Well, I did it! I wrote every day from early October to New Year's Day 2010. Now I will write for fun when I feel like it and see where that gets me. Cheers to all my small-blessing-appreciating friends!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Little Larch

One of the prettiest sights in Spring is our tiny larch tree.  This larch is about ten years old. I have never pruned the branches, but yearly repotting and root-pruning have kept it small. It is only about a foot high.

Larches are deciduous conifers. In the fall their needles turn a pale yellow. In the forest the effect is almost magical. I like to see a single larch glowing like a fairy candle among the Douglas firs. Here is an amazing photo of western larches in Montana in their autumn color.

In the Spring, the needles emerge as dainty rosettes of the freshest green. It is such a sweet sight that it makes me happy just to look at it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Today I bought starts of Italian parsley and bitter salad greens. In Portland it isn't at all too early. As I chose my little plants, a voice behind me said, "Soooo, it begins!" Amused, I turned to see a slender woman about half a generation younger than I am.  She turned out to be at least a generation more innocent and enthusiastic.

"Will they survive the frost?" she asked. "Indeed they will," I answered, "but they are not very happy about being buried in snow." (Ours turned mostly to mush under that challenge.) I launched enthusiastically into an explanation of parsley's biannual nature. The second season it soon bolts and goes to seed, so it is wise to keep first-year plants coming along.

She gazed at me with her guileless eyes. "Do you teach? I really want to take lessons in permaculture!" I answered that I do not teach, all the while wondering to myself, "Exactly what is permaculture?" Too vain to admit I was vague on the subject, I asked her about the course she wished to take.

What I would  like to learn is how to deal with the voracious snails and caterpillars - my approach has been hunting them by flashlight at night and by grubbing about in likely hiding places by day. My new acquaintance volunteered that her ducks took care of all the snail, slugs and other pests. Ah, ducks... and chickens. Now my memory began to dredge up some notion of permaculture - chickens fertilizing the ground for crops and clearing out pests, cattle fertilizing the fallow land and so on, returning to the ancient cycles of agriculture before we began to believe chemistry would make everything better.

"But, the raccoons ate all my ducks," she continued.

Our little urban garden is too small and too formal to sustain flocks of ducks and chickens, much less a cow. Alas, my simple organic practices will never be self-sustaining. That doesn't stop the garden being our little bit of Eden, assuming that Eden had snails.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Message

Someone left me a comment on my last post, which serves as a reminder of why I undertook this blog last fall. The comment is in Chinese. Google Translate yielded a meaning:  "I love those who make their virtues as their own goal." My purpose was to practice awareness of life's small blessings, and writing did lead to a greater awareness of the goodness surrounding me.

This weekend has been filled with blessings. On Friday we shared a beautiful dinner of roasted salmon  with friends from Seattle. On Saturday,  a dear friend and I attended a brilliant concert by the Oregon Symphony, concluding with Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. Sunday I sang lovely music in church and attended the joyous birthday party of a friend who in December survived a brush with death from complications of swine flu. Through it all ran sunshine, warm weather and burgeoning growth in the garden. It seems all nature is bursting out at once.

It is too easy to fall into the habit of complaining. Better to take my virtues as my goal, to nurture the most generous, creative and appreciative in my own nature.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Picking Herbs

I haven't written lately, not for lack of small and large blessings. Today I am feeling grateful for having herbs in the garden, even in winter. When we moved to our house ten years ago, there was nothing whatsoever to eat in the garden. Right away we planted herbs - parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, of course, as well as tarragon for French chicken recipes, the indispensable Greek oregano, and mint. Where would we be without mint for mojitos? We have a lovely, small-leaved sage - proper sage grey-green - which has a great flavor. It is really excellent with garlic in chickpea soup.

Fortunately, in our mild Portland winters, most of the herbs are available year-round. The snow suffocated most of the parsley this year, and the oregano and mint go dormant. However, needing flavoring for a stew this evening, I was able to pick fresh, fragrant, rain-washed rosemary, thyme and sage.  What a difference fresh herbs make! I joined them with black peppercorns and juniper berries for most excellent flavoring.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I like the smooth hardness of nutmegs, also the veining on the inside. We have a small nutmeg grater that was my Grandma's. Curiously, nutmeg grating was an activity at the Montessori preschool my sons attended.   Considering the number of times I have grated a knuckle along with the nutmeg, I am surprised they would have tots doing this. Both boys were enthusiastic nutmeg graters. They had a brilliant idea to open a nutmeg stand, similar to the ubiquitous lemonade stand. David said earnestly, " It will be so nice for people coming home from work who forgot to buy nutmeg at the store."

Obviously nutmeg is a nut. It comes from an evergreen tree native to the Molucca Islands. Like many of the Spice Islands plants, it is grown throughout the Indian Ocean region and in the West Indies. It is grown in Zanzibar (one of the best-named places) and is shown on the flag of Granada.  It was a valuable trade item since Roman times. The Wiki article states that "at one time, nutmeg was one of the most valuable spices. It has been said that in England, several hundred years ago, a few nutmeg nuts could be sold for enough money to enable financial independence for life." According to another source, in the 1800s in Connecticut, scamming peddlers sold wooden fake nutmegs.

Nutmeg is also the source of mace, which goes so well with oranges in baking. Mace is the brilliantly-colored inner coating of the nutmeg.

Apparently nutmeg contains psychoactive substances and has been used as a hallucinogen. However the unpleasant taste of an intoxicating dose of nutmeg, along nasty side effects and toxicity have kept it from popular use. This is why you shouldn't feed eggnog to your pet!  I wonder whether the Montessori school knew about this?

Friday, January 29, 2010


I was wondering about our baking spices. We have all heard of the romantic Spice Islands, which could be smelled miles out to sea. But what countries are they? What do the trees look like, that produce these spices? How do they grow? In ancient times, spice traders kept secret the sources of their precious wares, but I have only to consult Wikipedia.

I began with my very favorite, cinnamon. We all have seen the little rolls of cinnamon bark, so we are quite certain they come from the bark of a tree. I looked it up and found that cinnamon trees are native to  Sri Lanka, that paradisaical isle with precious stones for beach pebbles.  Strange stories abounded in Western lands about the source of this valuable spice. For example, according to the Wiki, "in Herodotus and other authors, Arabia was the source of cinnamon: giant cinnamon birds collected the cinnamon sticks from an unknown land where the cinnamon trees grew and used them to construct their nests; the Arabs employed a trick to obtain the sticks." Indeed, cinnamon was distributed to Europe through the port of Alexandria in Egypt. The history of cinnamon is very interesting and worth reading about.

Cinnamon is cultivated in many countries around the Indian Ocean, including India and Indonesia, as well as Brazil and the West Indies. It is an evergreen plant in the laurel family (which, incidentally, includes avocados - who would have guessed?) The trees are coppiced to produce many young shoots. Their outer bark is stripped away and the inner bark collected and dried. This is our cinnamon, without which there would be no cinnamon toast! 

Soon I will write about nutmeg and clove.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Petite Musicians

Our house if full of musicians. Most of them are quite small, and some are strange. Here are a few:

How many homes do you know where a clown performs happily with a cat and a dwarf - accomplished string players all?

The little Dutch boy and the angel join in a jolly folk tune with heavenly descant

My favorites of all are the baroque ensemble. They are so elegant! They are mismatched in size but make such charming music together.