Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jenlu and the Morning Star Group

An early bird catches a worm and these eight tribal women rise at the break of the dawn to do their household chores and carry on their businesses. They call themselves Morning Star Group. 

The village where they live is 35 km (22 miles) from the main capital town of the northeast Indian state of Manipur. Manipur's people include several different tribal groups who speak languages in the Tibeto-Burman family.

Jenlu, who is raising her hand in the picture, is the member who is profiled, but all members of the group share an equal amount of the KIVA loan, which comes to a little less than $250.00 US dollars each. They work together to encourage one another to keep their part of the repayment of the loan current. Should one fall behind the others make up the shortfall temporarily until the partner can regain her financial footing. 

Jenlu's house is located on one of the main lanes in the village. Previously Jenlu was a farm labourer but it is very hard work for a woman with a family to care for, so recently she opened a small grocery shop in the front of her house, facing the lane. In the morning farmers drop into the shop to purchase snacks to take with them to their fields. She also sells essential and everyday household goods like cereal grains, rice, cooking oil, cleaning supplies for the home and personal products like soap, toothpaste and shampoo. The village has very few shops and Jenlu is determined to run her business successfully.

Her husband is a farm labourer who works in the fields cultivating seasonal crops. While her husband is working in the field, Jenlu manages the shop and does her household chores, cleaning the house, cooking meals for the family and sending the children to school.

With the help of this KIVA loan, she will purchase more supplies wholesale for the grocery shop. She plans to purchase several large bags of rice, a large container of cooking oil, and other essential goods in large quantities which she can then sell in smaller amounts at retail prices for increased profit. She plans to expand the shop to the point where it can provide the family's entire income.

Looking to the future she knows working as a farm labourer will become too difficult for her husband as he ages and therefore, she is keen to make the shop as successful as it can be. She is happy and motivated to work with KIVA and wishes to continue working with the organization. She says, “Thank you so much KIVA”.

The other members of Morning Star Group are engaged in similar small businesses. Some raise animals, one weaves cloth, some farm and another has a small food business.  The KIVA partner WSDS-Initiative is an inclusive nonprofit that works with women across all tribes and minority communities in Manipur, located in the remote northeast region of India. Most organizations concentrate their work in the plains region of Manipur, but WSDS is among the very few organizations serving women in the isolated hills.

Political unrest and frequent economic blockades in the area make it very difficult to provide services, resulting in Manipur having the lowest penetration of financial services in the country.  Combine this with India's restrictive laws on loans from outside the country, and the women in this region have almost no access to the capital they so desperately need to expand their businesses. ALL it takes is $25.00 to give a woman like Jenlu and her family the chance to lead a life free from grinding poverty and deprivation. And the best thing is, you get your money back, it's not a hand-out but a hand-up. Become a KIVA lender today.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The devil and his defender

Time for a snuggle

My regular reader(s) will recall that there are two cats in this household, a now 18-month-old red mackeral tabby named "Hobbes" who is a devil in a cat-skin, and a four-year-old overly fat silver Chinchilla Persian called Smokey who, being delusional, believes himself the mother and protector of said younger devil.  

This comes in handy at times as Smokey knows it is forbidden to use the sofa as a scratching post, and has taken to "disciplining" Hobbes when he does it. Mostly though it's just a pain, and I mean that literally. Step on Smokey's tail and he will barely complain, step on Hobbes' tail, he will squall and Smokey will come over and bite you for your carelessness. 

Papa's chair, I owns it!
There's a power bar plugged into the wall beside Tony's chair, and the resulting tangle of wires. Hobbes has a fascination with wires, and has to be stopped from playing with them constantly.

Yesterday the little devil was swinging from the wire of the overhead lamp. I yelled at him to get down, and he did, but dove immediately into the tangle of wires and came up with one in his mouth.

I yelled at him from my chair. He just stood there looking at me, daring me to stop him.

I got up from my chair and started toward him, scolding him as I went. I'd just bent over to tell him what a naughty boy he was when Smokey snuck up behind me and nipped my ankle. Just lightly, he didn't break the skin or even leave a mark, but his message was clear, "Don't scold my baby!"

Now, this is too much. Protective when Hobbes is squalling because he's been hurt or he's scared he's going to be hurt (i.e. nail-clipping) I understand, but now we can't tell young Lucifer to behave? I don't think so.

Smokey knew he'd crossed the line. After he bit me he scuttled away as fast as his 3/4 length legs would carry him. I caught up with him in the kitchen, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and tapped his nose with one finger. "YOU do NOT bite your Mama!" I told him, "You are a bad, bad boy."

When I let him go he ran to his cat tree and climbed to the top platform to sulk, or feel sorry for himself, or whatever he felt like feeling. I on the other hand was secretly delighted. He loves his "baby" cat with all his stout little cat body and soul. He lets the baby inspect his dish of tuna (and turn up his nose at it) before he eats, he moves aside and lets the baby eat kibble from his dish.

Smokey and his Papa
Normally these are signs that a cat is submissive, and is allowing the dominant one first choice, but this is not so. Smokey likes to lie on the sofa. Hobbes likes to creep onto the sofa and lie next to him, or even end to end, or just with a paw touching. This irritates Smokey to no end, as the sofa is his, and he does not like to share it. So after a period of grumbling he will get up, roll Hobbes over, grab him by the throat and hold him in this very vulnerable position. Hobbes offers no resistance, after 15 or 20 seconds he will  reach up and wrap his "arms" around Smokey's neck in a hug. Smokey then usually grooms Hobbes' ears and face, then kicks his butt off the sofa.

So there is no question Smokey is dominant, but he's going to have to learn he is not dominant when it comes to us. He's carrying the motherhood and protection theme a little too far.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The flowers that bloom in the spring tra la!

My apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan (and maybe the weatherman), but I'm humming a little tune myself today. The temperature is 10 C (50 F) and we have bright sun. Woo-hoo! A few hours of
warmth brought those crocus buds out all over the flower beds. There are 10 or 12 clusters of purple blossoms so bright and cheerful that they are easily visible from our second story windows.

I went down about 1:00 (what a difference from yesterday's blizzard!) and worked in the first bed to the right as you approach the building. This is the one which gets the most sun and therefore is farthest ahead of any of the beds.

There was a single dandelion, which I yanked out, but happily as I pruned back old growth and cleared away leaves I found that at least one of the roses I planted last year survived. Sadly the one the landscaper took his gas-powered trimmer to in the fall appears to have died of outrage. In this climate you do not prune roses in the fall but in the spring. He was only supposed to neaten up the shrubs but he got a bit enthusiastic with those trimmers. By the time I got downstairs to shoo him out of my flower beds the damage was done.

But there are some Oriental poppies coming up, and several shasta daisy plants. It looks like some of the white swan echinaceas may have survived and surprisingly several of the dusty miller made it through the winter, when they are sold strictly as annuals here.

So far no signs of life from the sage or the "Little Rocket" ligularia, which you see in this photo of last year's bed. I followed the directions on the ligularia's pot, which said "plant in full sun, water sparingly" and now I'm reading that ligularia likes shade and wet feet. sigh…. That is a spectacular plant. I'll look for another one and plant it in a more suitable location this year.  What I'll put in its place is a question - maybe some very well-staked delphiniums.

I pulled back all the leaf litter which was mucky with mud and pruned the potentilla. I've finally got the potentilla down to nicely shaped four foot globes, when they were eight feet of mostly dead wood with green tips to begin with.

By this point I'd had it. My feet were beginning not to pay any attention to what my brain was telling them to do. I just about did a face-first header onto the sidewalk when I caught my toe on the edge of the walk. Thankfully there's a bench there and I grabbed it.  I'll leave the rest for another day.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

If you can't trust your weatherman….

Who can you trust? If I'm going to be paranoid about "the government" I know which branch I wouldn't trust with Grandma's recipe for pound cake.
I'm pretty sure the people over at Environment Canada have it in for us, or maybe they just have a weird sense of humour.

It was a reasonably warm plus 4 C (39 F) yesterday afternoon so I went out to inspect the flowerbeds on either side of the main walk. There are still some lingering snowbanks and the newly-exposed grass is the most awful mess you ever saw, grey and slimy-looking.

The flower beds are covered with a carpet of sodden leaves and sad stalks and sprigs of last year's growth, but there are also many green spears of purple crocus popping up (some with fat purple buds).  The osteospermums are emerging and the heartleaf bergenia (aka elephant ears) looks as if it didn't even notice we had a winter. The other thing that's up already are dandelions, lots and lots of dandelions.

Despite these early birds, I'm sure we've lost a lot of plants this winter. Time will tell but we had record cold for weeks on end and almost twice as much snow as usual. The snow from the walk gets shoveled onto the flower beds, which in itself isn't bad, but it's laden with the salt that's put down to melt the ice on the walk, and that is most definitely not good.

But, since the weatherman was predicting a warm sunny 13 C (55 F) tomorrow I decided to run to the WalMart this afternoon. The weather man said there was a chance of showers, but the temperature was supposed to stay well above freezing. So when I went out about 1:00 I was surprised to find that it was snowing very lightly; tiny flakes which couldn't decide whether they wanted to be rain or snow.

However, by the time I'd finished my shopping I realized my trust in the weatherman had once again been misplaced. Here I was, no hat, no gloves, in a flannel-lined windbreaker, and there was a blizzard blowing outside, with huge, globby flakes falling so thickly you couldn't see more than 100 feet ahead of you and a howling wind which just stood still and blew from every direction at once.

I loaded my shopping into the car, then got out the snow brush and cleared the windows and the side view mirrors, all clotted thick with snow. In that three or four minutes I was soaked to the skin. By the time I had my seat belt buckled both side view mirrors were completely clumped over again. I rolled down my window and cleared the one on the driver's side with a handful of tissues and directed some unladylike phrases to the one beyond my reach.

I know the route home, and how to avoid driving it where anyone can come up on my right. It would have to do.  Nonetheless half way home I had to pull over, get out and clear the side view mirrors (and the side windows) again. It's like the car was a magnet and we were driving through a storm of iron filings. But that's spring snow for you, half snow, half Elmer's Glue.

The weatherman has now changed his prediction for tomorrow to partly cloudy and 9 C (48 F).  I'm not sure whether to trust him or not. With his record we may have an iceberg headed our way. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Thermometer Has Fainted!

For the first time since … well, I am so old I don't last remember when it was +9 C (48 F ) outside, and it's forecast to be 17 C (62 F) tomorrow, though I have lived in Calgary long enough to know that weather forecasters here are given to hopeless flights of fancy when their brains begin to thaw out after four months of -35 plus (or rather minus) 20 degrees of wind chill. 

But like any Calgarian the slightest sign of Spring thaw is enough to send me reeling to the bookshelves for my stack of gardening books, and to have me feverishly checking what kind of plants will grow here, beyond the ones I have planted (which have surely succumbed to the God-arful winter we've just had). Ah, and a gardener's lot 'tis a hard one here.

Tulips do well, but all winter I've seen ominous little tracks in and out of the snowpiles over my garden beds, and I'm not including the size 11 clodhoppers of the e-jit who lives down the way on the first floor and is too dumb to find his hallway door, but who tramps out his patio door, across the frozen lawn and through my carefully tended flower beds to the sidewalk. Goodbye ferns, hostas, and coral bells because I'm sure the lout has smushed yer roots to moosh. He kicked the fence aside every time I put it back up. I weeps.  

But back to the dainty claws of the squirrel that I suspect has been raiding my bulb larder all winter. It's probably one of the reasons I'm getting fewer, and not more, tulips each spring, when they should be multiplying like mice in a grain bin.

But the thing that springs most vigorously anew each spring in the heart of the gardener is hope, and with it new gardening plans. I won't deny I've had some problems the last couple of years. Aside from the stinkos who can't be bothered to walk around, rather than through the flower bed, I lost half my plants the first year to drought. Worse, the landscape company hires kids who don't know a weed from a flower. I fell last July just as things began to bloom, and could not be out in the garden to supervise. So if it had a flower on it they left it. If it wasn't flowering they pulled it. Which means the yellow alfalfa and Russian thistle were left to get six feet tall and they pulled the day lilies and the thymes, the Oriental poppies and the blue catmint the minute they quit flowering. 

I keep wandering off track, what I'm really trying to tell you what my plans are for this year. The building's main entry is in an inside corner which faces northeast. It gets ferocious morning sun for three hours, sun that would peel an egg. The rest of the day it is in stygian gloom. The right side won't even grow grass, it has just a thin slick of green moss, the slimy-looking stuff that grows on the bottom of old wooden buckets and under your grandma's porch.
The sidewalk was formerly flanked at that point by seven foot high shrubs of an indeterminate variety which hung over the sidewalk by three feet and dripped black aphid snot all summer. Last spring we dug them out and I replaced them with some beautiful sages and a Midnight Lady Ligularia. All in all I had a decent showing of flowers in the beds, and a magnificent showing of weeds.

This year I have decided to tackle the beds themselves. I'm going to add a row of barberry shrubs at the back of the bed which is being used as a walkway. Barberries have a beautiful burgundy leaf which will tie in nicely with the burgundy leaves of the flowering plum tree nearby, but they also have inch-long thorns and not easily traversed. Specifically I want to plant either Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ or  Berberis thunbergil 'Cherry Bomb' because both get about four feet high and have a lovely fountain shape, as opposed to the ground-hugging varieties which only get about two feet high. The bigger and thornier the better.

But the beds are where I want to make the biggest changes. Once all my perennials have emerged I want to place landscape cloth down and cover the beds in mulch and rock. I want to place larger stones along the edges and an occasional larger grouping in the beds themselves where I can tuck in some alpine plants. And that right back corner? I'm still thinking about what to do with that, but from the nearest downspout, I'd like to run a dry stream bed into the flower beds.

Big plans, now I just need to twist some board member's arms for the money and hired labour to do all of it. :)