Elmo!

Because he’s hanging from the underside of a lower stem, it was hard to get a good photo of him.  This was the only one that turned out.  It’s kind of magical, isn’t it?

Supposedly in about 2 weeks, Elmo will become a beautiful butterfly, and then we’ll figure out if Elmo is an Elmo or an Elmette.

Cherry pie is in the oven and Elmo is transforming.  All’s right with the world.

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Big doings!

First off, apologies for the lag between posts.  It’s been hot and rainy here, and I’ve been wicked busy doing sales for some friends.  Oh and writing.  Yeah, that too.

Glinda and I have been keeping tabs on the single caterpillar left in our herb pot.  Last weekend we added more dill, and some fennel and rue, all of which are supposed to appeal to the black swallowtail caterpillar.  The rue worked its witchery on him  (I call him Elmo.  I don’t know why.) and now Elmo is half cocooned on a branch of it.  I have to say that a safely netted pot of herbs seems like a good place to be reborn.  I didn’t have my camera with me when I went out just now, but I hope to get back out before too much longer.  Pictures may follow.

Tara has five buds!  One is starting to show color.  When she blooms it’s going to be amazing, I think.  Cordelia is actually blooming, proving how resilient she really is.  Morgan, Hermia, Karen, Josephine, and Mary have all just burst into summer with rafts of blossoms.  Willow is currently spent, in part because one of the storms blew through with a fury and knocked down four big canes on Buffy, three of which landed on Will.  The canes had to be cut and Will looks a bit bounced around right now, but I have faith that she’ll recover.  The girls seem to be plagued with leaf-cutter bees, but as long as they don’t destroy plants, I’m okay with that.  Leaf miners have invaded our columbines so Glinda pulls out the infected plants as she finds them.

Mary

We put in three more tomato plants on Monday, just ahead of a nasty looking storm.  I don’t recall which ones they were save for Mr. Stripey. I was digging too fast to pay much attention.  The Black Krim tomatoes are getting big and there are two San Marzanos at about 1.5 inches.  The others are either growing well or blossoming, so I hope we’ll be having a lot more tomatoes this year than the previous years.  Garlic has thrown up only a few scapes this year, which is a disappointment.  However the chard is getting huge and must be eaten soon.  And the onions are growing well.  We’ll get more sets next year.  The celery bottoms I planted are also looking good.  I want to try to do more with kitchen scraps

Meanwhile a couple of views from inside where it’s hot but tolerable.  (I’m holding off on the a/c.)

Everyone’s Aunties

Because I know many of you are waiting on tenterhooks to hear the next installment of the Great Black Swallowtail Adventure, I thought I’d post today’s photo of the biggest of the ‘pillars.  From what I can gather, this one is just about full size which means 1) It’ll be making a cocoon soon and 2) It’ll stop eating our dill.  I’m not kidding when I tell you that half of it is just sticks now.  We still have one little guy in an earlier instar (which is what they call the stages of growth, so the eating will go on for a while longer, at least until they cocoon or a bird gets them.  We have six on this plant alone.  I’m going to get more dill this weekend because if they like it, that’s good enough for me.  The more pollinators we can nurture the happier we both are.

And speaking of nurturing, the story of The Bowl has a new chapter.  What is The Bowl you ask.  Well when we moved here, I was standing on the porch talking to Charles and I noticed a not unattractive brown-glazed pottery bowl sitting upside down atop the pillar that holds up the roof of our front porch.  (There’s a gap.)  Charles pulled it down, I washed it, and figured I’d use it as a cache pot for a plant.  It wasn’t long at all before I realized why it had been left there.
First the mourning doves built a nest up there.  They’re very shy birds, and as soon as they realized there would be people coming and going all the time, they abandoned the nest.  Fortunately they hadn’t laid any eggs yet.  We cleaned the platform off and put the bowl back up.  Then the sparrows nested behind it.  They had more stick-to-itiveness, but still left before there were eggs.  We cleaned that out too and pushed the bowl back.
Did I leave the stove on?
Then a squirrel came along and moved the bowl forward again so he could hide his stash behind it.
As squirrels do, he forgot about it fairly quickly.  Once again we cleaned it out and put the bowl back up.  
Alas, we forgot to turn it upside down.  You know what’s coming, don’t you?  A couple of weeks ago, Glinda was saying goodnight to Meester Jim, and she looked up to see a little squirrel head poking up out of the bowl.  We laughed about it, but I didn’t think anything of it because they do tend to move around a lot.  And then this afternoon I went out to fetch the mail and saw this:
And now I’m wondering if we’re not going to be aunties again.  Eh, they’re welcome as long as they behave themselves, though I think that as soon as we’re sure the thing is empty, it’s going to get put back upside down and wedged into the corner.
In other news, our chard and garlic scapes are nearly ready to eat.  The black krim tomato is doing very well, but I think we need more plants or we’ll be harvesting half a dozen fruits tops this year.  I think we’re going up to Meinke’s or Gethsemane this weekend to get a few more, plus some more herbs.  They’re not doing well  in the strawberry pot.
The roses are doing very well.  Diana is taking over the world, Fred and River are in bloom, Tara has two buds and Mary and Hermia?

My writing process sucks

I have a cold.  I sound like I swallowed a penny whistle, and whenever I try to do housework I end up soaked with sweat.  As a result I’ve been sitting at the desk quite a bit and trying to write.  Unfortunately I picked today to read over the 17k words of the novel I’m working on.

Oh my god, it sucks rocks.  It’s talky and boring, and none of the characters have much… character. They don’t seem to like each other and they sure don’t want to sleep with each other.  All they do is travel from one place to another, have conversations that skirt the real issues, and eat. Oh, and lie to one another.  Everyone is lying to someone else and the net result is that nobody is really engaging with anyone, including me.

Have I really forgotten how to write? Am I losing my mind?

I expect every writer feels that way in the process of shaping a story.  It’s like being stuck at a dinner party with a lot of people who you were certain were going to be brilliant, but instead keep on nattering about the most inane things imaginable while throwing food or trying to stick forks into the other diners.  You end up wondering if you shouldn’t just nuke them all from orbit.  It’s the only way to be sure.

So what to do?  I could trash it, but with 17k+ words written that seems a lot like buying food and then letting it rot in the fridge.  (Okay, yeah, I do that too. Shame on me.) However I could argue that spending more time on a story that seems to be going nowhere is good words after bad.  Why waste my time if it’s not a good story?

But what if it is?  What if there’s a good story in there, but it’s my attention that’s fragmented, my sense of the story that’s skewed?  I could put it aside for a while and work on something else.  But right now there’s nothing else that’s occupying the space in my head reserved for stories.  None of the old ones are sending me write this! messages.  And maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe I need to spend my time cleaning out closets, scrubbing floors (I did that today.) or arranging my thousands of photographs dating back to the mid-19th century.  Or I could read.  That’s always worth doing, right?

But I want to be writing.  I really feel like I need to be sitting here stringing words together.  It’s like a physical need for me.  So in the end, I think that maybe the best answer is: The damn thing isn’t finished yet. Why be so negative? I need to stop rereading my work because it always makes me want to go rewrite.  The end result is that the beginning of my stories are usually overworked, the middles are  good and the ends read like a rough drafts.

I’ve pretty much decided to stop being such a mope and bash on with the damn thing.  There’s a story there, I’m sure of it, and some interesting characters, even if they are acting like the most boring people on the planet.

Everyone has a different writing process.  I just wish mine wasn’t so weird and time-consuming.

I have a cold

I feel like crap.  However I did go out and take pics of our caterpillars for you.  You’re welcome.

There are about half a dozen of them.  Here are three.

They’re an inch or a bit more.  If you touch them, little orange horns pop out of their heads.

Aren’t they handsome?  I can’t wait to see them turn into butterflies.

This is an early stage which was why I wasn’t able to identify them the first day.
Sorry the focus is so bad.

They don’t appear to be decimating the dill.  In fact, I see almost no damage at all.  Either way, they’re welcome.  We’ve got dill growing up wild all over the garden.

Foul weather and fair

Tomb of the Unknown Bunny where all little lost
souls are laid to rest.

Yesterday was tense around the Villa.  The news was full of warnings of a massive storm front, what they call a “derecho” which I think will probably be the next meteorological buzzword, coming straight for Chicago.  It sounded a lot like the storm we had last May when there was a lot of hail that killed a baby bunny in our garden.  I texted Glinda and said that while I didn’t relish the notion of the garden getting bashed to crap again, I emphatically did not want to bury anything else. Not that there was much either of us could do about it.

Most of the day was nice enough, a bit overcast, but nothing really threatening until late in the afternoon when the sky turned very dark.  I expected the wind to pick up and closed the back windows which open out and are like sails in a high wind.  Glinda left work early, that is to say at the normal time since she’s been working overtime for weeks now, and got home just before it began to rain.  We really were expecting the worst, and pulled out the cat carriers in case we had to take them down to the basement.  I do get that tornadoes are dangerous, but I honestly hate sheltering down there, especially when there is a flash flood watch.  I’d hate to be stuck down there with rising water and  the power still on.

It didn’t come to that, thank goodness.  We had dinner and watched Fringe, and the storm seemed like a big wash-out.  Much as I love storms, I’m just as glad that we dodged the bullet this time.

Today dawned bright and beautiful with substantially cooler temperatures.  Nothing seemed to have been harmed by the rain which was heavy at times.  Yesterday I discovered that our dill is loaded with caterpillars and spent some time trying to identify them, but none of the pics I saw came close to what I was seeing out there.  However when I went out today (I had a centipede who needed evicting.) they’d already grown so much that I was able to figure out that they’re Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Apparently they’re big fans of dill, parsley and some other things we have out in the garden.  I’m thrilled and don’t begrudge them a single bite.  To quote the article I’ve linked to above:
“Swallowtail caterpillars are beneficial insects; however, if you are a parsley farmer, you may have a different opinion!  Caterpillars forage heavily on their host plants, but they also serve as a food source for songbirds and other wildlife.  After their metamorphosis into butterflies, they become pollinators, which is important because one-third of the world’s cultivated crops depend upon the work of pollinators like butterfly and bees.  In addition, butterflies are beneficial to humans for their aesthetic qualities.  Many species are brightly colored and so capture the attention and marvel of many people.  Just watching the whimsical flight of butterflies is enough to lift the spirits!”

I’ve seen the swallowtails in the garden but for whatever reason I never imagined them laying their eggs with us.  I’m so pleased that the local wildlife is finding our garden a welcoming place.  This makes me more determined than ever to start building shelters for the beneficial critters.  I’ve been collecting a lot of ideas over on my Gardens: Critter Comforts Pinterest board.  If you know of any others, please leave the URLs in the comments section.

Electrical banana Is bound to be the very next phase

You may remember from my last post that I was having problems with a blown circuit about ten days ago. well, Alex arrived the next day,  discovered that the breaker was loose, tightened it and left with all the lights back on.  Yay!  End of problem

Fast forward to yesterday morning.  I turn on the lamp beside my desk, there’s a loud pop and the circuit pops again.  So I text Charles again, (TGFC*) and he calls Alex who says he’ll call me as soon as he can.  In the interim, my friend Pam reiterates her offer to bring her husband — something of a genius with anything electrical, mechanical, or digital — over to fix the problem.  I really appreciate it but since I’d already paid Alex  to fix it, I figured I might as well get my money’s worth out of him.

Alex calls a bit past three, and shows up not too much later with his son.  He’s as confused as I am, and they run up and down the stairs a few times before he realizes that the problem is not with the breaker or even the outlet where the lamp is plugged, but with the overhead in the living room.  He shows me the wires which look like the insulation has been partly stripped off of them.  The result is that they occasionally touch each other.  This is Not Good.  This can cause all manner of trouble including horrible death, something I try very hard to avoid.

Fortunately it’s not a hard fix, and Alex’s son offers to clean the fan blades while they’re down, which makes me feel like a complete failure as a housekeeper.  Nevertheless I take him up on it.  I’m not proud.

They leave, I text Charles again, tell him all is well.  He phones to make extra sure.  TGFC.

Fast forward to about eleven last night.  ALL the lights dim including my laptop screen.  Twice.  Glinda texts me to ask if my lights dimmed.  I say yes, but that if it’s all the lights in the house it’s almost certainly an outside line.  I text it with authority.  I wish I actually believed it.

This morning everything went on and stayed on.  The house didn’t burn down or electrocute all of us.  I’m hoping this is the end of it, but with the Villa, you never know.

*New acronym: Thank God for Charles.   Please to be remembering it.

Why you should never purchase property

When something goes wrong, you’re the one who has to fix it.  If you rent, you get your landlord to fix it.  Now I know that’s not an easy task in many cases but when you’re the property owner you have only yourself to blame.

Today, while I was working at the desk, I heard a loud popping coming from the area to the right of my desk, and the lamp on the table went out.  It freaked me out but I thought it was the (relatively) new LED bulb I’d put in the lamp.  I thought perhaps the way it was situated made the ballast heat up too much and blew the bulb out.  I unplugged it and left it alone for about half an hour.  Unfortunately when I got up to get a new bulb I discovered that there were lights out all over the house.  They’re mostly overheads in the kitchen and dining room, but there are two wall outlets out as well.  So I figured that it was a tripped circuit breaker.

I went downstairs and flipped the breaker, then went up and checked.  Sure enough the lights were back on.  I went to check the can lights in the kitchen and the breaker tripped again.  So I went back down, reset it and it tripped again immediately.  I’m not a total idiot.  I got the message.  The breaker went off and it’s staying off until I get this sorted out. I phoned Charles who was down in southern Illinois.  He’s going to phone Alex, the electrician for me and get him out here tomorrow.  Thank God for Charles.  (Didn’t I say I’d say that a lot here?)

Charles in my office
Thank God for Charles
 (Photo credit: Tracy Rowan)

So while I actually have no clue what the problem is, here are the possibilities as I see them:

  1. The LED bulb did, in fact, overheat, and it blew out the outlet it was plugged into, and probably the lamp as well.
  2. One of the ants who keep coming in here no matter what I do to discourage them, crawled into the outlet and fried it, and himself.
  3. It’s something else entirely.  Ghosts, demons… a rogue power surge that fried only one circuit in my house.
The possible outcomes:
  1. Alex finds the problem and fixes it.  I pay him and all is well.
  2. Alex finds the problem, it’s huge, he fixes it and I pay him a lot of money and have a nervous breakdown.
  3. Alex doesn’t find the right problem, fixes a different one, I pay him and we all die in the middle of the night when that kind of thing is most likely to happen.  I don’t know why this is, but it’s a law of awfulness.
  4. Rocks fall, everyone dies.  This at least eliminates the need to pay Alex.
Have you gathered yet that I’m an awfulizer?  I imagine all the worst possible scenarios so I can control the situation when the fact is that the situation can never be controlled.  And I’ve probably just disproved the title of this post because the only measure of control you have is being your own landlord.  Possibly Glinda is lucky to have a paranoid lunatic for a landlord.
And considering that we’ve had rain for days and it’s really cold out and we can’t do much in the garden, that is about all the news that’s coming out of the Villa right now.