Friday, September 30, 2011

You say tomayto, I say tomahto

Last year I grew tomatoes in my office window. I had so much fun and learned a lot so I figured I'd try it again this year. Below are my results.

Back in May I posted Fresh Starts, which included the planting of new tomato seedlings: Roma tomatoes and Golden Sunrise tomatoes. Taking lessons learned last year, I've been making sure to pick out the suckers, which forces the plant's energy to concentrate on growing fruit. After a time, I also started cutting back leaf stems, as they were shadowing the fruit clusters too much. Even still, this is what the vine currently looks like --
Yeah, the plant is so crazy it's tilting in the pot and forcing the supports to go cattywampus. But check out the fruit! Below are just three clusters of ripe tomatoes.
Here's a close up. They've all turned yellow now and have been picked for tonight's dinner. Thinking of making my famous stewed vegetables and use yellow tomatoes this time instead of yellow. Stay tuned for results!
Hmm . . . maybe I should be thinking Fried Green Tomatoes here -- Here's one of the Roma's. Unfortunately, they're not as prolific as the Golden Sunrises, but at least they're now starting to turn red. I'll have two Romas unless the other flowers fruit. What to do, what to do . . .
Last year when I grew my first tomatoes, I didn't realize the flowers had to be polinated. Never occured to me, but being in the office window with the window open on nice days probably encouraged a few flying critters to come in and walk around on the flowers, inadvertantly polinating them. Or it's possible the breeze carried pollen from flower to flower. I have no idea, but we did get a few small tomatoes that were very tasty.

This year I mead a point of using a little (clean) paint brush and touched it to each flower as if it were a bee, and it seems to have worked. That and picking off suckers. Currently, there are some 40-50 green tomatoes left on the vines. I've picked off the first 10 ripe ones for tonight. They're not huge . . . maybe a little bigger than a golf ball . . . but it's the flavor I'm after. I don't eat raw tomatoes so I'm very hopeful for the cooked ones.

Having said that, Peter had one in a sandwhich last weekend and said it was one of the tastiest tomatoes he's ever had, so they must be good!

Other than that, not a lot to report, but I hope you enjoyed seeing the *fruits* of my summer labor.

Visit my post Farm to Fork to see what I did with the tomatoes last year.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Lovers of Valdaro

(Apair of human skeletons found at a construction site outside Mantua, Italy, are believed by archaeologists to be a man and a woman from the Neolithic period, buried around 6,000 years ago.
Archaeological Society SAP/AP)

As a romance writer, sometimes when I'm fascinated by interesting articles I like to share them, hoping some likeminded person will find them just as interesting. Such as this one -- The Lovers of Valdaro, also called the Valdaro Lovers.

Expected to be around 6,000 years old, this pair of 'lovers' was discovered by archaeologists at a Neolithic tomb in San Giorgio near Mantova (today's Mantua), Italy in 2007. Scientists believe the pair is a man and woman no older than 20 years of age and were approximately 5'2" in height. The couple were removed to Musei Civici in Como for tests and investigations.

While No one can be certain of the precise history of this pair, but it's been speculated upon that the couple was either placed in this position after their deaths by someone else, or it's possible they died while embracing in freezing weather. It's also possible one of them (most likely the man) passed away and the woman was killed so her spirit could follow his into the afterlife. No artifacts were found with the bodies and there are no distinguishing marks to suggestion a cruel demise for either of them, which leads to further mystery, which allows imaginations to run free. And why wouldn't they, as Mantua has an illustrious past where star-crossed lovers are concerned --

If the name Mantua rings a bell, it should. Mantua was the city where Shakespeare's Romeo was exiled as punishment for killing Tybalt Capulet.

Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto is also set in Mantua.

This couple was discovered in 2007, but what brings them back into today's limelight is that they were put on public display for the first time this week at the Mantua Archaeology Museum. This exhibit is temporary though, as funds are being sought to build a dedication building in which to house the lovers.

Whoever these people were and whatever the reason they came to be in this embrace, this romance writer would like to think this young couple were deeply in love, and even their deaths could not separate them. It's nice to see that archaeologist, in their quest for discovery, have left the Lovers of Valdaro in their eternal embrace.

For more information --

WorldCrunch -- A web service translating foreign news pieces into English.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fort Camden, Crosshaven, Co Cork

Since it's been a while since I've posted to this blog, I thought I'd start updating with one of the most recent things we've done. While in Cork recently, we visited the newly opened Fort Camden.

For concise history of Fort Camden, go to the history page on Rescue Camden's website. Briefly --

The first fortifications were built in Cork Harbour in the 17th century, although these were primarily to protect Cork City. In the 18th century, fortifications were built on Haulbowline Island to protect the anchorage in Cobh. Fort Camden, and Fort Carlisle across the harbor entrance, were both built during the time of the American War of Independence, aka the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). This should give American readers some context of the history of the time. But while a revolution was being fought in the Americas, there were still troubling times in Ireland and north Europe, and the location of forts around the entrance to Cork Harbour were instrumental in guarding the English Channel and into the Irish Sea.

Fort Camden was fortified and extended throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and has become one of the world's finest examples of a classical Coastal Artillery Fort.

Cork Harbour, the second largest natural harbor in the world (second to Australia's Sidney Harbour), at one time maintained four such forts -- Camden and Carlisle protecting the harbor entrance, and Spike Island and Haulbowline Island in the harbor center. Anyone daring to try to get into Cork Harbour would have been met with serious difficulty from all sides.

During the Second World War, the Irish Army formed its own coast artillery service with headquarters at Spike Island. The Coast Defence Service was maintained at Camden until it was dissolved in 1949, at which time the fort was closed and remained in disuse and un-maintained until recent times, as you can see from the massive overgrowth from a once dry moat.

In 1989, the Cork County Council acquired ownership of the fort and planned to restore some facilities and create The Military Heritage Centre and tourist attraction, including visitor accommodation, watersport facilities (boating on Cork Harbour and safe swimming locations around the docks), craftshops and restaurant.

Sadly, that did not come to pass. But locals would not be deterred. After twenty years of talks between the Cork County Council and Crosshaven Community officials, an agreement was made in July 2010 for the restoration of Fort Camden as part of a FAS program working with local volunteers. Over the last year, teams of men and women worked hard all over the site clearing debris, cutting back overgrowth and making safe many of the buildings. And in July 2011, Fort Camden welcomed in a new history for the fortm as visitors were now allowed onto the site.

Above is the main Casement Building which once housed soldiers' sleeping quarters (sleeping ten to a room in peace times and twenty to a room in war times), latrines, showers, medics, mess hall and more. Today, while they've been made safe for exploring, only a few are set up for displays. The chamber below has been filled with a shallow pool of water, the corners of which contained submerged pumps that keep the water circulating under and otherwise still surface. Local children made 'boats' which seem to sail on their own steam around the pool.

In another chamber is a display of letters, orders, and other notable items that were discovered on the site when volunteers were allowed in to clean-up. Letters like this one give an interesting account from a soldier's point of view. This letter includes --

"Monday (25/6/17) {25 June 1917}
Another bright morning. It is a shame to be in bed until 8 in lovely weather like this. Usual routine. Nothing much going . . . Seven men arrive from Curragh . . . Don't know what to do. Am thinking about the pictures. But it is too rainy . . . Something like rosary beads the droplets. This is Irish . . . News of rising in Cork . . . Off to the pictures. Not much chance of getting a girl . . ."

This soldier apparently hoped to find a willing girl that night except it was raining too much! He also referenced going joy riding. But again, the rain put a hold on that too. Maybe a good thing for the car owner!

Remember that the Easter Rising started in April 1916 and this letter was penned just 14 months later. News of a rising in Cork was probably common during the time as Irish rebels fought for independence from Britain. It would be interesting to know whether or not soldiers from Fort Camden were enlisted to subdue rebel fighters or if they were strictly guarding the harbor. The letter also mentions a local boating accident which enlisted had attended, saving two men.
There are, I believe, five tunnels through the hillside to various points around the fort. Two of them lead to the two harbors around the site, one of which is currently open and it the longest one on the site. Here's the entrance --

Once through the gate, soldiers would have been met by a long, dark tunnel before reaching the stairs. There are no windows along the tunnel so it would have been very dark without a lantern. Once at the stairs (seen below), there are narrow windows along the left side of the tunnel. They would have allowed in some light, maybe just enough to see by, but not terribly bright. Electric lights are now fitted for visitors, and make for interesting photography.

There are level areas between sets of five steps as one descends the hillside through the tunnel. I lost count at around 100 of how many steps down to the gunnery area. There was a lot more than that, I'm sure! At least it felt that way.

The tunnel leads to a gunnery area where cannons were mounted on raised platforms along the gunnery walls. Munitions buildings face the cannons, as did other related occupations such as smithing and a hospital room for the injured. The photo below is the main entrance into the gunnery area if one arrived by vehicle from the other direction. Impressive architecture!

Just outside the stone entrance above is also the entrance down to the main harbor. Below are a couple pictures of the seafront harbor area. Storage, barracks and other chambers are built into the hillside. As you can see by the date, 1871, this area would have been refortified in that year. The second harbor or dock area is seen in the background on the harbor side of the site.

Here is a view from the main harbor/docks looking out at Fort Carlisle, which guarded the opposite side of the harbor entrance. To the right, the wide open Atlantic. To the left, Cork Harbour.

Unfortunately, due to the disuse and not being maintained while closed, the dock has been destroyed by undercurrents, which are collapsing it. The piers seem to be solid enough.

A bit of trivia -- My husband's family used to spend summers in Crosshaven. There's a sandy beach on the Atlantic side of the fort where they rented a house by the week. Kids used to scale the cliffs around the fort walls (see the above aerial photo!) to the harbor and fish for mackerel for their dinners and swim within the pier arms. Our visit on this day was nostalgic for him in this respect and allowed him to finally see what was beyond the barriers in the fort.

From the harbor, one must either retrace their steps back through the tunnel (remember all those stairs!) or take the zig-zag road. When I say this road is steep, I mean STEEP. At each bend in the zig-zag are benches to rest upon. What they really need it one of those stair lifts people put in their houses! Maybe, eventually, they'll have enough funds when restorations are done, to put in some form of transportation for people not really fit enough for mountain climbing. And let me tell you, it's a climb. Scroll back to the top of this page to the aerial photo and you'll see the long, straight tunnel going from the top of the site to the harbor, and the zig-zag road.

At the top of the site is a stunning view of Cork Harbour. Seen here is Spike Island in the center of the harbor and Cobh in the background. Cobh was the last stopping place for Titanic, where she picked up Irish immigrants, before sailing to America. I think we all know how that ended!

The Irish tricolor flies from the highest point on the island. Below it are a number of buildings, including officers quarters, more barracks for enlisted, repair shops, motorcade, and more. Here's one of the work shops below --
What I find incredible about this site, aside from some interesting architecture, the tunnel systems, the location, the view and the history, is that simple things like an original brick path still exists and with it's original gutter. It shows a sign of the times when roads were traditionally cobbled. Considering the bland nature of today's road surfaces, I think seeing old cobbling like this brings a certain level of class or style to something as important as a military instillation.

There was so much to see at the fort and from the fort. One really would want to visit personally to really understand the importance of the site. One might get an inkling from seeing pictures, but to actually be there is another story.

I'll leave you with this last image. A broken piece of pottery with the insignia Óglaıġ na hÉıreann, which has several translations -- soldiers of Ireland, warriors of Ireland, volunteers of Ireland and simply Irish volunteers.

The phrase Óglaigh na hÉireann was coined as an Irish-language title for the Irish Volunteers of 1913, and it was retained when the Volunteers became known in English as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the War of Independence of 1919–1922.

Following the Treaty which created the Irish Free State, the Provisional Government in 1922 formed the National Army. To establish itself as carrying on the tradition of the pre-independence movement, the Army adopted Óglaigh na hÉireann as its Irish language name, and also adopted the cap badge and buttons of the Irish Volunteers, the former of which incorporates the title in its design. Since 1922, Óglaigh na hÉireann has remained the official title in the Irish language for the Irish Defence Forces, which are recognised by the Irish Government as the only legitimate armed forces of the independent state on the island of Ireland.

That means this piece of pottery, and thousands more like it found around the site, was in use when the fort was Irish occupied . . . from at least 1917 (re the above letter) to 1949 (when the fort fell into disuse).

Be sure to log into the website for Fort Camden for information on the restoration of the fort and their gallery of images.

Also, check out the Wiki page for Cork Harbour for detailed military history for Cork and Cork Harbour.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Tree of Life

I just love the smell of leather in the morning!

I have to share this.

Today I received my leather cover for my Kindle 3 digital book reader, a birthday present to myself. This came from Oberon Design in Santa Rosa, CA, who've been in the business of hand crafting leather items from the late 60s.

We have several Oberon book covers, and when we got our Kindle readers we wanted something to protect them. Oberon was the natural choice. They have so many designs that it's hard to chose just one.

When I first saw The Tree of Life, I loved it. I tried to decide on other designs but always came back to this one.

Here's the cover opened to show the full scene. Stunning or what?

And here's the inside with my Kindle installed.

There is a small pocket on the left, and behind that and the device are larger pockets. The left side is padded to protect the device face.

And I'm sure you can't help but notice my custom screensaver on my Kindle!

AND, to finish it all off an amazingly stunning design is a matching pewter button. They even included a pewter charm with a matching tree motif.

What I'll do with it is still unknown. What I do know is I can't wait to sit down and start reading just so I can hold this cover in my hands.

BTW, I've named my cover Darragh, which is an Irish name meaning Mighty Oak. Silly to name a book cover, but as we're going to have a long relationship I figure we better be on first name terms!

Thanks, Oberon!!!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Fresh Starts

Spring is here and with it everything that involves fresh starts. And not just all that stuff going on outside with the flowers, trees and little lambs, foals and calves!

Here are a few of my fresh starts for the year --

Last year we grew some tomatoes in our office window. You can see that post here. The vines went wild and we only got a handful of small fruits that looked more like cherry tomatoes than the fist size ones we should have had. So before trying again this year, I read up on the dos and don'ts of tomato growing. Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a matter of putting a seedling in the soil and watering it occasionally. There's an art of pinching back suckers AND they do like the occasional feed. Go figure.

So this year, we picked up two more seedlings. One is for yellow ones called Golden Sunrise and the other is a red called Roma. They were both the same size when we bought them -- about 2 inches -- but the Golden Sunrise seems to be growing leaps and bounds over the Roma. They're both large enough now that I can get out my rings to hold them up. I don't think I'll let them get as high as the ceiling this year though ;-)

Another project on the cards, so to speak, is wool. Anyone who knows me knows what a knitting enthusiast I am. Give me a couple sticks and anything resembling a long, fiberlike substance and I'll make something out of it! I have yet to delve into spinning though, which is where this project comes in.

We take our dogs running at a place called The Curragh, currently a national parkland, was once a place where ancient kings of Ireland raced their chariots and horses. The Curragh today has multiple functions, including being home to the Curragh Racecourse, a golf course and the Curragh Camp where the Irish Army trains (not the IRA, sorry folks, and yes neutral Ireland has an Army!) And some seens in the movie Braveheart were filmed here, amongst other places in Ireland (that was an Irish movie folks. Don't let the Aussie in the skirt fool you!)

Around 50,000 acres makes up The Curragh, most of which is grazing land for sheep to help keep the grass down. County Kildare, by and large, is flat compared to most of the rest of the country -- real Big Sky Country -- but the Curragh is actually made up of short rolling hills and drumlins, and thousands of gorse plants. Gorse is a thorny shrub that blooms amazingly yellow this time of year. Sheep bed down under it for protection at night. As a result, they're constantly getting their wool snagged on the thorns. Which is where I come in!

When we take the dogs running up there I sometimes take a little plastic bag with me and collect the cleaner bits of wool snagged on the gorse. Then I bring it home, wash it and card it into something that can be spun. This sample was from the last collection, which has been washed and ready for carding. In fact, I have carded it now, removing all the seeds, burs and tangles. I just need to find my drop spindle and learn how to spin it! But hey, free wool, a little processing and then I can knit with it!

Incidentally, the peasants of Ireland who couldn't afford to buy prespun wool, or who had their own sheep and wanted to add weight to their fleeces before sale, would gather wool off the gorse, as I have. This is where we get the term 'wool gathering' when we're thought to be day dreaming. Girls who went gathering wool would often daydream in the process. So there you go now, as the man says!

My other project for the year as part of my fresh starts is actually a starter. A sourdough starter, in fact. I was given a packet of Gold Rush starter, which is a dried active yeast from a San Francisco starter that's about a million years old and figured I'd better use it. This picture is a bit dated now, but this starter was born on 27 April 2011 and is growing by leaps and bounds.

I've never done this before so it's all a great learning experience. I'm a firm believer that no matter how old you are, you should ALWAYS learn one new thing a day. Every day I work with this starter I'm learning something -- mostly that I suck as a baker!

Actually, I'm getting better. I've made four loaves of sourdough bread so far, each one tasty, but all of them with problems, which is why I'm not sharing pictures yet! I'll post the recipes i'm using and the process of the perfect loaf when I have a perfect loaf.

That's not to say I haven't used the starter with great success. The very first thing I made with my starter was pancakes! The starter was only five days old but they came out great. I'll put up that picture too when I update this topic with bread pictures. I'm also looking for a good pizza crust recipe, too, so if anyone has one to share . . .

Life is full of ironies. It was just this morning Peter said to me, "We decide to cut back on our carbs and what do you do? Start filling the kitchen with bread." Yep, that's me. Full of irony. And a little contradiction. :-D

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My date with Jack L!

I know, I know. It's been a donkey's age since I posted anything on this blog.

Last Friday, the 14th, we (Peter, mom and I) went over to Newbridge to the Riverbank Arts Centre where the incomparable Jack L (aka Jack Lukeman) was performing. The Riverbank is a very intimate venue of about 180 seats. Even in row 8 it was almost like being in the front row.

This is the second time I've seen Jack perform. The first time was on my birthday a couple years ago when we still lived in Macroom at the Briary Gap Theatre. The Briary Gap is quite a bit bigger then Riverbank and my seat was pretty far back, but it was still an awesome performance. Part of Jack's routine is to walk up into the audience during certain songs, which I think is great. Not only does he get within touching distance, it's his way of personalizing his performance. Most performers stay on the stage, separate themselves from the audience, do their numbers and take off. Not so with Jack. He connects with his audience on many levels. Including several encores.

I really like Jack's music. His deep voice gives his songs emotion and intensity. I especially like when he steps away from the mic to sing. His voice projects naturally without him having to scream or sound like he's screaming just to get the notes out. What's also impressive is how his live singing voice sounds just like his recordings. Not many performers can say that. I've been to concerts where the performer's live singing voice is vastly different from their CDs. In one case, Jack brought out his squeeze box and sang a very soft lullaby called Stardust. The audience was so quiet during this performance. Not a cough, sneeze or murmur in the place. No one wanted to miss a note. It was great. Here's his own video of the song . . .

What else I found interesting was the audience. Most people there were between thirty and seventy. There were a couple kids (maybe around ten years of age), but the majority were well into their adult years. One woman sitting next to us was on her feet dancing a couple times and while in her seat, she shook our row of auditorium chairs with her foot tapping. She was really into it, to say the least. Toward the end of the evening, a woman on the other side of us was up and dancing too. I'm wondering if it was their natural love of Jack's music, or the wine they consummed in the theater's cafe! I'm thinking maybe a little of both! Whatever, they were fun to watch.

I can't not also mention the pianist and drummer who performed with Jack. They were simply amazing. I'm always curious to watch drummers because they normally get so little attention, and because my cousin is a drummer. On stage, Jack sets his musicians beside him rather than in the traditional places, so everyone has an equal part in the show. Jack's drummer held perfect rhythm through the show and made the job of drumming look effortless. On more than one occasion, he had both arms and legs in motion. It was amazing to watch him play. So much energy.

The pianist . . . both Peter and I thought he looked a bit like a displaced Animal from the muppets, with all his hair flying and energetic key-pounding. If the drummer made his task look effortless, then the pianist's playing came over more like he was in it for the craic and not working at all. It was obvious that he loves the music and enjoys playing with Jack. It was incredible to watch his fingers fly over the keys. Hunched over the keyboard, it was like he was stalking the notes. Even with such enthusiastic playing, he was still graceful . . . if I can apply that to a man . . . as if he was born to play the piano. I could have watched him play for hours . . . had I not kept most of my attention on Jack ;-)

I wish I could say the opening act was equally impressive. Personally, she (sorry I can't remember her name, but probably for the best) was not my taste. But it's possible her performance was completely out of context. As she said herself, she was without her band that night. She seemed too close to the music, playing piano herself and singing. She seemed to struggle a bit between keeping the music and vocals together. Sitting at the back of the auditorium, it still sounded like she was shouting rather than singing. And every song sounded the same. I have to say, when I saw Jack perform in Macroom a couple years ago, his opening act, Linda Coogan, was a lot more enjoyable. Her voice reminded me a bit of Janis Joplin, whom I really adore. I'd love to hear Linda play again.

Would I go back to see Jack again, even knowing the opening act is just so-so? You betcha! Aside from having a unique and outstanding voice, Jack's a consumate showman. I challenge anyone not to enjoy his performances.

If anyone is interested in hearing more of Jack's music, either log into his website or check his page on YouTube.

I'm off now to see where his next performance is!