary reason for existing has always been to let Phennig know his place in the world, and my computer chair seems to be a good podium for managing this. As for Phennig, he just ignores her. Except, every once in a while he will sneak up behind the computer chair and give her tail a real good swipe...

This is the type of stuff you have to deal with when you adopt cats that were born feral... They tame up, but there's always that semi-wild animal behaviour just under the surface...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

South Texas Seed Exchange

just a quick note to introduce everyone to a new link... I listed it as the Texas Seed Exchange in my links to the right... A gentleman who is trying to set up a seed exchange for Texas plants, preferably ones that are edible (he is, after all, a chef) and aren't really found anywhere else...

Drop by and say hey if you want...

Friday, November 14, 2008

a week in review, kinda...

actually, not a really good week for wandering around to see what is to be seen. I went lots of places... Corsicana, Sherman, Greenville, Farmersville, McKinney, Cleburn... but at the begining of the week it was raining, complete with tornado warnings, and the rest of the week it kept clouding over and threatening to rain. That, plus the fact that I was just running the whole time didn't help.

But, finally today, I did manage to get a few minutes off...

This is the Old Mansfield Colored Cemetary, established sometime in the late 1870's. There aren't many markers on the graves... this is due to the fact that the families often didn't have the means to make a large monetary investment in gravestones, and they were often marked with a wooden board, a cement slab that had a name carved in it, or even a natural uncarved rock, or bricks surrounding the grave itself. As time passed, often the only remaining sign of a grave here is an overgrown clump of iris or crinum lillies.

The cemetary was at one time more or less abandoned, and overgrown with trees, but, through a combination of municipal effort and the effort of individuals in the community, it has started to be cleaned out again.

If you look at the pic up there, to the left, on the other side of that line of trees is the old Presbyterian graveyard, much more impressive in markers and such, but I got an emergency order from dispatch before I could check it or it's historical markers out. On the right side of the graveyard is another line of trees that still contains some unclaimed parts of this graveyard, bordered by a small creek, and then the municipal park. Behind where I was standing is the modern Mansfield Community Graveyard.

But having gone wild and then been brought back has allowed some intersting native plants to come back into this area. There are some stray yuccas, some stray prickly pears, but best of all, I found this...

This is the native Texas Nipple Cactus, one of the varieties of Escobaria missouriensis. Once fairly common in this area, cattle grazing, and human habitation have pretty much wiped it out locally. Actually, as much as I like clomping through fields and pastures, this is the first one I've ever seen growing in a wild state. I found this growing on the edge of the tree line, wedged between ancient clumps of iris. It was all I could do to resist digging it up and taking it home. As is, I'm afraid I couldn't stop myself from taking home one of its little offsets, which will take a place of pride in my rock garden.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mammillaria blooms...

Well, I've had enough of the Random Rants part of my blog name, and I've decided that it's time I got back to the Prickly Plants part...

Now, maybe you remember a while ago, when I told you about a raving racoon that went through the yard and knocked all the cacti off a shelf... Three Mammillarias ended up in one pot, because I didn't have enough small pots. One of them is now blooming, the M. karwinskiana ssp. nejapensis... also known by the much easier to pronounce name of "Silver Arrows cactus"

It doesn't have the most attractive blooms, and I origionally bought the plant last year, when it was a pretty little globe and I didn't know much about the species. It has now started to divide dichtonomously, and, from the pics I've seen on the web will spend a few years looking kind of sloppy, until he's formed a big mass and looks kind of cool again.

Also in this post is a "golden nipple cactus" more properly referred to as M. rhodantha ssp. pringlei and a Red-headed Irishman cactus... aka M. spinosissima. They are planted a little too close together, and I'll probably separate them next spring. I've never liked to transplant cacti in the fall or winter when they should be starting to go dormant.
I wasn't sure the Red Headed Irishman cactus was going to make it. It developed a large brown spot after I got it in the pot, I think due to bruising from the racoon debacle, and I was pretty sure that rot was going to start in... I was gearing up to lop off the top to try to root it, or perhaps even doing areola grafting, which I'd never tried but looked easy enough, to save the plant, but it started new growth, and then, beside the bruised area, started putting up some branches... so I'll leave it for now and hope that it'll start clumping.

I know that many people try to grow only perfect specimens of their cactus, but sometimes I really like the scarring on the plants. It makes them look a little 'tougher' I guess...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

a week in review... again...

Maybe I'll make this a regular feature... It seems to be the only way I have time to do anything... It's been a pretty good week actually. We have a new President, congratulations to Mr. Obama (just in case he happens to stop by)

Of course,
I often drive up hwy 360, through the city of Irving to get to Dallas. I'd say I drive through there at least 4 times a week, often more. On hwy 183, just before the 161 exit in Irving, there's a cement retaining wall, with a clump of trees on top. Anyone driving along the highway, at about 65 miles an hour on 4 lanes going each direction, is just going to notice a clump of trees, if they notice anything at all... what most people don't realize, and I know this because I've pointed it out to several people who've driven the road everyday to work for years who had no earthly idea, is that this small clump of trees is actually a cemetery. That's correct, practically in the middle of the highway, there is a graveyard. Actually, not in the middle of the highway, it's wedged between the 4 Eastbound lanes and the 2 lane entrance ramp, but still...

It's the Thompkins family cemetery, and is the last remnants of one of the plantations/farms that a large part of Irving was built on. I had enough down time the other day to figure out how to get over to it, which is not easy as it is not on an accessible exit at all...

The retaining wall, which puts drivers on the highway at about eye level and within 20 feet of the persons buried here, was just put in about 4 years ago, and at that time the old tombstones were replaced by modern markers that lay flat on the ground. I remember there being an older pylon marker that was at least six feet tall, that has been removed, probably to take attention away from the cemetery. Quite frankly, visiting it is risking accident on the road. The earliest internment was on Jan 12 1897. The last internment was in 2004,very near the time that the retaining wall was built, which means this cemetery is still in use by the family.

A cemetery of this age is certainly old enough to be considered for Historical Site status, but I'm pretty sure that the inaccessible location on the highway (which makes visiting it slightly dangerous) coupled with the fact that it is probably still held as a private holding by the family has prevented that.

I also got stuck in downtown Dallas this week, and since I had nothing else to do for an hour, I decided to pretend I was a tourist. Here's the old courthouse, which is now used as a historical museum and visitors center...

here's Reunion tower...

and right in the middle of Downtown, the John F. Kennedy memorial, commemorating the President whose assasination took place just down the street. (not Dallas's proudest moment, but much of history isn't neccesarily pretty.)

and that's pretty much it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

happy election day!

So I was at the poll bright and early this morning! I'm not going to tell you I voted for though. My father was in the Army for 27 years altogether, and the right to a private vote is very important to me, and most of my family, so we never discuss who we vote for. So, I show up in the polls as one of those awful 'undecided' voters. Actually, I decided a long time ago, but the polls don't have a "they told us to mind our own business" category. I can say this though... I do not doubt the sincerity or honesty of either of the candidates this year. I hope whoever wins can get the economy back on track and get our soldiers home.

Which brings me to another subject... reports of people making phone calls to voters telling them that Democrats are being asked to wait until Wednesday to vote, or that the police will be waiting to arrest anybody with traffic tickets at the polls... This kind of bull happens during every election, but there appears to be more of it this year. Now, there haven't been many reports of it here in Texas, but I sincerely hope that the citizens of the states where it is happening start a letter writing campaign to their newly elected representatives, demanding that this sort of behaviour be prosecuted. (Technically, it is against the law, but there are very few if any prosecutions.) In this day and age of technical ability, it cannot be that difficult to track these people down. As I mentioned before, I come from a military family, and to think that there are persons undermining the basic right that makes this country what it is, and that my ancestors fought so hard for, just gets up my nose.

Ok, I'm off my soap box.

I intend to spend much of this evening in front of the Television watching the results, and chearing for my side! GO TEAM!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ancestral ruminations...

One of the worst things about driving around all day is that it gives me too much time to think. I didn't have any CD's with me today, The radio had nothing on but the election all day, and so I sat around having random thoughts all day.

Maybe it's because it's so soon after Halloween, All Saints and All Souls days... when, according to tradition, the veil between this world and the next is thin... but I kept thinking of my Grandmother. She was the youngest of 4 girls born to an English immigrant and his Scottish wife. In order from oldest to youngest... Sally(the brunette) Clara (the strawberry blonde) Mary (the blonde) and my Grandmother Nellie (who had auburn hair) Sally died of scarlet fever when she was 19 years old, Clara married, had children and died before I was ever born, Mary caught polio when she was four and lived until she was 98, confined to a wheelchair and Grandmother married, had 9 children, and was widowed when the youngest, my mother, was 5 months old. She raised all 9 children by herself, working as a maid, scrubbing the floors of the local bank and became one of the most respected people in the small town of 500 that she lived in.

When she was 16, grandmother was a teacher in a one-room school house, but she had to quit that job to go live with Great-Aunt Mary, who had married my uncle Ot and had one still born child. (He was named Adam, and there's a picture of him around here somewhere, laying in a coffin in an elaborate christening gown)

Aunt Mary, at this time in her life, was crippled from the polio, but not entirely confined to her wheelchair. While Grandmother was living with Mary and Ot (short for Otis) she met Ot's brother John, who had just gotten released from prison. It seemed that he had been living in Arizona, with his wife Goldie, when he had fallen asleep in the parlor and started to talk in his sleep about his wife who lived in Missouri. Goldie, of course, lost no time in trying to get to the bottom of this, and upon questioning, John admitted that it was true, he had been married to another woman in Missouri, named Golda and also called Goldie, and what's more, he had never bothered to get a divorce.

This put everybody in a bit of a tizzy, and the current Goldie's father was called in. The father-in-law came up with two options. John could formally divorce the first wife then remarry his daughter, who was, by this time, with child, or he could go to prison post haste.

John said that quite frankly, he'd rather go to prison.

Which he did, for one year, after which he ended up with both marriages annuled at Aunt Mary's and Uncle Ot's house with my Grandmother.

Now John was working at the Railroad, and making a good living, and he proceeded to get a little sweet on Nellie. One day, he asked her to go to a dance being thrown at the local church, but Nellie said that she couldn't go because she didn't have a nice dress. So he gave Nellie one dollar to buy some Calico so that she could make herself a dress for the party.

Mary, who, like some disabled people, was extremely jealous of those who weren't crippled and besides, by all accounts was just a holy terror, got wind of this dollar bill and accused her sister of doing immoral things in exchange for money.

After which, quite frankly, all hell broke loose. To make a long story short, well obviously not too short, Nellie told John that she would marry him on the condition that he get her out of that house... and that's how my Grandparents got married.