October 15, 2014

I especially miss the grandkids on holidays, like Halloween.  Used to go to Willcox to pick pumpkins1.  Now they’re doing it in Idaho.  (Daughter’s photos of herself and youngest in pumpkin patch, with oldest two painting pumpkins.)
lis & aidenlis & kids
This I don’t miss.  (From my daughter’s Facebook page.)  Luckily she’s a nurse…

It’s amazing some children survive until adulthood. Aiden fell off an approximately 12′ retaining wall today straight down onto his face. It could have been MUCH worse but there was a lot of blood and some temporary panicking about head injury…

This child is “Scarface” in my blog from April, 20132.  But he’s also cute (also from my daughter’s Facebook page):

Aiden’s teacher told me today that he reported to her that In Our garden we are growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and bikinis.

October 13, 2014

Went to Home Depot today for my almost-weekly trip for gardening supplies, and not only did they have a huge display of pumpkins and assorted Halloween folderol but they had a huge display of Xmas trees and lights.  Am thinking of boycotting them until after Thanksgiving (when I think Xmas displays should be allowed).


Yes, I still have it.  But these are good for it:

>A two-hour lunch (Zona 78 – split a very good pizza) with friend B* on a rainy day
>An eight-hour day of work at the college
>Salonpas, a pain reliever patch that the tree trimmer (actually owner of the company – two others did all of the extensive work) recommended – took two out of the envelope and gave me the rest.  Totally marvelous!
>Tucson Meet Yourself on a beautiful autumn day (with friend R and her mother-in law V** – bought food that V had never had from many different countries such as Mexican horchata, Laotian eggrolls, Turkish dolmates, Polish pierogi (some potato, some mushroom), and French pear clafouti3)
>Lunch (Prep & Pastry – very good, as usual) and a movie (The Two Faces of January, a psychological thriller based on the 1964 novel, at the Loft)  with friend N

Bad for it:

>Exercise class at the Y
>Yard work
>House work

*B had good suggestions about water heaters.  First: turn them when you’re on vacation, and during the summer.  (Who needs a hot shower in the summer?  Who uses anything but cold water to wash clothes?  And the dishwasher heats its own water.  Second: if you have an electric water heater, buy a timer (like the one you put on lights in your house when you’re gone) and only turn hot water heater on, in the winter, when you’ll be taking showers, such as in the morning.

**Have to repeat story that V (pushing 90) told:
Her son had given her her first cell phone, with a cat meow for a ring tone.  (Think I want one of those!)  She wasn’t well acquainted with it and neglected to turn it off in church.  Of course it started meowing during the sermon.  Three meows, with many people looking around for the cat, before she could get it out of her purse and turned off.

Leif Erikson

Friends had their yearly Leif Ericson party.

Leif Erikson was a Norse explorer regarded as the first European to land in North America, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

Absolutely delicious Norwegian food [such as gravlaks (sweet and salty cured salmon), kjøttboller (meatballs), sursild (pickled herring),  and geitost (brown/red cheese) meatballs, but no pig's trotter or sheep's head], and lots of friends.

Then there are the toasts with aquavit, kind of a caraway-flavored vodka, 40% alcohol by volume.  Or other flavors; this year R made loganberry-flavored, mixing the berries and vodka himself.  People used to chug the shot of the caraway-flavored ’cause they didn’t like the taste.  Now people were enjoying the berry-flavored shots.  The toast recited was: “Din skol, min skol, alla backa flicka skol” (Here’s to you, here’s to me, here’s to all the pretty girls).


October Evening

October 10, 2014

October 10, 2014

Was putting garden clippings into the compost pile about 5pm this evening when a herd of eleven javelinas moseyed down the drainage wash and stopped to eat mesquite seeds under my large mesquite tree. I started to talk to them, as usual, and most of them came over to the garden fence to smell me, their noses wrinkling up and down, not usual.  Hackles up, but friendly. Usually only the alpha male checks me out.  Most of them were small, probably young.

About 20 minutes later I was clipping the rosemary, the cat next to me, when she looked over to the other side of the yard and jumped up a few of the spiral stairs. A bobcat was ambling past the yard on that side.

So I figured that it was time to go in.  Plus we had a full day and night of rain two days ago and the no-see-ums were out, biting my ankles.  Was surprised that we had them in Tucson.  Remembered them from New Jersey.

No-see-ums are small biting flies that appear during the summer months. These tiny biting insects are barely visible to the naked eye, but their bites can be very painful and annoying.

Literature references indicate that no-see-um species found in Arizona and the southwest are of the genus Culicoides. Adult no-see-ums are less than 1/16-inch long can easily pass through normal window screens, and resemble a smaller, more compact version of the mosquito. They are most active in early mornings and evenings of mid to late summer. Mouth parts are well developed with elongated mandibles adapted for blood sucking. Both males and females feed on flower nectar but only the female feeds on blood. She must consume blood for her eggs to mature and become viable.

No-see-um eggs are laid on moist soil. Common breeding areas include the edges of springs, streams and ponds, muddy and swampy areas, tree holes, and even water associated with air conditioning units. The eggs hatch in as little as 3 days. The wormlike larvae have short brush like breathing structures that allows them to breathe in an aquatic environment. Although larvae are not strictly aquatic or terrestrial, they cannot develop without moisture. After feeding on decomposing organic matter and pupating, adults emerge, feed, and mate.1

And a mosquito is sneaking around, biting my hands as I type.  Almost got her when she landed on the wall.  Almost.  On the news they had mentioned that we have a large crop of mosquitoes right now due to the rain.  So there are a couple of downsides to all of the precipitation we’ve had in the past two weeks.  (Plus yesterday morning after I got to work I checked the humidity – 93%!  Practically unheard of here.)

Landscape Architecture

Continuing in the reading of books on Landscape Architecture.  I had commented on The Meaning of Gardens when I was only in the Introduction2.  Now I’ve finished it.  Each essay is written by a different landscape architect.  These quotes are  not summaries, just ones that piqued my interest.

Clare Marcus, in The Garden as Metaphor, wrote that The earth began to be considered as an inertia geological object, replete with resources available for exploitation.  Since the notion of raping one’s mother was repugnant, the planet could no longer be conceived as Mother Earth.  The theme of raping the earth is repeated in a few of the essays.

Ian McHarg wrote Nature is More than A Garden, and mentions that, There is an accompanying belief that work outdoors, preferably in a garden, touching soils, plants, water, stone, confers not only physical but also mental health, a thesis that is often postulated throughout the book.

In Flowers, Power, and Sex, Robert Riley recalled …the angry reaction to Martin Krieger’s provocative, carefully reasoned question “What’s Wrong with Plastic Trees?”  That response culminated in an accusation by Hugh Iltis that anyone asking that question probably got his sexual satisfaction from water-filled, lubricated, female manikins.

Tucson was noted in Kerry Dawson’s Nature in the Urban Garden: …bird density was twenty-six times as high in urban gardens as in the surrounding desert of Tucson.  Well, we do put out water and seeds for them.  Note: my yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat® by the National Wildlife Federation.  (I filled out a form and sent them $20.)  Kerry states that The urban garden should avoid plants with no value to wildlife, and then quotes Marangio’s list of common garden plants of the United States that have no known wildlife value.  Included are the acacia, Algerian and English ivy, blue gum (eucalyptus), French broom, ice plant, pampas grass, periwinkle, and Scotch broom.  But he doesn’t mention the desert broom, bain of my garden as my neighbor allows his to grow and the “desert snow” of seeds blow into my yard3.

Christopher Grampp, in Social Meanings of Residential Gardens, quoted two homeowners. Harry remarked, “I could never see passing the rewards of a garden on to a gardener.  Why would a person ever hire a gardener, unless he didn’t like to garden?” For Paul, it represents peace of mind.  “Gardening has maintained my sanity.  It’s a real therapy.  You get out and your mind goes blank.  It’s a relief, superior to tranquilizers.”  That view again.

In Garden of the World, Randolph Hester, Jr. hit hard.

ag…the lush, rectangular-patterned oasis in the otherwise-arid valleys… that have been transformed into an agribusiness artwork so large it can only be appreciated from the air.  To keep this garden green, billions of gallons of water are diverted from the network of rivers and marshes that once laced the central valleys and nearby watersheds… (it costs more than $2200 per acre for irrigation alone)…
A beautiful illustration of man’s ability to dominate and control nature, it features ecological insensitivity and disregard for place (hundred of environmental modifications somewhat less visually dramatic than a near-empty Mono Lake are its by-products.  Like other great gardens, it is manicured and parterred by the powerless to enrich the powerful, with more of both than Louis XIV likely ever imagined.

opus 40Deborah Dalton wrote of Harvey Fite’s Opus 40: From Private Garden to Public Art Work.  I would love to visit it!  (Opus 40 is open Friday through Sunday, and holiday Mondays, Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day Weekend.)

Opus 40 is a six-acre environmental sculpture created from an abandoned bluestone quarry near Woodstock, New York.  The work is a series of terraces, pedestals, pools, steps, and ramps swirling around one another and spiraling up to the central focus, a nine-ton bluestone monolith.

The title of the quarry work, Opus 40, referred to the number of years he intended to work on the project…  Harvey Fite was killed in a fall at the quarry, just three years short of his goal.

[Ironically] he commented on Henry Moore: “…the representational object has a human value; more people can relate to it, comprehend it.  Non-objective art is merely decorative abstraction, or dehumanized art.  Moore’s work is too dehumanized, it has lost the human statement.  His abstractions of the reclining nude and family groups are so distorted that you can’t see the nude or the family.”

sf gardenGray Brechin wrote about Grace Marchant and the Global Garden.  I’m surprised that I never heard about it as I’ve been often to San Francisco.  This woman was incredible, as was the garden she created.

Grace was sixty-three then, and the trash-strewn, weed-grown right-of-way outside her window bothered her.  She set about hauling the bedsprings, tires, and lumber to the cliff and dumping them over the side.  Without asking anyone at City Hall she began conditioning the sandstone outcropping.  Over the next thirty-three year, she cultivated a garden that has attained world fame and created a community of the cottage and apartments around it.

Then he goes into a different vein (back to the rape of the earth):

The environmental and economic crises that now wrack the planet – ozone depletion, dying rivers, seas, and forests, the insidious spread of radioactivity, and the rising price of nearly everything – are the accumulated interest on 5,000 years of exploitive civilization.  Yet because civilization has many valued attributes, the costs involved in raising the facade that hides exploitation are seldom recognized.  Unable to locate the problem, we are helpless to find solution.

Another garden can represent that facade.  Famous in its time as one of the most luxuriantly landscaped estates on the San Francisco Peninsula, the garden created by William Barron at Menlo Park was modeled on those of the European nobility.  Rare specimen plants were imported from around the world to embellish the oak-dotted savannah, and the lawns were flooded throughout the summer to maintain their verdue.

The money to create the Baron garden was gathered from a much larger landscape wrecked twenty miles away and from future generations who would foot the bill for its beauty.  William Barron was principal of a syndicate that controlled the production of mercury in California, an element essential for refining gold and silver ores.  Today, the blasted cinnabar tailings of New Almaden leach mercury into the reservoirs and streams of the Santa Clara Valley and the sediments of San Francisco Bay.  Cleanup of New Almaden, if possible, is estimated to cost millions, but much of the downstream contamination is simply irremediable.

The Barron estate is typical of hundreds of other lovely gardens built from strip mining, clear-cutting, slave trading, chemicals, and munitions.  Seldom are the ugly mean and lovely end closely juxtaposed so that the observer can gauge the true costs involved.  Lacking the direct involvement of their owners, such gardens are as much expressions of conspicuous display as the other purchased accoutrements of the estate.

Garrett Eckko wrote Today into Tomorrow: An Optimistic ViewWay optimistic.  He first expects all of the countries of the world to Control population growth.  Wow, would that be great.  (I do advocate ZPG – Zero Population Growth.)  Would parents allow their children to become suicide bombers if they had only two children, no spares?  Also, then parents could afford to educate both children, even if they were girls!  That would so change the world.  But the religious groups – Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Fundamentalist Christians, Orthodox Jews, those where men only become mullas, priests, ministers, rabbis, would never go for it.  Other points, Conservation of natural resources, Ecosystem resurrection, and so on, are dwarfed by Control population growth. But I should get off my soapbox and get back to landscape architecture and the book.

Catherine Howett, in Gardens Are Good Places for Dying, mentioned Versailles (which doesn’t have anything to do with dying, but I was impressed with the statistic):

The king’s landscape genius André Le Nôtre boasted, for example, that by continually “carrying out, removing, and bringing back” more than two million potted plants, the garden surrounding the Trianon Palace was “always filled with flowers… and one never sees a dead leaf, or a shrub not in bloom.”


Lost Boys of Sudan

October 8, 2014

duanyAre your kids spoiled, bored?

By the age of 14, Ger Duany had wandered barefoot for hundreds of miles through his native Sudan, spent four years in Ethiopian refugee camps and fought as a child soldier. On one occasion, he walked for so long that all his toenails fell off; on another, he fled from soldiers by swimming across a river choked with corpses. But Mr. Duany, one of thousands of so-called Lost Boys left homeless by a Sudanese civil war that began in the 1980s, isn’t one to complain.  “I would not call it a difficult life, really,” he said. “I just had a lot of challenges at a very young age.”

Goateed and cat-eyed, Mr. Duany spoke of his life… Now 35, he has a wry, winking wit, whether discussing the size of his family in Africa — 63 brothers and sisters, the progeny of his father’s nine wives — or recalling his surprise at learning how much a typical American eats, and how often

“As soon as I got here, I was a freshman in high school, even though I had never really gone to school,” he said. “I only knew my ABCs, and could barely understand what my teacher was saying. But I knew that I was smart enough to learn. I knew that I could learn, if I could just go to school and not hear gunshots.”

This is in an interesting article on one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, in last Sunday’s NY Times, about a new movie, The Good Lie, which Ger Duany plays a character in, about Lost Boys in Kansas City1.

The Lost Boys of Sudan is the name given to the groups of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005); about 2.5 million were killed and millions were displaced.

Tucson Festival of Books

rock bottom retainersEvery year I volunteer for the Tucson Festival of Books.  They send me many emails, most of which I don’t read, but I found one interesting, about the Rock Bottom Remainders.  This article was in the Arizona Daily Star:

The Rock Bottom Remainders, America’s most literary oldies rock cover band, will reunite at the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books.

New York Times best-selling authors Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Scott Turow, Ridley Pearson, Ray Blount, Jr., Alan Zweibel and Greg Iles, aided by a couple of ringer musicians, including drummer Josh Kelly and Albom’s singer/actress wife, Janine Sabino Albom, will perform a 90-minute show in the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center ballroom to kick off the festival on March 13…

This will be the first official performance for the Rock Bottom Remainders since they called it quits in 2012 after the death of band founder Kathi Kamen Goldmark. Several members of the band, which played together for 20 years at book festivals and literature events, did an informal performance at the Miami book festival last year.

“We retired, so to speak, and the joke is now we are going to start doing the first reunion tour,” said Tan, the band’s self-appointed dominatrix, who dons a wig, knee-high boots, fishnet stockings and a whip on stage. “We’re going to be like the Rolling Stones or whatever those groups are that do those reunion tours. This is our first farewell tour.”

“As Mitch Albom says, ‘We’re such a bad band, we can’t even break up correctly’,” Barry added…

Albom recounted what Bruce Springsteen told the band several years ago, which has become something of its guiding light: “You’re not that bad, but I wouldn’t get any better. Because if you get any better, you’re just going to be another lousy band.”

“We were so bad that we were funny. But if we got any better, then we would just be lousy,” Albom explained. “So we’re ranked slightly below lousy, which apparently, according to Bruce Springsteen, is actually a pretty good place to be.”

The Rock Bottom Remainders will likely get together an hour or so before the March 13 show to rehearse. But Turow said those rehearsals will do little to improve their performance.

“Even new songs don’t get much in the way of rehearsal. … And then we get onstage and we flub,” he said with a laugh. “And even the songs that we’ve done a million times before, there’s an element of improvisation every time we perform. I never manage to come in on the right place when I’m singing, so the band has to follow me breathlessly, waiting to see when I’m going to start and what key my voice it’s going to be in that night.”

Those little imperfections are what have been the hallmarks and the joy of the band’s performances.

“ If you’re not bad and expectations are low, then what you have is a funny show,” Tan said.

According to the email,

Between them, they’ve published more than 150 titles, sold more than 350 million books, and been translated into more than 25 languages. The Festival is thrilled to offer the Tucson community and Festival guests this once-in-a-lifetime experience to see these literary lights perform live!

Date: Friday, March 13, 2015
Time: 8-9:30 pm (doors open at 7:15 pm)
Location: University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center – Grand Ballroom
Attire: Casual concert dress
Tickets: Ticket price will be be announced in November 2014 and sales will begin on Monday, December 1 at 12:00 noon, Mountain Standard Time. Friend of the Festival members will be able to purchase tickets before general sales begin. Not a Friend? Join now!

White Pomegranate

tree 001dark plants 001

The first photo of the pomegranate and the Texas mountain laurel seeds, bright red, that I mentioned in a previous blog2.  The second of the cut pomegranate; the seeds don’t look red, but they don’t stain your hands, just your clothes.

I used to assign my son to take the seeds out of the pomegranate for the Xmas red and green salad (spinach, avocado, pomegranate seeds), so I didn’t stain my hands.

The other dish I’ve made with the seeds is a watermelon, raspberry, pomegranate seed salad with lemon and orange zest in the dressing.



October 1, 2014

In my continuing study of landscape architecture I have started reading The Meaning of Gardens by Mark Francis and Randolph Hester.

I’ve only read the first chapter, an introduction, but I enjoyed this quote:

Riley develops a typology of gardens including the jungle as sex beyond control; the domestic garden as delightful, as controlled sex; and the lawn as overcontrolled sex.

And this:

The garden has been nature-under-control…

If I could finally control mine!  The huge mesquite tree outside the fence (whose seeds are eaten by the deer, javelinas, and coyotes1) put out a root about 25 feet to a large pot next to my patio, crept up into the pot through the drainage hole and filled it with a tiny maze of roots.  I remember telling my granddaughter how smart a bunch grass was to sneak into all of my formal plantings.  She said Plants aren’t smart.  Plants can’t think.  I don’t know.  That mesquite tree’s root was pretty smart.

dark plants 002I emptied the pot, took out the knot of roots, which were half of the contents, added lots more potting soil and four plants from my favorite nursery, Mesquite Valley Growers, a purple sweet potato vine, purple and pink petunias, and a purple alyssum.  I must have been having a dark day.

I also bought a dark goldfish plant, so named because the flowers look like goldfish, for my kitchen window.  dark plants 003goldfish(When I had re-potted my ivy I inadvertently grew a tomato plant from seeds in the potting soil, so I put it in the vegetable garden).

Then I replaced the insect-ridden outdoor coleus with a dark-leaved hibiscus, which should bloom red.  (To rid the pot of the reoccurrant mealy bugs2 I baked the potting soil, in batches, in the oven at 200° for 3 dark plants 004hybiscus flowerhours, and scrubbed out the pot with diluted bleach. A lot of work! So those pesky bugs better not return!)

Because September is the fall planting month for Tucson I sifted one of the two compost bins I keep going (to take out twigs and stuff that hasn’t composted yet and put in the other bin) to add to my veggie garden.  Couldn’t bear to throw away the volunteer snapdragons so dug them up and put them in pots.  Gave five to the housekeeper.  Anyone else want some?  Digging out lots of tree roots there too.  Bought two more tomato cages and am cutting back my tomatoes.

Here are six good reasons to prune tomatoes3:
  • To grow more flavorful tomatoes.
  • To grow larger tomatoes.
  • To grow more tomatoes over the length of a season.
  • To keep plant leaves and fruits off the ground and away from pests, insect damage, and fungal disease.
  • To keep plants smaller and more compact.

Cleaning and Repairs

Yay!  Had my windows professionally cleaned.  Wow, what a difference.  Am getting cleaning and repairs done before I put the house back on the market.  My handyman fixed a few minor items and is presently replacing the cross beams for the spa deck – rotted not due to termites, as they had been pre-treated, but from water damage.  Replacing them with redwood, which is supposed to hold up to everything.

A friend of mine was on vacation so I borrowed her cleaning lady (who is my house-sitter when I’m out of town) for a day to clean the cupboards on the deck, scrub the patio cushions, and tend to other tasks that haven’t been done for two years, when I last hired her to help with the cleaning.  (My mother would have thought me a slacker…)  Am still working on the accumulated dust, not attended to since I took the house off the market in May.  (Can only bear six months of cleaning.)

lts 001The electrician is here to replace the final bad bathroom fixture.  I have overpriced light fixtures in both the master and guest baths.  When the house turned ten years old they started to go out.  With some the bulb melted into the fixture!   I couldn’t exactly choose a completely different fixture as the mirrors (large and probably expensive) have spaces between them for the lights.  And originally only one was out.  After replacing five of the six I asked the electrician to put the one that was only blinking off occasionally in the guest bath, which is seldom used.  Of course that was a bad idea.  Why those in the guest bath would go at the same time as the ones in the master bath which is used daily, I don’t know.  Conspiracy.

Need to get the trees trimmed too, but the tree-trimming guy was sick, so postponed ’til next week.


Defined by Wikipedia:

A McMansion can be a large, new house in a subdivision of similarly large houses, which all seem mass-produced and lacking in distinguishing characteristics, as well as appearing at odds with the traditional local architecture.

McMansions in China4 in Sunday’s NY Times.  Money doesn’t buy taste.  There or here.

china mcmansions

Generic Brand Video

Heard this on Marketplace on NPR earlier this week:  http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/generic-brand-video


Decorated Skies

September 23, 2014

clouds 009

White billowy clouds,
But no precipitation -
Decorated skies.

Rogue Theater

Saw the play at the Rogue Theater last weekend.  Clifford Odet’s Awake and Sing, about lives of an urban family during the Great Depression,1 was pretty good.  Go see it!  David Greenwood, who plays the grandfather, Jacob, is in my qigong class.  He was great, sounding like a Jewish patriarch, and no longer in my head as the Southern father in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, in which he was fabulous.

texas mountain laurelThen had drinks with friends.  He gave me one of their white pomegranates, and seeds from their Texas mountain laurel tree, which are bright red.  (I’ll have to add a photo after I cut into the pomegranate.)  Maybe because I’d been discussing hallucinogens in my last blog.

The Texas mountain laurel is called mescal bean by some gardeners. It forms a seedpod that contains red, round beans by late summer. The beans cause hallucinations at low levels. The beans are also very poisonous if the alkaloids within are released. The same seed coating that protect the seed from drought, however, will allow it to be swallowed and pass through our bodies without harm, in most cases.2

The friends also suggested that for organic food I join the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)3 which has pickups at the old Y, which is also the home of the Rogue Theater.  This last week’s produce was bell peppers, cubanelle or marconi peppers, honeydew melons, okra, red onions, roasted chiles, roma tomatoes, summer squash.  I must think about that.  I remember when my daughter was in a CSA in Phoenix and had huge amounts of greens during the summer.  She had called to ask what to do with mustard greens.  I’ve never cooked mustard greens!  And it might be too much food for one person.

The Tucson CSA quotes Michael Pollan (who wrote The Botany of Desire, which I had discussed two blogs ago4), Eat Food, not too much, and mostly plants.

Rosacea continued

A few blogs ago5 I mentioned that my cousin had recommended argan oil with oregano oil for my rosacea. The guy at The Vitamin Shoppe (pronounced shop-ee?), when finding argan oil for me, mentioned that he thought emu oil for good for rosacea.

The emu is a flightless bird that resembles a small ostrich. Emu oil is taken from the fat of this bird during processing. It is used to make medicine.

Emu oil is taken by mouth for improving cholesterol levels, as a source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, for weight loss, and as a cough syrup for colds, H1N1 (swine) flu, and flu.

Some people apply emu oil to the skin for relief from sore muscles, aching joints, pain or inflammation, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, shin splints, and gout. It is also used topically to improve healing of wounds, cuts, and burns from radiation therapy; to reduce bruises and stretch marks; to reduce scarring and keloids; to heal surgical wounds caused by removing skin for skin grafts; to reduce redness due to acne; and to soften dry cuticles and promote healthy nails. Emu oil is also used topically athlete’s foot; diaper rash; canker sores; chapped lips; poor circulation; and skin conditions, including cancer, dry skin, dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, wrinkles or age spots. It is also used to protect skin from sun damage and to promote more youthful looking skin.

Emu oil is also applied to the skin to reduce pain and irritation from shingles, bedsores, hemorrhoids, diabetic nerve pain, insect bites, earaches, eye irritation, “growing pains,” and frostbite. It is used for rashes, razor burn, and nicks.

Some massage therapists apply emu oil to clients’ skin as part of their treatment.

Some people put emu oil inside the nose to treat colds and flu.

Emu oil (7%) is used in combination with glycolic acid (10%) for lowering blood fats including triglycerides, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol; preventing and treating allergies; preventing scarring; treating headaches, especially migraines; preventing nosebleeds; treating and preventing cold and flu symptoms; and relieving discomfort associated with menstruation.

In veterinary practice, emu oil is used to reduce swelling in joints, prevent cracked or peeling paws, calm “hot spots,” and reduce irritation of flea bites.

In manufacturing, emu oil is used to sharpen and oil industrial machinery, for polishing timber and leather, and for conditioning and waterproofing.

How does it work?

Emu oil contains chemicals called fatty acids that might reduce pain and swelling (inflammation). There is some evidence that emu oil might work better for sudden (acute) inflammation than for ongoing (chronic) inflammation.

When emu oil is applied to the skin, it has moisturizing and cosmetic properties that resemble mineral oil.6

With all of its claims (cholesterol, aching joints, cuts and burns, dandruff, hemorrhoids, colds and flu, migraines…) emu oil sounds like the old snake oil…



September 19, 2014


A tiny  toad has taken up residence in my back garden, I think in the rosemary which borders my bedroom patio, but I don’t know if it’s a spadefoot or a Sonoran Desert toad, both of which come out during our monsoon season.    The Sonoran Desert toads are the hallucinogenic ones.1  Must look it in the eye; the pupils are vertical in the spadefoot, but the Sonoran Desert toad has golden eyes with horizontally elliptical pupils.  I see it out at night when I open the sliding door to the screen.  But the other night I saw something dark go under my rocking chair cover, and assuming it was a cockroach, pulled back the chair so that the cat would catch it.  It was the tiny toad.  How in the world did it get in?  I know that cockroaches can slither under doors, but the toad was the size of a large marble when it tucked in its extremities (although it looked like it was a poorly-made leather marble).  The cat wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

Couch’s spadefoots have a skin secretion that may cause allergic reactions in some humans.2

If picked up or mouthed by a predator, Sonoran Desert Toads will exude a potent, milky white toxin from their parotoid glands. If ingested, their toxin is capable of seriously sickening or killing potential predators.3

So I grabbed the toad myself.  It was wet (with poisonous secretions?), so after I put it outside I washed my hands.  Twice.

Sacred Datura

The leaves of the myriad sacred datura plants4 which have cropped up all over my backyard are covered with tiny holes.  So bugs eat only that much and then get high?  Do insects hallucinate?   No leaves have large bites taken out of them, like the tomato leaves, eaten to the nub by the grasshopper I missed catching.


My cousin had given me this web site5 to see which vegetables I really must buy organic.  (They list 48; I’ve listed only the first 12.)

Fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue data
EWG analyzed pesticide residue testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration to come up with rankings for these popular fresh produce items. Foods are listed below from worst to best.  (lower numbers = more pesticides)

1. Applesapple


strawberries 2. Strawberries


grapes3. Grapes


celery4. Celery


peaches5. Peaches


spinach6. Spinach


pepper7. Sweet Bell Peppers


nectarine8. Nectarines – Imported


cucumber9. Cucumbers


cherry tom10. Cherry Tomatoes


snap peas11. Snap Peas – Imported


potatoes12. Potatoes


In my last blog I mentioned that I shall only buy organic potatoes from now on, because of all of the pesticides and herbicides that the potato field are drenched in.   But there are eleven vegetables and fruits that are worse!

Last week I bought organic milk and orange juice from Safeway (its O Organics™ brand) and from Albertson’s, organic eggs, strawberries, canned diced tomatoes, apples, flax seeds, red grapes, mushrooms, and, of course, potatoes.

Word of the Day

Fungible – (especially of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

This from an interesting column in last Sunday’s New York Times, Useless Creatures:

…In some cases, conservation groups or other interested parties actually put down cash for these ecosystem services — paying countries, for instance, to maintain forests as a form of carbon sequestration. The argument, in essence, is that we can persuade people to save nature by making it possible for them to sell it. They can take nature to the bank, or at least to the local grocery. They can monetize it. (The new revised version of Genesis now says, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and he said, ‘Let them be fungible.’ ”)6

Flash floods

Flash floods predicted for the week were a dud.




September 17, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

thunderstorm101° with 42% humidity.  Best of both worlds.  (Baked and boiled.)  Hope we get that storm tonight.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It rained here very early Tuesday morning, then most of last night, but no dramatic thunder and lightening.  At 2pm today, it’s 81° with 68% humidity.  The city is preparing for worse:

Historic flood potential for portions of southern Arizona
The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch for all of southern Arizona, expiring late Thursday afternoon.
Remnants from Tropical Storm Odile are poised to enter southern Arizona over the next 72 hours.1

tucson weather


As part of my personal study of Landscape Architecture, my two recent books have been Landscape Plants for Dry Regions by Warren Jones and Charles Sacamano (Each plant contains Specifications – “cold hardiness,” “landscape value,” “cultural requirements,” “possible problems,” and a short description of potential size, growth habits, etc.), and Landscape Plants for Western Regions by Bob Perry (with 1100 color illustrations of plants for landscape use in the Western United States), which is especially good for California and the backyard of a friend there for which I am developing a landscape plan.

sacamanoBoth have color photos of all of the plants they list, which my old Sunset Western Garden Book did not.  Probably books that one should own, rather than getting them from the library for thee weeks and trying to commit each  genus to memory.   Oh, and I found an interesting article on Sacamano from the 80’s2: with this cute photo.

BTW – had an interview with Master Gardeners Monday morning to see if they will allow me into their program, classes for which start in January.  Will get a letter within the month.

Pima County Master Gardeners are university-trained volunteers who serve as community educators. They work with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension to provide researched-based information on environmentally responsible gardening and landscaping to the public.

Services to County residents include:

  • Free Plant Clinics to answer plant and gardening questions by phone, walk-in or online
  • Presentations and Classes on gardening and landscaping
  • Information Booths at various farmers markets and libraries
  • Bi-Annual Plant Sales – next one is Saturday, October 11th 8am-11am
  • Public Demonstration Gardens - offering free tours led by Master Gardeners
  • Technical Assistance to educational organizations and institutions

There are currently approximately 150 active Master Gardener Volunteers here in Pima County.

One of the many functions of Pima County Master Gardener Volunteers is to staff the Plant Clinic. They answer landscape and gardening questions over the phone or examine plant samples brought into the clinics.

Persons qualify to become Master Gardener Volunteers by completing a 50 hour training course and giving 50 hours of service to one or more of the approved Master Gardener Projects. Classes are conducted in Tucson. Following the course, graduates enter an intern period for up to one year during which the initial 50 hours volunteer service is given. When the internship has been completed the intern receives full Master Gardener Volunteer status.

To maintain Master Gardener Volunteer status, a volunteer must participate in 50 hours of service activities and complete 10 hours of continuing training annually.

Back to books.  A friend of mine has lent me a few.  Just finished The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, which has four chapters: The Apple, The Tulip, Marijuana, and The Potato.  This book was a lot of fun.

johnny appleseedFirst, found out that the American fruit (as American as apple pie) originated in China.  Then found out that Johnny Appleseed has been Disneyfied.  Because the apple seeds he planted across the US produced barely edible apples, most people made hard apple cider from them.  So he was distributing alcohol across the country.  He did wear a tin pot on his head, and went barefoot twelve months of the year (in the snow!), but he wore a flour sack, not a white shirt, pants and vest.  He slept in hollow trees or logs when no one invited him in, and he did want to marry a 10-year-old girl (!) but got jealous when she spent too much time with kids her own age, and called it off.

tulipTulips (natives to Persia and Turkey) were favored by the upright Calvinists in Holland, the author surmises, because they have their sex hidden.  Tulip Mania hit in the 17th century, with tulips of variegated colors, caused by a virus.  So the prized tulips were actually diseased.

Tulip breaking virus is most famous for its dramatic effects on the color of the tulip perianth, which helped to cause the speculative price of rare tulip bulbs during the period of so-called “Tulip mania” in the 17th century Netherlands…  At the peak of tulip mania in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

The chapter on Marijuana was enlightening, as I had no idea that the Cannabis Sativa L., known to us in the 60’s’, has been crossed with Cannabis Indica, and Indica dominant strains are are short dense plants.

The Indica and Sativa subspecies differ in their medicinal properties. Sativa strains produce more of a euphoric high, lifting the consumer’s mood and therapeutically relieving stress. Indica strains relax muscle and work as general analgesics, also helping with sleep. A cancer patient hoping to relieve the pain from chemotherapy would benefit greatly from the effects of an Indica plant bud, whereas an individual dealing with depression would better benefit from a Sativa plant bud…3

Word of the day: chthonic – of or relating to the underworld.  Pollan referred to chthonic spuds.

The potato, indigenous to the Andes, is a perfect food4, especially when mashed with milk to add protein.  The English looked down on the potato because they thought that it made the Irish lazy, only tending their potato crops to feed their families, thereby not needing to work, so they could spend their time procreating.  Of course, when the Irish Potato Famine hit in 1845, a million people, dependent only on the potato, died.

During the famine approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

But what got me was the amount of pesticides and herbicides with which Big Farma drenches their monoculture potato farms.  One farmer interviewed grew his own organic potatoes so he didn’t have to eat those drenched in poisons that he sold to the public.  From now on, I will only buy organic potatoes.


Appliances, continued

September 8, 2014


Do not bother buying the official condenser coil brush.  Most of the dust is on the front coils, so just vacuum them off.

Hot Water Heater

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that even though the [pressure relief] valve reset, there is still a drip drip drip outside from the discharge line outside.  The online instructions said, If the valve fails to completely reset and continues to release water, immediately disconnect the electrical power, close the cold water inlet valve and call a qualified person.  So I thought that was what I ought to do.

Looked through the plumber recommendation sheet I had from Benjamin Supply, and called the first one on the list.  He was at work on Sunday or he works out of his home – he answered.  Was telling him my story and when I got to Couldn’t get the handle [of the pressure relief valve] to lift…   So asked my neighbor to lend his male strength…  he said No don’t do that!  Too late.  Done the previous day.  Seems that if you haven’t been tweaking the handle of the valve on a yearly basis it corrodes on and adding strength just breaks it.  So we said he’d come by Monday.  $85 for the house call and replacement, but he gave the water heater a clean bill of health. Said it looked like new, as I don’t use it much, and that I should watch for corrosion around the bottom.  A weight off me; at least that’s one house part that won’t break this year.

He also said no, don’t dick around with the anode; they last 12 to 15 years if you don’t have a water softener (see below).  And it just hit me (even though I put it in yesterday’s blog) that the water tank is glass-lined, so there’s little to corrode.

Each water heater contains at least one anode rod, which will slowly deplete while protecting the glass-lined tank from corrosion and prolonging the life of the water heater.  Once the anode is depleted, the tank will start to corrode, eventually developing a leak.

I am just beginning to understand what an anode rod does.  (I nearly flunked chemistry almost 50 years ago.)  It corrodes so that any exposed steel doesn’t.

The anode rod is the most important factor in determining the life of your water heater. An anode rod is a steel core wire surrounded with one of three different metals. [American uses aluminum.] The rod is screwed into the top of your water heater and protects your water heater from rusting. When the tank is filled with water the anode rod sacrifices itself to protect the exposed steel of the water heater, through a method called electrolysis. Electrolysis happens when there are two pieces of metal connected inside of water, the process makes the anode rod corrode in place of the exposed steel in your water heater. During this process the more noble (less reactive) metal will corrode over the less (more reactive) noble metal. Aluminum… is much less noble than steel, meaning it will corrode before the steel, which is why it is used for anode rods.

A water softener also shortens the life of your anode rods significantly.  Aluminum anode rods are best for places with hard water. The aluminum rod will withstand harder water than any other type. Aluminum may be a health problem, so to be safe you may not want to drink hot water and make sure to run some cold water through the faucet spout before drinking the water.  Keep in mind, our sodas come in aluminum cans too.1

And finally, when I showed him the bath tub faucet (that I hardly ever use as I usually take showers) which had started dripping after I had it running for a while, using up the hot water so that I could drain the hot water tank without getting scalded, he said that it was a Grohe, and that I needed to order both hot and cold cartridges from them, and that they would be free (!) as they are guaranteed for life.  Is that was this says below? So I emailed Grohe. We’ll see.

Residential Products: GROHE provides the following warranties on its products to the original purchaser, installed in a residential application. This warranty is effective for all faucets sold after January 1, 1997.

Mechanical Warranty: A Limited Lifetime Warranty is provided on all mechanical parts to be free from manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship under normal use for as long as the original purchaser owns their home…2


My father’s family curse (perhaps in addition to high cholesterol) is macular degeneration.  My cousin sent me this link:

What is lutein and can it improve vision? Lutein, and the related compound, zeaxanthin, are carotenoids found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye. You may already get sufficient lutein from the foods you eat, but many people do not. If you are among those who don’t, taking a supplement with the right amount of lutein has been shown to improve vision in people with atrophic age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Preliminary studies suggest lutein may also help in retinitis pigmentosa and other conditions.

ConsumerLab.com’s tests showed that many lutein and zeaxanthin supplements contain what they claim and meet other important quality parameters. The problem is knowing which product, if any, to choose. Formulations vary widely — the daily dose of lutein in products ranged from 4 to 45 mg, and the amounts of zeaxanthin range from 1 to 4 mg. The cost of the pills also ranged from just 12 cents to over $1 per day. Several “eye health” supplements also contained zinc and other ingredients similar to those in the AREDS formulation shown to prevent age-related macular degeneration in a major study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

You must be a member to get the full test results for lutein and zeaxanthin-containing supplements along with ConsumerLab.com recommendations and quality ratings…3

OK, I’m not joining consumer lab for $36, so I kept looking online.  Here is the recommended dosage and the foods that have lutein and zeaxanthin in them:

Lutein May Decrease Your Risk of Macular Degeneration

by George Torrey, Ph.D.
Lutein is the dominant component in the peripheral retina.

Dr. Johanna M. Seddon and associates at Harvard University found that 6 mg per day of lutein lead to a 43% lower risk for macular degeneration.  John T. Landrum and Richard A. Bone of Florida International University conducted a two-person study in 1995 to find out if lutein supplements would increase macular pigment. After 140 days, macular pigment increased about 20% in one man, 40 percent in the other. Although this study is minuscule, it is the first evidence that taking lutein supplements may restore lost macular pigment.

Lutein supplements are available in soft-gel capsule form. They should be taken at mealtime because lutein is absorbed better when ingested with a small amount of fat such as olive oil. The recommended dosage is 6 mg to 30 mg daily.

The following chart shows those foods that contain high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is the dominant carotenoid in the central macula.4

lutein 1We were always told that eating carrots would be good for our eyes, but spinach is more than 200 times as good!



September 6, 2014


Two months ago I noticed that the strip between the doors on my side-by-side refrigerator was hot.  Also that when I opened the freezer, there was a red light blinking on the panel with the on/off switch for the ice maker.  So I called the KitchenAid help line listed in my product manual.  The clueless woman (in India?) who answered said that the ice storage bin was too full and that I should occasionally turn the ice maker off, which I did.

Two days before I was to drive to San Diego my refrigerator died.  I came home, opened the freezer, and a cascade of water gushed out.  Took a few items over to neighbor’s second refrigerator (which was already packed) in their garage, but the ice cream was already a liquid.  Figured cheeses, frozen egg whites and so on could hold off.

The repairman came the next morning with a fan which he thought it needed, but after doing the diagnostics said that no, it was an inverter (#36 on the left in the diagram).  And when he called his parts department, they said that part had been back-ordered since January.  So instead of a $290 part (plus installation), I was told I needed to buy a new refrigerator ($2300 + tax to replace the counter-depth one I have).

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Getting ready to go down to the showroom to purchase the replacement refrigerator, I thought that I should check online for the part.  Oh my, PartSelect had it for only $218.25!  I called the appliance store back.  The parts guy called the repair guy (who had just left) and it turned out he had checked out the wrong part number.  Low and behold, their supplier had the correct part, if only one left.

So the repair guy juggled his schedule and showed up the next morning to replace that part, with no guarantee that the compressor won’t go next, so this may go on.

Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Do you believe that it was just an error, checking out a wrong part number?  Am I cynical/ paranoid to think they were scamming me?  This is the top appliance place in town.

Left for San Diego just after lunch, relieved that the fridge broke before I left, rather than after I left, leaving a problem for my house-sitter.

Over a month later, noted that the strip between the doors is still hot.  This time I cleverly resorted to the internet:

A failed condenser fan or extremely dirty condenser coils could cause the mullion to be warmer than normal. You can clean the condenser coils by unplugging the refrigerator and removing the bottom front grill. Clean any dust off of the grill. Clean the front of the condenser with a soft brush and a vacuum cleaner. Replace the grill when you are finished. Plug the refrigerator back in.

You can check the condenser fan by removing the bottom service panel on the outside back panel of the refrigerator. If the fan is not running then this will definitely cause a hot mullion. This type of problem will normally need to be repaired by a service technician.1

Emailed that to the appliance store with the question of what to do, as I assumed that the repairman had cleaned the coils and he said that I didn’t need the fan. The store rep called back, had spoken with the repairman, who did not remember me mentioning the heat, but we were both rushing on that morning, so he had not cleaned the coils.  Anyway, he said that I needed to open the doors, take off the bottom panel, and clean the condenser coils with the official condenser coils brush, which is long to get to the back.   I bought an overpriced one at Ace, as it’s close, and took off the panel…

Yes!  The coils were covered in dust, maybe half an inch thick.  They’re clean now, so everything should be copacetic.

Regarding the blinking LED light, seems it flashes with a code:

To initiate an optics check, perform the following steps:

1. Open the freezer door.
2. View the status LED. It should flash twice,pause for 1 second, and repeat the cycle for as long as the door is open.

4. Close the flapper door on the emitter module so that the infrared beam has a clear path to the receiver board.
5. Make sure that the door switch is not pushed in, and view the status LED. With the flapper door on the emitter module held closed, and the ice maker not in the 5 minute “harvest” mode, the status LED should be on steady. This indicates that the optics circuits are operating properly. If the status LED continues to flash, refer to the “Troubleshooting Chart” on page 5-9.2

Check that out: got both the double flash and with the emitter module held closed, a steady light.  So that’s OK.

Hot Water Heater

Since the house is 10 years old, and since I had to replace an AC unit and part of my refrigerator so far (my next-door-neighbor did mention that her last refrigerator, back in New Jersey, lasted for 30 years), figured that I ought to worry about my water heater.  Turns out you’re supposed to drain them every 6 months and I’ve never done it.  Scared, but resourceful, having my pal, the internet.


Draining and Flushing
It is recommended that the tank be drained and flushed every 6 months to remove sediment which may build up during operation.  To drain the tank, perform the following steps:
1. Disconnect the electrical power to the water heater.
2. Open a nearby hot water faucet until the water is no longer hot.
3. Close the cold water inlet valve.
4. Connect a hose to the drain valve and terminate it to an adequate drain or external to the building.
5. Open the water heater drain valve and allow all of the water to drain from the tank. Flush the tank with water as needed to remove sediment.
6. Close the drain valve, refill the tank, and restart the water heater as directed in this manual.
CAUTION: Do not turn on power to the water heater unless it is completely filled with water. To ensure that the tank is full, open a hot water faucet and allow the water to run until the air is purged and the water flows uninterrupted from the faucet.

Went to the circuit box outside, scooted away the wolf spider, and shut off the breaker. Ran the water in a tub until cold, closed the valve, connected the hose and opened the water heater drain valve, and…  Had no idea how long it would take to empty.  Worried that by closing off the cold water inlet, and emptying the tank, that it would create a vacuum and implode.  Actually, it kept the water draining very slowly.  No sediment or anything.  Tried flushing a bit of cold water into it.  Just got it running faster.  It had gone to a trickle, so close the drain valve, refilled the tank, and restarted the water heater.

Temperature and Pressure
Relief Valve

relief valveManually operate the temperature and pressure relief valve at least once a year to make sure it is working properly.  To prevent water damage, the valve must be properly connected to a discharge line which terminates at an adequate drain.  Standing clear of the outlet (discharged water may be hot), slowly lift and release the lever handle on the temperature and pressure relief valve to allow the valve to operate freely and return to its closed position. If the valve fails to completely reset and continues to release water, immediately disconnect the electrical power, close the cold water inlet valve and call a qualified person.3

Couldn’t get the handle to lift.  Called the 800 number on the water heater.  The man who answered said it could be hard to do if it  hadn’t been done in years, and maybe I wasn’t strong enough.  So asked my neighbor to lend his male strength.  Done.  But even though the valve reset, there is still a drip drip drip outside from the discharge line outside.  Called the 800 number back  and the recording said to call during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 7am until 7pm.  That’s weird.  The guy had answered today (Saturday).  Darn.  Have to turn the circuit breaker back off.  No hot water until Monday.  (I can’t imagine that a drip drip drip could result in death or explosion, but what do I know.)

I also had read about the Anode Rod (#11 on the diagram below), of which I had no prior knowledge.

hot water

anodeAnode Rod
Each water heater contains at least one anode rod, which will slowly deplete while protecting the glass-lined tank from corrosion and prolonging the life of the water heater.
Once the anode is depleted, the tank will start to corrode, eventually developing a leak. Certain water conditions will cause a reaction between this rod and the water. The most common complaint associated with the anode rod is a “rotten egg smell” produced from the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas dissolved in the water.
The anode rod should be inspected after a maximum of three years and annually thereafter until the condition of the anode rod dictates its replacement.

When I had the 800 guy on the line, asked him about this, as there was a round space in the top of the water heater, filled with Styrofoam, where the anode rod was supposed to be.  He said I’d have to get a qualified professional to take out the anode rod.  So forget that.

But then I asked him how long my water heater was warranted.  He asked for the serial number, then said six years.  Great.  It was put in ten years ago when I built the house.  Do I gamble that nothing will happen until after I sell the house, or bite the bullet and buy a replacement?  Amazon has the same one for $376.33 + $82.79 shipping, but then I still need to have a licensed plumber take out the old one and put in the new, no doubt for hundreds more.

These are more fun:

Flash Mob



doughMy brother convinced me to get on Facebook just to see my daughter’s postings of my grandkids – I don’t post myself, having this blog – but I do have to pass on some posts, this and Flash Mob, above.


Family History

September 3, 2014

roadtrek-190-simplicity-interior-7dMy cousins, H and M, have been doing research into our Blair family roots.  They drove in their Roadtrek 190 camper van (outfitted like a boat, with everything having a place – like this photo from the Net) to Kansas:

We stopped in Girard, KS where your great Grandparents Blair, Joseph Sydney Blair and his wife Esther A McClure Blair lived and are buried. We found their graves, hers quite large, his a small flat stone. She died at age 38 of “consumption”. We went to the Carnegie library in town and got a lot of information about Sydney and Esther, including their obits and the land plat info.

We drove out to the land, which is now a rectangle of trees and flat fertile farmed land. We went into the woods where we knew the house was and Hal found the remaining concrete foundation walls which appeared to be two buildings, the first about 12 by 27 feet. The second building behind had two openings on each side, which made it more likely a barn. Hal took many pictures, which was hard, as there were trees and bushes growing up in the middle of the foundation. We took a small piece of the concrete.

There is a publication called the Seeker which is published by the Girard Geneological Society and it is on microfiche as were all the issues of the local newspaper. Sydney was a trustee for the local high school. Hal is now reading Esther McClure’s letters again to pull some of the new information we have. It is so fun to unravel the puzzles of the past.

Here are the transcriptions:

The Letters of Esther McClure

Several years ago, Aunt Rosalie Denyes gave me a shoebox full of old family letters written to Sydney Blair almost 125 years ago. She said that she had read some of them and to not expect much, just news of people long forgotten.

In the summer of 2003, I started transcribing them. It wasn’t easy. Most of the letters are in very poor condition. One wonders how they could have survived as long as they did, occupying forgotten corners of attics and garages.

The first letters I picked were from a woman named Esther McClure in Cutler, Illinois to Sydney Blair in Girard, Kansas. Here is her story, pieced together from these letters and other sources:

Esther and Sydney were 27 years old in the spring of 1880, living in Cutler, Illinois with their families and were talking of getting married. Sydney went with others to Kansas to find land and make a new life. Esther remained behind to help on her father’s farm north of Cutler in a prairie known, as it is today, as Six Mile. She kept house for her father, at least two brothers, and hired hands. Her mother was dead.

It was no doubt a quite self sufficient farm. She cooked using a coal stove. They raised crops and animals, made their own soap, and even wove their own carpets.

Presumably Sydney went to Kansas by rail. It wasn’t by horse because he didn’t have one when he got there. However, he did have money and bought some land outside of Girard a few miles from the railroad.

The letters contain a lot of trivial and tragic news about people long gone. There are births, baptisms, sicknesses, and deaths. The U.S. Mail obviously played a vital role for separated families and friends. The letters also reveal an interesting portrait of pre-industrial life on the edge of the frontier. Ordinary life.

Sydney thought “Kansas was the place to start at the foot of the ladder.” It was a rougher life than in Cutler, but he liked it there. By December of 1880, he had a “little black shanty” with a living area measuring 16 X 15. The primitiveness didn’t seem to bother Essie, who said “as far as rough times goes I have always thought a person can have that anywhere.” She was not interested in staying where she was—“Sometimes I think no person could hire me to live in SixMile”.

In early summer of 1881, Joseph Sydney Blair came back to Cutler and married Esther McClure on Monday, July 4, 1881. They moved to Kansas where they had three children—Harry McClure Blair in 1882, John Elva Blair  in 1884, and Ivan Sydney Blair in 1886. She was a small woman weighing less than a hundred pounds and preferred to be called “Essie”. She was devoted—to her family, her friends, and to Sydney. She died in Kansas on Monday, August 15, 1892. She was 39. Grandpa (John) Blair was 8. As far as I know, no stories about her were ever told. However, from these letters you can see a devoted, caring, and practical woman with common sense and a dry wit who is about to leave the only home she has ever known to go to Kansas, about which she knows nothing.

For the record, John Elva Blair was father to Rosalie Blair Denyes, Esther Blair Groves, Richard Blair [my father], Margaret Jane Blair Stimson, and Elva Blair Dewsbury.

Hal Stimson, 12-21-2003

Esther and Sydney knew each other in Cutler and were planning to get married. They were 27 years old in the spring of 1880. Their families were well acquainted. They also knew people in Kansas. Sydney went to Kansas in March of 18801 without much to get started, only a little money. I don’t know how he got there but it wasn’t by horse. In Kansas, a friend (Mr. Shaw) lends him “a beast to ride”, presumably a mule. They were married in Cutler on Monday, July 4, 1881. She refers to Sydney in her letters as “my dearest friend.”

Essie remained in Cutler, Illinois living in an area known as Six Mile, an area prairie north of Cutler—presumably six miles north. He thought “Kansas was the place to start at the foot of the ladder.” It was a rougher life than in Cutler, but he likes it there. By December of 1880, he is living in a “little black shanty” measuring 16 X 15. The primitiveness doesn’t seem to bother Essie, who says “as far as rough times goes I have always thought a person can have that anywhere.” She is not interested in staying where she is—“ Sometimes I think no person could hire me to live in SixMile”.

Essie’s mother is dead so the work in the home at her father’s farm fell upon her.

The work was obviously hard, and athough she doesn’t complain about it she does tell about it:

“[I] Have been cleaning kitchen today, [I] sat down to supper got up [and] walked to & from prayer meeting[,] read[,] up & washed dishes, made yeast, caked sausage for breakfast, had worship and sat down to write at half past nine. Will tell you something I did to day & never did before, I forget to eat my dinner to day.” 12-1-1880

“It was 20 degrees below zero, but we had 8 persons for dinner besides our own family (18 in all), My! But it was fearful work, getting dinner, but it had to be done” (1-3-1881)

“I must sleep as much as I can get for my work seems to increase instead of decrease. Father has hired Albert Harris for a mo[nth]. I asked him not to but he went ahead and hired [him]. I told father I had all the work on hands I could possibly do and not more to[o]; but we can not get thing[s] to go the way we would like sometimes. (3-22-1881)

She makes her own soap.

You will please[e] excuse me for scribbling. [I] am in a great hurry, the men have to eat their supper yet. How I do not wa[n]t you to think I am making a poor mouth to try to make you pittie me; not by any means for I have much to be thankful for. I just want you to have some idea of the reason why I delayed for so long.(6-4-1881)

In January of 1881 Sydney is having second thoughts about Kansas and has talked about returning to Cutler. The very practical Essie wrote to him:

“I don’t work so extreemly hard every day as I did the day [I] forgot to eat dinner; you might come out next summer and see for your self what prospects are. I do

not want you to sell your place[.] I feel like I have lived in Six Mile as long as I

want to and longer. Sydney, I know if we ask our Heavenly Father to make a way for us He will: let us trust him. If you put up a kitchen before I go out put up a shade by all means, looks does not concern me as much as cents.”

Sydney learns a trade in Kansas, possibly to be a carpenter.

Her father had help on the farm. Men were hired to butcher the swine. There were hands hired to do the work. Essie talks about making dinner for “four men besides our own hired hand.”

She enjoys music and singing, talked about “singings” and parties where “Davie and Elmer” brought their fiddles. She wrote “the singings are still thriving”. She writes of a woman, “She thinks we have splendid singings.”

She regularly attends church and her religion, Presbyterian, is obviously important to her. However, any church is better than no church. In writing about going to Kansas she says “I guess we will have to be either Methodist or Baptist, but keep up heart.” She laments that Christians cannot agree. There is a lot of discord within her church, but she takes it well. “I did not know it [Sunday School] was to be so interesting or I would have sent a telegram for you to attend.” She reports it started off with a “general explosion” and became “an amusing, interesting meeting.” She did not take part in the argument. “It is a shame for Christian[s] to quarrel so. Then there was another quarrel last Sab. Morn before Sab. School just after S.S. [Sunday School] was over. Wm. Blair got up and said Maynard would [be] Superintend S.S. next Sab., that J.C. Blair had no right to take his place. I think it would have been better for all parties if he had spoken in a quieter and milder way. This is the day [the] Presbytery meets … It is raining and very disagreeable.” (4-25-1881)

Mostly, however, church life was peaceful and a central part of their lives: “This is the week of prayer, the two churches have agreed to unite (sing the old version) [There] will be meetings at the churches alternately in the day time, and every night at Cutler School house.” (1-3-81)

She also wants Sydney to join a church in Kansas: “Have you been to church since you left home?” (3-27-1880)

There are parties where they sing, but probably don’t dance.

Because of the distances, when she visits people, she stays with them.

The McClures own a loom, which is used to weave carpets. She weaves one for Sydney in Kansas.

She’s small, weighing only 99 pounds. She even signs her letters, “Your Little Pet”. A scale was somewhat a novelty. She reports the weights of her friends.

Dry sense of humor: When she hears that he was caught in a snow storm, she writes of someone telling her to advise Sydney not to buy in the windy part of Kansas. She also asks him how many hats he has—a subtle way of referring to their tendency to blow off in the wind—not out of her curiosity about his clothing.

“One of the items of [the] Cutler literary paper; [it] was something like this “Mike pulled the fence down and let cows in the corn field; go to Sam for particulars”. Think you had better take the paper or you will miss some important news. (3-2-1881)

“[I] Was up at Cutler this eve, [and I] was so disappointed to not get a letter from you, they said George took the news out today so don’t know whether there was one or not. “ Obviously George was not a member of the town’s brightest and best. (3-2-1881)

“There was a wood chopping at Mr. Raulston’s last Friday. I think they should have let him chop his own wood; it would just help his digestion. “ 3-2-1881)

She tells of one gentleman staying with her (12-1-1880) who sat by himself in the sitting room reading aloud and trying to pace around the room for exercise. She was alarmed because Samie could hear him “clear out to the wood pile with the doors and windows closed”. She gave him a light dinner “for his stomach’s sake.”

Sydney buys land right away in Kansas. Essie was very practical about it. She had wanted good land and timber. She didn’t care much about a house. That could come later. I don’t think he lives on the land because Essie talks about his boarding arrangements.

Christmas was modest by modern standards. She talks of a new year’s tree instead of a Christmas tree and the gathering at Christmas:

“Richmands & Maggie were there, Maggie got a string of popcorn of[f] the tree and several other things, [I] don’t know what they were. I got about two double handfuls of candy, and don’t you think some fellow give me his heart but it was broken.”

Practicality: “Your head will be leavel [level] if you keep your property in your own hands; why I would go clear wild if I had that much money.” (1-27-81)

“John said he believed a person would be justified in taking their own life if they knew they would have to suffer as his father had done. (3-22-1881)

She wants to know if he has a garden started (3-22-1881)

but how do the folk keep the chickens off the garden stuff; do they not have chickens in Kan? what about getting a cow out there; which will be cheapest to buy out there or ship from here could you get a good young cow out there? at what price? I don’t mean for you to quit your work and scour the state looking for a cow: just keep your eyes and ears on the look out when you’re back in town or at any of your neighbours. (4-6-1881)


“I don’t know anything about out doors since last Wednesday, [I] have had the measles. Samie & Willie broke out [with measles on] Tuesday & Wednesday they did not break out on me until Friday night, I tell you I was a pretty sick girl Saturday & Sabbath. I was taking them as soon as the boys but I washed and helped scrub Monday

and got to[o] damp but when they did break out they came out good that was all that saved me. I’m glad to be able to tell you this evening that am improving fast. All most every thing tastes good now. The measles are just sweeping the country. “ (1-27-81)

A sense of propriety:

When Carry Manhunt’s brother died she went to a singing with Andrew 3 weeks later. What was so bad was that after the singing she went to the store with him and purchased 3 cigars and gave them to Andrew. The store was full of boys which Essie described as “I don’t want to get acquainted with no such.”

The drama of leaving her home:

and it will be four more long mo[nths]. before I can see you; well, I’ll not tell you again to go to Kan. without [me.]… I can go; you can be sure. We are trying to arrange so I can go when you come back. I don’t have, nor will [I] not have time to get lonesome but would be so glad to see Sydney occasionally, if it were possible. (2-17-1881)

Father has not said for me to “get up and git” yet, but he hasn’t said [I] shan’t go (3-22-1881) She is 27 years old, yet is showing strong deference to her father.

The most touching letter was written in April of 1881. It begins:

“as [I] will not have to work as hard as usual tomorrow (our fast day) [I] will sit up and talk to Sydney a while to night; [I] wish [I] could whisper it in your ear for then [I] would not have to wait so long for an answer.


I have thought and prayed much over this subject, all I ask of you will be to not think hard of me for being home sick, as I expect to be; yo[u] know I never was away from home except that winter in Sparta and I was just at home there[.] Mattie always seemed like a sister to me; you know she lived here until she married. I am sure of one thing I would not exchange you and your humble home for any of the Six Mile boys with their hundred of acres. I know I am leaving a good home but I feel like I was going to a good one. So far as waiting longer goes, I do not want even to think of putting in a whole year of waiting to see the one I love: My!  Three months is as long as I want to be in suspense. If [I] could see you once or twice a mo.[month] it would be quite different. I don’t want you to think I am half dead to get married; it isn’t that I want a change from this constant work: I don’t have any idea if I could stand up to the work here another year if I could get throug[h] another year I don’t suppose I would be worth coming after. I know we have to work any where if we get along; but people can work better to their own plans than to others. I do not know what Father will do he has not decided yet and these dear brothers; Sydney that is the only thing that trouble me. Father is able to take care of himself and his habits are settled, but the boys are just at the critical point of their life.

There was a grand moon light picnic in Cutler last night. So grand they sent for Pinckneyville brass band and they came. And the only entertainments were the band[,] Ed Gordons stand, of candies, peanuts, lemonade and ice cream. I saw what I never saw in my life before, ladies eating ice cream wrapped in heavy shawls. It was very cool, unusually so. What do you think, I was there. I had just got Emma persuaded to go with the boys & I would stay at home; when we went out to milk[,] the band began playing,

(as we did not know it was to be there). When I heard that soon changed my mind: would have enjoyed it a very great deal better if a certain gent[tleman] in Kansas had been along. (6-4-1881)

1In her letter of March 27, 1880 she is thanking him for a buggie [buggy] ride. This is obviously in Cutler or very nearby. She had never been outside of Illinois.

They emailed me the photo of our grandparents in Kansas leaving for their honeymoon which I posted in this blog: http://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/a-death-in-the-family/


home 001home 003Home from my travels, welcomed by my cat and an overgrown yard – I guess we had a lot of rain, but the Web says only 2.43″ in August!   My Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’), in a pot on my deck, loves the heat and is full of lavender flowers, and my Butterfly Vine (Mascagnia macroptera) is also abloom.

home 004home 009

There was a large wolf spider trapped in my water bucket (which I, of course, dumped into the rosemary), and a cottontail stopped by to drink from the plant saucer.  The hallucinogenic Sacred Datura (datura wrightii) plants1 have sprung up all over the yard and the three red bird of paradise (caesalpinia pulcherrima) plants are finally flowering. Yellow butterflies abound, but don’t seem to ever alight, and there is an occasional Monarch.

home 008home 006

Repairing a damaged drip line two months ago, exerting more muscle than a wimpy woman has, I ended up with tendonitis.

Tendonitis most often is caused by repetitive, minor impact on the affected area, or from a sudden, more serious injury.  There are many activities that can cause tendonitis, including gardening…

Anyone can get tendonitis, but it is more common in adults, especially those over 40 years of age. As tendons age, they tolerate less stress, are less elastic, and tear more easily.

First-line treatment includes:

  • Avoiding activities that aggravate the problem
  • Resting the injured area
  • Icing the area the day of the injury
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines

It may take weeks to months to recover from tendonitis, depending on the severity of your injury.2

The first week I ignored the problem, and continued to go to all of my exercise classes, although ratcheting down from 5 lbs to 4.  Then I was scheduled for my yearly physical and the doctor told me all of the above.  So I continued my qigong (no weights), but stopped going to Silver Sneakers, and stopped heavy yard work.

Felt better this weekend so decided to stop taking Aleve.  And started trimming back the enthusiastically growing bushes and vines and drooping tree branches.   And a new spouter occurred in the yard that I had to repair it this morning.  The necessary work has sent me back to Aleve.

It is 10am on Wednesday, September 3, 2014.  A young coyote, dragging from the heat (97° with 33% humidity, temperature to climb to 104° with supposed thundershowers), just slogged across my driveway.


This is more from my cousin about the parabens in my sunscreen and rosacea cream3:

This is info on oregano oil for rosacea4. We put a few drops in argan oil. Look up parabens on the http://www.ewg.org/ site to see why you don’t want to put that on your skin.

Here is info on argan oil5. It is very healing to the skin and a good carrier oil for the four or so drops of oregano oil for rosacea. We have found that when H’s gut is inflamed, so is his face. The gut controls your immune system. Mites on the face are involved in rosacea as well. Oregano oil repels them and is antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal. Argan oil is expensive but can be bought at http://www.vitacost.com/ a little cheaper. Or you could put oregano oil in a small amount of organic cold pressed coconut oil. Better than parabens that are toxic. Doctors are idiots! Patients must be educated.



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