Tuesday, May 27, 2008

flamboyant tree

The extravagant flowers of the Poinciana Tree, or Flamboyant, are almost unbelievable. This is a tropical tree, one that I associate very strongly with my childhood in Congo. They really don't have a scent, and yet when I was standing under the tree today, I caught a whiff of Africa in the late afternoon sun.

We are visiting our beach house in South Padre Island for the Memorial Day holiday this week. Just down the street from us, this beautiful little tree is blooming. Because it is a tropical tree, the examples you see here on South Padre Island are quite small. The trees of my childhood would get 20 feet tall at least, and a beautiful umbrella shape. The ones here are perhaps 10 feet tall.

I remember these trees lining the dirt roads, and somewhere there is a charming slide of my little sister swinging from a low branch with such a sweet smile and dusty bare feet. That image of her lives in my heart...

We had quite a few other trees on the station as well - oil palms, mangos (the best were the little ones we called "peach" mangos"), avocados, oxheart, eucalyptus, kapok, and chalmoogra. These last were planted by my father, to see how they would prosper in our climate.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

our early summer garden

The Rangoon Creeper is the most spectacular plant in my garden right now - and will be for several weeks. I was introduced to this vine by the landscape designer that I hired to keep me from making very bad mistakes. It was definitely one of his two best suggestions (the other was the miniature agapanthus). The best thing about this vine is the way the color changes, from white in the morning to the bright rosy red that is in the picture below. In the evening, its strong sweet fragrance permeates the garden.

I've trained it over an arch in the back yard. In the photo below, the arch is spotlighted by the setting sun. On the other side is a pot planted with bronze fennel and a Giant Passion Flower vine given to me by my brother. The bronze fennel is a favorite with butterflies. I'm looking forward to seeing the giant passion flowers... there are 4 buds coming!

Early summer is of course the best time of year for many gardens, and that is certainly true of ours. As you can see, we have lots of blooming things, and this photo shows about half of the back garden. In our part of Houston we are in Zone 9, a semi-tropical zone. Which means that the passion flower stays out all year, as well as our orchids (not visible). The bougainvillea is nice this year (far left of photo) - I've finally wired it to the fence.

In the back right corner, we have a large Celeste fig tree, which has yielded one ripe fig so far (on May 10) this year. But it is completely loaded with ripening fruit. My goal is to get more than half harvested before the critters get to it.

You will notice the large green tree on the other side of our back fence. This is a pecan tree, source of much nourishment for the neighborhood squirrels. It has been heavily hacked by the guys who keep the electrical lines clear of interference, so the shape is a bit strange. I believe it is a native pecan, since it rarely seems to have trouble with worms or blight. Our neighbors to the east (on the right of this photo) also have a young pecan, but often it has those problems so it's probably a hybrid.

In the foreground, there is one of several crepe myrtles. This particular one is only 4 years old! It has gorgeous white papery flowers, exfoliating bark, and will eventually be almost 30 feet tall. Around its feet are Indian Blankets, Rudbeckia, miniature agapanthus, daylilies, a tiny fragrant pink rose from my friend Ev, and rosemary. There are also 2 strawberry guava trees which may someday actual ripen fruit. Meanwhile their powderpuff blossoms in spring are pretty.

These garden beds are only 4 years old, so I'm happy with our progress. I am not the most attentive gardener - weeding is something that gets done at odd times in the early morning cool or late evening dusk, all the while fighting off mosquitos. Watering is a pleasurable task, always done by hand. We water the grass in times of drought and certainly never fertilize it. The lawn has its share of bugs and patchiness, but St. Augustine grass is very hardy and can usually manage to outgrow anything. Our goal is a garden that more-or-less takes care of itself - and we are getting there!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

elephants on the skeleton coast, namibia

skeleton coast - elephants, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

Several years ago, I made a 3-week trip to visit relatives in South Africa and Namibia. One of the truly memorable things that occurred during that trip (ah, so much more to write about...) was this encounter. I am working without notes here, so I may come back and edit this post when those are available.

My cousin and I drive from Palmwag (pronounced pah-lem-bach), through Sesfontein to the Skeleton Coast Camp. Not very many tourists choose this route, but then again, not many tourists are like my cousin. Her Toyota truck is outfitted with two demijohns of petrol, three extra tires on wheels, lots of tools, two sleeping bags, and even a bit of food. We have vague verbal directions, mostly based on time from one landmark to another. What more could you need? Most people fly in but once or twice a year the staff or someone crazy (like us) drives in. The guidebooks suggest a satellite phone and at least one other vehicle traveling with you if you insist on driving north of Sesfontein. These are however only details, and take all the adventure out of it!

The road is sometimes obvious, sometimes a mere suggestion, and sometimes completely non-existent. But somehow, my cousin manages to re-find the trail every time we lose it, and we bounce over rocks, slither over sand, slide down banks, follow dry riverbeds, and find our way inexorably towards the Camp. Fortunately our directions hold up and also fortunately, somewhere outside of Puros we find someone going our way. They lead us in, which is at least another hour (or two?) of driving. The entire trip of maybe 100 miles feels like a lifetime but really only lasts about 6 hours. (On the return trip, when we knew where we were going, we manage to average 18mph.)

Those of you who have stayed at the Camp know its stark beauty, and the wonderful, dedicated staff that make the experience so much richer. We are introduced to our two guides, Chris and Chris. Our Chris is dark-haired, full of mischievous sparkle, confident and so capable that I have no doubt we were in good hands. The other Chris seems to step out of a Hemingway story, with a big leather hat and a story to account for his missing hand, taken by a crocodile somewhere in the past. The morning after we arrive, we go on an all-day game drive with both Chrises.

There are 5 or 6 of us in each of the two vehicles. We bounce along the rocky, sandy roads, stopping here and there to see the wildlife. They look just as interested in us too. A young giraffe pokes his head up over the scrub. Fat healthy gemsbok (oryx) scramble up the hillsides. Birds everywhere, including a rare vulture that I've now forgotten the name of. Jackals, and antelope too, although not very many. We stop at a Himba village to see how these remarkable people manage to make a living herding cattle and goats in the desert. We have tea under an ancient ironwood tree. And, we find elephants. There are perhaps 10 - we spend maybe 20-30 minutes just watching them as they slowly browse the bush. This is a dream fulfilled, to see the famous desert elephants!

The rest of the trip, while exciting, can't top this. We stop for lunch in a dry river bed, and get stuck in the sand. We drive along the Horuseb river, have a flat tire, see impala and (for my cousin the desert dweller this is most exciting) running water in the open desert. Driving back to camp in the dim dusk, we look forward to dinner and bed.

Dinner is a grand sharing of adventures in many languages, and then we gather at the fire and drink too much sherry and whiskey, singing in German and Afrikaans, English and American. Listening to Chris recite Tom Waits lyrics in a Bob Dylan voice far into the night. Sparks from the fire fly up to the burning stars above. I stumble back to our tent and fall asleep thinking of the return drive, map-less but not lost, anticipating the wonders of tomorrow.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

hibiscus schizopetalus

My father took this picture too... I've always loved the original slide, which glows in the setting sun. Obviously I have altered the original, using Virtual Painter.

Sunsets at Kimpese went very quickly - not much twilight when you are near the equator. There were only a few minutes between light and darkness. I remember the sound of the doves cooing, calling one another. And the evening breeze, sighing in the tall grass.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Moments of memory 1

1964 fishing at lake neuchatel, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

The first in an occasional series, no particular order. Photos stir memories, layers of smells, sounds, and emotions. Sometimes the photos are mine, but just as often they were taken by others. We all have these moments of memory.

1964 fishing at lake neuchatel

My father took this photo. We were living in Switzerland. My parents were spending a few months learning French, preparing for mission work in Congo. My brothers are "fishing" at Lake Neuchatel. The air is so clear... it didn't happen very often that you could see the Alps.

My experience in Neuchatel was mixed. Since I didn't speak French, I was placed back in 1st grade which really hurt my feelings. Even worse I couldn't understand a word they were saying. And the school contained curriculum that I found boring and very difficult - specifically needlework. But all the girls had to do it. I still have the little sampler I made, beige with red and blue cross stitching at the top and bottom, frayed around the edges and soft with age now.

On the other hand the school was inside the castle, and we had to go across the moat (dry) and through the big gates, all on cobbled streets. I remember walking home with my brother just before Christmas, looking in the sparkling store windows, trying to find a present for Mom, our boots crunching in the snow. We (or more likely, Dad) bought her a beautiful crystal dish. She still has it. And every time I see it, I remember.

French was acquired somehow - it still impedes my attempts to learn Italian. The year we spent in Switzerland was full of changes, but the purity of this moment - the three of us standing at the edge of a luminous lake, darkness closing in but the light still on the far mountains... time stops.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dishwasher update!

The dishwasher has been successfully installed! It took 3 trips to Lowe's, an electrical shock, a banged thumb, and a few tries - but DH did it. He believed he could do it, and he did in spite of my doubt. He continues to amaze me with his persistance and skills.

I'm glad we have the new dishwasher - first of all, it's white, which looks better in our all-white kitchen. And it is much more energy and water efficient than the old one. I can already tell the capacity is much greater, and one of the cups that I had hand-washed came out cleaner than when it went it. So I guess it works.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

DH Quotes

When I first met my wonderful husband, he floored me with some amazing simple, direct statements and occasionally questions that are very hard to answer. He still says them, and so I preserve them here.

1. Do snakes know their mothers?
2. Do fish know they are breathing?
3. Did you know that a circle is a polygon with infinite sides? (he loves math)
4. Why don't clouds fall down?

Hopefully I'll figure out how to categorize things but for now we will just have to have recurring entries.

Management Conference, continued

OK, I survived the first evening. Actually although I dread these events and find them very tiring, there is also reason to be proud. When I joined the company 17 years ago, there were less than 200 employees, a small company in an uncertain business. Now, we have 1800. We have been a public company for at least 10 years - at the moment I'm too tired to remember the actual year. Could be 1994? I am honored to be considered part of the "cultural bedrock" (as the president described those of us who have been with the company more than 15 years). The company reflects my values. How many people can truly say that?

We watched silly skits - one was actually very funny - listened to reasonably inspiring speeches by our president and chairman, ate some truly awful buffet food (do not eat coconut chicken, ever), and generally had a good time seeing coworkers. Many of these men and women have become friends, too.

Success is sweet. We have worked long and hard, and done it honorably. A good feeling... I found myself smiling on the drive home.

Management Conference

Today is the beginning of our "management conference". 500 managers and middle management coming together. Lots of rah-rah. I don't enjoy the cheerleading but it is nice to see people again. The biggest problem for me is that they all know me but I don't know them by face, only by voice (since I usually just have contact by phone). So there will be a whole lot of "great to see you" and on my part a whole lot of internal wondering as to who that person was.

3 days. I'm sure it will be fascinating... :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

New dishwasher tomorrow?

We are looking forward to the delivery of a new dishwasher tomorrow. At least, it might be tomorrow. We should have had it today, except that the delivery service was missing a driver, so they say, and thus our much-anticipated appliance was stuck in Fort Worth.

The old one was more than 10 years old and really needed to break. Thank goodness it finally did. I had NOTHING to do it, promise!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When bad things happen to good (new) bags

I am a fan of Ebags products, and have purchased several of their items including the Ebags Professional 22". A great bag with a couple flaws - balance is compromised when it is fully loaded to the point of tipping over. Ebags had no problem with shipping me a new bag after my first Pro 22 was replaced under warranty because the zipper heads were completely torn off when checked from BWI to IAH in January.

To prevent the zipper heads from being torn off of my new bag (they are kinda big and heavy) I removed them all and instead put red ties (see pictures) which I got at REI. I was very hopeful that this replacement bag would last for many years to come. But it was not to be.

Once again traveling from BWI to IAH, I checked my bag. It was the second bag off the plane, and at first I didn't notice anything wrong - just a bit scuffed. But the handle was a bit hard to extend... and then I noticed a rip in the back... then a hole in the side... then I realized that my bag had been really damaged.

I nervously signed in at the Continental Baggage Services, and waited to see how this would be handled. It was late, I was tired, and in no mood to be disappointed. Thankfully there was no need for any assertive behavior. Within 20 minutes I was greeted by a cheerful woman whose response to my statement "this doesn't look like normal wear and tear to me" was a simple "I agree". She immediately offered to replace my bag, and brought out two different suitcases. I chose the second one, a Delsey Helium Lite 25" expandable. Reasonably comparable to mine, although larger and not quite as solidly built. And she let me keep my destroyed bag (which was good, since there was no way I could unzip it completely). Remarkably, there was absolutely no damage to the contents.
So now we have a new, larger suitcase and a very nice customer service experience too.

A hard rain

A big storm came through early this morning, with lots of lightning and thunder, and an inch of rain. No damage, and the plants are all happy - our almost-dead ones as well as the living ones...

Today I need to get some of these little guys potted up. And I should devote a few hours to doing some work for the people who pay me, since I left work early on Friday.

Perhaps more later.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

13 dollars, 66 plants

We had to go to Lowe's to buy some plumbing parts for the latest project by DH (my dear husband). His birthday is today, but he is happy NOT to celebrate it...
Another item on the list was to pick up a couple packs of flowers. We have an ongoing project to plant as many monarch-butterfly-friendly plants as possible in the garden, and we acquired several more milkweed plants earlier in this spring. One is going to live in a large container at the corner of the driveway, next to the kitchen door. My plan was to get some color for this container. As we wandered through the garden center we stopped by the almost-dead-plant section, to see if there were any bargains. The friendly Lowe's lady ambushed us by saying that if we took the entire rack she would charge us only $10. DH has a horror of killing plants and endless sympathy for the underdog, and since we had already picked out $6 worth of almost-dead plants this seemed like a good deal.
Thus we are now the proud owners of the following: 19 Big Blue Liriope, 4 Jim Crockett Star Asters (these are very good butterfly plants), 2 culinary sage, 1 Senetti Blue Bicolor Cineraria, 3 Festival Mix Gerbera Daisies, 2 Purple Fountain Grass, 1 dianthus, 1 Asian jasmine, 1 white impatiens, 18 petunias of unknown color and very little health, 1 strange little plant with stiff curly/wire stems and no name, and the balance filled out with delphiniums that are almost sure to die of the heat. We paid full price for 12 portulaca and 6 coxcomb. All have bee carefully placed in the light shade of our crepe myrtles and watered tenderly. Who knows what will live or die - and where the *ell I'm going to put all these things.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Normal Life starts out

Well actually I've been living for quite a few years now (more than 50!) but I'm going to try blogging one more time. The web is littered with failed attempts. So, here is my "mission statement" - a quote from Joel Ancis:
The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well.
This has been a true statement in my experience. The corollary would be - Every family is disfunctional. But that is another post for sure - if I ever am willing to write it!

Actually it is unlikely I would ever post juicy details like family disfunctionality. More often I expect I'll be chronicling the ups and downs of travel (business and personal), local events like the population of squirrels in our garden, my adventures in the world of photography (microstock, Flickr), and anything else that comes up in a "normal" life.


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