Saturday, February 28, 2009

The White House Easter Egg Roll

The White House Easter Egg Roll was first started by Dolly Madison in 1814. The custom was abandoned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his administrations, but revived by Mamie Eisenhower during her husband's.

The two children pictured were participating in the 1898 White House Easter festivities, during the service of Republican William McKinley, the last Civil War veteran to be elected President of the United States. The photograph is courtesy of the Frances Benjamin Johnson Collection in the Library of Congress.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Last Evening On The Beach

There was a lot to see on the beach last evening.

The tide was extremely low and outgoing, so my daughter had to step gingerly over the exposed reefs when she got out of the water after a surf session.

These terns were standing quite still, staring out to sea.

It's amazing how artfully the waves drape the seaweed along the shore.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Looking South And Looking West

Our house has a southern and westerly exposure, so the low winter sun streams through the front windows and brightens the rooms for most of the day. The view from my chair at the desk is across the entryway and through the living room windows, out across the front yard, with a glimpse of the street where the mailbox stands.

Our street is short, not much of a thoroughfare, so the majority of passersby are on foot rather than riding in cars. Most of the houses in the neighborhood are old beach bungalows, 1960s California ranch styles, and stucco duplexes, with a few newer homes in the mix. The landscape is mostly mature, with lots of full grown eucalyptus trees, Norfolk and Torrey pines, coral and jacaranda trees and untold varieties of palms.

We live between two fresh water lagoons that are main stopping points along the Pacific Flyway migratory route, so there's no shortage of birds in our trees. We still have possums, raccoons and skunks, but the bobcats and coyotes have moved further inland as the coast has developed.

The picture below is looking west down our street, with the Pacific Ocean just beyond the camera's view, at the bottom of a 60 foot cliff.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Freesias Are Budding

Freesias are one of most pleasantly fragrant flowers of all time. Of their 14 species, 12 are native to Cape Province, South Africa. Often confused with bulbs, freesias are actually grown from corms, which are solid underground plant stems. Bulbs are layered scales that are modified leaves. Each freesia corm sends up one spike of funnel shaped flowers, single or double petaled in white, yellow, red, orange, violet or cream. Generally planted in September or October, they bloom in February and March along the coast in southern California. Best planted in groups, they are an excellent cut flower whose fragrance will fill a room.

Other common plants grown from corms are cyclamen, crocus, taro, montebretia, crocosmia and gladiolus. As the corm matures it will produce smaller corms along the crown that can be transplanted and will bloom the following year.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Rarest Hummingbird

Only 100 of these rare little birds have been sighted since 1885. It's the Leucistic hummingbird, not a true albino, but almost totally white. This one is busying itself with a cape honeysuckle bush in Del Mar, a town 5 miles to the south of us. Hummingbirds have the ability to judge a flower's nectar content and they prefer red and orange flowers above all others.

These photographs were taken by local wildlife photographer Chris Mayne. We were on this hummingbird's migratory path in the autumn and it seems to have chosen to stick around for the winter rather than to continue south.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Old Friend, Friend

In the course of blogging, mention was previously made of my childhood dog, Friend, who was half St. Bernard and half Bassett Hound. My blogging friend, Charmaine Manley, whose blog is linked to the right, expressed an interest in seeing such a beast, and as his photo just surfaced, it's a pleasure to oblige.

Friend wasn't particularly bright, but what he lacked in brains he made up for in personality and heart. My sister's dog, Happy (half German Shepherd and half coyote), acquired at the same time from the same dog pound, was the leader of the two. Where H-Dog raced, Friend lumbered, always bringing up the rear. Loyal as the day is long, they were devoted pets who brought years of companionship, affection and fun.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

An Austrian Master Of Art Nouveau

Koloman Moser, born in Austria in 1868, was more than an accomplished painter. As a contemporary and associate of Gustav Klimt, and a co-founder, with Josef Hoffmann of Wiener Werkstatte, he was a pillar of the Vienna Secessionist Movement and among the most highly regarded Art Nouveau artists of his time. He designed furniture, textiles, stained and leaded glass windows and created ceramics, glass and jewelry.

The picture above is an oil on canvas by Moser, titled "Dame Mit Hut Und Schleier"

The photograph below is from the book "Art Nouveau" by Gabrielle Fahr-Becker. It shows the front of a writing desk by Moser, with highly detailed marquetry that includes elm, ebony, and ivory. The women's gowns are made of inlaid mother of pearl and the wood that looks like rosewood is palisander, a very heavy tropical hardwood that, when soaked, becomes pliable enough to peel, and thus, lends itself beautifully to veneering.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Return Of The Calla Lilies

Calla lilies are one of the most reliable garden performers. They come back faithfully, year after year, and grow such abundant clumps that they can easily be thinned, separated and moved around the garden. They tolerate sun or partial shade along the coast, and although white is the all time classic, they come in pinks and yellows as well, with either plain or varigated foliage. These grow best at the back of the border, as they'll grow up to 3 feet tall.

Callas are a terrific cut flower, either singly, in bunches together or in mixed bouquets with more delicate flowers. They are especially beautiful when cut as a bud, as they will unfurl completely indoors.

If you find a place for them in your garden, do check the back side of their leaves, as these plants are especially attractive to snails.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gipsy Smith ~ Loved By All

Gipsy Smith was born in 1860, in a tent six miles outside London. One of six children born to parents who traded in tinware, baskets and clothespins, he was raised in a gypsy wagon, and by all accounts, it was a happy childhood in a loving family. Gipsy's father was in and out of jail for various petty crimes, and it was there he heard the gospel and converted. Gipsy himself became an evangelist at 17, with the Christian Mission, which became the Salvation Army. With no formal education, in his teens he taught himself to read and write. Gipsy was known to sing as well as he preached and some of his hymns were eventually recorded by Columbia Records.

During World War I, under the auspices of the YMCA, Gipsy Smith went to the front lines in France, to preach to British troops. He was loved and accepted by all denominations. His devotion was recognized by King George VI, who awarded him the Order of the British Empire.

Gispy Smith died in 1947, aboard the Queen Mary, as he made his 45th Atlantic crossing.

The picture above shows Gipsy Smith with a band of gypsies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in January, 1909, sitting outside their wagon, beside one of their tents. That's him in the center, holding the puppy. The picture below shows him at the age of 20, a captain in the Salvation Army.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thomas Makes Himself At Home

It's been four years now since Thomas, the cat who visits, first jumped in through the living room window. He was quite a bit smaller then and not so wise to the ways of the world, but no less affectionate nor shy about making himself at home. He actually lives across the street, in a house with no shortage of other animals. An actual count has eluded us for years, as the neighbors have both indoor and outdoor pets in abundance. We've figured he likes to come here because he doesn't have to share food or attention. Over the years, he's claimed various spots as his own - on a quilt at the foot of the bed, a particular chair in the living room. His new spot is up high in the front window, in the shadow of an old wooden weathervane. The sunlight dapples there as it filters through the twining vine on the arbor and he's afforded a direct line of sight to the birdbath, should any of the birds let down their guard long enough to become his next meal.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pictures Of The Floating World

Both of these Japanese woodblock prints were made in 1861 by a master printmaker of the Yokohama School, Yoshikazu Utagawa. This style of painting and printing is called Ukiyo-e, which means "Pictures of the Floating World", a reference to the artists' preferred subjects - the kabuki actors, courtesans and prostitutes and other entertainers who inhabited the Floating World. The artists also depicted modern urban life and contemporary cultural scenes.

Utagawa was born and lived his life in Edo (modern Tokyo). He worked mainly from 1850-1870 and his favorite subject was foreigners. The woodblock above is called "Foreigners Love For Children" and the one below is "Americans".

Ukiyo-e had a tremendous impact on the avant-garde artists in the French Impressionist Movement, who sought the woodblocks for their personal collections. Soon Japonisme was all the rage, with a high demand for Japanese ceramics, fabrics, glass and art of all kinds.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tall Cowboy

Known simply as "Tex", Ralph E. Madsen, born in 1897, grew to be 7'6" and was considered the tallest man in the United States at that time. He spent most of his life on a ranch in Texas, acquired veterinary skills and was an authority on horses, sheep, cows and pigs. He eventually traveled to every state, Mexico and Canada, always accompanied by his beloved miniature horse. He attempted to join the Army in both the U.S. and Canada, but was turned down due to his size.

Mr. Madsen traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1919, when he was 22 and was photographed shaking hands with Senator Morris Sheppard on the steps of the Capitol. He appeared in three films in Hollywood, playing a giant each time. A good natured man, who was described as "laughing with the world", he was quoted as saying "We don't have to die to go to heaven, we can enjoy this world, we are not so sure of the next."

Photo courtesy of the Harris & Ewing Collection in the Library of Congress.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Showing His True Colors

In an effort to attract a mate, the usually drab olive colored American goldfinch grows a bright yellow coat for the summer. They're monogamous birds and raise one brood per year. Found from coast to coast in the United States, and being short distance migrants, the ones that find their way to either of our seaside lagoons tend to stay put all year. Our temperate climate provides them with an endless food source.

These little fellows are granivores, with beaks that are adapted to eating seed heads. They'll occasionally settle for bugs, maple sap, tree buds or berries, but they thrive on weed seeds. You can easily attract goldfinches to your garden by planting zinnias, globe thistles, cosmos, or bee balm. The picture above shows a male goldfinch feasting on dandelion seeds.

Thanks to California wildlife photographer Chris Mayne for sharing his photograph.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Beguiling Begonia

You can't go wrong with angel wing begonias. These beauties will bloom all year in temperate climates, in sun or partial shade, in the ground, hanging pots or containers. Their foliage is just as beautiful as the flowers - jagged edge wing shaped leaves that are deep green and bronze, tinged with red. The best part is, once you get a plant established, you can break off a stem at one of the joints, stick it in some good potting soil, and it will root itself and take off growing as a whole new plant. You may have to stake it at first, depending on how tall a piece you break off. A kabob skewer works perfectly as a temporary stake, until the plant develops a strong enough root system to stand alone. In colder climates, these plants will adapt to spending part of the year indoors. Move the container around the house until you find a partially sunny window where your plant will thrive. Begonias will tolerate a little neglect, but with regular water, fertilizer and grooming, you'll be rewarded with a robust plant that blooms profusely.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Coming Clean On Valentine's Day

If you celebrate this sentimental custom and want to give a gift that creates lasting memories, consider choosing something other than the usual flowers, candy, jewelry or a romantic dinner out. Indeed, my two most unusual Valentine's Day gifts are still the most memorable. One year the mailman delivered a large manila envelope that contained a crisp Hawaiian frog that had previously been flattened by a car, with a note attached that read "I'd jump for joy if you'd be my Valentine". More recently, my sweetheart's token of love was two industrial sized boxes of Tide laundry detergent. Needless to say, he was on my mind every laundry day for the next 6 months. As wise men say, "It's the thought that counts" and "Laughter is the best medicine".

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pacific Blue

The late afternoon sun turned the water dark and sparkling, in this photograph of my daughter taken last week during our heat wave. It was shot near Swamis, just north at Boneyard's, the surf spot that gets its name from the shallow reefs that lie just under the waves. The reefs there are part of a marine reserve, so there's an abundance of fish, including bright orange garibaldis. Moray eels make their homes in crevasses in the reefs, stingrays swim along the sand and lobsters live out a bit further. The reefs themselves are covered with sea anemones and barnacles. Abalone used to thrive, but they've been scarce since the 1970s. The kelp beds haven't been harvested lately, so the thick forests of seaweed help keep the surfline glassy. For the surfers and paddlers out on the water, the only sounds are the waves, their boards moving through the water and an occasional cry of a bird.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where Science And Religion Meet

Louis Comfort Tiffany remains the American artist most closely identified with the Art Nouveau movement. In addition to stained glass and blown glass, he mastered metalwork, enamels, jewelry and ceramics. Pictured above is the center panel of a triptych he made in 1890 for Yale University's Linsley-Chittenden Hall.

It shows science and religion in harmony. Science, on the left, is personified by Research, Intuition, Devotion, Labor and Truth. Religion, on the right, takes the form of Reverence, Inspiration, Purity, Faith and Hope. Both are joined together in the center by Light-Love-Life. An unseen panel on the left shows Art (Form, Color and Imagination) joined to Science and the third panel, unseen on the right, joins Music (Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Verse and Voice) to Religion.

The quality and stunning beauty of the stained and leaded glass windows of Tiffany Studios have set the bar so high, their excellence has yet to be matched.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Out The Kitchen Window

This month's full moon was officially on the 9th, but it still loomed large when the kitchen curtains were opened at dawn yesterday. Native Americans referred to February's full moon as the Full Snow Moon or Full Hunger Moon. The Celts called it the Moon of Ice.

Here it's caught, with available light, in a soft pink and blue morning sky with the silhouettes of massive kentia palms, cactus and a sprouting jacaranda tree, just prior to slipping from view as it set into the vast Pacific.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have Your Cake And Eat It, Too

We like home made cakes, baked from scratch. Carrot cakes, chocolate cakes, applesauce cakes, banana cakes - everyone has a favorite. We modify recipes that call for oil or shortening and substitute butter. Two things remain constant - the Limoges cake stand is put into service and the frosting, by popular demand, is always cream cheese. If you like cream cheese, as well, here's an easy, no-fail recipe that makes plenty to frost a double layer cake.

1 cube butter
1 block cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla (real, not fake)
1 whole box powdered sugar + 1/3 of another box (to taste)

While you mix your cake batter, have the butter and cream cheese sitting on the counter, softening. Once your cake is baked and cooled, blend the softened butter, cream cheese and vanilla at medium speed, until light and fully mixed. Add the powdered sugar in thirds, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and get it all blended. After the first box, add the next third to the taste and thickness you prefer. Voila! It spreads easily and sets up shortly.

A cup of tea and a piece of cake the morning after is hard to beat.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Best Is Yet To Come

Today the little girl with the yellow hair and the yellow bear in the field of yellow flowers begins another decade of brightening days and warming hearts.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Old Soldiers' Home In Sawtelle

The young boy in the sailor suit is my grandfather Otto, posing on the steps of the Sawtelle Old Soldiers' Home in 1909. His mother, Clara stands behind him and his dad is the second man to his left. Knowledge of why they rode the train north from San Diego county and what event they attended is lost to time. It had to have been a very special occasion for them to have ventured so far from home.

This second picture shows the entire group, gathered on the steps of the Home, which was designed by renowned architect Stanford White. Abraham Lincoln created the Old Soldiers' Homes, to house disabled veterans of the Civil War, as one of his last acts in office. The Home in Sawtelle was opened in 1888 and was the first one built west of the Rockies.

This is a photograph of Sawtelle, circa 1890. Located between Santa Monica and Los Angeles, Sawtelle remained an independent town until 1922, when it was absorbed by the city of Los Angeles. That's a streetcar making its way down the wide boulevard. You can see the Old Soldiers' Home at the top left of the photograph.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Neighborhood Color

The flowers along our front walkway are convinced spring is already here. We just had the year's first rainfall, enough to give the ground a good soaking, which means this weekend will be the perfect time to pull weeds and do some transplanting. We collect seeds all year and let them dry out in paper grocery bags, so once the weeding is finished, fresh seeds can be scattered. As the freesias are just starting to set buds, it won't be long before their fragrance fills the garden.

Oblivious to winter, a stalk of bananas ripens over the back wall, in the neighbor's yard.

Friday, February 6, 2009

It's Going To Be A Bright, Sunshiny Day

The weatherman is calling for rain and more rain, notwithstanding there's nary a cloud to be seen. Yesterday was clear and warm on our local beaches. My mom joined me for a two mile walk from Cardiff to Swamis and back again. The tide was low early in the morning and although it's been days since there's been much wave action, that didn't deter a handful of surfers, kayakers and stand up paddlers from getting wet. Seagulls, pelicans, terns and sandpipers were out in force, as well, working the sand and probing clumps of seaweed for tasty breakfast morsels, or floating casually offshore on the placid Pacific.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Say Hello To My Little Friends

Iceland poppies are hard to beat for a burst of bountiful beauty this time of year. A perennial, they're treated like an annual in these parts, but put on a show for a good 4-6 months if given some care. They'll send up a steady supply of velvety flowers for either cutting or enjoying in the garden. The petals unfurl from a hairy pod that drops away cleanly. These give the best effect planted in clusters.

This is the English daisy, an often overlooked little workhorse of a plant. It not only blooms profusely but reseeds as well, for a never ending supply of plants that are easily moved around the yard as they get bigger. These work well at the front of the border, in mass plantings, or one at a time to fill in any gaps in your garden scheme.

If you're buying your plants in a six pack or 4 inch container, the tendency is usually to go for the largest plants to get your money's worth. This isn't always your best bet - often the largest plants are root bound in their containers. Pick the plants that have the fullest growth and an abundance of buds. Once they're free of their containers and into the ground, they'll take off growing. If you plant in the cool of evening, they'll have a chance to adjust themselves overnight and the shock of being transplanted won't be so severe.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pictures Of A Lost World

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, born in Russia in 1863, was trained as a chemist and studied with highly regarded scientists in Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg. He developed techniques for some of the first color photography, with the ultimate goal of educating Russia's schoolchildren of the empire's vast history and culture.

Tsar Nicholas II provided a specially outfitted railroad car darkroom and necessary permits to travel unimpeded throughout the great empire, even to previously restricted areas.

The top picture captures Russian peasant girls, holding bowls of local berries, standing before a traditional wooden house.

Prokudin-Gorsky traveled from 1909-1915, constantly photographing and documenting Russian daily life, its medieval churches, modernization and diverse cultures.

The next picture is 2 Cossacks with the photographer, sitting along the Murmansk Railway, circa 1915.

The above photograph is of a prison in Bukhara, Uzebkistan. The guard on the left wears the uniform of the Russian Army.

Prududin-Gorsky left his beloved Russia in 1918 and traveled to Norway and England before eventually settling in Paris.

The entire collection of photographs was purchased from his heirs by the United States in 1944. His work is the most complete visual record of the years just prior to World War I and the Russian Revolution, truly a lost world.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back In The Garden

It's been warm enough again to water the garden barefoot, in short sleeves, first thing in the morning. Usually the cannas are cut back to the ground this time of year, but they're thriving and putting up blossoms already. Their biggest appeal to me is their colorful, tropical leaves, no two ever alike, pictured above and below. They're easily grown and easy to divide and transplant. Two initial Tropicannas have yielded dozens of new plants.

Ladybugs are always welcome visitors. These little red beetles (sometimes plain and sometimes polka dotted) feast voraciously on aphids, white fly and other garden pests.

The African daisies are outdoing themselves this year. We're already collecting seeds from them to dry and store for next year.

Nasturtiums remain an all time favorite, leaves and flowers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Giving Alyssum Asylum

Although sweet alyssum is easily grown and prolific, it doesn't often get the gardening respect it deserves. A native of Europe, this annual has naturalized all across the United States and has adapted itself to every manner of poor soil and benign neglect. It tolerates heat, is drought resistant, takes full sun or partial shade, reseeds itself and grows rapidly. If you're still not convinced, despite all these positive characteristics, take a closer look. Each head is made up a cluster of miniature flowers. This litle gem is sweetly scented and comes in white, pale or deep purple. It's a perfect cover for your bulbs as you either wait for them to sprout or when they're finished blooming.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

In The Swim

Here's a great photograph from 1919, part of the National Photo Collection in the Library of Congress. It shows a group of young women, gathered on the shoreline of the Potomac Basin in Washington, D.C. for a swim meet. They're listening to a gentleman off camera, speaking through a megaphone, laying out the rules of the competition. A few of the girls have kept their stockings on, for modesty's sake. Notice the free spirit on the left end. She's shunned the de rigueur bathing cap, let her hair hang free and stands casually, seemingly without a care in the world. The girl on the right end, standing with her arms akimbo and legs covered with sand, has an air of confidence, from the rakish cap to the improvised belt.