Monday, May 31, 2010

Jane: Memorial day

Memorial Day when I was growing up meant two things. One: going out to the cemetery and planting geraniums on my grandpa's grave. And two: a get-together at our house, usually involving food cooked on the grill.

I miss those gatherings, and I haven't quite figured out what to do on these small holidays, away from extended family. This weekend's been pretty good so far: a graduation party on Saturday, trip to the Amanas yesterday, and a walk in the park today (and a bike ride later on). I'm also working on a few small projects, like this tiny denim elephant.

I'm also doing a bit of gardening work: gardening first aid. I thought I'd killed all the magnolia scale on our small magnolia tree in the backyard. But the other day when I was out there, I saw that a few of the branches were covered with tiny scale insects. ARGH!

I remembered that insecticidal oil is one way to kill the immature scale bugs, and I found some "Oil-Away" from Gardens Alive in our garage. I'd bought it when we lived at our old house, intending to spray it on our apple tree--but never did it. So I mixed it up, put it in a small sprayer, and sprayed the infested branches.

Apparently, horticultural oils kill bugs by suffocating them, rather than by poisoning them. I like that. The spray is very non-toxic on other creatures, and it smells rather nice. The two ingredients are cottonseed oil and sodium laureth sulfate (the stuff that's in shampoo, I think). Oh, and water. This type of oil can be sprayed any time, not just during the tree's dormancy, so it's good for this kind of situation.

I'll check the plant tomorrow to see if it's working.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jane: Pentecost and Dance

On Pentecost, my ballet class--one other student, the teacher, and I--performed a liturgical dance at a local church. We got this gig because the other student, Lisa, is also a pastor, and she was filling in at that pulpit.

She knew that one of the women at the church is a textile artist, and dyes silk. This artist gave us a huge piece of silk to use in our dance. It was the color of flames!

Both Lisa and Suki, the other dancers, have been dancing for a long time, and they're really good. They've also done a lot of liturgical dance, so when Lisa proposed this gig, I was glad to be part of it. I've done liturgical dance before, and it's especially rewarding when the dancers and the choreographer are REAL dancers, not just members of the congregation who think they'd like to dance. I know that seems snobby, but there it is.

We danced to Enya's Book of Days from the album Shepherd Moons. You can hear an exerpt here. The dance was all about the silk! It just moved so beautifully--it was the best dancer of all of us.
I'd love to post the video of the dance, but I don't have one to post. The silk artist's husband is a videographer, and he made a beautiful DVD for each of us. He used 2 cameras, fade ins and outs, and separate video and audio tracks . . . it's great to watch, but I can't post it on YouTube--it's too fancy. You'll just have to imagine it. These images are simple screen grabs from the video.

I was looking forward to dancing with my friends, but I also was very glad to be able to hear Lisa preach. She gave a lovely and moving sermon about the way Pentecost emphasizes the importance of language (one reason I always love this holiday!).

The story of Pentecost tells about how the wind of the holy spirit and tongues of flame caused the apostles (who still hadn't started reaching out to the world with the good news) to speak in all kinds of languages. Lisa reminded us that the people hearing the apostles in Acts 2--immigrants to Jerusalem--must have been yearning to hear "the language their mothers spoke to them." We should remember that God reaches out to us--and to everyone--with love and in our own language. "I was thinking about you and Bruce when I wrote that," Lisa told me later.

The next day, I mentioned to the lady at the post office that I was sending the package to my nephew who was born on Pentecost. "What is Pentecost?" she asked. I told her it was a Christian holiday 50 days after Easter. "Well then being born on that day is a kind of blessing," she said. "We all need a blessing." I guess I danced a blessing that day for little Samuel!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jane: On Being an Aunt

Just LOOK at this baby! Isn't he adorable?

That's my brother, Bill, holding his new baby, Samuel Ellis Claspy, who was born on Sunday.

I've really been excited about this baby's arrival. Every time the phone rang last week, I'd jump up, saying "maybe that's Bill!" On Sunday, once I knew they were in the hospital, I practically sprinted upstairs to get the call that came late in the afternoon!

Later that day, I strolled through Target with Eli, looking for some baby things to send to Samuel later that day. Eli asked "Who are Samuel's grandparents?"

"Well, you remember Pam and Doug, Kim's mom and step-dad?"

He did.

"And his other grandparents are Grandma and Grandpa Claspy."

"But they're gone," he pointed out.

"Yes, but they'd be glad to know about him," I said.

Samuel will only have grandparents on the one side, but he will have a doting aunt (at least one) on the Claspy side. He's a lucky boy because his Aunt Jane is no longer in the midst of baby raising and can devote more attention to him!

Maybe that's one reason I've been especially excited about this particular little person's arrival. It's been a really long time since I've had a baby, and it sure is nice to think about babies, get pictures, and anticipate a visit. My own ex-babies, now teenagers, don't particularly like to be hugged and held, but I'm thinking I can catch up on boy-snuggling when I visit Sam this summer.

Probably that's another reason I'm excited about this little guy: he's a little GUY. I'm kind of looking forward to having another boy-mom around the place. Both Bill and Ellen have girls, and our extended family was pretty much a girl family (Bill was the only boy among 10 girl cousins) so our family was used to--and I think I can say preferred--girl babies.

Hard to believe? Well, here's just one bit of evidence. I remember once sitting in the family room with Mom and Aunt Dee and Eli on my lap. Aunt Dee was talking about her daughter, Nancy, who'd just found she was pregnant (first of 5 times . . . ). "They found out it's a girl!" said Aunt Dee. "I'm so glad! Girls are so much more fun than boys!" Maybe that's true, but I remember hugging Eli and thinking that I wish she'd give my little guys a chance!

So I'm looking forward to seeing, once again, how fun tiny boys can be. Of course there's little difference at this newborn stage, but in a couple years, I'll get a chance to enjoy it again, around this little Sam. I'm not sure I even remember what particular things they do. Kim will have to catch me up on it as Samuel grows up! Mostly what I remember is that I fell more and more deeply in love with them as they grew.

I think Kim and Bill will be awesome parents, too, and I'm looking forward to seeing that happen. Bill has experience (two wonderful girls, age 16 and 12), but it's been a while since he's had a baby! It will be fun to see him being a baby-dad and toddler-dad again.

Kim will be spending a lot of time with Sam as she has a semester leave PLUS a sabbatical--a whole year off!--so I'm looking forward to hearing about her life with Sam.

I know that Grandma and Grandpa would be enjoying all this, too. They sure enjoyed being grandparents.

As an "older" aunt--with almost grown kids of my own--I get a little preview of what it might be like to be a Grandma. Looks really good so far!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jane: A few words about . . . .

. . . nose drops.

I composed this haiku while I was swimming laps today:

Drainage in my throat
A bad cold is stalking me
Nose drops save the day.

I've just about recovered from a cold that started less than a week ago. Not bad, considering most colds last 7-10 days.

I still get colds since I discovered saline nose drops. But not as many--I managed to completely avoid a few species of cold virus cycling through our home this year. And the nose drops seem to make the colds much less severe.

As soon as I start to feel a bit of drainage or stuffiness, I give myself a few squirts.
And if I do get a cold, I use nose drops to soothe my sinuses.

I haven't had one of those "blocked sinuses that feel like bricks" days, nor have I had the sinus infection rebound after a cold seemed over.

A couple of my colleagues heard me recommending them and hurried to tout neti pots, those little teapots used to pour--not squirt--LOTS of salt water through the sinuses. But none of them have actually used neti pots . . . I think they heard about them on Oprah! I don't know about neti pots, but I have used nose drops, and they have worked.

(OK, maybe they're not for everyone. Nose drops did not work for Eli when he had a cold. They made him sneeze about 16 times in a row, and he lost his voice!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jane: Garden Contagion

Those little tomato plants I got from the Farmers' market were no bargain--one by one, they are succumbing to some sort of disease--already! Lower leaves turning yellow and brown . . .

I pulled out the cherry tomato and replaced it yesterday, and the two Celebrity tomatoes are going to go today.

In other gardening news, I finally planted the big concrete pots that flank our patio.
On a walk, I'd seen a pot planted with lobelia and bright pink petunias--I loved that eye-popping combination. So I looked to see if I could do it with shade-loving plants. (Those two pots are in shade almost all day.)

There weren't any other deep blue-purple flowers besides lobelia, so I'm going with that--hope it will bloom with little sun. I added bright pink impatiens, and found some nice upright fuchsias, too. Some lamia had survived the winter in one of the pots, so I split that up and added it in, too.

I really wanted some bright yellow to set it off, but there aren't really any yellows for shade. Last year, I went with some really deep bronzy-purple coleus to add some pop. Maybe I'll add some of that later.

They look kind of wimpy now, but they'll fill in soon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jane: Lots of music!

Great musical moments of the past month:

* Robbie and his trumpet quartet play at the beautiful Prairie High School auditorium for State Contest. They sound wonderful, and get a 1.

Gabe's mom made this video.

* WHS band presents an amazing concert as a preview to their appearance at the Iowa Bandmaster's Association. Music includes Hindemith march, Rolling Thunder, and two really difficult and breathtaking pieces, Blackbird (a jazz arrangement based on the Beatles song), and Red Line Tango.

* Robbie plays trumpet at church this morning (May 16).

* Eli gets into the music scene with a performance of "Bartok's Slovak Peasant's Dance" at his piano recital. Later this month, I'll hear him play bassoon, and then percussion, in the FMS band.

I wish we had videos of the last few, but alas! Take my word for it, all of this music was great.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jane: Shady Garden

I've decided that if life give you a shady yard, plant wildflowers.

Today at the Farmers' Market I bought a hepatica for my shady backyard.
I planted it in an area that's become a little woodland wildflower grove.
So far, besides the hepatica, I have wild ginger
I love its satanic flowers!
And last week I bought this bloodroot--which came with a companion Jacob's Ladder.

I'm not sure this Japanese painted fern counts as a wildflower, but I like it.

At the back of the yard is my jack-in-the-pulpit.

The vendor who sold me the hepatica and bloodroot also had mayapples, and I'm considering them. So far, I just have spring flowers--it would be nice to have something that blooms in mid- or late-summer. But I'm not sure which woodland wildflowers--if any--bloom later. I'll have to do some research.

Meanwhile, the veg garden seems to be doing OK, except for the sweet chelsea cherry tomato, which looks a bit peaked. I may replace her with sweet 100, which I know does well here. The basil is also doing fine, though I think there are bugs that get to it at this time of year, so I need to sprinkle it with permethrin (no worries; it's an organic--plant-based--pesticide).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jane: Letter to the Editor about Biking

From Nesmith Family Blog
Our City Council is debating whether to close one of our main avenues downtown--Second Avenue--close to downtown to make room for a "medical plaza." We seem to have lots of medical plazas around, and maybe making room for another one would be good. But I'm not crazy about closing that road.

Second and Third Avenues are big, wide (3-lane) one-way streets. They have a 30 mph speed limit and few lights. Second goes toward downtown; Third goes away from downtown.

These roads are very important when I bike! I am one of those bikers who hates to ride in traffic. So I love these big, wide, one-way avenues for getting downtown--to the farmer's market in summer, and to Coe during spring and fall.

I decided that rather than just feeling helpless about this council decision, that I'd get active. I wrote to my council person, the "at large" person, and to the editorial page. Maybe Dad was whispering this suggestion to me. "Write them a letter!" he'd say.

So this is what I said in the letter to the editor (I'll let you know if they publish it!):

As someone who frequently bikes along 2nd Avenue to work, I am not in favor the proposed closure and making traffic two-way on 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

Having two one-way avenues makes riding downtown on a bicycle fairly safe. The lanes are wide, traffic is moving with me as I bike, and anyone who needs to get around me doesn't have to pass against oncoming traffic. If the avenues are made two-way, drivers will be more distracted, and passing a bike will be more dangerous. In addition, there will be more traffic congestion on the avenues because of the closure. I won't want to ride to work in a situation like that.

I see more and more people riding bikes in Cedar Rapids--for exercise or to conserve fuel--so I hope council will consider these issues. Even if the closure plan is passed by council, there should at least be a stipulation for well-marked and well-maintained bike lanes on 2nd and 3rd Avenues so that biking downtown can still be safe.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jane: Mother's Day . . .

Mother's Day means planting day for me! It's very near the last frost date here in Iowa, so that's when I traditionally put in my warm-weather plants--tomatoes and basil, to be specific. The lettuce and spinach are already in (Bill's birthday, April 1st, is planting-out-day for cool-weather crops around here!) It was chilly this weekend, but I put the plants in anyway--no forecast of frost in the near future, so we should be fine.

I started the basil inside, as usual, and, after adding a bag of composted manure to the garden, planted out about a dozen plants. Should be enough for weekly pesto beginning in late July!

Here are a few basil plants behind the spinach and lettuce. This year, I also interplanted some Cut and Come Again zinnias for cutting. I may also put in some blue salvia--that combination is nice in bouquets (though "bouquet" is a bit fancy for what I do with them--cut them and stick them in a vase on the table!)
I also put in my usual tomatoes--two Celebrity plants, one yellow tomato (this one's called "Taxi"!) and one cherry tomato. For the cherry, I usually get sweet 100, but this time I'm trying "Chelsea Sweet." I got all the tomatoes at the farmer's market Saturday, along with a dozen eggs from Forest Hill Farm.

They look pretty tiny in this photo! But they do grow fast in our rich Iowa soil. They also seem to like our rich Iowa heat and humidity. I shouldn't wait too long to put up their cages . . .

Today I put together a "tea pot," a pot of herbs for tea--mostly mint--for the patio.
I have spearmint, peppermint, and Egyptian mint (never even heard of that before) along with lemon balm. We like those in iced tea in summer. The kitty also loves mint, and spent some time sniffing the pot before the chilly wind drove her back inside. I mulched this pot with dry leaves (to keep the squirrels from digging, maybe) and mulched the vegetable garden with white pine needles--we certainly have a lot of those.

It seems silly to BUY mint and lemon balm every year. But I don't have a sunny spot in the garden to put them in as perennials . . . plus I'm not sure I'd want to--those two plants tend toward weediness and taking over gardens.

Supposed to rain all week--that's fine--everything can get watered in.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jane: Update!

OK, I've been away from this blog for quite a while. Last week was very busy --2 meetings, hosting a panel discussion at the library, an all-day retreat, AND meeting with students as they finished up the semester. And then I had to start grading! Even when I had some free time, I didn't want to spend it at a screen/keyboard.

I'm basically done with grading, so thought I'd share a few pictures I've taken during the past week or so. I've been THINKING about this blog, just wasn't able to focus on writing a post.

During a break in the action, I stopped by at Earl May nursery last week. I needed to get a clematis to replace the one that expired last year. I also bought a bleeding heart--I love those plants and had just the right spot for it.

Here's the kitty with my bleeding heart and some Iowa soil. Digging into this soil is just such a treat--it's rich and black and crumbly. I grew up with clay soil in our yard, so every time I dig here in Iowa, I am thrilled!

On Sunday, I did a bit of crafting. I'd gotten a funny book at the library, Stray Sock Sewing, that I wanted to try. I was drawn to the book by its Japanese subtitle (lots of cute crafts coming out of Japan--amigurumi, for example!) and its quirky, unusual Totally Useless Items!
Making creatures out of socks is WAY quicker than making amigurumi. And it's really easy, too. I bought some socks at the dollar store on Sunday, and made these creatures that afternoon, to the delight of my boys, who think they are fun.

This one is maneki neko, 招き猫, the lucky cat. You might have seen these in Asian stores. Usually, one paw is up, waving customers (and money) in to the store. Supposedly, waving the right paw brings in luck. Waving the left paw brings in money. Or maybe the other way around. This cat is waving in both!

As for useful items, I'm still crocheting that shrug from Positively Crochet; almost done. I want to get another Traveler's Scarf on my knitting needles, too.

And now I have time! I'll turn in my grades today! That'll take a lot of pressure off. Then on to a couple of really interesting stories for the magazine--I'll report on those later.