"I graduated from the School of Thinkology"



1) Finally, the verbascum blattaria looks as if it were beginning to consider thinking about settling down in the garden. This plant originally came from the Chadwick Garden @ UCSC. I haven't seen it for 5 years, and then last summer it was found happily colonizing the driveway. I moved some of it up to the main garden, where it has definitely been making itself known.
2) First strawberry from the garden has been eaten. "A rousing success!" says G, age 2.
3) Clematis jackmanii is finally blooming, this is it's happiest year yet. We've got it growing up a climbing rose, and it's large purple blooms are very sweet indeed.

The garden really is too lovely right now to even write about with such regimented prose. It deserves languid words such as dozing, drooping & well, languid. I find myself bustling out of doors, seed packet in hand or watering can at the ready, only to rediscover myself some 10 minutes later, on my knees amidst the echinops ritro & achillea filipendulina murmuring to myself about plant spacing, and root runs. I sit and dream amongst the foxgloves and giant alliums, joined by the dusty carpenter bees with their taut shiny abdomens, brushing over the fuschia-coloured rose campion, also known as Maltese Cross.

Everyone else seems to be expending comsiderable energy; even G is all industry out there, with her water table and mini-watering can, she is making birthday cakes out of twigs and bark for the plaster angel under the azalea. It's getting harder and harder to pay attention to what needs to be done, I just want to get lost in the smell of the sun-warmed mulch and the feel of late spring in the air.


There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

After the creekwalk, I had an interesting conversation with Pastor Dan re: the church youth ministry image that dominated his early days at SCBC and how he was set free from khaki pants and acid-washed jeans by the Altarboys. Funny to picture. At the same time I was wearing all black and listening to the Smiths, spending all my free time on the deck at Cafe Pergolesi where I would sit, clutching my latte, Sartre & filtered, mentholated Benson & Hedges that I wouldn't inhale (sorry mom!); all the while desperately hoping I was cool. The world presented to me at most youth groups was pretty Top 40 squeaky clean, and I didn't know that I could be accepted and loved by God just how I was: unpopular, untan, (I think the term is "pasty") and always picked last for PE teams. (P.L.F.K.- Picked Last For Kickball) I wanted to fit in, and there was no way I could fit in with the cute popular kids in youth group, so I decided at some point that my chances were better with the mod squad goth wannabes downtown. So I donned the turtleneck, turned up the Smiths, and slowly began edging away from my faith. It's that thing again with what Donald Miller said: We have this thing in us that wants everyone else to accept us and love us, and it's because we were made to have someone else tell us our worth. (*Sotto voce* Hint: God .)
So God tells us what we are worth: "How great is love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him."
1 John 3:1..... Now I no longer need to echo Morrissey's rallying cry: "I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside." I am all kinds of colours in there.



On Saturday our church had a retreat near our house and so we took a surprisingly large number of people on a creekwalk through our beautiful Bean Creek. We led them upstream, above the confluence of Bean & Zayante......
I think I love creekwalking because it is such a varied existence. The creek changes from winter to summer each year: different trees have fallen, with rootballs clogging the waterways, and the water's rise & fall causes the terrain to shift with each big rainfall and drought. I love it for it's unsteadiness as well, creekwalking is a lot like trying to hike in the moors. It's a great equalizer for this reason, everyone is left scrabbling over logs and flailing over unseen rocks. It's hard to look super-dignified while standing knee-deep in a creek: we're more like ostriches than cranes out there. I think it was good for us to get out of the context of the church building to spend some time together in unlikely situations like this one. Rolled up jeans, watershoes, Crocs, stepping stones, helping each other through the deep patches. A good reminder that the church is us.


Great Cumbrae

The gorse smells like coconut.....
Photo taken by myself or B in Scotland, we were returning from a hike with our church to the waterfalls above Largs. (I curse the day that the red date on the camera was ever invented! Gah! I can't get it off! I don't even know what 3 11:57 means!) Anyway, focus instead on the yellow & incongrously coconut- smelling gorse on the left, and the mossy green hillside above it. Can you feel the wind and smell the dampness in the air? Across the water (the Firth of Clyde) lies the magic isle of Great Cumbrae.

Great Cumbrae

Great Cumbrae is one of my very favourite places on the west coast of Scotland (and that's saying something). It is so close to the mainland (20 minute ferry) that B and I were riding the Caledonia MacBrayne ferry over as often as we could. We spent a fabulous weekend there at the smallest cathedral in the British Isles, Cathedral of the Isles. The cathedral once boasted the College of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopalian seminary, now turned into a B&B, (think lots of dark wood and breakfast in the original refectory). All the guest rooms are named after virtues, ours was called Fortitude. Not very romantic. We ate heaps and heaps of curry and naan at Spice Island that night and then realized that we forgot our toothbrushes and toothpaste back on the mainland. Whoops! And a full Scottish breakfast the next morning and then church with many L.O.L.s (little old ladies) who got very close and asked us about America. Yech. Also not very romantic. But hilarious, as our life often is.

I once climbed the bell tower and sat in the ringing chamber, ala The Five Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. So many memories. I think we were over at Cumbrae a good 6 or seven times in the year we were living at Seamill.
We took Jill to a Palm Sunday service there and we sang as we processed from the Lady Chapel to the main sanctuary, carrying wispy palm crosses and following Alastair Campbell (!) the organist, who was clad in a billowy white robe (surplice?) To my liturgy-starved ears it was glorious. The teaching that day was even openly Christian, with teachings from the Bible, which I've always appreciated when I'm at church.....
Wee Cumbrae
Great Cumbrae received it's exalted moniker based on it's proximity to another, smaller island, you guessed it: Wee Cumbrae, which is currently on the market for a cool 2.5 million pounds. It sits a wee bit south of Great Cumbrae, and is uninhabited at the present. But it's got a 13th century keep, a lighthouse and a 'King of Wee Cumbrae' T-shirt to the lucky new owner.
Ulex and the Ritz
But Great Cumbrae is tiny as well; it can easily by walked across in the space of an hour, past farmyards, Highland cattle, sheep upon sheep, and boggy spots of bracken. There's gorse also, which the Irish call whin and the botanists call Ulex europaeus. The apex of the island looks out on a jaw-dropping view looking up the Firth of Clyde into the murky shadows of the beginnings of the Highlands: the great Argyll Forest. Cumbrae boasts only one town, Millport, of the dying British seaside amusements variety.
B and I ate many a retro meal at the phenomenal local 60's diner, the Ritz. All the waitresses are old like they've worked there since they were in ponytails and kilts, and a bowl of soup and a roll costs a little over a quid. B, ever the novelty eater/sweet tooth would order a Knickerbocker Glory (a variation on a sundae)and I would blissfully order my favourite comfort food in the free world, the cheese and tomato toastie. They sell a whole lot of sweeties, (the Scots seem to have a penchant for sweets in an uber- sugar, hummingbird feeder sort of way....) Helping to substantiate this theory are glaring pieces of evidence such as
1) Rock, a hard baton of sugar, which is sold at all British seasides (that's actually a sign for 'ROCK SOLD HERE' on the front of the Ritz)
2) Irn-Bru, a nasty rust-coloured soda
3) Millionaire's shortbread: shortbread topped with thick piles of caramel and chocolate
4) fried Mars Bars -the Scottish legend. Ask for it by name at your neighborhood chippy.
All the same, they have greatly contributed to the desserts of the world: let's hear it for banoffee pie! (banana/toffee: surprisingly good.)

Can you tell I am a little attached to this place? It's funny how much there is to tell about this wee island, much more than I have recorded here. I can't wait to go back, G in tow, to once again hike to the Glaidstone, to marvel at the intricate Nouveau needlework on the altarcloth in the Lady Chapel, to eat toasies while we wait for the bus to take us the ferry, gazing out from Millport across to the Isle of Arran, G's middle name-sake.


Heaven On Earth

Thanks, Eleven,
for introducing me to this poem by Kristin Berkey-Abbot.

Heaven on Earth

I saw Jesus at the bowling alley,
slinging nothing but gutter balls.
He said, "You've gotta love a hobby
that allows ugly shoes."
He lit a cigarette and bought me a beer.
So I invited him to dinner.

I knew the Lord couldn't see my house
in its current condition, so I gave it an out
of season spring cleaning. What to serve
for dinner? Fish—the logical
choice, but after 2000 years, he must grow weary
of everyone's favorite seafood dishes.
I thought of my Granny's ham with Coca Cola
glaze, but you can't serve that to a Jewish
boy. Likewise pizza—all my favorite
toppings involve pork.

In the end, I made us an all-dessert buffet.
We played Scrabble and Uno and Yahtzee
and listened to Bill Monroe.
Jesus has a healthy appetite for sweets,
I'm happy to report. He told strange
stories which I've puzzled over for days now.

We've got an appointment for golf on Wednesday.
Ordinarily I don't play, and certainly not in this humidity.
But the Lord says he knows a grand miniature
golf course with fiberglass mermaids and working windmills
and the best homemade ice cream you ever tasted.
Sounds like Heaven to me.

Poem: "Heaven on Earth" by Kristin Berkey-Abbott from, Whistling Past the Graveyard. Pudding House Publications, 2004.


Redemption in Plastic

The Seamill Center, where we lived

Living in Scotland often reminded me of the day after the fair.
Liquor bottles and trash scudding along the streets and and everywhere there is that over arching feeling of forlornity (is that a word?), having to do with how the best things are past, and now there is only the memory of the glory days. A real feeling of despair, and it is curiously played out by all the garbage on the streets.
Litterbug? Hell yes!
Bill Bryson in his Notes From a Small Island described Liverpool similarly, like the city was having a Festival of Litter when he arrived, with the streets festooned with trash as if with streamers. Templeton the rat would have loved it here.
In fact, I think I saw Templeton at an actual fair, in Largs, at a Viking Festival.......he looked like he was having a grand old gluttonous time.....
Coming from California with our strict litter laws, this whole willy-nilly littering took some getting used to. As did the piles of dog poop on the sidewalks. This at least made for great Winter Sports, namely the Dog Poop Slide, pronouced sliiiiiiide, which called for frozen dog poop and an iced over road. Wheee! We got in a lot of practice at Dog Poop Slide, especially in the dismal neighboring town of Saltcoats.
The Hydro
We lived in a village called Seamill, really a small touristy section of West Kilbride. We were on the Firth of Clyde (that's the west coast of Scotland) across from the Isle of Arran. B and I used to walk down to the beach quite often, to watch the sunset over the Firth. The sand was surprisingly red and would glow as if dotted with embers as the sun hit it. Lovely. To reach the ocean, we would walk down Glenbryde Road and cross the A78, along a little trash-strewn alley and then out to the beach.
Directly across the A78 from us was the Seamill Hydro, a swank hotel/spa right on the ocean. B & I used to frequent the Hydro's Pladda Lounge for fancy coffees and karaoke (and once was really enough, especially with the drunken Hen Party singing 'Hey Big Spender.' **shudder**)
One day, B and I were walking past the Hydro, down the little alley that led to the ocean. It was the usual swirling trash eddy weather- actual little tasmanian devils of trash scampering along the ground. "High winds into the upper 40's, and the Trash Precipitation Rate is currently 87%." We came upon one of these dervishy whirlpools of garbage and B said something about how much trash there is in North Ayrshire, how people (generally) don't care about where they live, and where they pitch their garbage. We were feeling a little low. But what turned this all around is that B suddenly reached his hand into the whirlwind and pulled out.....a plastic shopping bag!
He bagged up every piece of garbage from the trash eddy, and walked it about 100 yards to a trash can and threw it all away! A good metaphor for life. God is providing a way out of my own personal garbage cyclones, even in the middle of the whirlpool there is a way out. Thank God for that.
Epilogue::Redemptive Analogy: Finding God's Plastic Bag in the Garbage
At the time this garbage metaphor seemed most relevant to us on a cultural rather than personal level. We saw the garbage bag as a metaphor for God depositing things within culures in order to redeem them. Books like The Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson speak to this idea of 'redemptive analogy'; that embedded in a culture is usually some practice or understanding with which to communicate the truth of God. So God already has things within the Scottish culture that are his God signs, or Christ myths and would lead them round to Himself. We were supposed to be ready, watching and waiting for these God sightings, and use them appropriately.
Camille told me today about the Aztec gods she was researching, and the Christ myth she encountered there. The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice. This I knew and never thought much about it beyond being horrified by this practice. Well, apparently, they did this to pay back the gods who sacrificed themselves so that the sun would shine. The death of the gods so that the sun could bring life in the form of maize and other crops. So the Aztecs are stuck 'paying back' the gods. They have the example of the gods sacrificing themselves for the sake of others, in order to bring light and life. I wonder why they felt that the gods needed to be paid back. I am so glad that God requires no payback, that His death that brought life to me came freely.
And thanks, Camille, for making me think! (Sometimes it's a real feat!)


Drive-In DTR

In honour of the crucial DTR (Defining The Relationship) May 04, 1997. I never thought I could be in love for 10 years straight. Amazing feat duly toasted with much chocolate and americanos at Cafe Limelight, and strangely enough, Spiderman 3 at the drive-in. I know. I never go to the drive in anymore, either. The local drive-in feels like another country,and a 3rd World one, at that. It's all so slapped together. Chipped white paint, aluminum siding, rusting cars in the corners, and the cinderblock bunker- style projection booth cum snack bar, with the subterranean bathrooms and the doors that don't lock. I felt like I should be drinking orange Fanta and eating pork rinds flavored with chile and lime. And the smell! Like old, old grease from the fryer has come back from beyond the grave, and haunts the snack shack. "Boooooo! I am the ghost of those churros from 1986! Booooooo!"
I used to try on clothes in the bathroom stalls when I would come on the weekends to the flea market. In the daylight, it looks even more tawdry and the grease smell is just oppresive. Even so, I like it. It is only minutes from the new Home Depot/Starbucks/In-N-Out strip mall; but it feels more like it's in Mazatlan. I hope it never shuts down. In the bathroom, a girl was checking out the condoms machine. It had brightly colored stickers on it with hearts, and the text was a little vague, but it was clear what they were, if you were paying attention. The girl, maybe 10, was saying to her friend, "Oh! I wish I had some money! I want one of those!" I was washing my hands right next to her so I said, "You don't want one of those! They're not candy!" She said, "What are they?" I said, "You don't need to know right now!" And then the movie was starting, so we ran, giggling sort of, to our cars to watch Spiderman, which I enjoyed through a buggy windshield. I didn't know what else to tell that girl. I just thought it was totally skanky to have these condom dispensers in the bathroom, although I guess it is good thing for people to be protected in the midst of making unwise choices.....(like getting busy at the drive-in. I mean, come on!)...... but what do I tell G about them when she is older? Eek! Parenthood!


Non-Book Meme Part 5

photo: Mary Mactavish

And so ends a (slightly protracted) meme, originating from a tag from Camille, over at 327 Market, a fine blog if ever there was one. I am charged with listing 5 non-books that I have 'read' that have influenced me. A good exercise. So here is:

Item 5: Eschscholtzia californica, the California poppy

It's actually the underside of this 'umble wildflower to which I refer, but I just couldn't resist this incredible picture done by rosidae. Check out all her fabulous botanical shots! Woo-hoo!

When I was growing up the urban legend in the schoolyard was that because the CA poppy is our state flower, if you picked it you would be sent to jail. Now, at our school we also would staunchly observe 'Friday Flip-Up Day', when any girl stupid enough to wear a dress on a Friday would have it yanked up ala Marilyn Monroe in the lunch line. What I'm saying is the rules and reg's by which we governed ourselves weren't really based on what you might call reality.

This wildflower was definitely ubiquitous but I didn't begin to appreciate it until I was an Appretice at the UCSC Farm & Garden. These little gems dotted the dry grassy meadows which surrounded our farm.
photo: Mary Mactavish
Eschscholtzia's leaves are edged in red, you can just make it out in rosidae's photo. And the undersides are absolutely gorgeous, and for some reason invoke that joy mixed with longing that C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiography 'Surprised by Joy'. They also have cute pixie caps that sort of pop off as the petals unfurl. A flower of ten thousand charms. I have them as seedlings all over my garden, where their dusty grey green dissected leaves rise out of my free-draining sandy (and relatively poor) soil. In the UK eschscholtzias are grown as an annual bedding plant, known either as the 'Californian Poppy' or just by it's hard-to-pronounce Latin name (pronounced 'esk-SKOLT-zia'). When B & I arrived in Scotland for our year stint at the Seamill Centre, I was surprised and delighted to see it running rampant throughout the much-neglected beds. A little taste of home.

photo credit: Mary Mactavish

There. I am done. I tag Shannon Marie, Nealb, Miz Melly & Gibbytron .


Non-Book Meme: Parts 3-4

Item 3: Puddles

When I was very young I would walk up the fire road where the eucalytus leaves hung down in silver green tassels. I was joined by Papa- my grandfather, Alex- a silky golden retriever, and a walking stick. We walked up the fire road between a narrow ravine and a sandstone cliff face. Engraved in the sandstone was a sailboat with 'Liz' & 'Coll' etched into the sails; carved by Papa for my cousin Lizzy and myself. It's still there, getting more shallow with each year. And in the road, puddles. It was here that I first discovered the universe contained within a puddle. The puddles on this walk usually were full of: silt, rocks, eucaplytus leaves, and eucalyptus nuts. Contained within, I also saw a bustling community in miniature, and I wanted in. I was a visitor from Brobdignag, kept out by my size, frustrated by my inability to enter that world. These were early glimpses of imagination, from whence came a lot of my early play. Crouched over a puddle, setting things afloat, squinting at the sun's reflection, stirring up silt. I remember wanting so badly to be small so that I could ride on that leaf, or hide under that eucalyptus bark that is floating by. By it's diminutive size, it seemed safe and small and cosy, and I wished I could crawl in and live my tiny life with the nuts and rocks and leaves. The only way I could participate in the world inside each puddle was by carefully dipping in my walking stick and doing something I called "filling up": Soaking the stick so that I could drag a wet line from one puddle to the next. I think I will name this walk.....
Item 4: Walk with Papa & Alex,
because as I am remembering the puddle walk, I realize how I have 'read' this walk, and how right I felt while I was on it. I felt comfortable in my skin, completely loved and accepted by Papa and Alex (and Grandma, who waited at home with game shows, macaroni & cheese and a TV tray.)
Every walk, the scenario was the same: Papa lets Alex off the leash and Alex runs on ahead, around the bend in the road. The woods fall quiet. Papa looks at me, grinning and I giggle back in the sudden stillness . "Now!" I squeal, and Papa throws back his head and lets loose a piercing whistle. It is still quiet and then we hear it: dog tags jangling and toenails clicking, Alex returns, barking joyously and I am laughing. Muddy, slobbery and eager; golf balls in his mouth, waiting for his reward. Papa gives him a dog treat and a pat on the head. Perfect.

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.