Sunday, December 28, 2008

Melt Down.

12-28-08 VERMONT: After the deep freeze, we have thawed out. It has been progressively warmer and rainier. The snow is slowly vanishing. The roofs have dumped the retained snow and icicles on the deck and doorways which meant that more shoveling was necessary. There was dense fog this morning. Just before sunset it cleared enough to reveal pink skies.

We were at the Reese’s on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day the Hoffmans and Robinsons came here for dinner. Val, Maggie and Lucy arrived the day after, for the exciting melt down. Yesterday we skated on the pond because the snow melt left an adequate layer of decent ice. Tomorrow is shaping up as sunny and not too warm, so we may yet ski.

Skaters and Friends.

An End to the Rain?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Even Whiter Christmas.

WINTER SOLSTICE, VERMONT: It snowed again through our nine hours of daylight. It was overcast with the snow fall and dusk-like all day. We got another foot of snow. Let’s see—if the trend continues, we’ll have seventy feet of snow by March 1.

I trudged out to the end of the pasture to exercise the dogs. They porpoise through the deep snow, it looks exhausting. Judy decorated the tree, and we watched football. It hasn’t been out of the teens, but the end of the pond where the springs enter is unfrozen. I think because there has been so much precip that the springs are running a lot, and the water coming up from the ground is too warm to freeze.

The icicles are a hazard, can you find the dog?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Extremely White Christmas.

12-20-08 VERMONT: It’s not seventy here, the thermometer has dropped faster than the stock market. The high here today was 15°. We arrived on the 18th to find the house cleaned and spruced up by the neighbors who had moved back to their renovated house. They left us a pile of goodies on the kitchen table.

There were surprises outside as well. Last week’s snow storm ended as rain and then a sharp freeze. This weather sequence is common in New England. This time there was so much snow and rain on the pine trees that they lost many branches from the weight of the ice and the wind, many big branches. Pines don’t have the sense to be deciduous. In front of the house there were two dozen downer branches, a few needed cutting up before I could drag them away. The pines on the corner where the pasture, road and yard meet lost huge branches, up to 10-12 inches in diameter, which took out the power and telephone lines for two days. There are too many, too heavy branches for me to drag to the burn pile, and the burn pile is snowed in anyway. In a storm with only snow, no ice, the pines just shed the snow as it accumulates.

After that destructive storm, there was another five inches of snow before we arrived and, starting yesterday afternoon, another foot of snow. More expected tomorrow.

This afternoon, we got out and cut down a spruce behind the pond, dragged it up to the porch, measured it, shortened it and brought it in the mudroom to melt off and, set it up in the living room.

The tree in the middle is now in the living room, but with less snow and shorter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pronunciation Lesson.

12-16-09 SHORT HILLS: We have had a potpourri of weather, yesterday was almost seventy and sunny in the morning, today is cold and rainy with sleet predicted. Before the one day heat wave, we had cold rain and sub-freezing days.

Notice how people have trouble with pronouncing Rod Blagojevich’s name? Just remember the second syllable is ‘gone’ as in
Bla-gone-e-vich. Madoff, the celebrity embezzler, is pronounced made-off, as in made off with the loot.

See what I have to resort to when there’s no flowers

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Dog With Three Balls.

12-7-08 SHORT HILLS: There was an inch of snow last night, but it’s gone this afternoon. We dog-walked with the Zevins this morning when it was pleasant. Now it’s colder and windy.

Gus, the golden puppy, is still less than a year old but is bigger than his uncle Nick. He has almost mastered carrying three tennis balls at the same time. He will give you one or, perhaps, two to throw for him to retrieve, but he keeps at least one for himself. Separation anxiety?

Gus has Three Balls.


Friday, December 05, 2008

What To Do When The Gardens Are Hibernating.

12-5-08 SHORT HILLS: Everyone survived Thanksgiving, but I feel a little heavier for the experience. We had two dustings of snow last week, and it remains rather cold. Pat R. was visiting in NJ this week, it was nice to see her back here after a couple years in Atlanta.

Judy and I heard the Philharmonic do Schumann’s Fourth, The sixth Brandenburg, and the Fifth Symphony Wednesday night. Tomorrow we see Garrison Keillor with the Lums and Zissus. Next week we hear the BSO do the Seventh Symphony at NJPAC. We manage to keep busy even when there’s no gardening to be done.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, Readers.

11-26-08 SHORT HILLS: And another week slipped by. We both had nasty, gummy colds, probably from spending an hour with the kindergarten class and an hour with the second graders in San José, plus flying to California and back. We are now recovered and ready for flu season.

The yard is finished for the winter. All the leaves are down and most of them are in the street getting picked up by the town even as I blog. I had the gardeners leave some leaves in the yard and pile them on the many muddy areas in an attempt to prevent the dogs from tracking it into the house. We’ll see if that works any better than the usual feeble efforts at mud control.

I said that all the leaves were down, actually the pear trees still have about half their leaves and some of them are still green. They win for this season as the longest lived leaves.

We had some distinctly cold weather last week. There was one day when the temperature didn’t get above the freezing point. This week is warmer and rainy. A few forsythia blossoms opened.

We go to Alison’s on Long Island for Turkey Day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Round Trip to San José.

11-19-08 SHORT HILLS: Wow! I missed the whole week, and somehow the world survived. I came back to NJ a week ago yesterday, a week ago tomorrow we flew to San José for our fall visit to the left coasters. We checked the suitcase full of rocks for the geology lectures to the kindergartners and second graders. Checking luggage slows travel—you heard it here first. The second graders were very attentive.

The weather in the bay area was beautiful, clear skies, eighties, no fires. We got to see the Tornadoes play soccer. They lost a close game that went down to the wire, but only the parents seemed upset about the loss. Joey plays well and has a feel for the game. The house renovation project continues.

Soccer like it outta be.

Back in NJ, I have been picking fallen tree branches out of the shrubs. This dead fall is probably from the wind storm that delayed out return flight on Sunday.

All our leaves are down. Usually the holdouts, oak, beech, redwood, some maples, keep their leaves until the beginning of December so mid-November is unusually early. An early fall was predicted in these columns back in August—check it out. Too bad I couldn't predict the other recent fall.

Before the leaves came down, intertwined burning bush and black chokecherry.

Birds in a 'V' or an 'L' or a '7'.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Winterizing.

11-10-08 VERMONT: I go back to NJ tomorrow for our fall trip to San José on Thursday. I am scheduled to give a Geology lecture to both Eoin’s and Joey’s classes on Friday. I’ll need Wednesday to pack the rocks.

So, today was busy here. I finished winterizing the garden beds, I repaired the wire fence, I inspected all the “POSTED” signs, Judy, some needed re-stapling and others needed replacing. Being in the woods, I wore an orange cap even though the hunters are all at work on a Monday morning. I filled some gopher holes in the gardens and spread MoleMax on all the beds. Then I blew the leaves out of the driveway and away from the sides of the garage and the last few that accumulated on the lawn under the willow and apple trees and under the big viburnum.

Tomorrow morning I’ll squirt foam in some new holes in the field stone cellar walls. I saw daylight through the walls a few days ago in the NE corner of the old house.

Today we had sun, clouds and two squalls, both with snow, but one with hail as well, a rare treat.

Stone Walls on Display with the Gardens Cut Back.

Snow Squall.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Stone Walls.

11-9-08 VERMONT: It continues to rain every day. We have had another 0.4 inches in the rain gauge. Today was partly sunny, but colder, in the forties instead of the sixties. I have almost finished the bed clean-up, everything looks so neat. With the gardens cleared of the seasonal debris, all the stone walls re-emerge, but will soon be hidden again by snow.

Another Pretty Sky.

Friday, November 07, 2008

It's Not Just Cut and Slash.

11-7-08 VERMONT: I came up yesterday to finish closing the gardens for the winter. There have been a couple hard frosts, and most of the perennials are dormant. Since we left in mid-October there has been 3.9 inches of rain, the pond is full and draining. Fish, newts, frogs are still active. Today was warm enough to work outside in a T-shirt. I cut down all the dead shoots and stems from the beds behind the new house and raked it all up and carted it all to the compost area. The cuttings were quite wet and heavy.

This operation is not just cut and slash, one had to avoid cutting down the new little biennials, hollyhocks, foxglove, for example, that will be next years flowers, or perennials like primrose and hellebore that already have next years plants out waiting to bloom in the spring. Other perennials like peonies need to be cut to the ground because the stalks are usually infected with fungus.

If you wait until spring to do this, you damage the new shoots popping up. In the spring the snow pack melts back slowly exposing a little more of the beds each day, depending on sun exposure. The open parts of the beds get way ahead of the still snow covered parts making the clean up difficult. Some beds are way ahead of other beds making you spread the clean up over weeks, and making you go back to a particular bed several times as it opens up.

Early this morning, I was watching birds in the crab apple tree outside our bedroom window. The goldfinches were in their gray winter outfits and hanging out with the evening grosbeaks, as they often do. Doves were also in the tree. They were all eating the little apples. Robins are still around and are also big little apple eaters. One tree has been picked clean.

Two feral apple trees, one with yellow fruit and one with red.

When the leaves are down, vistas open up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Day.

11-5-08 SHORT HILLS: Barak always says exactly the right thing with the right tone, inflection and nuance. He is the first president since JFK with the ability to move and inspire with his words. McCain made a nice concession speech.

Yesterday afternoon I spent two or three hours at Obama HQ in Maplewood, NJ, with lots of other volunteers, phoning seniors, some of them younger than I, to GOTV and see if they needed rides or help getting to the polls. Most of the ones I actually spoke to had already voted. [I did hours of phoning for Obama the last few weeks, most calls just go to voice mail.] The mood at the HQ, in a union office on Springfield Ave, was hopeful, but anxious about converting the lead in the polling to a lead in votes cast.

Tuesday afternoon, Judy did a canine therapy visit to Covenant House in Newark.

“nick and i were in newark yesterday afternoon, to visit covenant house. martin luther king blvd was electric. there were obama signs covering lamp posts and trees. young people were on every street corner with signs and banners, waving and shouting "yes we can." cars were honking. the crowd gathered outside corey booker's ward hdqtrs was massive and animated. it was thrilling. everyone from covenant house had voted and they were energized and optimistic, for obama and themselves.”

I knew he would win when Indiana and Virginia were too close to call, but it was nice to see the west coast come in as predicted. It was exhilarating. Donna from Vermont agreed:

“Double Hooray! I'm in Cambridge with Ellen and Derek enroute home from London. We watched the returns together, and celebrated with champagne when the victory was announced, and even called Bruce in London where he was wide awake and very excited! I then went to bed to the sounds of celebration in Harvard Square. What an exciting, historic moment for all of us in this USA.......”

In the fifties and sixties, both political parties spanned the political spectrum. The Dem’s were a bit to the left of the GOP, but they both had liberals and conservatives who fought with each other within the parties. I remember a NYT Magazine article arguing that the two parties were not merely mirror images of each other. The presidential candidates: Truman, Dewey, Eisenhower, Stevenson, Nixon, Kennedy, were all centrists. The Republicans owned New England, mostly, and the Democrats owned the South. Republicans moved to the right with Goldwater in ’64 and the Democrats to the left after the riots in Chicago in ’68 with McGovern in ‘72.

The country re-aligned itself into the present Red-Blue as the parties changed to liberal vs. conservative. The nominees, especially the legislators, moved to the fringes instead of being centrists, creating and reflecting the ideological divide that presently splits us as a nation.

Will Barack, can he, bridge the fault line and be a unifier? He did change some red states to blue, at least for yesterday, but that may just reflect the demographic changes in those states, the economic crisis, and a swing of the political pendulum back to the left in reaction to the W debacle.

Can he? I think he can.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Souls Day.

11-1-08 SHORT HILLS: Yesterday we went to Val’s place on Garden Place in Brooklyn Heights for the Halloween extravaganza. Most of the brownstones are decorated, some lavishly ghoulish, and most of the stoops are populated with costumed folks doling out hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces of candy. Val’s stoop was decorated with our cornstalks and sunflower stalks and our pumpkins, all carved and arranged by Mr. Steve. Mr. Steve was in formal dress as Tony Curtis escorting Lucy as Marilyn from “Some Like It Hot”, Maggie was a beatnik. The costumes were the usual Spidermen and Supermen, lots of Jokers, Angels, Dorothy's, Fairy Princesses, firemen and Star Wars folks, plus some topicals and a hot dog, a pizza, a kitchenette and traditional ghosts and goblins. It starts at dusk and is over by 7:30.

Val's Stoop during a lull-an opportunity to refill your glass.

Joe the Plumber, in the lower center, converses with a pirate on his cell, while a short, wingéd creature listens.

The Obama HQ was abuzz today, there were maybe a hundred volunteers, usually there are a dozen, phoning, making signs, getting instructions for canvassing and assisting at the polls. The crowd was chaotic, but enthusiastic. There were kids, eating candy from last night, and a group milling around of totally diverse NJ Democrats intent on winning this year. We need early voting in NJ.

After the cold spell, we have sunny and warm days predicted through the election.

New blooms: witch hazel.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

EDAY minus 5.

10-30-08 SHORT HILLS: For fall color, NJ is almost at peak. Today is clear and sunny but windy and cold after three days of rain, the first Nor’easter of the season. We needed gloves to walk the dogs this morning. There was a snow flurry yesterday as I was driving to Obama HQ in West Orange. The average temperatures in October, 2007 were ten degrees above normal, but this October we are one degree below normal. The heat is on, and the storm doors are up.

I’m wearing out my index finger and ear telephoning for Obama [the Messiah] trying to GOTV. That’s ‘get out the vote’ for those of you who sit on the sidelines instead of getting involved in the political process. If the voting result goes the same way as the polling indicates, if... if... if.

Blue State, Red Bush, I mean, Shrub.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Cabinet

Now, I know it's presumptuous to even talk about the Cabinet at this time, but how about, for Sec. of Homeland Security, William Ayers.

Election Countdown.

10-24-08 SHORT HILLS: We’re back in NJ. The fall color here is developing nicely. It has been cooler this year, at this time of the year, than it was last year. We had a mild frost last night, but it was well into November last year before we had a similar one. So, the fall color was earlier and the first frost was earlier this year than last year, does that mean we’ll have a colder winter?

Judy and I have been working at Obama’s HQ in West Orange this week calling donors to get more volunteers for the final week of the campaign. The donor list is huge, and lots of people have promised to come in. The polls all look good. The predicted Electoral College results look good. [Check] Our fingers are crossed.

Scenery in Vermont.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sawing and Fencing.

10-16-08 VERMONT: Last night it started to rain, and it continues this morning. The rain is washing away the fall color, but I can use the break. Judy comes up today with the goldens.

Monday I cut down five of the dead apple trees in the pasture, the sixth is sort of picturesque so I left it standing. I chained the fallen trunks, up to a foot in diameter, to the trailer hitch on the Subaru and dragged them across the road to Steve’s burn pile. When the trees fell, being dead and dried out, lots of the branches broke off. I piled them on top of the car to deliver to the burn pile. Who needs a tractor if you’ve got a Subaru? I also love my chainsaw.

Tuesday I repaired the wire fence in back of the pasture. Something, deer or moose perhaps, broke three of the five strands of wire. I found the ends, retracted from the break site, sorted out which wire was which strand, and pulled them together. They would almost meet at the break site, but there was not nearly enough to fasten together. Using extra wire and locking clamps, I put a bridging patch in each strand, sheetbends make a nice wire knot, being careful not to tangle the strands. After they were all repaired, I used tensioners to pull them taut. In the afternoon I cut down a small birch sapling to make a long rail for the wooden fence.

Yesterday I replaced the lattice at the north end of the deck that Gus had eaten. I had enough left over stuff to do the job. It was hard trying to not damage the perennials while doing the repair. Add in a bit of weeding, and it comes to three full days, close enough to a week for me.

Red Trees.

And red sky.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reflected Glory.

10-11-08 VERMONT: Happy birthday, Alison. Imagine having your birthday in the midst of all this color. Here’s a red maple.

Even Chloe is impressed.

I forgot to mention some flowers still hanging on: hosta, geranium, centaurea, bleeding heart. Yesterday I started pulling out plant supports and garden border guards. Today I straightened out the barn ramp and lifted it up to the level of the barn floor and adjusted the barn door rollers and finished up with a little more weed wacking.

Today was just beautiful. The sky was cloudless from Gile to Lafayette and was the deepest blue. It was warm enough to work in shirt sleeves but not too hot. The only distraction was the color, back lit, front lit, side lit—I almost had to work with my eyes closed.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Paradise Regained.

10-9-08 VERMONT: I’m back up here in paradise with Chloe and Sam. Judy is still in NJ doing dog stuff with Nick and Gus. I arrived yesterday to find the house taken over by the neighbors, who we invited to stay while their house is being renovated. Ii’s nice to have the company. The addition to Steve’s and Diana’s house seems to more than double the size.

On to more important things, there were four inches of rain in the gauge when I arrived and we got another 0.35 inches last night. There has not been a frost here. Almost none of the garden plants has gone dormant, and there are still lots of flowers: roses, ecinacea, black-eyed susan, sedum, helenium, monkshood, cimicfuga, golden rod, catmint, asters, boltonia, turtlehead, feverfew, dandelion, yarrow, hollyhock, phlox, thyme, mallow, witchhazel and the others I’ve forgotten to mention.

The veggie garden is ready to be put away. I took down the electric fence, mowed the overgrown pasture around the garden, pulled out the tomatoes and their cages, pumpkins and dill, and stacked the harvested pumpkins. I also mowed around the barns, and put up the storm doors.

Big news, Steve looked out the window a few days ago at dawn and saw what appeared to be a person with an umbrella standing by the pond. When the person moved, she turned into a bull moose who trotted off to the woods.

The color, fall foliage color, is good now, which is much earlier than the last few years.

In the blogosphere, I saw a certain person described as a "right wing robot" and in another blog as a "mud-slinging marionette", but you'll have to guess that person's identity.

New blooms: cimicfuga, witchhazel, asters.

Here's some nice color across the road, and two happy girls.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


10-5-08 SHORT HILLS: Meanwhile back at the election, I’ve figured out of whom Palin reminds me.

She is glib, superficial, speaks in a rush of tossed and chopped word salad, full of inconsistencies, half-truths, distortions and outright lies, and has a sneering veneer and a regional accent. Her inadequacies are papered over by her cheerleaderish cheeriness. She is unprepared for office or debate except for talking point hash. Big hint—she uses “nucular” for nuclear.

She is W redux. If you liked the last eight years, then go with this reincarnation of the worst president in history. But, you say, she is only the veep candidate. Given McCain’s age and health status as a melanoma sufferer, there’s a significant chance, maybe 15% or 20%, of his not completing his term of office should [choke/gasp] he be elected.

As Sarah Silverman says, “Tell your NaNa to vote for Obama.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Sicily.

9-30-08 SHORT HILLS: More on the trip—it was Mediterranean diet every day. The dinners were antipasto, pasta with veggies or fish, and main course, usually more fish and occasional meat. Lunch was two courses, antipasto and pasta. It was quite satisfying.

The dollar is almost down to half a euro--$200= €112. We weren’t driving, but gas is about $8-10 per gallon, converting liters to gallons and dollars to euros.

The weather was fine. We had a brief shower about every other day, and the afternoons were hot and evenings cool. The vegetation is similar to California—oleander, pomegranates, date palm, figs, olives, grapevines, citrus fruit, eucalyptus, cactus, banyan trees, cedars, bougainvillea and chestnuts on Mt. Etna.

The people often had some English and were willing to help. They would respond to questions even if they didn’t quite get it, but often inaccurately. We learned to ask more than once to get a consensus opinion. Directions were mostly gestures [not that one], but distances could be a few doors away or a half mile.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sicilia, Italia

9-29-08 SHORT HILLS: And we’re back. Internet access was slow and expensive at the hotels so there was no chance to post while away. Also they ran us ragged, and I had a hard time just outlining the days and editing pix. I’ll do some of those pix as a Picasa embedded slide show in the blog and post a link to the stills:

9-20-08 TAORMINA, SICILY: Getting here was hell, but the trips are always awful. We flew steerage to Rome and then couldn't make our connection from Rome to Catania, Sicily because we couldn’t get boarding passes from Alitalia. They had one person giving boarding passes to a long line of people all trying to get boarding passes for different flights all leaving about the same time. We did get a flight on AirOne about three hours later. The discomfort and uncertainties of travel are magnified by the sleepless nights. Anyone think I am hoping Alitalia gets out of its financial mess?

After the second flight got in, we met the driver who took us to Taormina and the Hotel Continental. The town is set on a steep limestone mountainside facing the north side of Mt. Etna with the Mediterranean Sea on the east. It has lots of old stone building and churches, a Greek theatre, lots of sidewalk cafés on a pedestrian mall, the Corso Umberto, and is a feast for the eyes. The rest of the group got in just before dinner.

9-21-08 TAORMINA, SICILY: The day started with a lecture on Sicilian art and then a guided tour of the town which told us about the places we had seen the day before and ended at the ancient theatre. The theatre was built by the Greeks for dramatic productions and was converted by the Romans to an arena for gladiators and animal fights.

After lunch we shared a taxi to the nearby town of Castelmola. It sits on top of a steep mesa-like hill. The buildings are all built to the edges of the cliffs. We walked down the hill on a footpath with a lot of switchbacks and crossed over a pass to a mount top church, Sanctuario Madonna Rocca. The church is carved out of the rock and looks down on Taormina. To get back to the city, we walked down the many flights of steps the pilgrims walk up, reversing the Stations of the Cross in the process. So did we save Jesus?

Before dinner there was a geology lecture on the Mt. Etna volcanic eruptions.

9-22-08 TAORMINA, SICILY: This morning Mt. Etna, which looms over the hotel’s huge patio, had snow on the highest peaks. After breakfast, we motored south on the east coast of Sicily to Syracuse. Syracuse is an ancient Greek city, the New York of its time, back then. It is built of the limestone bedrock it sits on. The Baroque palaces in the huge main piazza are all white, including the cathedral which is built by re-using the Greek temple of Minerva, the gaps in the outside row of temple columns was filled in and the inner sanctuary was opened up re-using the temple as a cathedral. Ancient columns still frame the entry.

The old city is on an island, just off the mainland, that frames a secure harbor. An interesting feature is the Arthusa Fountain--a natural fresh water spring on the edge of the salt water Bay of Syracuse. It was an invaluable resource for a besieged city. The fountain is probably the terminus of an underground river, a not uncommon occurrence in limestone bedrock. The old city also has the remains of a Greek temple to Apollo.

Outside the city is the Paradise Quarry, a limestone quarry that collapsed in an earthquake, killing hordes of slaves. After the collapse, it was abandoned letting the trees take over and turning it into a sort of wild park. Near the quarry is a Greek theatre carved out of the solid limestone bedrock and a Roman amphitheatre near that.

On the way back to the hotel, we were stuck in traffic for an hour because of an accident. After dinner, the sky cleared and the top of Etna was visible for the first time, and we could see red trails of lava oozing down the mountain.

9-23-08 TAORMINA, SICILY: Today we went up Mt. Etna. It is polite and civilized, for a volcano. It frequently offers lava to the surrounding towns and villages, but the flow is usually slow enough for folks to get out of the way. The flanks of the mountain are covered with villages, all of which have been threatened by the lava at one time or another. The volcanic soils are rich, and people seem to accept the bargain of an occasional lava intrusion in exchange for successful agriculture. We got up to about 6,000 feet out of a possible 11,000 and had an hour to explore before fog and clouds moved in. It was barely enough time to explore two small craters and a lava field from 2006. There was no chance of getting to the new lava flows.

On the way back to the hotel we drove through Giardini Naxos, an ocean side town just south of Taormina built on an old Greek settlement. After lunch, Judy and I explored the public gardens. Dinner was at Bouganvilla Restoranto, near the park with some of the group.

9-24-08 MONDALO, SICILY: We left Taormina at the first light to get a jump on a busy, long day of touring, ending up in Palermo at the western end of Sicily. Our first stop was in a traffic jam outside of Catania. A lane of the autostrada was closed for road repair that was not being done. Two hours behind schedule, we got to Piazza Armerina in the center of the island. It has the Imperial Villa del Casale, a huge Roman country house and pleasure house owned by a third or fourth century BC VIP. Fortunately it was flattened by a landslide, preserving it for us. They have rebuilt several walls, but the dramatic feature is many mosaic tile floors depicting mythological and hunting scenes and gymnastic games.

Then it was on to Agrigento for a late lunch and the Valley of the Temples. The temples are Greek, set on the middle of the southern coast. The area has sandstone formations, the first I’ve seen, the building blocks of these temples. The most intact is the Temple of Concord because it was converted to a church by filling in the outer colonnade. This desecration was later removed. They say these temples are from 582 BC. [So what month was that?] It is a magnificent site, gorgeous views of the ocean, vineyards and olive orchards.

Before going on to Palermo, we visited a beach area in Agrigento similar to the site of the Allied landing in 1943 and had a lecture on the campaign.

We got to Palermo and Mondalo after dark for a late dinner followed by a total collapse.

9-25-08 MONDALO, SICILY: Today was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. There were only a few drops of rain because everyone had raincoats or umbrellas. We went to Monreale first to see the cathedral and the great views. The cathedral was built as a consequence of a royal family dispute. The king declared Monreale a new diocese, which required a new cathedral, because he was angry at his cousin, the cardinal of the old diocese. Whatever. The interior of this cathedral is a mosaicists dream. There must be an acre of biblical scenes displayed on a gold field. The field is made of, well, gold. I guess that's what you did in the 12Th century.

Palermo is surrounded by limestone mountains. Monreale is on one to the west of Palermo.

Next stop, delayed by slow traffic which plagued us all day, was an outdoor market. These markets, lots of individual stands, are open daily. They sell mostly food but also clothes and trinkets. I love big displays of fruit and veggies, but the animal parts and dead fish are a bit of a turn-off.

Before lunch we saw the opera house, the Teatro Massimo, and after lunch the Norman Palace. Yes, Norman invaders were here too. They defeated the Arabs. The Normans were beaten by the French who were booted out after an insurrection, but before the Spanish took over. The highlight of the Norman Palace is the Palatine Chapel which is also covered in mosaics depicting more bible stories.

The last stop was the Palermo cathedral, gigantic, elaborate exterior with towers and bells, but a plain interior. The mosaicist was off that day.

Our hotel is on the beach in Mondalo, a Palermo suburb, with great views of the Mediterranean and the mountains. The plumbing is a bit iffy, but the food is fine and service willing.

9-26-08 MONDALO, SICILY: On the road again, with an early trip to a hill town on the west coast of Sicily—Erice. The whole town is light brown stone, the streets, the houses, the stores, the churches, the castle and the walls. The stone is limestone from the hill the town sits on. Reading it from the moving bus, I think the hill is an anticline, an arch in the limestone beds created by tectonic plate collision. The fold is big, wide and open and plunging south. The African plate is colliding with and sliding under the European plate. This interaction is also responsible for the Etna volcano and Vesuvius.

Things seemed quiet in the morning, just a few dog walkers out with the tourists. Their speciality is an almond cookie that’s quite nice with café.

Next stop, the olive oil orchard and factory for Titone Extra Virgin Oil. Antonella, owner and daughter of the founder, gave us a tour, translated by our guide, Jackie. After seeing the trees and the pressing operation, we had an oil tasting and then a simple, but great lunch. Naturally, it was heavy oriented toward olives.

Onward, and upward, to another hill top for more stone piles at Segesta. Actually, the site has an intact, nearly intact, Greek temple, a Roman amphitheatre, a Norman castle and a mosque. Folks moved in sequentially because it was a nice high site with lots of ready cut stone blocks to build with. Plus, you can see the bad guys coming from miles away, and while they’re struggling up the hill, you can throw your worst at them. Then back to the Mondello Palace for another history lesson and dinner.

9-27-08 ROME, ITALY: We’re overnighting here after a flight from Palermo. This morning we went to Cefalu, a fishing village turned coastal resort. The cathedral is simple compared to the others, but there are some mosaics, of course. We all explored the old town, took pictures, Judy found a newspaper shop, had café and biscotti, and went back to Palermo. The rest of the group has a graduation ceremony tonight, but we split early to save a travel day. Short Hills tomorrow.

This weird symbol/person/creature is Sicily who apparently has, not two, but three left feet.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Here Today-Sawdust Tomorrow.

9-15-08 SHORT HILLS: For those who are following climate change, here’s the current north polar image of the sea ice. For the first time since humans have been watching, both circum-polar sailing routes are open at the same time. Here is another link to Earth Observatory web site:

Yesterday, Sunday, we had a crew here to do an emergency tree removal. Saturday I noticed a big ash tree near the upper corner of the yard was split from a ‘Y’ about twenty feet up the main trunk almost to the ground level. I called Frank’s Tree, who we have been using for thirty years, for help, hoping the tree could be cabled together. The prognosis was negative. As the tree was next to the utility lines and hanging over small trees and ornamentals, it was important to get it out with a minimum of trauma to the rest of the plants.

They roped it together Saturday evening to keep it from worsening and arrived Sunday AM to do the job. They used a huge crane and chipper and turned most of the tree into sawdust in about two hours. One man in the tree attached the crane lines to a tree section then cut it off. The crane lifted the piece high above the surrounding trees and set it down by the chipper. It took about seven runs. It probably could have been 8-10 cords of firewood. The main trunk was too big to chip. They just sawed it up and took to away. They did a great job, hardly a leaf from anything else was damaged, but it was very sad for us to see such a grand tree die.

We’re off to Sicily on Friday.

The crane lifted and carried big pieces of tree over the other trees to the chipper.

The chipper turned most of the tree, all of it that was less than a foot in diameter, into mulch.

I counted 86 rings. You can see the split even at this level, four inches above ground, extending from the center to the lower edge.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hanna Visits.

9-8-08 SHORT HILLS: Hanna blew into town and out again leaving behind leaves and sticks all over the yard and a few puddles in the basement. She was fairly well-mannered for a tropical storm. The day after was beautiful.

I have been weeding a bit every day, but there are tons yet in waiting. Among those weeds are many wild grape vines courtesy of our bird friends. There are huge wild grape vines in the neighborhood. The birds eat the grapes and congregate in our yard, hanging out on all the berry bearing bushes and trees. The seeds of the grapes, and desirable shrubs such as burning bush, viburnums, barberry are pooped out by the birds, with a little dab of fertilizer. The stuff planted this way that we like we call volunteers, the other stuff we call weeds.

The days are noticeably shorter as we close in on the vernal equinox.
No new blooms.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Noonan and Murphy on Palin.

Peggy Noonan and Michael Murphy on Sarah Palin while on Chuck Todd's MSNBC interview. I assume they thought they were off camera. Below are two links to the video and the transcript.

Mike Murphy, former McCain advisor: You know, because I come out of the blue swing state governor work. Engler, Whitman, Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush. And these guys, this is all like how you want to (inaudible) this race. You know, just run it up. And it's not gonna work.

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter: It's over.

Murphy: Still, McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech to do himself some good.

NBC's Chuck Todd: Don't you think the Palin pick was insulting to Kay Bailey Hutchinson, too (inaudible)

Noonan: I saw Kay this morning.

Murphy: They're all bummed out.

Todd: I mean, is she really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?

Noonan: The most qualified? No. I think they went for this, excuse me, political [B.S.] about narratives and (inaudible) the picture.

Murphy: I totally agree.

Noonan: Every time the Republicans do that because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at and they blow it.

Murphy: You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism and this is cynical.

Todd: And as you called it, gimmicky.

McCain picks a ten.

9-3-08 SHORT HILLS: We’re back in NJ. In VT we were wearing jackets and building fires, but here it’s hot and humid and buggy, not that VT wasn’t buggy also. The grass planted by the gardeners is coming in nicely, but the dogs are running around, retrieving, barking at dog walkers on the road and, thus, tearing up the fragile new grass. I did some of the clean-up of the broken branches and trees injured in the most recent storm damage and took a car load to the dump.

I am astonished by McCain’s choice for Veep. Sarah Palin seems naive about affairs outside of Alaska and supports and believes in everything I’m opposed to. The choice seems to have been made impulsively by McCain, reminiscent of the impulsive Mr. Bush. I thought we had had enough of shoot-from-the-hip leadership. We don’t need more presidents who decide with their gut feelings.

Ms. Palin is against reproductive choice, sex-ed in school, or apparently anywhere else judging from hers and her daughter’s OW pregnancies. She disbelieves in climate change, alternative energy development, and gun control and is an NRA member. Paradoxically, it would seem, she believes in abstinence before marriage, but not birth control. She is a religious fundamentalist, a creationist, home schooling supporter, book banner, hunter. She supports drilling in ANWR. Letterman said he thinks he saw her family on the Jerry Springer show. I bet there’s more juicy stuff to be reported, more DUI's or more abuse of power. In sum, she's a ten out of ten, right winger.

NJ blooms: rose-of-sharon, hosta, lots of fall weeds.

Friday, August 29, 2008


8-29-08 VERMONT: WOW! Quite a speech. I haven't been political on the blog for a while. Everything was OK except for the Repubs sniping at Obama, but I was starting to get that old swift-boat feeling. What a job Obama did last night. He hit all the points, answered all the innuendos, met all the charges, beat back all the snide criticisms, and especially laid to rest the experience question. As I have said before, doing the wrong things over and over for thirty years is experience, of a sort, but shows lack of judgement and lack of the ability to learn from mistakes. Experience is only important if you profit from it. More important is having good judgement in the first place. Obama has been right of Iraq and right on Afghanistan, and McCain was wrong on both and wrong on the economy and wrong on taxes and wrong on the climate and wrong on energy, for starters.

What a show it was! That stadium was packed, even the seats with no view. Now let's see how many show up for McBush's acceptance speech. It's good he has all those houses, there will be someplace for him to go after election day.

The Clintons said all the right things, said them with enthusiasm and promised to work for the campaign and Obama's election. I hope they meant it. Biden's acceptance was a bit tepid, but he'll warm up.

Summer is over. Tomorrow we go back to Short Hills.

New blooms: turtle head.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tale of the Table Saw.

8-25-08 VERMONT: When we were in Burlington last week, we bought an old barn louvered vent at the same place where we got the park bench. This week I put the louvre near the peak of the garage gable to dissipate the heat produced by the generator. The generator, which is like a car engine, not only runs when the electricity goes out, but it also does a self-test each week. The garage gets pretty hot while it’s running. When the generator first went in, I made an exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide accumulation in the garage, but never got around to the heat issue until I happened on the louvre. I cut the hole with a reciprocating saw and re-used the removed pine siding to make a frame for the louvre. The installation, of course, required a new power tool, a table saw, because I had to rip-cut the siding to make a proper frame and also to rip a new slat for that park bench. Questions about the need for the new saw were raised within the household. There’s now a pretty good sized herd of power tools milling [?] around in the basement.

You heard it here first. There’s going to be an early fall. Phlox that usually bloom in September are out. Apples are reddening that usually ripen later in the season. Many trees are beginning to show color, and a few leaves are already down.

New blooms: sedum, wild mint.


August Garden.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Day Trip to Burlington.

8-21-08 VERMONT: Two nights ago, it was so cold we needed a fire, last night we had dinner at Donna and Bruce's with Phyllis, Arnie and Peggy. Thanks, Donna, it was great.

Today was beautiful, sunny and warm, I think it was the third nice day this summer. We drove to Burlington for a visit, an easy 1.5 hours on I-89N. The UVM campus is right in town. Most of Church St. is a pedestrian mall with lots of outdoor restaurants and lots of clothes stores, all about four blocks up the hill from the Lake Champlain waterfront. The center of town is filled with renovated 19Th century brick buildings. We had a water-side lunch with a clear view of the Adirondacks, watching the boats come and go.

Walking back to the car after lunch, we happened on an antique store and got a long park bench at a bargain price—an anniversary present to each other. It just fit in the back of the Subaru.

New blooms: flea bane, bane berry, heliopsis.

burlington, VT-Church St. Mall. Lots of outdoor eating and clothes stores.

Burlington, VT-water front lunch.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Empty Handed at the Auction.

8-19-08 VERMONT: We shared Peking Duck with Dave and Gail at an Asian restaurant in Lebanon last night. On the way home we had a distant lightening show off to the north. By the time we got here, it was raining and some canines were whining, panting and shaking. I won’t embarrass the faint of heart by mentioning any names, Chloe.

This morning there was 0.65 inches of rain in the gauge, the rain was down to light showers and it was cold and windy. We went to an auction at an old farm in Lancaster, NH. It’s a cute town, east of St. J, VT on the edge of the White Mountains. We made a couple bids, but bought nothing. We’re supposed to get some summer later in the week.

The kitchen is full of tomatoes, and we eat corn every night. The plan for tomorrow is to make and freeze pasta sauce.

New blooms: white star clematis.

Water, lily pads, sun.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Winding Down.

8-16-08 VERMONT: We continue to have a shower almost every day. Today we had a bit of rain and a lot of electricity but no wind. Chloe was frantic. She’s not a thunder lover. Rain total in the last few days is only 0.20 inches.

Dan and Lily have come and gone. August is waning as we creep up to September. The days are already shorter. This summer has been cool and wet, I may have mentioned that, and getting cooler, earlier each evening.

New blooms: globe thistle, lobelia, aster.

Thunder Storms Make for Interesting Skies.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mildew Attacks.

8-11-08 VERMONT: Bette and Lonnie visited on their way down from Maine. They arrived on a beautiful Saturday, our first non-rainy, warm, sunny, dry day in over a week, and left Sunday morning. After they left, the rain started again and continued today all day.

Judy and I, mostly Judy, gave a dinner Saturday night while the Hanauers were here. Judy’s presentation was awesome. The guests included Ken and Jane, Lee and Judy W., Phyllis and Arnie, Andy and Katie—mostly docs, all from our road. Lots of internship stories.

Sunday night we had dinner at the Hannons with the Hanlons. We had a hibachi night in the gazebo—it was great. Their setting is beautiful. Thanks, Boom-Boom.

Dan comes up tonight to pick-up Lily when camp ends on Wednesday.

New blooms: more mushrooms.

More Mushrooms, yellow series.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Mushrooms Take Over.

8-8-08 VERMONT: More rain. Everything is soggy, damp, squishy and dripping. We have had another 2.25 inches since 8-5-08 with more forecast for today and Sunday. The flower stalks are falling over from the repeated pelting.

Mushrooms are popping up all over. They are all different in form, size, color, shape, texture, but I can’t say anything about taste. I counted at least fifteen varieties.

We went to the Shelburne Museum on Wednesday. It’s near Burlington, about a 90 minute drive for us. They have a Mary Cassatt show this summer and a small impressionist collection. We like the Americana and the folk art and the colonial houses, barns and stores that have been preserved.

New blooms: black-eyed susan, liatris, more phlox.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Stormy Weather.

8-5-08 VERMONT: The monsoon continues. We have another 0.7 inches in the rain gauge. The pond is full, both ponds are full, and there are big puddles in the pasture. The forecast is for rain the next five days. I haven’t watered in weeks. I did pruning and weeding, transplanted a few volunteers and cleaned the culvert yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll order lumber for the ark.

New blooms: catmint.

Seems happy with the weather.

Do these guys get bigger every time it rains?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sun Flower.

8-3-08 VERMONT: When we got back up here after our week in NJ and NYC, Lynn, there was 0.75 inches of rain in the gauge and another storm last night to start August in soggy fashion. We had a total of 5.6 inches of rain here in July, a bit more than normal. The pond is clearer after the barley straw pellets dissolved, but the clearing may just have been due to flushing out the algae by all the rain.

We saw the Happy Camper yesterday evening. She was preparing dinner for eight over a wood fire. Today she is off for a five day hike on the AT between Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch.

The veggies are ripening. We have a bowl of tomatoes in the kitchen, and lots of corn that will be ready in a week or so. The moulin rouge sunflowers are six feet tall, and the first two have opened. I picked a quart of blueberries yesterday. It’s very quiet with all the grandkids gone, but definitely more relaxing.

New blooms: sunflower, goose-neck loosestrife, shasta daisy, soapwort, golden rod.

Sunflower, better color than the usual yellow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer in the City.

7-28-08 SHORT HILLS: The control [?] of the boys has been returned to parental supervision of Jon and Siobhan, but they are here for a few more days. Yesterday we all went to Ellis Island and Liberty Island from Liberty State Park in Jersey City. It being a summer Sunday, there were as many people on Ellis Island yesterday as immigrated during the entire 32 years it was originally open.

The boys liked the statute better. While ferrying from Ellis Island to Liberty Island, we were in a huge T-storm with tremendous wind blowing us around, and a lot of lightning and thunder that we saw and heard in the distance. The amount of rain wasn't a lot, but enough to require parka purchases at the Liberty Island souvenir shop, along with most of the other thousands of visitors. They sold a lot of parkas yesterday. It was like everyone was in the same uniform.

Today they went to Sandy Hook, and Judy and I went back to Jersey City to take the water taxi across the Hudson to NYC at the World Financial Center marina. We walked east across lower Manhattan through the Trinity Church graveyard and on Wall St. and lunched at South St. Seaport over-looking the East River. We went back to the ferry landing via Battery Park for a great afternoon.

Tomorrow Jon and Siobhan are taking the boys to Philadelphia for Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We have dinner plans at Grammercy Tavern with Alison, Dan and Anna.

There has been plenty of rain here, and all the new plantings look fine. The lawn guys seeded, and the new grass is in its infancy. A week with the dogs should pretty much destroy it all.

In bloom: hydrangea, rose-of-sharon, wild strawberry, hosta and lots of weeds.

Ellis Island-Laughing Gull. Laughing at the Crowds?

Verdigris Statutes.

National Emblem at Work.

South Street Seaport.