Archive for November, 2007

A Bouquet of Bull Thistles

November 11, 2007


I know, I know, I’ve written about bull thistles before.   I really can’t say why I’m so entranced with what some consider a noxious weed.  In fact, if I’d ever had a proper wedding, I probably would have been the first bride ever to carry a bouquet of bull thistles (perhaps with white leather gloves).   🙂

Part of my attraction is the fact that birds, butterflies, and bees love them so.  And part of it is my fascination with how a plant could be so very prickly (and painfully so) on the outside, yet harbor the most silky soft seed.

So forgive me for a last look at my beloved bull thistles.  These pictures were taken back in September.  I was out trying to take pictures of the pods bursting with downy seeds, whose feathery fronds rendered rainbows in the late afternoon light.  But the wind was strong and the pods kept moving, and I’m afraid my little point-and-shoot wasn’t up to the task.  But there was a sudden gust, and scores of seeds flew up around me in a whirlwind of gossamer grace.   I gasped and began to twirl around with my camera held aloft, just clicking in the air hoping to capture a bit of that grace.  Up they swirled, lifting lightly towards the light until I lost sight of them. 

My photos don’t begin to do justice to what I witnessed.  In fact, most of my pictures were blurry.  But here’s some of what I did capture that wondrous afternoon.







Friday Fact: A Tip of the Hat to Mr. James Boyle-Inventor

November 9, 2007


[Illustration from Strange Stories, Amazing Facts  (A Reader’s Digest book we found in the dumpster! Also where I got the idea.)]

It must have sometimes been vexing to be a man in Victorian times.  A proper Victorian fellow would always tip his hat to the ladies, even if it wasn’t convenient to do so at the time—if, say, he was carrying an armload of groceries.  How annoying to have to put your parcels down just to tip your hat!

But in 1896, Mr. James Boyle of Washington State came to the rescue of exhausted Victorian gentlemen everywhere when he invented the “self-tipping hat.”  It worked by way of a lifting mechanism activated by the wearer when they bowed “to the person saluted.”  Here are Mr. Boyle’s own words:

“Much valuable energy is utilized in tipping the hat repeatedly and my device will relieve one of it and at once cause the hat to be lifted from the head in a natural manner. It is a novel device, in other words, for effecting polite salutations by the elevation and rotation of the hat on the head of the saluting party, when said person bows to the person saluted, the actuation of the hat being produced by the mechanism within it and without the use of the hands in any manner.”

Well.  His verbosity notwithstanding, I salute Mr. Boyle for his part in “effecting polite salutations” and for saving “much valuable energy.”  I’m all for that!  In fact, I’d like to tip my hat to him.  🙂


*****A quick note to all of you kind people who inquired concerning my well-being following my bear-hug rib injury:  I am better, I think, thank God.  It stills hurts a bit when I breathe, and I still can’t do any heavy lifting without pain, but the pain is manageable with my favorite wonder drug Excedrin.  (In fact, though I wrote a poem about gathering firewood in my last post, I actually wasn’t able to carry logs this year.)  I did have a bit of a setback last week after a sudden sneeze, but I’m better now (though praying I won’t catch a cold anytime soon!)

So, hopefully, I shall soon be back to my old log totin’ ways.  Thank you for your concern, your thoughts, and your prayers.  I am grateful for them.******

Finding Firewood in the Fiery Woods of Fall

November 7, 2007


Fred First of Fragments from Floyd recently challenged his readers to write a description of the smells that evoke autumn for them.  Fred himself penned a lovely piece and commenters also wrote vivid and poetic expressions of fall.  Colleen of Loose Leaf Notes later posted a wonderful fall poem that she wrote, inspired by Fred’s challenge.

At first I stalled, daunted by the task, but then decided to follow through on my recent pledge to not compare myself to everyone else but to go ahead and stick my creative neck out, even when I’m scared.  In the blog world, the writers I admire most are the ones who post their poetry, because I think there is no writing more personal.  In fact, for me, the only thing more intimidating than posting a poem would be to post a picture of myself!

But anyway, in the spirit of being bolder, here’s the poem I wrote (slightly edited).  I later realized that I’d gone off on a poetic tangent since my poem didn’t specifically address the sense of smell.  I apologize, Fred.  This is just what came out when I thought about how our woods smell in autumn.  It’s about my favorite fall chore—gathering firewood for the winter.


The chainsaw sings a high keening dirge
For the deadwood it cuts sharp and clean.
Sharp and clean, the crisp autumn air
Burns my lungs as I carry,
Through the glory of
Blazing bright leaf fall,
The tree’s final gift to us
That will come alive again
In our woodstove as it
Burns bright in a blaze of glory
Saving us from the cutting of
The sharp winter wind.


The Couch That Sailed the Ocean Blue

November 4, 2007


Looks like a common, ordinary couch, doesn’t it?  In fact, maybe a little less than ordinary.  If our couch were a person, you’d probably call it down-on-its-luck, down and out, underprivileged.  It has seen better days.

But there’s more to our couch than meets the eye.  With our intrepid children always at the helm, it has sailed on the high seas, thundered down railroad tracks loaded with dangerous cargo, and carried busloads of happy schoolchildren safely home.  It has raced in Nascar, the Indianapolis 500, and in rallies down steep mountain roads. benjamin-on-couch-blog.jpg Its cushions have been transformed into forts to protect our home from the forces of evil and have become nests for tired little baby birds and homes for faithful Teddy Bears.  Our couch has flown in the clouds as an airliner and through the starry night as a magic carpet.  This couch has been places.

If you looked through our family photographs, you’d notice that this couch shows up in a lot of them.  It’s where my husband and I loved to read and where we’d curl up with our children to nurture their love of reading.  It’s where beloved friends and family sat when they visited, including many who have now passed away.  It’s also the scene of a bit of cherished family lore involving a eight-inch long skink that crawled up my arm while we were watching a movie.  Legend has it that I leapt, in a single bound, over the back of the couch. 

I bought it, when my now college-age children were babies, at a yard sale in an upscale North Raleigh neighborhood.  The lady of the house saw me looking longingly at it and came over. 

“You know, that couch cost me $1800.00.  And it has stayed in my living room and never, ever been touched by my children.” 

I smiled at her and thought, That’s gonna change real soon.


And it did.  My children have touched just about every square inch of that couch at one time or another.  And they have traveled many, many miles on it in the oceans, roads, and skies of their infinite imaginations. 

I have a confession to make:  I was thinking of throwing it out, of sending it to the Great Living Room in the Sky. (It’s too shabby to give to Goodwill.)  So, why was I thinking of saying goodbye to such a faithful old friend?  Well, for one thing, when company comes, I have to try to steer them to other seats.  Because once you sit down, you sink to such depths that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to rise again.  It’s a little embarrassing.  And for another, it just looks so bedraggled.  Tom has rebuilt it twice, but it is getting beyond help. 

But when I told my son Benjamin, he was beside himself.  “I love that couch.  You can’t throw it away.  I love that more than anything we own.”

I was incredulous.  “More than the pie safe?  More than the china cabinet?”  Both treasured family heirlooms. 

“Yes, more than those.  Please don’t get rid of it!”

So, thanks to Benjamin, our couch is here to stay.  At least until he gets out of college.  Then, it will sit in his very first apartment. He’ll curl up on it, in his favorite corner spot, where it sags just right for nesting.  I can see him there now, reading, playing guitar, or dozing.  Dozing—as he dreams of the days when couches could fly through starry skies, could hurtle down curvy mountain roads, and could take you anywhere you dreamed of going.


Friday Fact: The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

November 2, 2007


A confession:  I really like paintings of anthropomorphized animals, especially dogs.   The one above was painted by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, who is most famous for his widely popular paintings of dogs playing poker.  (And for all you art snobs out there who might be sniffing haughtily:  In 2005, two of his original paintings [yes, dogs playing poker] sold for almost $600,000).

I thought of those paintings recently when I read about one of the most famous English eccentrics, Francis Henry Egerton, the eighth Earl of Bridgewater.  Even though he was a distinguished scholar, a patron of the arts and a member of the Royal Society, who donated his important and extensive manuscripts to the British Museum, many remember him best for his, umm… idiosyncrasies. 

He loved to give dinner parties for dogs, who were expected to dress in the latest fashions, including little fancy shoes on their paws.  And, speaking of shoes, the Earl himself wore a brand new pair every day, which he would then add to the lengthy rows of his previously worn shoes.  It was his way of measuring the passage of time!  When he borrowed a book, he would return it on a pillow in an ornate carriage attended by four liveried footmen. 

He was known to be an animal lover, yet he kept pigeons and partridges with clipped wings on his estate.  He did that to make them easier to hunt and shoot, as his eyesight was failing. 

Not surprisingly, he never married.  No doubt, any women invited to his dinner parties must have been appalled by the manners of the other guests—that is, the canine ones.  Not only, I’m sure, did a great deal of pawing and licking occur, but the table manners of the hounds in attendance must have been quite rude and shocking.  Doggedly so, I’d say.

Uncouth curs they were, no doubt, with no proper breeding.  Beastly party animals!