Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tower of Zanid

L Sprague deCamp's SF novel paperback from Airmont Books 1963 (Reprint of Bouregy edition, 1958)

This is just a great cover. Dragon (obviously a thoroughbred, lookit those legs), spaceship (though it might be a tank), and guys with spears and bows and arrows! And one of the guys is green! "A Science-Fiction tale of star-rovers of the future." With spears.

Back cover:
"It is the Year 2168 -- and men have become star-rovers. The agreed-upon code is that sciences and gadgets beyond the cultural level of the peoples inhabiting the other planets will not be introduced by Earthnmen, or other visitors.
Such is the situation on the planet of Krishna, most Earthlike in physical attributes, climate, and inhabitants, when adventurer Anthony Fallon decides to take the risk of winning a kingdom. With enough money, perhaps he can raise a private army...
But there is only one risk that Anthony Fallon hesitates to take. Only under pain of death will he explore the mysteries of the dreaded TOWER OF ZANID!"

A tower. Why is it always a tower? And does Fallon have a slug-horn to raise to his lips? I suppose I'll have to read the darn thing before I sell it on ebay. Or not. deCamp is mildly amusing in short-novel form. I have much else to read. We'll see.

Phals galore!

Hokey smokes! My Dtps (Mary Ames x Everspring Girl) is in spike again!

I have only the deepest affection for this humble plant. Three years ago I purchased it solely as a repotting demo plant for my New York Botanical Garden class. $10 at Home Depot, back when the HD in Midtown NYC actually sold more than one flavor and size and price of orchid. (Jerks.) I had no phalaenopsis to demo so I had to purchase at least one...I ended up with three for good measure. Considering they were all flowering when they were rudely rousted from their nursery pots, even as I explained to my class this was Wrong Wrong Wrong, their survival was a bit of a gamble.

The Everspring Light is doing ok but has yet to re-flower. The Black Butterfly perished for no good reason. And this one...this one has reliably bloomed every year since. With exactly two flowers at a time. But thats ok, it's a small plant (less than 1 ft leafspan) with a short nearly horizontal spike, and the flowers last over 2 months. I have plenty of orchids who can't make similar boasts.

This year's 2 flowers did well, showed well, and the spike went to sleep. New leaves and roots appeared. And now, a new spike!

My phalaenopsis-killer days are hopefully really over. Ever since moving to this Manhattan apartment I couldn't keep the damn things alive! I still blame true spider-mite infestations for destroying them: one leaf would go pitted and silver, and then no matter how I washed and soaked the rest of the leaves the plant would go into the vegetal equivalent of allergy-shock. All leaves would go mottled yellow and drop, sometimes within just weeks of the initial discovery. Buying phals became an exercise in hope and despair, as each year's beauties flowered, began to grow and then...destroyed. The three humble HD phals were the first I'd bought in over 2 years. Perhaps the infestation starved out? Perhaps my conditions improved?

HD phals are nothing if not tough. I bought 2 more this spring, back in March, again figuring I might want them for a potting demo. The peloric Baldan's Kaleidoscope and the Royal Queen are both doing great with new leaves and roots, but what really amazes me is that both of them still have the same flowers I bought them with. (Both have double spikes too.) And BK is making new buds on one spike. I credit the cool, humid spring weather with its powers of flower preservation.

Now if the green spike on my new Tays Evergreen keeps budding and the Sogo Gotris survives repotting I'll really be a happy puppy. And I think my new Neofinetia is in spike.

Tasty tasty rioja

We drank another bottle of 2006 Sierra Cantabria last night.

I first started buying it maybe seven or eight years ago, from one of my local wine shops. Imagine our surprise and delight that several of our friends also knew about it. One of them, possessing a formidable palate for all things beer, wine and liquorish, had already discovered that for a red wine it took readily to light chilling! Predictably the flavor was quite different, but not diminished as with most chilled reds (other than lambrusco).

Unchilled, the bouquet was a glorious mix of roses, violets and raspberries; drinking it leaves tantalizing memories of those scents on your tongue, with the softest of tannins and just a hint of sweetness. Chilled, the sweetness is less noticable but the fragrances were still there. A great sipping red. Great with steak or pork or pretty much anything at all.

Then Wine Spectator did a huge feature on Spanish red wines, and to my dismay they gave Sierra Cantabria mega-points. And of course the wine vanished from my local shops. There were still a couple of shops selling it here and there in NYC but at higher prices, and mostly more recent vintages. My local guy figured the wine was being snapped up by restaurants.

The buzz must be over. The wine is back in my local wine shops. I am however a bit surprised at the vintages being so recent for a good rioja. We drink plenty of red wines fairly young, as they're meant to be drunk, but I'm used to seeing riojas at least 4 or 5 years old. Never mind. I've been buying it, and we've been loving it again.

Last night it went great with comfort food, fresh green linguine topped with the world's easiest meat sauce: 1/2 lb ground pork and a package of chopped cremini mushrooms, browned in olive oil with oregano and black pepper, mixed with a pint of Agata & Valentina's Pomodoro Sauce. Heaven.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sarcoglottis sceptrodes

Just look at these babies! Ain't they honeys? So perky and shiny! So crisp and vigorous! And you oughtta see the roots on them!

I last grew S spectrodes oh, maybe 16 years ago. I had a large happy speciment that after several trouble-free years alas did not enjoy being transported from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and not watered at all for about 2 months despite being dormant at the time. Poor thing never woke up again. I've been growing a vigorous Ludisia and a Stenosarchos Vanguard "Fireball" for a few years now and decided it was time for a few more painted leaf orchids again.

They arrived bare-root aside from shreds of sphagnum from their plug-tray. I let them drink heartily a few days en-masse in a plastic deli container, and then potted them in a pleasingly fluffy mixture of 1/2 Miracle-gro African violet soil and 1/2 Pro-mix. This is pretty much what my old happy speciment used to grow and thrive in. The Ludisia and Stenosarchos like it too. (Under my too-dry conditions, sphagnum simply dries out to concrete-like consistency far too quickly, even in plastic pots. I do not trust the stuff to keep my terrestrials consistently moist enough.)

Can't wait til the ones I'm keeping turn into big hearty hosta-like monsters. And then those really strange green snake-head flowers...o yeah.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Joy of Roots!

Was ever there a finer sight? ROOTS, baby! Roots!

Repotted in March, photographed in May, I love watching this minicatt grow. It's only flowered every other year, but that possibly might be due to its having been growing mostly outside of its previous pot, its roots seeking nourishment in the humidity tray...I lost track but I think I've had it about five years? And this is the second time its been repotted and refreshed.

Otaara Hwa Yuan Bay "She Shu" from Carmela Orchids. A gorgeous full-figured splash-petal flower. The first time it flowered I was dismayed because the bud was tiny when it opened, looked weak and spindly-petaled. But within days, like a butterfly emerging damp and crumpled from its chrysalis, the flower had expanded to its promised glory and stayed beautiful for over a month.

I love the flowers but frankly the growth habit is a menace to its neighbors. Look at that wide stance. Quite rude. I'll forgive it as long as it blooms again this year.

BL Sunset Glory

My happy plant of BL Sunset Glory (BL Richard Mueller x Laelia purpurata) just finished blooming again, about 45 days after I repotted it.

I adore nearly every Brassavola nodosa hybrid I've ever seen, but when I began growing exclusively under lights I thought I'd never grow or flower one again. This was the second one I tried, with absolutely no expectations of success. I'm so glad I was wrong. None of the growths I've put on this plant matched one of the nursery-grown ones for size, but really that's ok. H&R has Hawaiian sunshine, abundant water and tropical humidity and all I've got is 4 fluorescent tubes and a watering can.

Growth is tight and compact, multiple leads is the rule, and the flowers just effortlessly appear when the new growth is mature. There's usually just two per spike.

Typically for a nodosa hybrid the flowers fade while open: these start out a rich medium pink, the lip a dark yellow abundantly spotted dark pink, and then after a few days fade to a sort of taffeta pink, a bit uneven. They last about three weeks in my conditions (where some phals are known to last their full two months, thankyouverymuch).

Repotting is a sporadic event in my collection, but my Botanical Garden classes include demos so I appreciate having a few plants that just grow so abundantly I always have something to show off. I've now repotted Sunset Glory twice for the students' edification; two years ago was the first time I'd ever repotted it, after owning it maybe four years, so I divided it too. No division this year, but it really liked being moved up. Lovely, lovely roots everywhere. Sigh.

Psychedelic Cyclone

It's been bugging me for days now. Every time I hear and sing along to Puddle of Mudd's very catchy song "Psycho" I can't seem to sing the actual lyric. Instead of "maybe I'm the one who's a schizophrenic psycho" it comes out "maybe I'm the one who's a psychedelic psycho." Which is a pretty groovy lyric if I do say so myself, but really changes the tone of the song. My brain appreciates alliteration, but perhaps this is a bit much.

I've no idea if Puddle of Mudd has ever toured Wales. If they did, would speakers of Cymraeg be tempted to pronounce their name Puthle of Muth?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spring Cleaning

The last two months have been a bit overwhelming. The last week or so has been a lot better: time to breathe, see some friends, indulge in time outdoors, cook favorite old recipes, finish another knit project, repot the orchids, break through a novel logjam, and clear up the utter mess parts of the house became lately.

When my mother-in-law passed away in April, we found ourselves once again dealing with sorrow and depression and material possessions all at the same time. I remember so many other similar occasions. It's a little bit like a puzzle in reverse, figuring out where all the pieces that once fit together should now go, and become pieces of new puzzles.

I remember helping my mother put my father's clothing into bags for the Salvation Army to come collect, not long after the last sympathy flower bouquets were wilted and gone. When we left that apartment a few months later, after having lived there 12 years, we were able to literally leave behind a lot of stuff we didn't want, as the landlord graciously said it was ok because he was hiring a dumpster to renovate the place anyway. So danish modern chairs and an ancient bed built from a wooden door and other physical oddities of my childhood were now gone from my life along with my father. For the first time in my 30 years, I was suddenly responsible for the furnishings of an entire new apartment, not just one room. The mingled sense of loss and liberation was very odd.

When an orchid acquaintance died suddenly, I helped his friends clear out all that was left of his apartment after his family went through it, the orchids and supplies. The plants were mostly dead because the family hadn't allowed the friends in any sooner than three weeks after his passing. We heaved potfuls of dried brown stuff and petrified mix into trash bags, saving the pots. Other people took the plants still alive, hoping to revive them.

My mother went into a nursing home and though we hoped that someday she might move into assisted living I decided it was best to clear out her studio. We took in things I couldn't bear to part with, put some into storage and brought some things home. We sold a few things to friends moving into a new house. We curbed things I had longed for years to dispose of, including the solid teak desk my father bought years before that was utterly impractical, painful to bump into, had no storage space and soaked up every possible bit of dirt. The apartment itself always felt cursed to me, ever since the first cockroach invasion and then later the fly invasion...I was relieved to walk out of there for the last time, feeling like my mother's unhealthy karma was in some way reduced.

My mother-in-law was unable to return to her old apartment after a stroke nine years ago, and we spent literally a year and a half clearing out the place, keeping the two-year lease active while she hoped for a fuller recovery that would allow her to climb the stairs into the building once again. Meanwhile her more necessary worldly goods went into a new apartment near us, and then yet another apartment.

Now we've walked away from that apartment too, again leaving behind a few things of no consequence, and with a few good feelings of distributing stuff where it might do some good. Wheelchairs and medical conveniences went to a charity. Used clothing went to a nursing home. Better clothing went to Goodwill. A deserving neighbor got dishes and curtains. Sheets and towels went to a cat rescue group. Good wood furniture went to craigslist buyers, including a family furnishing a beach house. I'm still selling a few shiny things on ebay.

And today we finished integrating the furniture we wanted, into our home. A beautiful inlaid table is outclassing everything else in our living room (except of course the books and orchids); a wood cabinet and bookcase are lurking in the study, another bookcase fit absolutely perfectly into my closet, and the other cabinet will stand out in the open in our bedroom in place of a large, hideous steamer trunk my husband years ago "inherited" from a former roommate. (The yarn once within that trunk is now in another closet until I decide its fate.) My husband is happy that a few material things he grew up with are back in his life.

Here in our one apartment, we have parts of four other people's lives now solidly part of our own. My mother's painting of Vitotus, Lithuania's emblem, sweaters and scarfs she knitted, and cookbooks she made hundreds of meals from. Dishes, pots and pans I grew up with. A solid oak bookcase my father treasured, and many of his books. Mahogany bookcases, the table and cabinets my in-laws had, and yet more books my father-in-law collected. More dishes. A white alabaster box. A memory museum.