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Projects for the New Year
Take on one project this year that will help improve the earth. Just one. If you can manage more, fantastic. However make sure that you are fully mindful of all aspects of your project so that is it done as well as it can be.
For instance, decide to use greywater. If you can physically and legally connect your household non-toilet water pipes to a water composting system and use it to irrigate plants, then do so. If piping is impossible, then hand-carry the dishwater, shower water, bath water and cooking water out and dump it on your plants as often as you can. Make a smoothie for yourself, then clean the blender by filling it with water, blending it, and pouring that nutrient-rich residual around your plants. Yet that is not enough. Use environmentally friendly soaps. Be aware of the plastic content and chemical treatments for fireproofing or insecticide of the clothes you are washing. Plastic is in synthetic fleece, in microdermal skin treatments, in polyester bedding. You don’t have to not use greywater if you are washing synthetic fabric, but you should be mindful of what you buying. Avoid microbeads. Avoid glitter and mosquito-proofed outerwear. Choose your purchases with open eyes, thereby reducing your usage of these toxins. Build good soil to help clean the toxins from the water.
Compost. At the very least, use blender compost. That means, take a handful of soft kitchen scraps, put them into a blender, fill with water, process, and pour the very liquidy mixture around your plants. Don’t throw away any food scraps, egg shells, leftovers, sour milk, moldy refrigerator mysteries, paper towels, tissues, paper napkins, cotton Q-tips, cotton balls, cotton dental floss, hair, or anything biodegradable. If you can’t blend it up and pour it onto the earth as fertilizer, then dig a small hole and bury it, or make a pile and compost it, or layer it in a raised bed or in a lasagna garden. What leaves your house in the form of trash should only be recyclables and undecompostable items. Your garbage disposal should be rarely used if ever. Put this raw fertilizer into the ground, not into the dump. Be mindful of what you are buying and whether it can be composted or not.
Plant trees. If you are in an area with too much rainfall, you need the trees to take up the water, hold the soil and buffer the onslaught of the weather. If you are in a dry area you need trees to shade the ground, to capture ambient moisture and rain it down, to cover the hard earth with leaves. All areas need perches for animals. All areas need the oxygen supplied by the trees converting carbon dioxide gasses. All areas need reforestation with natives that thrive in indiginous locations. Be mindful of what kind of landscape you are planting. If you choose non-native trees that offer no food for animals and harm the native flora, then you are not helping. In San Diego, if you plant eucalyptus, ficus, Washingtonia palm trees, Brazilian or California peppers (not from California, but Peru), or many of the sterile fruitless versions of ornamental trees, you are taking away from the landscape rather than adding to it. I can’t begin to count how many neighborhoods I’ve been in with old plantings of ornamental plants and trees, and the area is so sterile of animals that they are like wastelands. Only survivor crows and sparrows (and loose cats) can be seen. Instead, areas with native trees are rich in many species of birds, and the insect population is under control as well. Water use is low, pollinator habitat is high, and the neighborhood feels alive and well, especially if the cats are safely tucking inside where they belong, as mine are.
Recycle. I am constantly stunned to see recyclable bottles and cans thrown into regular waste. It is important to view more here for waste management tips. The percentage of what is recycled that actually processed is low, too. So choose glass over plastic. We bought camping utensil sets to carry with us, refuse straws, and this year I’ll work on bringing containers for leftovers when we eat out rather than take a clamshell plastic container or Styrofoam one. I already wrap banana peels, leftover pastries, apple cores, and whatever is biodegradable in a paper napkin, bring it home and compost it. If you have a plastic water bottle, soda can, glass bottle, or anything recyclable, please put it in the appropriate container. Recycling has been around since I was a schoolgirl, and I can’t believe everyone still doesn’t do it.
Switch makeup. My daughter is particularly good at finding vegan, Fair Trade and non-GMO skin care products for reasonable prices. Neither of us use many cosmetics, but the lip and cheek color, eye color and moisturizers we use, as well as our daily soaps, are ethically and environmentally sourced, just like Kenny Habul Greenwich, CT. Why rub harsh chemicals into your eyes and mouth? The choices grow every day, and the prices lower all the time. Do your homework. Be mindful of what you pick up in the store. Remember that what you put on your skin is also washed down the sink and into the water table, or into your greywater. Support the businesses who have ethical business practices. This goes for men, too. Shaving cream, after shaves, toner, scent, hair products, etc. Your skin will be healthier for the change.
Shop local. Pick one or two local businesses that you know practice sustainable, ethical and conscientious business practices, who give back to their community, and give them all of your support. Buy from them, advertise for them, befriend them, give them moral support. Rate them highly on Yelp, Google, or other rating systems. Watch out for them to be sure that they can succeed. Work for them if possible. Adopt them so that they have success.
Go animal and dairy free at least one day a week. I cannot go into the scope of the damage to the environment and the horror of the treatment of food animals here. Dare yourself to find out for yourself. Read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Find out what happens to cows and their calves in dairies, and the heartbreaking lowing of the cows -always kept pregnant to produce milk- as their young are hauled shrieking away to be slaughtered for veal. If you think that fish and shellfish somehow have no nerves or instincts, then think again. Lobsters who are by nature competitive being held in freshwater tanks, their claws bound, among their competition, starved, and then boiled alive. If you shrug and turn away from the suffering from others, then perhaps you should analyze your food sources more. You condone practices if you support them with your wallet. So set aside a meatless and dairy-free day once a week. If the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. The UN has said that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from the worst effects of climate change because of the heavy environmental impact of raising livestock. Not to mention the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet; diabetes, cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure and so much more is rooted in diet. Make a Meatless Monday, or a Vegan Wednesday, or whatever, and avoid pouring cheese sauce all over some steamed veggies and calling it a good meal. Have a curry, a Turkish Eggplant Stew, a dairy free mushroom stroganoff, spring rolls, veggie lasagna, heavenly steamed eggplant, a portobello sandwich, stir-fry, bean and avocado burritos, try some non-GMO meat substitutes like those from Gardein (particularly their fish!) (no product placement, just a recommendation), or make your own seitan. Make your own vegan butter. Let your body and the environment have a break for a day.
Help Out. Choose a local charity, or a needy neighbor, and provide what they need. Don’t just give them what you want to get rid of , or what you think they should have. Often people just need reassurance or a friend to talk to, or possible solutions, or a hand for a day. Donate what your charity needs, and if that is money then do it. Help with a fundraiser. Volunteer your time. Do something to truly help someone else out, without asking for praise or cosmic bonus points in return. Don’t be a pain; be a blessing. Volunteering and helping out make you feel worthwhile and surrounds you with like-minded people who can become your friends.
I have found many of my closest friends through volunteering. Be aware of large, nation- or world-wide charities who use most of your donations for salaries and infrastructure, and very little on what they are supposed to be supporting. Don’t let the big names fool you. Use your money to help honest charities in your area, or by just sending money to people who need it, anonymously.
Whatever you choose to do, do it mindfully. Pay attention to the details, to where products come from, to the business practices of the charities and stores you support, to how animals and people are treated in the making of the products, of what is in what you handle every day. You don’t have to, nor can you, take on the world’s problems, but you can focus on one thing and stick with it; make it part of your day-to-day until it is habit. Then move to a second choice. What you do, what you buy, what you say and how you spend your time cause ripples across the earth, and being mindful of your influence will send out help rather than harm.
Happy New Year. Be healthy. Be kind. Be happy. You matter.
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Howdy there — it’s Miranda popping in from the Facebook page to bring you a cool update. It’s been quite a while since my last post on Vegetariat: I mostly leave all the easy-peasy blog work to Diane while I’m concentrating on the excruciatingly complex and tiring Facebook stuff. I know, I’m a saint. Hey, did you know old Shakespeare the Bard invented the name Miranda? — it’s the feminine form of the Latin gerund mirandus, meaning “worthy to be admired”; so really I’m Saint Admirable of Vultusliber. (One in there for the dead language folks, thank me in the comments — or, you know, not.)
Today I want to tell you a story about some ponds, and some turtles, and some recollections. No elephants.
Those who visit us on the Facebook page may already know of our glee last April when a pair of Southern Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys pallida) appeared in our big pond.
The Western Pond Turtle group which our Southern race (I think species status for pallida is still under study) belongs to, Actinemys marmorata, is an IUCN Red List “Vulnerable” species. This listing is due mostly to late 1800s to mid-1900s overharvest for food and extensive, continuing destruction and alteration of habitat. We simply don’t have wetlands anymore. They also struggle under pressures from invasive species such as Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) — which will eat small pond turtles and usurp pond turtle habitat niches — and many other trials from the cornucopia of threats we offer our native species. Actinemys pallida‘s conservation status hasn’t been updated since 1996, and probably warrants at least the more critical status of “Threatened” by now.
Soooo, we were pretty excited to see not one, but two, apparently male and female judging by size, actual pond turtles in our pond. We’ve had visits from Red-eared Sliders, certainly, and captured and relocated them to sites which already have established slider populations that aren’t going anywhere. I’m afraid we haven’t the heart to kill them, so although we’re not reducing the problem, we are working to maintain an exclusive pond turtle club in our own pond.
We were even more ecstatic when the pond turtles stayed. We’d catch glimpses of one or both of them all summer, until in the fall only the small one seemed to still be around, popping up on the duck raft to catch some sun in the warm afternoons. As it got colder, we saw him less often, but every now and then, we’d come round by the pond and there’d be the quiet “ploop” of a small scaly body slipping into the water.
The April pair, however, were not actually the first pond turtles we’d ever had on the property.
Back in July of 2011, our big pond was still under construction and was just a big dirt bowl with water in it, and lots of other activity was under way around it as old building materials were being moved and the garden being shaped.
We were quite astonished, therefore, when Jacob Hatch (of Hatch Aquatics) who was managing the installation discovered a small turtle hiding in a stack of boards behind the pond. Delighted and bemused by the appearance of this usually wary and probably quite squashable reptile near our stark pond, around tractors and trucks, we examined it for injuries and to determine what species it was.
A comparison with the images and info. on the wonderful CaliforniaHerps website confirmed the stripeless turtle as a rare native Western Pond Turtle, and probably a female from the apparent concavity of her plastron (‘belly’ half of shell).
The most cursory examination, however, immediately revealed the turtle’s startling absence of a left front foot.
The wound was old and well-healed, and the turtle was admirably (Miranda-ishly) sprightly and seemingly unperturbed and unhindered by her partial flipperlessness.
Of course, we instantly dubbed the gimpy, watery, gimlet-eyed fighter ‘Rafael Sabatini’ (author of such famous swashbuckling tales as The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood). When we determined it was, in fact, a she, we respectfully redubbed her ‘Mrs. Sabatini’.
The second real Mrs. Rafael Sabatini, née Christine Dixon, I imagine to have been a person of some intelligence and depth of feeling, due to the fact that she had Rafael’s tombstone inscribed with “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad”, the poignant first line of his novel of the French Revolution, Scaramouche.
Our Mrs. Sabatini was certainly full of a sense of madness — at her unjust captivity! — so we quickly released her in the only place that seemed suitable and safe on the property: the small pond at the front of our house.
And that, despite our warm feelings of companionship and our admonishments to stay safe and show her face now and then, was the last we saw of the delightful Mrs. Sabatini.
Life went on, as it does. And we gained that pond turtle couple last spring, so maybe-maybe we might end up with baby turtles here down the line. A distinguishing trait of a Shakespearean comedy (rather than a history or other) is that it ends with marriage, which implies future babies: it ends in the expectation of life. And I think Mrs. Sabatini would rather like the turtle story she was involved in to be a comedy — ‘gift of laughter’ and all. I can just imagine her rusty, grudging little whistly cackle guffing out as we fade to black.
However, in January this year, we began seeing multiple turtles in the pond again, rather than simply the lone male that had lingered into the fall. We became fearful that we’d been infiltrated by sliders again, as we’d see three turtles at once sunning on the raft — a new turtle maximum, and sliders are prolific and less picky about personal space. I had trouble getting good shots to check for the clearest field marks (the rounded vs. pointed shapes of the marginal scutes over the tail) so we were feeling rather turtle-scouraged, to be frank, a little turtle-glum. It’s difficult to catch a slider, but if we had them in the pond, as we had the grim feeling we did, they couldn’t stay or we’d risk all the balanced habitat we’d built up for our native species.
Last night I decided to start catching up on my new year photo sorting. I take a lot of photos, and they all come off the camera into my ExternalHD Limbo on my desktop, where they’re eventually sorted and distributed to their homes in various folder nestings on my external harddrives. I’d managed to grab a few shots of the January turtles, and determined to examine them as best I could for slidery traits. It was time, I felt, to know for certain.
I pulled up a photo of a chummy pair of turtles I’d taken January 17th as they enjoyed the weak sunshine on the raft.
The resolution was good, so I was able to zoom in on their faces with fair clarity. Happily, I couldn’t see any stripes, red or yellow, on the face that would indicate a slider, and their chins looked mottled-yellow as pond turtles’ do.
Looking for more clues, I panned down from the faces along the necks and shells-fronts and —
— and there it was. Or there it wasn’t.
For on the smaller turtle, who was relaxing under the friendly claw of its chelonian compatriot, where there ought to have been a small reptilian left front leg — there was none.
Mrs. Sabatini… had returned.
(Scaramouche, Scaramouche, she finds it difficult to do the fan-dan-go!)
“Faith, it’s an uncertain world entirely”! We certainly didn’t expect the same small, appendagially-impaired pond turtle to suddenly reappear in our pond after five years of absence.
Well, whether she’d truly been away or was simply being a lot more sneaky about using the pond so we never saw her, we’re exceedingly chuffed to know she’s back. She’s a jewel in our healthy, chemical-free habitat crown, and we’re pretty chuffed with ourselves for creating a safe, natural pond that she and her buddies — and so many other water-dependent species — can rely on.
If you build it, they will come — and come back!
Let’s keep making habitat for the small, wild, heart-pirating creatures in our lives, eh?
(Please direct Mrs. Sabatini fanmail c/o Finch Frolic Garden.)
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Finch Frolic Marketplace, Revisited
Due to popular demand, we’re having one more short Marketplace this Saturday, 9 – 1.
Join us on Saturday, November 29nd from 9-1 for the annual Finch Frolic Marketplace, the Extended Version! We’ll have for sale fresh and prepared foods straight from our permaculture gardens. All are excellent gifts, or will grace your holiday table. We’ll have the much-desired Pomegranate Gelato again, and new this year, Passionfruit Gelato! Squash, fruit, veg, preserves, passionfruit curd, baked goods, and much more.
Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.
Finch Frolic Garden is open by appointment only for tours, lectures and other activities. The address is 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA 92028-2548. Please call only if you are lost or delayed; we use our house phone only and are often not inside. Please use the email above for any other communication.
From the North (Temecula and above): take 1-15 South to Exit 51 and turn right. Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13. In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd. In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St. In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents. Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.
From the South (Escondido and below): take I-15 North to Exit 51 and turn left over the freeway. Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13. In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd. In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St. In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents. Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.
From the West (I-5): take CA-76 East, Exit 54A and drive for 12.6 miles. Turn left onto S. Mission Road/County Hwy S13 for 4.1 miles. Turn right onto S. Stagecoach Lane (at the high school). In 2.8 miles turn right onto Alvarado St. At the top of the hill turn right onto Vista del Indio, at the Roja’s Succulents sign. Make the very first right; 390 is at the end on the left.
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Permaculture Lectures At Finch Frolic Garden, June 2014
Permaculture Lectures in the Garden!
Learn how to work with nature and save money too
Finch Frolic Garden and Hatch Aquatics will present four fantastic, information-filled lectures in June. Join us at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook, 4 pm to 6 pm, for refreshments and talks on…
Saturday, June 7: Introduction to Permaculture and Finch Frolic Tour: We’ll take you through the main precepts of permaculture and how it can be applied not only to your garden, but to yourself and your community. Then we’ll tour Finch Frolic Garden and show rain catchments, swales, plant guilds, polyculture, living buildings and so much more.
Saturday, June 14: Your Workers in the Soil and Earthworks: Learn the best methods for storing water in the soil and how to replace all your chemicals with actively aerated compost tea and compost.
Saturday, June 21: Aquaculture: You can have a natural pond – even in a tub! How natural ponds work, which plants clean water and which are good to eat. Even if you don’t want a pond, you’ll learn exciting information about bioremediation and riparian habitat.
Saturday, June 28: Wildlife in your Garden: What are all those bugs and critters and what they are doing in your yard? We’ll discuss how to live with wildlife and the best ways to attract beneficial species.
Your hosts and lecturers will be
Jacob Hatch Owner of Hatch Aquatics. With years of installing and maintaining natural ponds and waterways, and a Permaculture Design Course graduate, Jacob has installed earthworks with some of the biggest names in permaculture.
Miranda Kennedy OSU graduate of Wildlife Conservation and wildlife consultant, Miranda photographs and identifies flora and fauna and maps their roles in backyard ecosystems.
Diane Kennedy Owner of Finch Frolic Garden, lecturer, consultant, Permaculture Design Course graduate, former SDC Senior Park Ranger, Diane educates homeowners on how to save money and the environment while building their dream gardens.
Each class limit is 50 attendees, so please make pre-paid reservations soon before they fill up. Fee for set of four lectures and tour is $45 per person. Single session fee is $20 per person. Contact Diane Kennedy at email@example.com for reservations and directions.
You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!
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The Life of Di, or Fall At My House
I like to be involved with many projects at once. I picture my life as an opal, my birthstone, full of swirled colors and hues. I have several books going at once, projects chipped away at around the house, volunteer responsibilities strewn across my week, and far too many animals and acres to care for. When I’m exhausted I can spend a day on the couch reading with no trouble at all being the picture of laziness. Prior to Thanksgiving I underwent a skin cancer preventative treatment on my face and hands, which required applying a topical cream twice a day that brings suspicious cells to the surface and burns them off. By the end of the second week I was quite a mess, and then took another week to heal enough to be seen in public without alerting the zombie hunters. The treatment, needless to say, kept me from being in sunlight, therefore housebound. Always loving a clean, organized house but never actually completely cleaning or organizing, I figured I’d get some work done. I tried sorting about 15 boxes of photo albums left by my mother and grandmother… and got through one box before I had to stop. I wanted to bake bread, and I wanted to find something to do with the small amount of hops we harvested, so I experimented with a recipe that had a starter, sponge and rising that altogether took five days. The Turnipseed Sisters’ White Bread from the classic Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads .
The starter really smelled like beer. Not in a pleasant way, either. However the bread was good, and baking was fun.
Just the extra carbs I needed for sitting on my butt for two weeks, right? Then I wanted to thin, clean and alphabetize the fiction section in my living room.
Yes, I have enough books in my house that they are in sections. Former school librarian and bookstore worker here. I haven’t done the non-fiction section as yet, which extends to most of the other rooms in the house. Maybe next year? I did a little writing, a lot of reading, surrounded by my elderly dog Sophie
who keeps returning from the brink of death to sleep about 23 hours a day, and one of my hens, Viola, who suddenly went lame in one leg.
All advice was to cull her, but I thought that she pulled a muscle and hadn’t broken her leg, and being vegetarian I don’t eat my pets. Viola has been recuperating in a cage in the dining room, gaining strength in that leg, laying regular eggs, having full rein of the front yard, and crooning wonderfully. As I count wild birds for Cornell University’s Project Feederwatch, I keep an eye on the hen. The cats ignore her, thank goodness. I’ve quite enjoyed having a chicken in the house. Yep, I’m starting to be one of those kinds of aging ladies.
In between I’d spend time crawling under bushes to push and shove my 100-pound African spur thigh tortoise out of his hiding spot and into the heatlamp-warmed Rubbermaid house he shuns so that he wouldn’t catch cold in the chill damp nights. I always come out victorious, with him angry and begrudgingly warm, and with me wet, muddy, hair full of sticks and hands full of scratches. Does anyone have a life like this?
Finally my skin healed enough so that I was able to venture outdoors.
I planted seeds of winter crops: collards, kale, garlic, onions, carrots, Brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe, and prepared raised beds for more.
I ordered organic pea, lupine and sweet pea seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds , all nitrogen-fixers to plant around the plant guilds.
On Thanksgiving I hiked 1200 feet up Monserate Mountain in a record slow time; all that sitting and all that bread causing me to often stop and watch the slow holiday traffic on Hwy. 15, and be very glad that I was on a hike instead.
The neighbors had their annual tree butchering, paying exorbitant sums to have the same so-called landscapers come in and top their trees (shudder!) and thin others… for what reason I have no idea. Because being retired Orange County professionals they believe that trees need to be hacked back, contorted, and ruined? Possibly.
Please, please, please, friends don’t let friends top trees! Find an arborist who trims trees with an eye to their health and long-term growth and immediate beauty. A well-pruned tree is lovely, even just after pruning. A topped tree is brutal and ugly.
Anyway, the upside is that I claimed all the chips, giving new life to the ravaged trees as mulch for my pathways. Two truckloads were delivered. I think I have enough for the whole property.
How to spread it? Yep, one wheelbarrow full at a time.
I can now condition myself for more hiking and weight lifting without leaving the property. The heaps have a lot of pine in them (they thinned the pine trees!???) so there is a pleasant Christmassy smell emanating from the heaps.
They are also very high nitrogen and were hot in the center on the second day and this morning were steaming right after our brief rain shower. Mulch piles can catch fire; when I worked for San Diego County Parks we rangers would joke about who had been called out by the fire department when their newly delivered mulch pile had caught fire in the night.
I also received a gift of seven 15-gallon nursery containers of llama poo!
Hot diggity! Early Christmas: My diamonds are round and brown, thank-you. I layered them in the compost heap and am ready for more.
I also wholeheartedly participated in Small Business Saturday, finding happy locals and crossing paths with friends and aquaintences at several stores. I received my first Merry Christmas from a man at Myrtle Creek Nursery’s parking lot as he waited for his son’s family to pick out a Christmas tree. I do love this town.
That catches me up. Lots of projects, lots of volunteering, lots of cleaning up to do before my daughter comes home for the holidays and despairs at my bachelorette living. Lots of mulch to move. Lots of really great friends. Lots of sunscreen to wear. Lots to be thankful for.
I know you are all sick of reading about bathing a hen; I’m back from a vacation in Cornwall, UK and helping my daughter move back to OSU for her Junior year. With a gazillion photos to sort through, I’ll do my best to show you the highlights of our travels as well as keep you up on the growing of my gardens.
Why Cornwall? It is a land of legend, infinite beauty, the birthplace of many famous people, and is home of the pastie (a turnover with savory filling made by wives for lunch for their mining husbands). It was also supposed to be the warmest place in the UK in September, and the best place for birding as all the migrants fly near there. What no forecasting website let me know was that the hurricane that had hit the US East coast had moved north near Ireland, and gale-force winds were hitting most of upper Europe. Cornwall was no exception. The winds hit on the third day of our trip, and let up towards the end, so birding wasn’t so great ( you had to look quickly :). )
Our first lodging in Cornwall was at the Jamaica Inn (http://www.jamaicainn.co.uk/ ). How great is that! For you literary types, or those who love Alfred Hitchcock films, you’ll recognize this Daphane Du Maurier title which had been made into a movie. (Hitchcock also made movies of two of her other works, Rebecca and The Birds).
Jamaica Inn sits on the Bodmin Moor in East central Cornwall. When we flew into Newquay (pronounced NEW-key) airport and rented our car it had just begun to rain with a little thunder thrown in for atmosphere. The drive through traffic was slow (the highways have cow crossroads with signal lights!) and as we approached the Inn the fog rolled in.
There had been an accident on one of the highways so traffic was backed up. As we gratefully parked in the main parking lot of the Inn, an older man in a yellow traffic vest that had been out on the street came over and suggested that we park in the small lot in the front. He explained about the traffic, and joked about us being ready to meet ghosts at the Inn. I told him that with a meal, dry clothes and a warm bed, let the ghosts do their worst! He laughed and replied that ‘strange things happen around there.’ I moved the car, navigating a forty-five degree turn in a narrow, brick sided gate without scratching the car (England is infamous for this sort of thing), and re-parked. Glancing back at the road, I noticed that the man had disappeared. We never saw him again! Strange things, indeed.
In three nights we stayed in three different rooms because of the Inn being full.
We moved from the smallest and oldest room, one which the owner vowed had the most ghostly activity, to a larger, slightly less ghostly room, to finally a large room in the ‘new wing’ with a great view of the Bodmin Moor. The staff knew us as the ‘traveling Americans’. The owner told us that only the night before the guest in that first room had stood up from the bed and felt a hand push him back, twice. We walked through the dark pub, up the winding stairway to our room, named after one of the characters in Du Maurier’s book, and entered our room. It could very well have been the source of many unusual phenomenom. Being in the old section, which dated back 400 years, the floor slanted inward so much that you could imagine yourself shipboard stuck on the roll of a wave. It was great. After a visit to the pub, I don’t doubt that the previous guest had fallen down.
The Inn is hundreds of years old, and definately has an atmosphere.
At the Rancho Guajome Adobe in Vista, I havethe feeling that the house is like an older woman who was dressed in her finest, hair done up, back straight and proud, welcoming guests to yet another party at her fine home. At the Jamaica Inn, with its slanted floors, swaybacked roof and settled walls, I had the impression of an old, mostly toothless hag, one eye squinty, the other pierceing you with its gaze to see what you’re worth, and cackling at your dismay when you shudder. Wonderful!
There was a microclimate that surrounded the Inn; it was always colder, foggier, rainier and windier than even the coastal areas both North and South. We’d awaken to crummy weather and defiantly brave it to visit a garden or ruin, and find the weather a lot better once we left the area! Our last night there was the beginning of the intense gale-force winds. Flag poles were outside our room and they beat a strong tattoo all night. In the morning I pushed the window open against the wind to have a look, and wasn’t surprised at the flag that had beat so furiously in the storm.
The moor is not the wild, heath-covered marshy area one would expect anymore. It has been cut into squares for farmland, lined with hedgerows or stacked stone walls. It still is beautiful. The radiant green of British and Irish fields can’t be explained, just loved.
We didn’t have time to hike to the standing stones there, and tried twice to walk to the Dozmary Pool, the legendary home of the Lady of the Lake who kept King Arthur’s sword. We had heard that the ‘bottomless lake’ of legend does, indeed, dry up, and there is another lake that claims the sword as well, so we didn’t feel too badly about missing it. We walked across a field, sinking into wet spots, imagining Jane Eyre collapsed on a moor, and all the other stories and legends surrounding these fascinating places. I was glad to be close to safety!
The Jamaica Inn does brisk business as a tourist stop, particularly for busloads of ghost-seekers. They visit the Du Maurier museum, the gift store, and have lunch in the dark pub.
There are figures from the book lurking the corners, some of which speak to you when you press a button, and stocks in the front yard.
A ghost log sits next to the guest register for reporting any supernatural activity, and it is quite full.
I was mildly disappointed in not being spooked; however, if any ghost had tried to wake me up they would have been disappointed, for I was too tired to care!
Any adventure is enjoyed even more after you are safely home. I loved staying at the Jamaica Inn, soaked up the atmosphere, the grey stones the fog and all the corny spooky stuff set around the Inn. The name Jamaica Inn allegedly came from all the rum that was smuggled through. A plaque on the floor of the bar commemorates a spot where someone had been murdered. I wouldn’t have missed staying there for the world!
Reading to a Fault
I need to confess: I read. Perhaps all of you are nodding, thinking that you, too, read. I’m very glad of that. However, my confession is something along the lines of AA. I read to a fault. I read between 3 and 5 books a week. Yes, all of them are over 200 pages, and no, none of them have embracing couples on the front. I read myself to sleep. I read myself awake sometimes. I’ll take a break in the afternoon and read, and wind up several hours later with very angry cats nagging me for their dinner. I have a stack of bedside books, books in the library, a book in each car in case of emergency. I’ll read until I have less than half an hour to wash, dress, feed animals, grab food and drive somewhere. I have read long through the night when I have needed to be up in the morning early.
I feel sometimes that I’ve been consumed by the books.
I read too quickly. I could not recite the plots and names of the characters in the books that I read, and that is a major fault. I have a good friend who reads steadily and slowly, and can call to mind all the characters and all the plot points in all the books that he has read. I envy him that.
I read mostly fiction, but I always keep at least one non-fiction going at all times. I particularly enjoy well-crafted and researched historical mysteries. I have learned more about the history of the world, the nuances of human struggles and the colossal efforts to survive in the face of war, disease, political and religious oppression, starvation and exhaustion, than was ever even hinted at in any of my schooling. For instance, the Sister Fidelma mysteries are written by historian Peter Tremayne and concern the changeover from the ancient Celtic traditions to the strict and woman-hating traditions of the newly approved Roman Catholic Church in 7th century Ireland. In the Celtic world, women could be judges, teachers and could own property. There were universities throughout Europe. The Picts were still present, and their written word Ogham took the form of slashes on sticks, which were bundled together to form long documents and hung on walls to form libraries. The first witch hunts began when the Roman Catholics wanted to obtain land and power from the women and subjugate them. A man who proved a woman a witch could have her property and belongings, and the tests for being a witch were hard to survive (drown and you are innocent, float you are a witch).
From C. J. Sansom’s Mathew Shardlake series I learned about 16th century England and just what the dissolution of the Catholic church meant for the monks and the parishioners, and how life must have been like under a king who regularly took young wives, and had them killed when they didn’t produce a son.
From Anne Perry I’m learning about Edwardian and Victorian England, the oppression of women, of the poor, of the inadequacies of the medical practice (they just discover chloroform so that operations can take a little longer, although most patients died of infection afterwards, anyway). About the threat of disease from the lack of sewers and the incredible labors it took to build the new sewers, and new railroads.
Elizabeth Peters has shown me Egypt at the turn of the century, in a series of mysteries that are as funny as they are educational. The Amelia Peabody series is priceless; three of our chickens are named after characters in those novels, so you can see how important it is to us! (Emerson, Miss Amelia and Evelyn).
In non-fiction I prefer travel writing. I’d love to travel the world, lingering in each place to absorb the language, the customs and the landscapes. If only I could do that while also staying at home! Travel writing allows me to vicariously see the fascinating corners of the world without suffering from airports, taxis, buses and car rentals, or trying to find vegetarian meals in a meat-loving place. I enjoy some Paul Theroux, Freya Stark, and many more who have helped me cross Africa on foot, hike through Tibet sipping hot tea with goat butter, fight the overwhelming fecundity of the sweltering, buggy Amazon rainforest, and sail through terrible storms and dead calms.
I also love to read non-fiction about animals, such as the books written by Gerald Durrell, or about wolf re-introduction (thanks, J & J!), or what survives in extreme weather. And about gardening and the love of nature and home such as Sue Hubbell’s A Year in the Country.
There is also satire such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Incredible writing, a double-take kind of humor that makes you love your fellow man as you laugh at and with him.
I remember the first book that I read alone when I was five. It was a collection of fairytales. I still have it although it looks much smaller now. I remember getting through it the first time and feeling so accomplished, and then reading it again and realizing how quickly it went. Little did I know that I would be a slave to the written word from then on. My parents read when they could, and greatly supported reading. We’d attend the Carlsbad Library Book Fair, and I’d always order thin, wonderful books from the Scholastic Book Fair at school. I loved Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Tolkein, and The Three Investigators (so much better than the Hardy Boys!). I worked at B. Dalton Booksellers on the El Camino Real mall, then met and married another book lover who was a manager there. He became a book scout and I was once again going through stacks of books at sales again, trying to find treasures. After a divorce and a career as a Park Ranger I became a middle-school librarian for eight years. Heaven! All those old favorites, added to purchasing books at a time when young adult literature was exploding. So many well-written and well-researched, imaginative books! I still follow young adult authors because what they write is often so much more rewarding and intellectually stimulating than popular fiction. In fact, some of my go-to fiction when I need something familiar and comforting is from the young adult genre. Tamora Pierce and Sharon Shinn, to name a couple.
I’ve never been a bestseller-list follower, nor a lover of award winners or book club choices. I have had almost-conversations with women who are also good readers, and we have almost no books in common. A couple of notable exceptions have been the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer, and finished by her daughter-in-law Annie Barrows when the author was ill, and the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series. The former because it is warm, humorous, and yet describes the horror of living on an occupied island during WWII. The latter because it exposes a completely foreign (to me) way of life of a village in Africa and the warmth, simplicity and traditions of the people there. Both of these make me feel warmly towards the human race, which is something I need encouragement to do. Books that dwell on hopelessness, horror, unrelieved pain and despair, I just won’t give a time of day to. Also those mysteries that are violent and graphic for the sake of selling copies. No, thank you. Just keep my mind working and my interest peaked, thank you.
So I read and read. Have I mentioned audiobooks yet? They are on top of the reading books. At one point I had an audiobook for the car, one for the house, and one in the wings just in case. I usually have one or two in the car now. I listen to audiobooks of authors I probably wouldn’t sit down to read, or of books that are deemed important, award-winning or classic that I’ve either read and forgotten about, or never read for one reason or another, such as Pulitzer prize winners. There are audiobook readers who are superb at what they do, such as Barbara Rosenblat, and some where I’ve had to shut the audiobook off because the reader was so terrible. Usually authors really mess up their own work, so I try and avoid those. I’ve had audiobooks playing in a CD player attached to an extension cord out in my yard so that I could listen while weeding. The problem with that is you can’t easily leave the area even for a second because you’ll miss something, and your hands or gloves are too dirty to touch the CD to pause it. Areas of my yard have an afterglow of memory of the audiobook I listened to when I was working their: my side yard is very much the 1100s in Shrewsbury, England on the border of Wales where Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael is grinding herbs and solving mysteries. My backyard has a memory of the cold sea from listening to Anne Proulx’s The Shipping News.
I volunteer at the Fallbrook Library bookstore The Bottom Shelf once a month or more (there are set times and I’m also on the fill-in list). Three hours guaranteed guilt-free shopping in a dynamic used book store: dangerous! So many incredible books! Old friends, and new friends, and books from other countries and on topics I’d never thought of. How I love filling the shelves and keeping an eye out for my favorite authors! In come people with their lists. Decades-old index cards on keyrings that have tiny lists of titles from alphabetized authors, small notebooks, and school paper falling apart at the folds. I have my own lists carefully saved in my purse, as well as a regular notebook at home with authors and their complete works listed chronologically by publication date with notes about the series and author and how I liked them. I also post my books and some reviews on Goodreads, which is a virtual personal library list. I wish that I could remember all the books I’ve read in my life so that I can list them all and be complete. Perhaps book people are also list people. Gotta have a list. I buy books at a quarter, read them and return them. Can’t beat that.
Reading is a treat, a reward, a hobby, an education and an escape for me. I don’t watch television; I haven’t had it hooked up for about 16 years except to play DVDs and VHS tapes. I often wish that I could directly link all the books to my brain so that I can absorb them all and have all that knowledge. Oh, and have a memory that will handle it, too! I share books with my family and friends. I read aloud to my children until they were in high school, including the Complete Sherlock Holmes, all the Redwall series, most of Musashi, and stories from James Herriot, and many, many more, usually with me falling asleep while I’m reading and finishing the sentence with some garbled words my dream self interjected.
I have many faults, but few vices. I don’t drink often, smoke, or take much medicine or drugs. I may read murder mysteries but I can’t even feed a tomato hornworm to the chickens. But I read. Books, not electronic devices. I love the feel of a book. And I hope I always will.
Pagent of the Masters
Last night my daughter and I attended the Laguna Festival of the Arts Pagent of the Masters (http://www.foapom.com/). This is the show where masterpieces are reproduced to human scale and people are ‘painted’ right into the pictures. The other time I attended was with my parents about 35 years ago now (the Festival has been around for 75 years). I remember sawdust on the floor of the Sawdust Festival, where A-frame stands held works of art and there were too many people mulling around. I also remember sitting in the middle section to the left near one of the rotating stages and having a close-up view of a statue where the humans on it were painted a metallic silver. I was awestruck at how still they were. This is where I learned about the skin being the body’s largest organ, and if it is completely covered in paint then a person could die. Fascinating stuff.
Now the Festival has hundreds of pieces of art on display and for sale, with artists in attendance trying not to look at the expressions on the faces of the people examining their ‘babies’. There is also ongoing entertainment from a central stage, multiple food booths selling the usual fast food, and hawkers peddling rentals on binoculars and seat cushions. The entertainment was a band playing soft rock, interspersed with people reciting bits of Shakespeare. I’m not sure why they were, for the theme of the festival was Only Make Believe and focused on myths, legends and fairytales. The first bit of the Bard we heard while strolling the zig-zag around the walls of art was from Much Ado About Nothing (we recognized it from the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson film version that I must have watched twenty times), and definitely not a piece from Oberon or any other fairy from A Midsommer Night’s Dream which would have made more sense. Anyway, it didn’t go over very well unfortunately but the audience were sitting at tables eating or waiting until the Pagent began, so it didn’t really matter if they had Shakespeare soliloquies thrust upon them.
The Pagent takes place in an outdoor ampitheatre with the usual drop-seat plastic chairs and a decent view from anywhere. I didn’t even think to bring binoculars; it wasn’t mentioned in anything I read in the website, probably because they rent them there. They would have helped. Our tickets were given me by a friend, and were up in the third section. I could see well enough but without detail. Either I could tell there was a person in the painting, or I couldn’t and just appreciated the care with which they reproduced the artwork, and without binoculars to examine the makeup and staging it wasn’t as thrilling as I had remembered from my pre-teen self. Just before intermission they had dragons flanking the audience and breathing soap bubbles while an enormous inflated one appeared clawed foot by clawed foot over the roof of the stage. This bit of theatrics was very fun and possibly the highlight of the show, but had nothing to do with paintings or painted people. The orchestra in the pit below the stage had the most arduous task and performed beautifully.
I believe that the most impressive thing for me was that the entire show is made up of volunteers. Having run a volunteer group before, I know how even the best-intentioned group can go astray because volunteers are just that… unpaid help. The level of professionalism and talent with the staging, make-up, costumes, orchestra, planning and execution is phenomenal.
So I wasn’t as excited as I had hoped, but perhaps binoculars would have made some difference. But what have I to complain of? A beautiful evening outdoors in Southern California listening to good music, looking at art, talking with artists, and seeing a unique show that is quite brilliant and fun, isn’t something to sneeze at. I’m glad that my daughter had a chance to see it; having artistic talent herself made her particularly interested in many of the displays, and she identified all the birds represented in various artwork as well.
If you haven’t seen the Festival and you like art, you really should experience it. Avoid the toll road though, and prepare to pay for parking and take a windowless shuttle (it blows your breath away). The program is available for download from their site (above), and don’t even think of bringing a camera because they have you check it in at the door. It really is a good time.