Friday, September 28, 2007

The Endless Summer

Great minds are asking, "Why don't you have any pictures of fall colour on yer blog?"

Well, it might be because we don't have any! It's been warm and it's still as green here as it was in July. But that will change shortly. Today was the first cool day we've had, following a night of rain. It was cool enough this morning that there was the slightest touch of snow on the hill above us. It disappeared during the day but I was just out and it's chilly. I covered my two tomato plants, which are laden with tennis ball-sized green tomatoes, lest they be frost-nipped tonight. I'm hoping for a warm spell and a few more ripe tomatoes, but I think these greenies will be picked and brought inside to ripen. It's a shame. They don't have the same flavor vine-ripened tomatoes have when you have to pick them green.

In the front the volunteer sunflowers are blooming like crazy, their cheerful faces facing the afternoon sun. The flowers in my pots are still blooming too, though they are beginning to look a little worse for wear.

Now that I think of it I haven't seen a Rusty blackbird in days, so I guess they must have moved on toward winter quarters. The quail, finches and sparrows still gang the feeder and go through 10 pounds of birdseed a week.

The orchard behind us is groaning with apples. They are deep red, and almost ready for the pickers. I picked a half dozen apples from one of the trees here in the park yesterday. They are crisp and juicy, heady with the fragrance of roses.

I've also been picking grapes from the vine that grows on the fence at the back of the park. The clusters are gangly and sparse, but the grapes themselves are marble-sized and ever so sweet. Their sugar content is so high I can't eat many of them without dropping my potassium level.

The only fall colour we have so far is on one branch of the big maple tree which is in the dog run. The leaves at the end of that branch are a carnival in many shades of yellow, green, orange, red, violet, taupe and rust. Beneath the leaves the winged seeds are mature and waiting for a chance to fly.

The park is almost empty, or was earlier today. But Snowbirders Joy and Jim arrived today, others are expected shortly and soon our little winter community will be humming with activity. I'm glad we stayed the summer. It's been a lovely time, despite the leg mishap in June.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ahhhh.... Sweet Mystery of Life...

At last I've found you!

I love kitties. My father did not like cats, so I never had a cat as a child, but almost as soon as Tony and I were married we acquired a kitty.

But over the years I've noted a great mystery. All cats assume the "loaf" position. The mystery is; What happens to their feet?

Today at I Can Has Cheezburger? the mystery was solved.

Tada! The Loaf Foot-Tuck

My mind is free! Now I can move on to thinking about string theory and how to make a perpetual motion machine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Like the Cheerful Chickadee...

Was it Snow White who advised in a song to "Whistle while you work, just like the cheerful chickadee?"

We had some infrequent visitors to the feeder this morning, a pair of black-capped chickadees. They are so perky and cute. They grab a sunflower seed from the feeder and flit away to shell and eat it. A minute or two later they'll be back for another seed.

The much larger sparrows and finches hang on the feeder, they'll even lie down in the tray and take a nap. They fight and scrap, knock each other off, and many end up simply eating from the ground. The chickadees don't come to the feeder if there are sparrows and finches on it.

Seeing them reminded me of a lovely experience over 30 years in the past. We were living in a small house on a western slope above the Columbia River. The place had been built by a retired ornithologist who spent the last 20 years of his life there, feeding the birds off the balcony.

We had many feathered visitors to our feeders, and one cold winter morning I discovered that the chickadees were so tame that they would perch on my fingers and eat from my hand. What a thrill that was! I still remember the feeling of their little toes grasping my finger.

These chickadees are not so tame, but I always love hearing their cheerful chirping on winter mornings, and you know when their song changes from "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" to "Feeee-beee" that spring is on its way.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cooky Cooky

It was cool today. The nice thing about slightly cooler weather is that you can cook dishes you have avoided all summer. I took advantage of the piles of vegetables I bought a couple of days ago and made a vegetable curry for dinner. It was absolutely yummy, so I jotted down the recipe to share, and I took a picture. Sadly it isn't as pretty as it is delicious.

Squash, Garbanzo & Lentil Curry


1/2 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped (1/2 cup)
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup red lentils (cooked)
1/2 can 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 acorn squash pulp
1 tsp creamed coconut paste
1 cup water or broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 package prepared Indian Curry Paste
2 cups vegetable broth

1. Stir-fry onion and celery in water or broth in a large soup pot until tender.
2. Add bay leaves, ginger, cinnamon, curry paste, creamed coconut, vegetable broth, tomatoes, potatoes, squash pulp, lentils, and chickpeas.
3. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Serve with jasmine or Basamati rice

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Big Day

A vegetarian diet requires vegetables, and Tony hadn't been out to the primo organic produce stand here in Oliver before. So after breakfast we took the ten minute trip up the road to Covert Farms and Pancho's Organic Market.

Once you turn off the highway you take a steep and twisting road, narrow and sort of crumbling at the edges. Today we had the good fortune to be stuck behind a bale-laden hay mower, which was moving at the blistering speed of 10 mph. We crept along until there was a short stretch of visible road and we eased around him with a wave. This is farm country after all.

The market is a big open shed, with fresh-from-the-field produce spilling from huge wooden bins. Faced with such a feast of colours and shapes, I always go overboard and buy three times more than we can possibly eat.

Today I was bewitched by the many colours and shapes of peppers. I bought four (five?) different kinds, including a poblano which is used to make mole', but I could have gotten many more. There were five or six varieties of tomatoes, including huge beefsteak, heirloom green-striped zebras and yellow ones. We got a big bag of our favorite Romas, with their thick, meaty walls, and a container of tiny sweet "grape" tomatoes, each the size of a (!) grape.

Squash is another of my weaknesses. The pumpkins were all too large, but we got a spaghetti squash, green and yellow zuchinni, yellow pattypans, and one each of festival and delecata squash. To those we added a yellow baby watermelon.

Since it was noon by this point we decided to have lunch, and each had a bowl of the most fabulous squash soup, an order of dolmans and a teeny piece of cheesecake. The cheesecake was a tiny round, less than 4" across, topped with strawberries.

For those who would like to try the soup here's the recipe:

Pancho's Squash Soup


3 Festival squash
3 Delecata squash
3 bulbs roasted garlic
3 yellow peppers
3 red peppers
1 onion
6 cups soup stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 TBSP curry powder
2 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
Yogurt and green onion for garnish

Bake squash open-faced with 2 tsp butter in each at 325 degrees F for 1 hour - should be very soft and slightly brown on top

roast peppers and onion on BBQ until soft.

Blend squash, garlic and peppers in food processor. Place in pot, add stock and spices.

Serve with dollop of yogurt and a few strings of green onion for garnish.

On the way home we stopped at Panorama for nectarines, pears and apples. Then I left Tony in the truck while I went into the grocer's for a cartload of things not to be found in produce stands.

My neighbour went to a fair farther south today and I promised to walk her dog, Doc. Doc is an Australian shepard, and a real character. He was happy to have a walk and read the news, and by the time I had walked him and come home to put away the groceries I was ready for a rest.

We had a simple dinner of herb buns, corn on the cob and a ratatouille I'd made yesterday. I walked Doc again after dinner, in that period after sundown when the sky is still luminous and full of light. As he snuffled happily in the dog run I heard strange ulating cries overhead. I looked up to see a group of about 30 sandhill cranes, close enough to see their red heads. A few minutes later one of the local red-tailed hawks landed on a fence post nearby. What a lovely day! Life might get better, but I'm not sure how!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bye Bye Spidey

Late yesterday Lacey had a moth meal, courtesy yours truly. I went down to the hot tub for a soak and found a pre-cooked moth in the tub. I fished it out with my croc and laid it aside. Once I was back home I eased it into Lacey's web and she was on it within a couple of seconds, wrapped it and spent about two hours having a really good meal.

She sat quietly in her web all evening, as I went off to sleep she was still resting. Yesterday's web had been tattered by a seed pod which landed in it during the day, and by the wind. Usually she tears down her old web and begins building a new one as soon as it gets dark, but I checked several times during the night and she had never touched the web. At 3:00 am she was hanging in the web, as it got light about 5:00 her old web had been cleared away but she was not working at building a new one.

At 8:00 am I couldn't see her from inside, which is not unusual. She often retreats to the spot between the window frames for a nap. When I went out at 9:30 to water my tomato plants I checked and she was not in the window frame, nor anywhere else I could find.

There was a long webstrand from the corner of the window to a nearby tree, so I assume she has flown our coop. While the web in the window was protected it was not in a very productive area. She probably would have either starved or moved, had I not been dropping meals into her web. Maybe she doesn't like what I catch for her.

Anyway, no more spider-watching. On the positive side we can now wash the window.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Lacey the spider has finally recovered from the double whammy of becoming entangled in her own web during a windstorm and shedding her skin a few days later. Two nights ago she wove an incredibly fine web in the window. Last night she destroyed it and built another, in the opposite corner. There she crouches, all eyes and empty stomach.

As of yet I haven't seen her eat anything except three gnats, which are not much a meal for a spider her size. Small or not she obviously likes them. She dances around them with the finesse of a Gregory Hines and then she inhales them. But her abdomen is still flat and small, roughly triangular in shape, not the pendulous round "pea" it was before her ordeal. I was hoping that today would be a "fly" day. She could use a good meal.

I don't see myself as Spider Woman, but it would have been cool to slip into this persona this afternoon. Because, when none of the dozens of flies buzzing in the yard had put itself on the dinner menu by mid-afternoon I went out with a rolled up paper, hunted one down and dropped it into Lacey's web. It was a bit mooshed (This is probably too much information) but she didn't seem to mind. She wrapped the offering up in silk and then she chowed down. I feel better, though a little guilty about the poor fly.

The neighbours sat in their lawn chairs, a little wide-eyed, and watched me stalk and swat until I finally nailed a fly. It took a while. I hate to imagine what they were saying to each other over their wineglasses.

"Peg, the woman across the way must be crazy!! What the devil is she doing slapping the ground with a rolled up paper, with a set of BBQ tongs tucked into her belt loop?"

Oh well, I don't know them from Adam Smith. They'll all be gone in a day or two, and the crazy cat lady in the ancient trailer will make a good story to tell the folks back home.

By the time they tell the story I'll probably look something like this. All because I hunt flies for a spider. See where a little eccentricity will take you? Everyone is supposed to have their 15 minutes of fame. I might have had mine this afternoon.

Next topic!

Last Tuesday I was cooking dinner when the flame went out on the stove and would not re-light. The water heater also went out and wouldn't re-light. Time for the semi-weekly call to Gary. There seems to be no way to break the TP's ardor for Gary the repairman.

He arrived Thursday, took one of our propane bottles to be filled, fiddled with the regulator and pronounced it flawed. So he replaced it. No joy. The regulator had oil in it, a bad sign. A layer of oil floats on top of propane in a tank, and apparently some of this oil had been siphoned off into the regulator, and presumably the lines, and was now blocking the flow of propane.

So Gary got the compressor and blew out the lines. No joy. By this time it's getting dark. Gary is taking a long weekend off, so says he will be back Monday. I have an electric burner ring, an electric kettle and a microwave. We will manage. Life will go on in the civilized world.

Gary appeared this morning as I was contemplating making coffee, and in about two hours he had the problem figured out and fixed. The new propane hoses we bought in May were faulty, or had gone south - fine workmanship - both the regulator ($175.00) and hoses worked for three months. Whatever. But, at last we have hot running water and a flame on the stove. I can cook again!

Speaking of food, we have decided, for about the 14th time, to go back to a vegetarian diet. We were vegetarians for most of the years the boys were growing up, and neither of us really like eating meat. It's just that meat is often the easiest thing to fix and I have had long stretches of time when standing long enough to cook was a challenge. That's not so much of an issue now, although on days when I shop I am going to need to plan ahead if we are going to avoid the A & W "solution".

That is the ketchup. And you thought it had something to do with buns didn't you?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Stardust to Stardust

Lacey the garden orb spider was hanging in the corner of the window last night when I went to sleep, and (surprisingly) she was still there this morning when I woke up. I assumed progress, as she was moving her legs a bit - (I hoped) in preparation for spinning a web, although she has always done this at night before.

I got up and went to make coffee. When I came back, five minutes later, she was - dead? At least she appeared dead, and even more puzzling, she appeared desiccated. Her legs, almost transparent, were stretched out full-length, gathered at the tips. Where her body had been there was nothing. A lifeless black dot the size of a mung bean hung beneath the legs. It looked like the husk of a fly she had cleaned out.

Oh, dear. But I puzzled. A bird would have gobbled her whole. Only another spider could have done this and how could another spider have eaten her so quickly? I've seen her eat a fly, and it's a slow process. Half an hour at least. I'd only been gone from the window five or six minutes.

Then the black dot stirred and unfolded LEGS. I realized with a start (and some sense of relief) that I was witnessing her shed her skin! It wasn't an easy transition. She would struggle for a few seconds, pulling herself with great difficulty out of her old skin. She'd then hang motionless for five minutes. But with each struggle more of her emerged. Eventually she was free and her old skin was only a small, transparent husk, with threads for legs, and a tiny, pin-head sized shell of a body.

She hung below the empty skin, exhausted. Her legs twitched occasionally, but otherwise she didn't move. Then she drew her legs up to her body, and swung back and forth on her single thread of silk for several minutes.

We wondered. Would she eat the skin, as orb spiders eat their webs? Or would she throw it away? Slowly she climbed up to the husk, and it was hard to say what she was doing, till suddenly she had it by a single leg. She lifted it and let go, and it sailed away on the breeze.

She flexed her legs and stretched herself. Her legs are longer now, but her abdomen is empty. She will need to eat soon. But for now the morning's work is done. Time for sleep and recovery from what must have been an ordeal. She crawled away to her spot between the window frames. Tonight I am betting she will spin a new web.

In my (Tuscarora) family no one killed a spider which had gotten into the house. It was said that the "Old Ones", our ancestors, might come to visit, dressed as a spider. It was okay to put a spider outside, where it could go its way unharmed, but to kill an Old One in spider disguise would make the Heet'-nunhk (the thunder gods) angry. Mother always said when it thundered on a clear day that someone had killed an Old One.

There are reports from Europeans of Tuscarora funerals in the 1600s, where a flame rose from the departed one's body, hovered 10-15 feet over the grave during the ceremony, then rose to a height of 60-100 feet and moved into the forest. This flame was said to then turn into a spider, which held the spirit of the deceased until reincarnation into a new clan member.

Buddhist philosophy says that life and death are cyclical in nature, that life is an active phase, and death is a period of rest, a time of preparation for yet another life. Both phases, life and death, are seen as blessings. Implicit in that belief is that we not just cycle, we recycle.

Spiders are safe in my house. They do get relocated, but I didn't even kill the Black widows we found daily in our last place. It was fascinating to see Lacey go through an entirely unexpected transition. Climbing from an old skin must be something like dying and waking anew. We all cycle and recycle, stardust to spider to spaceman.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I did some research on spiders and found that orb spiders have an internal "storage" organ where they load extra calories they can call on when prey is scarce. (In women these storage organs are called "hips".) As a result orb spiders can go for long periods without eating, so I can apparently stop worrying that Lacey hasn't eaten in several days. I have also determined that "it" is indeed a "she" of the species Araneus diadematus, the cross spider, aka the "European garden spider". This spider was introduced from Europe but has spread all the way across North America.

She is still retreating to the window frame during the day and emerging only after dark to hang in the corner of the window. No web spinning, but tonight a little movement, a little leg waving and symphony conducting. It's probably not the best night to build a web though. It's very windy out. But she looks perfectly normal, so I am hoping she will perhaps resume her web-building as soon as this wind dies down.

I wonder... a few days ago there was a very small spider fiddling around at the edge of her web. She didn't dart over and eat it, as she did every other insect that touched the web. The little spider wasn't caught, it moved cautiously around the outer edges. After reading more about orb spiders I am now wondering if the "little" spider wasn't a garden orb male, there to offer what passes for flowers and chocolate to our gorgeous girl?

Maybe Lacey is suffering from morning-sickness! I don't know what a pregnant spider looks like, but I guess time will tell.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


The ongoing saga of the (sick?) or perhaps just worn out and terrified spider continues. She crept from her hiding place last night after dark to hang in the upper left hand corner of the window, but did no spinning, and by daylight she was gone.

I checked after breakfast and she was once more holed up between the window frames, curled into a tight little ball. I gently nudged her with a blade of grass, just to see if she was alive, and she extended a front leg and pushed the stem away. So I let her be.

Tonight she is once again hanging in the upper corner of the window, no spinning, no movement, just hanging there. I really do wish she'd get busy and start work on her web. I have no idea how long spiders can go between meals. She ate very well two days ago, but she had a very difficult experience night before last, and I don't know about spiders, but being stressed out makes me want to eat! She needs to get better before I gain five pounds!

Today I was watching the birds at the feeder. There was a busy little throng of six or seven kinds of sparrows and finches, plus the rusty blackbirds, probably 40 birds total. I could hardly believe my eyes when suddenly a brilliant green, blue and yellow budgie landed on the feeder! A little out of its natural range (Australia), this sassy little jewel is obviously an escapee. This is not a good climate for budgies. They don't tolerate cold, or even cool, weather.

I thought I might try calling it to see if it would come to me. I've had a couple of well-loved budgies and they will fly to a human's finger if they are tamed and bonded to a human. But this one was wary. It flew away as soon as I opened the door. No hope of catching it. I hope it finds its way home, but it looked like it was enjoying its freedom. Reminded me of something Ecologist Ianto Evans wrote, "Even our domesticated animals are more prisoners than guests."

I refilled the seed tray and the budgie returned to feed, flying away several times but returning again within a few minutes. In between it wheeled and soared with the rusties, who appeared to take no notice of its bright plumage.

The sparrows and finches fight constantly over space at the feeder, even when there's plenty of room for all of them. We have a saying, "Two sparrows are a fight, three is a war!" But the budgie had the feeder all to itself. If a sparrow tried to land on the tray he put the wind up it pretty quickly. The smaller birds seemed intimidated by the budgies almost neon colors, or maybe it knew the right things to say to a sparrow to make it go to ground and stay there.

In the middle of all that a huge flicker landed on the trunk of the cherry tree by the feeder. It was enormous! Flickers are usually 10 - 11 inches long, I swear this one must have been 13 inches. I've never seen a flicker of this size before. We had a pair of yellow-shafted flickers excavate a nest in a tree and raise a brood of chicks not 12 feet from the kitchen window a few years ago, and they were no where as large as this one. I think this is a red-shafted, which tend to be a bit larger, but he hasn't read the breed standard or he wouldn't be as big as a pterodactyl!

And to round off the "beastly" report, a picture of the Red Chief, taken by Zak when he was here in July. Ian spotted this little massage unit and thought it might help my chronically stressed-out neck muscles, which it does. But the Chief was curious about the buzzing noise and came to investigate. As a joke I slid it over onto his neck and rolled it around. I expected it to freak him out, but he loved it! So much that he started asking for spa services, thank you very much. Just there, no a little to the left. Ahhhhhhh! Perfect!

I was holding the end of the leash while he had his daily stroll this morning when a couple approached to remark on his size and his beauty. The woman noted that he is clipped and asked if he is a "show" cat.

Yes, I said, He shows me what he wants, and I get it for him. Ianto Evans wasn't thinking of me when he referred to the domesticated prisoner, but he hasn't seen the RC sitting at my bedside at 3:00 am, patting me with extended claws because he wants a cookie, or a bit of conversation. But the RC isn't looking for freedom. He wants his Mama, on the end of the leash. Just in case he wants something he can't reach alone.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Webs and webs

As it grew dark yesterday evening the wind rose, shaking the TP, tossing the treetops around and kicking up little dust devils in the road. I noticed as I closed the blinds over my bunk that Lacey was having quite a ride in her web. The whole structure was catching gusts of wind and ballooning in and out, while she hung on for her life.

It's been windy before, and she's been tossed around, and in my waking periods I'll note that she is industriously repairing any breaches in the web. But last night when I turned out the light about 1:30 and opened the blind I could see she was in trouble.

Somehow she had become entangled in the web, and in her struggles to free herself she had become wrapped entirely in silk, as effectively as a fly. I got the flashlight and had a closer look. I couldn't tell if she was alive or not, but fearing I'd do her damage if I tried to untangle her, and knowing that orb spiders eat their own webs and reprocess the protein I let her be and drifted off to sleep, worrying about a spider.

I awakened several times in the wee hours, to find her still as death, and still wrapped tightly. But at about 5:00 am I awakened in time to see her give a mighty push and break free of her wrappings. She ran to the far corner of the window on one of the few remaining threads of web, and hung there. By 6:00 am she had moved to the upper left hand corner of the window, where she hung head down on another shred of web.

When I woke at 8:00 am she was nowhere to be seen. Had she dropped to the ground? Was she so exhausted she'd died and fallen? After breakfast I went out looking for her. (Okay, some of you may think I am getting a little weird about this, and I may be. But it's a harmless sort of weirdness.)

I didn't see my little spider friend anywhere, but I have several large pots of petunias beneath the window, so she could have gone in, or under, any of them.

I had to go to town to grocery shop, but before that I needed to water my tomato plants. While standing with the hose in hand I spotted her, crouched in the protected recess between the window frames. She was sound asleep, and still is, several hours later. I'm glad she ate well yesterday, because I don't think she would have survived this ordeal on an empty stomach.

Perhaps she is injured, but I think it more likely that she's just a bit sore and totally worn out from her struggle. She hasn't yet even begun to rebuild her web, which is totally destroyed. But she will. She will hitch up her little belt, and start over, because that's what we all do when we have survived a crisis.

We are all connected. The same life force which animates the little brown and yellow spider flows through me, my husband and children, my friends and neighbours, my big orange cat. We are all co-creators of this web of life. We all love our lives and fight to breathe, eat, move and BE just one more moment, hour or day.