doubtful knight’s spur

I’ve set myself the project of identifying the plants in the alley– so today we begin with:

Rocket Larkspur

Consolida ambigua
(synonyms: Consolida ajacisDelphinium ajacisDelphinium ambiguum)

Family: Ranunculaceae (ra-nun-kew-LAY-see-ee)
Genus: Consolida (kon-SO-lih-duh)
Species: ambigua (am-big-yoo-uh)

Larkspur belongs to the buttercup family – Ranunculaceae.

“Larkspur flowers are almost as complex as the Orchids,” according to the flower expert.

“Larkspurs are distinguished by a backward projecting spur, formed by the upper petal of the flower,” per Wildseed Farms.

Illinois Wildflowers tells us: “It is not surprising that this species is grown in flower gardens, from which it occasionally escapes…The follicles (seed capsules) of Forking Larkspur are glabrous, while the follicles of Rocket Larkspur are pubescent.” [ahem.]                                                                        

And we learn from Chinese Astrology and Precious Flowers that Larkspur’s associated Chinese Horoscope animal is the Sheep (in case you were wondering).

“Larkspur needs butterflies in order to pollinate. The plant is very toxic and can cause death if eaten in large amounts… In ancient China people used Larkspur against snake bites and stings of scorpions.”

Oh, bold Larkspur, to oppose the sting of scorpions! How so a doubtful knight, I have to wonder… For my part I shall admire your indomitability in the face of rocky soil.


Rainy day seed starts

Today was meant to be bed-building workday out at Global Garden, but, since the weather refused to cooperate, I hung indoors with whistling radiators and got my green on making floral seed starts for alleyway guerilla gardening.

Yesterday I walked down along the L track fenceline and planted three types of morning glory seedlings (blue, blue, pink), shook several jumbo wildflower seed packs over rocky and dubious soil. I’m uncertain as well how the new starts will fare on the back railing– tied down though they be against stray gusts and birdfeet.

The busy visitors, invited by feeders, have been making a meal of my windowbox lettuces and repeatedly turning Signor Oregano on his poor head. He begs that they kindly desist. Grazie mille!


Making arrangements

Chris says I line everything up against the wall like I’m staging an execution.

The other evening he walked through the front door, into the bedroom where I stood changing the duvet cover, and, coat still on, started picking up and moving things around on his dressertop with pronounced deliberation.

“Breathing room!” he hollered dramatically, exhaled with satisfaction, and only then de-jacketed to begin the work of winding down.

— A moment: lest I risk casting my hero here as anal retental villain, I should own upfront that the seemingly innocuous things mentioned so fleetingly in scene above aren’t exactly as innocent as they might appear. They weren’t in fact just sitting on top of the dresser, all, you know, innocent and random.No, they were in fact stating my presence and command in some subtle way. They had indeed been placed. I’d arrayed them for my own inner notion of display, whether consciously or no, in the course of tidying up the house.

To me this snapshot moment illustrates the visual surface tension continually at play within our home and life together: my darling a trained visual artist in several media and I for my part more and more actively embracing self-identification as visual+verbal designer. So we end up tugging back and forth a bit, negotiating the construction of shared space in mostly gentle and small-scale physical ways.

(My honey’s outburst on this day did, of course, as well express natural relief upon homecoming after a long workday, a literal request for what he most needed right then: air and space. The big working world out yonder is a tempestuous and trying arena and civic government most cussedly so. The daily trials wear a body down, torque it by situations of engagement and sortie into shapes all out of alignment. The by-contrast-snowglobe where I currently reside is a topic for another post. Here I’ll restrict myself to the subject of choreographing physical objects in space.)

To be fair, he may have a valid point about my up-against-the-wall organizational bias (ahem, pill bottles). Thought the specific dressertop lockstep that provoked his outburst had more to do with dusting than intentional design–yet this pattern been noted as a tic, so I’m on the lookout for tendency.

Recently I mentioned to an art school-trained designer friend and Etsy shop proprietor my ever-so-slooooowly developing scheme to sell vintage stuff etcetera online. Prompted to assist, she pulled up an array of relevant and tidy product photography by way of example, mentioning in passing the Rule of Thirds. This rang a distant little rusty bell, but it took Wikipedia to clue me in a bit more concretely.

The Rule of Thirds dates from an occasion over two centuries ago when one John Thomas Smith, engraver, outlined it as his own device of ideal proportion while discussing design elements in landscape art:

Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture : One should be principal, and the rest sub-ordinate, both in dimension and degree : Unequal parts and gradations lead the attention easily from part to part, while parts of equal appearance hold it awkwardly suspended…Analogous to this “Rule of thirds“, (if I may be allowed so to call it) I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general… I have found the ratio of about two thirds to one third, or of one to two, a much better and more harmonizing proportion. (1797)

In the original Smith launches into in raptures of fraction and orderly division most likely common to a thinker in the late Enlightenment, though today it reads as somewhat manically fastidious. Consonant, all the same, with a fella staking out ideological turf in naming and defining the rules of art.

I should think myself honored by the opinion of any gentleman on this point; but until I shall be better informed, shall conclude this general proportion of two and one to be the most pictoresque medium in all cases.

Q.E.D., motherfuckers.

For my own part I have, upon reflection a possibly relevant recollection. Back around 1987 (o, the predigital days of the 20th centurie…) I took a black and white photo darkroom class at the local community college while on official leave from “real” school. One day I was immensely gratified to come to class and find the teacher using one of my shots the day’s instructive lesson. He was, as I recall, a middle aged (though probably little older than I am myself now) white guy who favored short sleeved button-down shirts from Sears. His name escapes me now, although the lesson of that day certainly made its mark. He held up before the class a still life I’d arranged of a pyramidal alignment of minor kitchen objects– salt cellar, onion, spoon, bowl– and illustrated for us how the visual structure conspired to move the eye dynamically through space within a two dimensional context. Now that I think back on it, his lesson that day strikes me now as fueled fundamentally by the sort of asymmetrical design aesthetic outlined by Smith in his Rule of Thirds.

The content of my photo class picture probably causes little surprise for anyone with passing acquaintance recent Navelgazer posting.The plain fact is I’ve always made these odd conglomerations of the whatnots, though the activity has ramped up quite a bit of late as it evolves into some more conscious endeavor I’m still struggling to name. Still and always impulse is reflexive, reaching out to arrange things just so. Leaning toward some inner knell of balance that is, for me, markedly intuitive. I’d very much like to say, “Rules schmules, I just fiddle till it feels right”– but this is surely disingenuous. I’ve had schooling up to here, and no doubt my perspective is framed by all manner of foundational and structural beliefs I’m not even fully cognizant of myself. All the same I tend to resent, somewhat, the pretensions of self-proclaimed artistic authorities, naming their Rules and so forth. Though I guess I get the urge to quantify for a critical and rationalistic audience and activity, art, that is at heart mysteriously passionate, unknowable and wild, that creative life force. Rules are just so much logical scaffolding erected to polish windows on the real edifice of the work itself.


Schoolmarm Chic

I have a problem. A thrift problem.

Lately when I play dressup, I’ve caught myself thinking of the style I’m concocting as Gypsy Schoolmarm Chic (swirly typeface in my head).

Liking the whirly wild of the one combined with the sexy stern of the other, I offer it up as a sort of fanfic elaboration of the naughty librarian motif.

Part of the project, frankly, has to do with locating and/or innovating apparel that allows me to dispense altogether with the brassiere (that hateful scratchy mechanism in the tradition of corsets and bound feet). Consequently I gravitate  toward quasi-renaissance accessories in thrift racks which provide, by way of buttons, hooks, ties, and an assortment of latchy catches the strategic cinching and trussing up of collective bits into a shapely yet comfortably wearable form. This granted Madonnaesque tic toward support attire à l’extérieur instigates a slight revision: Exoskeletal Gypsy Schoolmarm Chic— not quite the domain of Steampunk, but retro-dramatic costumery all the same.

Recently I came up short with a raft of self-induced anxiety about this, ahem, fondness for thrifting (which becomes paradoxically frequent in inverse proportion to availability of funds). There I was, all caught up in dramatic and fun! throes of characteristically gothic self-recrimination when of a sudden I was visited by a windfall revelation– or, rationalization, maybe– either way the idea descended with the benificent flutter of virtual rose petals: I could open a resale shop on Etsy.

 Cue chorus of heavenly host. Oh, I know, grand online sales dreams are a dime a dozen. Still, it just might be a workable solution, if not to global belligerence and rampant economic inequality, at least ameliorating a bit the losing equation of household finances. (Theoretical) income could (conceivably) offset expenses ($ if not time). Given how the lowrent resale shops I frequent are so universally void of dressing rooms, this plan as well accounts for the bits that simply don’t fit that I inevitably wind up home with, having raptured over decorative stitching or fabric tooth and thrown my couple bucks down on the secondhand roulette wheel (more soon on affiliated seamstressing badge also currently undertaken).

It further makes me happy that, in allowing some space for (occasionally absurd and undignified) play and exploration, even up against the starchiest of uptight bugaboos like Mr. Worthwhile Use Of One’s Time and Money, I’ve succeeded in pushing past and through simple narcissism (ooh, shudder; tho who’s to say not simply a deeper form of narcissism)– all that dressing up and posing for webcam timer ding (honestly)– push past traditional scruples and modesties, brushing by (clearly) a couple of very widgedy Shoulds, to arrive at a delightful arena for the performance of theatre in the miniature peopled with variable invented personas, each attired expressly to suit her role.

(Quite possibly my imagination runs to the theatrical lately thanks to Julian Fellowes, whose wonderful attention to costumery I’ve been engulfed in lately by way of both video and ebook.)

Floyd thinks I should simply pay more attention to the squeaky hedgehog.


Good Witch

human comic strip vol. 6043


What I do here is uncomfortably near.

I’m a virtual close-talker. It’s a little embarrassing.








Still, can you fault a girl for trying on the odd pair of clown shoes in a bored and desperate old world?







Please be assured: in an ongoing effort to provide ever-congenial and family-friendly entertainment, all human comic strip characters are subjected to conscientious and regular brushing…




While we’re at it, irregular, as well, both cross-hatch and crosswise scouring of every pixel grit bit of human tedium in dearest hopes of uncovering underlying truths both vivid and substantive.

Piecemeal maybe. Maybe a vain, vainglorious, or spindleveined effort. Sometimes, granted, naught to show but hide shamed pink with dint of one’s own rigors.




Consider influences: starched familial roots, pantomimes of petty tragedy, classical themes etched across a suburban stage. The ranks of narcissists and pedophiles teaching piano-playing and bicycle riding: tools for flight, ultimately.





There are, if one will both recall and imagine, legion looming secondary Art Masters and Mistresses whose roles are granted to deem fledgling sketchers unworthy by self portrait. Weakly articulated chins? Excessively fixed regards? What, expressly, need never be spelled out as such. Only implied, just something– watch those blossoms wither on the vine.






For my part, verbally: overblown, overripe, verbose, voluptuous, purple, floral, obtuse, obscure, confusing. Yea verily. And visually? Doubtless the equivalent.


These days I choose to wear it bright and flabby-stripey, tho it’s true, twice shy, I seldom parade it outside the tent.





In the quiet tick-tock of the settling glade one gathers onward the twigs surrounding, weaves what may, casting homely spells in passing, holds a single breath just that extra moment–

Then lets it go and goes on to the next.



Brilliant Barley Salad

This was a using-up-leftovers dish that wound up serendipitously delicious–

Brilliant Barley Salad

Start with:

cooked & cooled grains (mine was a dinner side dish mix of barley, wild rice, onions, dried cranberries, and corn)


fresh Clementine sections
halved cherry tomatoes
diced avocado
bits of goat cheese


Vois là!

Man, it would be nice if more things worked this well.


Such immediate, direct and satisfying results. Yeah, yeah, life is struggle and growth to learn by, I know, but– Look! So shiiiiiiny.

One word: mayonnaise.


Banana bread

It serves bakers well to be naturally alert early risers. Unlike much stovetop cooking where there’s lots of wiggle room for variation, substitution, and off-the-cuff experimentation, baking tends to be a more exact science. Recipes come down to us, revised and devised through precise attention to chemistry: so much leavening to so much fat. Creating a balanced blend of wet and dry ingredients and flavor harmonics:  acid and salt, savory and sweet. In baking it’s physically necessary to handle your work with a varying touch: vigorous with gluteny yeast breads and glancing with pastry trifles, where little left-behind butter lumps serve merely to make the finessing pockets of fat that define the delicacy.

Sometimes, when you wake up before the sun has rightly risen and hit the kitchen with a hungry stomach, your wits may stay abed and let you make silly mistakes like half a pound of butter instead of half a cup. (Ahem. Those stick counts always throw me.) And sometimes you, all unawares, encounter baking disasters you never could have seen coming.

I grew up in a house that loved itself some banana bread. Anytime we had two or three bananas that had ripened too far for acceptable peeled eating or cereal topping, my mom would crank up the mixer to create a fragrant, nutty loaf for several mornings’ enjoyment. The first thing I learned to bake, but of course, was chocolate chip cookies. The second was banana bread. It was tried and true, reliable and delectable.

But on one memorable occasion the result of Mom’s culinary concoction emerged from the oven, cooled, and was sliced with typical mouth-watering anticipation only to hit our tastebuds with a repulsive– I could only describe it at the time as soapy– flavor, which I ran at once to spit in the sink.

What in tarnation could have gone wrong? We wondered and were unilaterally flummoxed.

Mom had used the traditional banana bread recipe, sleep-walkingly familiar, but somehow the result had turned out perfectly awful. Ten-year-old me took to troubleshooting: were the eggs bad? Nope. Butter? Fresh as could be. What the heck could have made that disgusting flavor? By process of elimination I winnowed suspects down to the sugar canister, only to find it full of salt.

Well. That explained it. A full cup of salt in place of sugar would surely produce a problematic breakfast bread.

To this day The Salt in the Sugar Canister Conundrum remains one of those lingering family mysteries. My mom for her part blamed the messenger, assuming I’d done the deed to be vexatious. Fuming in my room, I cursed my older brothers, surely more prone to such shenanigans than me. Years later I still wonder– could it be that Mom, granted a little flighty post-brain surgery, had herself made the mixup? (my sister’s theory) Or was the culprit farther back along the chain, a store who’d stocked its bulk goods bins with the wrong white granular stuff?

We’ll never know. But the taste of that single soapy bite lingers on my palate to this day. Every time I make my own banana bread and take that first bite a little part of me lurches in anxious expectation– and then I’m flooded with the flavor of sweet, buttery goodness, melting into contentment.

This morning, I must admit, rather more buttery than intended.

Banana Bread

Yield: 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together:
1/2 cup butter, softened (that is, ahem, one stick)
1 cup sugar

2-3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten

Sift together and add:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Roughly chop and mix in:
1/2 cup walnuts

Fill a bread pan, center in oven, and bake for about an hour (should be solid, no jiggling). Cool in pan for 10 min, cut around loaf, and tip out to cool on a rack.

Slice and enjoy with a nice cup of tea. :)