Colbert Lampoons Arizona S.B. 1070

I’m stunned that S.B. 1070 was signed into law by Arizona State Governor Jan Brewer today.

The last time living in Arizona was this embarrassing was in the early to mid 80s, when  then-governor Ev Mecham cancelled the MLK holiday and referred to African-American children (I believe it was a group of kids assembled on the state capitol steps) as “pickaninnies”.

The best commentary on this sad state of affairs? As usual, during a recent Colbert Report broadcast; click here, the immigration story is 4 minutes into the broadcast.

Meanwhile, to my friends in AZ with more melanin than me:  no DWB without proof of residency. Your drivers’ license may not be good enough to prove you’re here legally; and now you’ll have to pay yourself for any jail time you incur.

Endless Yardwork

It’s not quite Endless Summer…but at least all this work should make for a more beautiful yard for me this summer. What have I been doing the past few days? It hasn’t been anything art-related. Though last Sunday we had a great Irish house session at my home: 2 fiddlers, 1 piper, 1 flute, 1 guitar, 1 bodhran. It was great. A nice break from all the work.

So, all those plants I got at the plant sale (see the previous post) had to go in the ground, so I dug up the ground adjacent to my perennial bed, which of course has agaves and aloes in it, that’s the kind of perennial border you get around here:

…and I plunked in some of the plants from the sale, including some hollyhocks, we’ll see how they do….

Then, alongside my new path I dug up a narrow strip of ground; my ambitious plans for an annual flower bed. We’ll see how my dreams look in 2 months, when everything will be beaten down by the scorching hot days.

I have no reason to trust all the doves and birds that love to peck at the ground when I’m not nearby…so I covered up my new flowerbed with some chicken wire (now sold as “poultry mesh”!!)  I scattered marigold, globe amaranth, cosmos, nasturtium and anise hyssop seeds; they are heat tolerant and I’ve had some luck with globe amaranth before. We’ll see what happens.

Then next to the flower bed I planted a couple of somewhat aggressive groundcovers, a wedelia (yellow drops) and a creeping lantana; there’s still some bermuda grass in that area that sadly shoots up occasionally and I’d like to give what’s left of it some hefty competition. That plant is a scourge. No, it’s worse than that. It’s a plague. You can’t kill it.

Next to the 2 groundcovers, where the giant hole in the ground used to be, is my new Sweet Pete fig tree, which my mom gave to me Monday.

Here you can see what I did with my cactus pruner; I broke a blade hacking away at this agave, though. I think I got a bit carried away.

My mom gave me some soaker hose she wasn’t using, so I strung it around my fruit trees: apricot–which is just a fledgling–and my more mature tangelo, orange and lemon trees. The hose is partially underground and I heaped lots of mulch on top of it. At a slow low-water-pressure drip, the ground is soaked 3 feet deep in 12 hours.

I still have some chores left to do: install more soaker hoses, install shade cloth on raised beds, paint the work bench where my bee hive will stand, and plant a cactus garden. And then order some more decomposed granite to fill in barren spots. I hope to have all that stuff done in another month. THEN I can get back to sewing and playing music.

Plant Sale at the Pima County Cooperative Extension Demonstration Garden

The University of Arizona’s “Campus Farm” is just down the street from me; it’s the large plot of acreage that is their agricultural program. They also have a lovely demonstration garden as part of their Cooperative Extension, and yesterday was the spring plant sale to benefit the Master Gardener program and the Cooperative Extension Demonstration Garden.  Most plants–very nice plants suitable for desert landscaping–were $4. Uh-huh. What a deal. A lot of the same plants would be triple, at least, at a local nursery; and, they wouldn’t be as good. Here’s the line that formed well before the sale started:

Smart folks brought their own boxes, as you can see. I just staggered around with pots of plants in my arms.  As soon as the gate opened, there was a feeding-frenzy under the small ramada where all the plants were neatly arranged; here you can see the “hold” table in the foreground, where folks have stashed their plants they want to buy, and the actual sale in the background:

Here’s a close-up of some of the lovely plants on hold, including my own; I picked up a pink trumpet vine, a penstemon, a couple of hollyhocks (we’ll see how they do) and some xeric groundcovers including a Chihuahuan primrose, and some hummingbird and bee friendly perennials:

The trumpet creepers are in full bloom in the gardens; that rose arbor in the background has a very nicely controlled Cecile Brunner rose. There were so many people at the sale. I think I heard a beleaguered sounding Master Gardener tell someone in the garden that “those plants aren’t for sale”.

I’d like to have the time to be part of the Master Gardener program. What fun. I can’t wait to put my plants in the ground…..tomorrow, I hope! Bearbear and I walked by the largely empty ramada today, the day after the sale; it was quiet, no one was there, and I think there were about 30 plants left unsold.

Boston Trip April 2010

I had a great (but brief) trip to Boston, got back 2 days ago. I’m such a wimp; the 3 hour time difference between coasts has me beat.

The day after I arrived in Boston, my 86-year-old aunt Mary Stewart drove me from Hingham to Dorchester to have a SCRUMPTIOUS brunch at the home of–I hope I have this right–my second cousin once removed, Katy Miles. I am still wishing I could drink strawberry Bellinis every morning. What a great meal.

Above is the photo of our brunch. I’m going to try to get this right. The way I think of all my second cousins is this: they are the grandchildren of my paternal grandmother’s older brother, Ned.

Top row from left to right: Peggy O’Neil, Mary O’Neil Crisafulli, Patrick Tranford, Joanne Tranford (his wife), me. Second row from left: Mary Stewart, Nancy O’Neil Hannan, Christine Whittemore, Michael O’Neil, Katy Miles; and bottom row, Pat and Joanne’s daughter….Christine? I hope I got that right. She’s a nursing student. If I got her name wrong…sorry.  So, with the exception of Pat’s wife, everyone there is a blood relation.Unbelievable.

The next day was Mary’s birthday: 87!! Here she is at her party with her daughter Megan, who put me up during my stay and who was very gracious, even buying me organic half-and-half before I arrived to make sure I was extra comfy in her home:

Mary has a lovely garden. Though there is a spot with a plague of Siberian Irises. I helped thin them out, and in this photo below my work looks tidy; but I’m sure the minute it rains those resilient rhizomes will shoot up all over the place. I even moved the pavers to hack away at those things. I suggested lighter fluid and a match as the only sensible approach to dispatching that type of iris; with a garden hose nearby, of course; but I guess this approach is a little too…cowboy for that part of the world. Check this out, it’s so New England:

The following day I hacked away at the myrtle. Some people in Mary’s home love myrtle; and, because it was locally held in such high esteem, you can see the clumps of myrtle I graciously saved so they could be thoughtfully transplanted elsewhere and so that some poor soul in the future can try to thin the things. Good luck on that.

On Tuesday I met my second cousin Michael O’Neil at the new Institute of Contemporary Art. The main exhibit was dull and pretentious, but many of the works on display from the permanent collection were compelling and interesting.

For some reason Michael wanted a shot of me in the middle of the street outside the museum. Here we were just outside the only old landmark visible in the area, the tiny chapel that Michael said used to be used by fishermen before they went to sea, or when they came back; he remembered going there with his dad. It was locked up; clearly, the economic demographic has changed.

Here I am looking out over the harbor from the ICA; the view here is worth the price of admission. The red jacket is not mine; I packed only a carry-on and had to borrow warm clothes from my kin, I’m just too used to the warmer temperatures in Arizona.

Michael took this photo of me in the museum; I’m looking at the security guard on her way to tell Michael to put his camera away, immediately.

My brother John lives in Boston. He’s very busy but had some time to meet up; here we are at Mary’s home for a quick dinner. I’ve got my hands on one of Mary’s biscuits; and, she does make the best biscuits, I ate about a dozen in 24 hours. Between the biscuits and the Bellinis I can’t really decide which one I liked better.

John took this nice shot of me with Mary and Michael.

Such a lovely trip; I’m very thankful to be related to so many warm, generous and accommodating people. I can’t wait to go back!

Garden Update

I’m off to Boston on Saturday. I’m leaving this blog behind and just taking my fiddle and a small carry-on. Nothing personal, blog. I just like to make a clean break from the routine every now and then.

I’ll be on the South Shore; and Dorchester, where some of my 3rd cousins (my Newfoundland grandmother’s brother’s grandchildren, if I got that right) live, they’re having a brunch for me Sunday, YUM. I like visiting Boston. It reminds me of my childhood, and I remember a lot about that area from the 70s.

Here’s the yard update; I can’t wait to get this project more close to done so I can start to sew again:

I cleaned up the northwest corner, now devoted to compost bins and….my new beehive, whenever it arrives (hopefully before the bees, that would be a good thing):

This is just a shot of what I’ll fix up when I get back, improve that path with the 2 tons of decomposed granite I have left:

Here are new perennials I got at the Tucson Botanic Gardens annual spring plant sale 2 weeks ago, I made a soaker hose from an old garden hose, mulched the plants, and I’ll cover this area with nice gold decomposed granite, eventually:

It looks a bit bleak, but compare it to this, 10 months ago:

Yuck! Isn’t that chain link fence and oleander horrible? I had to live with that for 5 years. And the too-close-for-comfort view of the duplex rentals next door?  When the wall went up 9 months ago I was very very happy:

See you next week!

My Button Box Odyssey

I’ve had this button box for almost 2 years. For ages I wanted to play the button accordion, but never thought it was a practical idea as the fiddle is hard enough to play and requires enough commitment…..and why bother with 2 impossible instruments when 1 is enough. That’s at least how I used to think. But then I decided life is too short; and while this trite thought would send most people to book the Carnival cruise of their dreams, or finance that fancy sports car, my life-is-too-short thought process led to the button box.

So, 2 years ago when I decided to take the button box plunge, I was confronted with one sad truth: button accordions are very expensive; the good ones are made in Italy and Ireland, and the strong Euro made them simply unaffordable to me. So I did some research and contacted an accordion maker and repair guy in Florida, Michael Usui of Irish Dancemaster Accordions and asked for his suggestions. He makes a very affordable Irish button accordion, which sounds just as good as  fancy Italian boxes at 1/3 the price; but he said if I could find an old Hohner on Ebay, he could swap out the reeds and set me up with a good starter box for even less.

So with some effort I found a Hohner Pokerwork (the photo above) that was actually made in Germany (not China, like some Hohners are these days): everyone who sees it says it looks “old” but it’s probably only 25 years old. I got it for $400 on Ebay (a pretty good deal) and then shipped it to Michael, who for $360 I believe installed the reeds and did the equivalent of an accordion “detail” job, adjusting the fingerboard, filing sharp parts down, installing a shoulder strap hook. He did such a fantastic job.

I took my box to the Swannanoa Gathering in 2008, where I took Martin Quinn’s accordion class, and he said my accordion sounded fantastic. I don’t think this was just plamas either. I went to Martin’s class again in 2009, and slowly began to understand how to play the instrument; he’s a wonderful teacher.

And then…just as I was starting to hit my accordion stride… I got tendonitis in my right shoulder. I stopped playing; I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. What made it more confusing is that when I worked for Child Protective Services, I injured my right shoulder due to the repetitive strain of mouse-clicking (that job is more about data entry than children), and as a result I never mouse-click with my right hand anymore, it’s too painful. I thought maybe I’d never be able to play the button accordion, because maybe the right hand action was like mouse-clicking. Then I thought it was the shoulder strap, which seemed to put too much pressure on my shoulder, not matter how ergonomically I tried to play. I thought I was doomed. I tried different shoulder straps. I tried using 2 shoulder straps. Nothing worked. So, until recently, my button box sat sadly unused.

Last month, though, I had a huge button-box-epiphany. I can’t tell you how exciting this was. Really. Laugh–go ahead; there are so many jokes about accordions among Irish musicians and I can take it.

I don’t know how it all clicked. I was up at 2AM with a migraine one night and I was looking through my books and pulled a copy of Damien Connolly’s  The Irish Accordion Tutor off the shelf and read what he had to say about the button box….and I realized at that ridiculous hour that I was letting the left side of the accordion sag too much when I was holding it, which pulled on my right shoulder; he described how to avoid doing this. When I was feeling better I tried it out, and, presto, my was problem solved!

I’m back to playing (like a snail) the button accordion, and working on my tunes. It’s a lot of fun. The button accordion sounds very happy and upbeat. And unlike the fiddle, it’s a tempered instrument. The buttons are all very predictable.

I can’t recommend Damien Connelly’s book enough; it’s fantastic.

Top Bar Beekeeping Workshop: Very Cool!

It’s very challenging to be a renaissance-type person in an era of highly focused specialization; I’m a bit of a throwback. I guess I’m just curious about the world in general. So, today, in the spirit of exploration I attended a small workshop about Top Bar Beekeeping which I learned about through the Sonoran Permaculture Guild. The location was way out west of Tucson, in a very tranquil and beautiful part of the Sonoran Desert.

It seems like a good time to think about how to be a good steward for bees. This has to be the worst time ever to be a honeybee; from a bee’s point of view, colony collapse disorder has be equivalent to the apocalypse.

Aside from altruistic motives–which are real–I will admit to being interested in bees because I want a source of honey. I spend a small fortune every month on local raw honey. Plus, crafty as I am, I can just see myself making candles.

Here’s one of the 2 top bar hives we looked at today:

The bars are arranged in a row on top, and when you pull one out, presto: bees busy building their apiarium empire. I had a chance to hold this bar of bees; it’s heavier than it looks:

Here’s a close up; I was really impressed at how possible it is to have a very gentle interaction with bees:

I really liked this workshop and highly recommend it! The folks who taught the class build and sell top bar hives. I know it’s allegedly easy to build one yourself; but I don’t seem to do to well with power saws and planes and angles. I get a bit flummoxed by it all and even the simplest schematic is impossible for me to decipher. So if I can find some bees this late in the season, maybe I’ll just buy a handmade top bar hive from the folks I met today. It’s certainly for a good cause; plus, it’s always a good practice to support small business. More later.

Tucson Wildflower Bloom 2010: A Hike Among the Flowers

I hiked up to Romero Pools this morning with my folks; it’s a bit of an uphill slog through a stunning canyon to where there’s water after rain or snow melt. Since it’s a weekend, we got an early start and initially saw just a few people; but on the way back, we must’ve passed 150 people on the trail, out to see the water and amazing wildflower display.

Here’s the view going up into the canyon; you can see a bit of melting snow on the mountain tops:

Here’s some wildflowers….

…and more flowers along the trail….

….and, looking to the northwest to all the over-development northwest of Tucson, towards Ironwood National Monument…..more flowers….

Here’s mom on the trail, at this point there’s some elevation gain and the cactus gives way to shrubby oak trees:

And here’s my dad; I guess he’s feeling pretty good about being able to easily hike up and down steep mountains at age 73. I should be so lucky when I’m that age!

Soon it will be way too hot to do any daytime hiking. And all the flowers and water will be gone. Get out to hike and see the flowers while you can!