Saturday, September 27, 2014


Kuhli Loach

This morning I woke up to find the kuhli loach on the floor.  The gap in the aquarium lid where it accommodates the filter is so narrow, it is surprising that it managed to make that awful leap.

Rest in Peace, loach.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sliding door pulls from Fukuoka, Japan

Recently, I reached a milestone in my little house fund - the halfway mark.  After informing my dear friend J of the happy occasion she said, "you should do something to celebrate."  And so, this suggestion, our discussion of Western Doors v. Eastern Doors (pull-out doors v. sliding doors), and the fact that I've been drooling over these door pulls for at least a year, wondering how I could possibly justify purchasing such glorious items, all culminated in my buying myself a milestone present. I purchased them from an Etsy shop owner in Japan. They are metal, approximately 3" in diameter, feature a pair of phoenixes (or phoenii, as L suggested...I like it), and were manufactured circa 1960. The phoenix feels suited to my life's particular brand of nonsense - burning down to ground zero and beginning again - a common theme in many people's lives that has no doubt maintained the popularity of this symbol. More positively, though, phoenix reminds us that although things do end, life goes on; creation and profound change can occur in the wake of destruction and abrupt endings, indeed, at times they depend upon it.

The little house I would like to eventually build will have only two doors requiring these pulls, the bedroom and bathroom, where the type of door would have the most impact. The beauty of a sliding door, or pocket door, is that they do not intrude upon your space as a traditional western door does. For a western door, you must leave the space in its path clear, thus rendering that space unusable. The sliding door makes no such demands. 

It took a little over two and a half years to reach the halfway mark. My salary is rather average, but I am able to keep my cost of living low and save a significant amount every month.  The goal is to cover the materials and labor costs for the little house without a loan, and should I need a loan for land, to have enough for a significant down payment. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wild Persimmons

American Persimmon (sugar plum) - Diospyros virginiana

Down the dusty road,
cicada cacophony
and lo! Persimmons!

During my evening walk on the long dusty drive that eventually leads to my house, I was surprised to find a persimmon tree full of fruit.  How exciting! I've lived here the last two autumns and never noticed them! (In my defense, they are tiny, perhaps 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, and I have vague recollections of seeing "tiny oranges"). I must confess, I'd never tried persimmons before, so I had to do a bit of research to know when these would be ripe. They should be soft and close to rotting (but not actually rotten) for them to be sweet; wrinkly, translucent reddish-brown skin is a good sign. If they come off the tree with a gentle twist/pull, they should be good, but if they give you any resistance at all, leave them be. An unripe persimmon is very astringent and leaves your mouth in a pucker that lasts quite a long time. Apparently this is a fun prank to play on folks who don't know any better.

These two, though gorgeous, are not ripe

A thunderstorm is brewing as I arrive back at the house with my "bounty"

I managed to get two ripe ones

There is not much pulp in them due to the presence of several very large seeds, but what little was there was delicious. I imagine with the right spices this would taste a lot like pumpkin pie, but with a bit of a citrus-y flavor. Thankfully there are many, many recipes for persimmon puddings, pies, and jams featuring our native persimmon (there are Asian species as well). I'm hoping that by October or November there will be enough ripe persimmons to try out one or two of them...and I may look for more trees on the LL's property...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Narrow-mouth Frog

Gastrophryne carolinensis

It is always a delight to come across a narrow-mouth frog (also called a narrow-mouth toad), which is frequently heard but seldom seen due to its sheltering nature.  The calls sound similar to the bleating of sheep, most commonly heard around my house after a rain.  This is a young frog, but even as adults they rarely reach 1.5 inches in length.  The shape of the narrow-mouth frog is unique, making it easy to identify: a small pointy little snout, rotund body with relatively smooth skin, and a fold of skin across its head located just behind the eyes.  I noticed him hopping away with the insects in front of the hose as I watered the garden.  I then promptly returned him to his place so he could continue eating ants and termites like a good frog.  Special note: if you handle one, wash your hands. The skin secretions of this frog can cause burning if you rub your eyes or somehow get it in your mouth.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Devil-Riders on Holiday

Devil-riders: walkingsticks in the family Pseudophasmatidae (see the little male?)

Okay, it's actually my holiday.  To make a long sordid story short, I missed my exciting August travel-vacation and have instead settled on a much quieter retreat at home this week in September. This afternoon was spent fixing up the dirt patch.  Weeds and scorched plants were pulled, compost and mulch were added, and an additional layer of stones was added to either end of the run-off area. While moving a crate out of the way I noticed these two-lined walkingsticks, aka devil-riders.  I don't know anyone who has actually called them devil-riders, except insect books, and people quoting insect books. The female is about 4 inches long, and the little male will stay coupled with her for days while hitching a ride on her back (females can be hard to find when you can't fly). These guys are found in the southeastern US, but are particularly abundant in Florida, and they are vegetarians. Seeing them coupled like this is another sign that fall is on its way - thank goodness.  One more note on the devil-riders, I myself have never been on the receiving end of their chemical defense, which can cause temporary blindness if sprayed into the eyes, but I would recommend anyone proceed with caution just in case.  Best-case scenario, it smells awful.

Returning to the Dirt Patch, this curly-haired cow was very interested in my mulching activities and watched me the whole time:

The brown cow ate the weeds I threw over the fence.  

The mulch really accentuates all the bare patches where things died over the summer.  The annuals and creeping thyme (between the pavers) especially took a beating.  Next on the gardening agenda is to sow winter seeds, a task which has been on the agenda since July...

Sunflower Helianthus annuus 'Shock o Lat'

I accidentally broke off this branch of bell peppers while mulching.  They're smaller than they appear in the photo.  Perhaps I will make some stuffed peppers.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pomegranate Bonsai

Happy little bonsai

It was over a year ago that I sowed the seeds for this dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum). I now forget the variety, but I know it is not Sochi or Nana. Strangely I can find no trace of it online even though that is where the seeds were purchased.  The tree is about 8 inches tall (~20 cm).  Earlier this year, I transplanted this seedling to its bonsai tray and put it in a semi-shaded spot outside.  It bloomed profusely and produced this single fruit:

Then I brought it to the office, and despite the sunny window it dropped the remainder of its buds and has produced nothing since (wickedly, I like to think it reflects my general feelings about the place). The pomegranate finally fell off the little tree last week, and curious to see what this tiny fruit, smaller than a grape, looked like inside, I cut it open:

All we had was a steak knife!

I'm not sure if the seeds turn red or not in the dwarf varieties, but it appears the fruit was not ripe. Like the flowers, the tree presumably stopped the fruit's development and reserved its energy for adapting to the new environment. Still, it was delightful to find that the fruit is a perfect miniature of the regular-sized pomegranate. I did not sample the seeds.

The pomegranate's current home next to my cube at work. I don't blame it for looking less happy. Perhaps I will return it to its semi-shaded spot in the garden next spring.