Beewatching’s Blog

Geek Fashion Lessons
March 8, 2013, 9:59 am
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You may not think that older techies care about style, but you would be wrong. Recently DH took advantage of a sale brochure in the Wall Street Journal featuring a brand he’d never heard of “Charles Tyrwhitt” (not the fellow’s real name, I am told). They are nice enough shirts, and, unlike the Territory Ahead wardrobe DH has collected over the years, you can specify sleeve length and neck measurement. So he ordered a couple, which were advertised as specially priced well below comparable quality shirts. Ok, so he is not yet dressed like a quant, and probably never will be, but it’s such a delightfully long way from his graduate physics student days of flannel shirts and ragged edge jeans, that I approve of the upgrade, modest as it is.

The shirts arrived. We see that they are well-crafted, and he saunters into the office, only to find that a lot of his fellow engineers are similarly attired. When he reported this to me later (no mistaking the slight edge of disappointment in his tone), I remarked on how many of his co-workers must also read WSJ. Not just that, he told me — Charles Tyrwhitt also advertised in The Week. Oh, the indignity! So much for his special find. So now, with so many new customers (gullible 99%-ers all of us), we are waiting to see whether future CT shirt purchases show diminishing workmanship, or whether the brand will maintain a semblance of integrity.

Still, it is time for me to help him find a shirt brand with the interesting Italian textiles such as those from Territory Ahead, but with the better workmanship and more precise sizing of the Charles Tywhitt type. I am open to suggestion, but thinking the thing to do would be to save up for a trip to Milan. Ideas?


Smoky Mountains, Wall Clouds, Great Music (Tennessee trip)
July 31, 2011, 4:33 pm
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THE MUSIC CALLED US AND WE WENT I don’t know too many people from New Jersey who go to Tennessee and Kentucky for summer vacation. When the temperature goes up, we go north or shoreward. This is logical — if it’s hot at home, what do we expect if we head south? This was a trip during which we ate lunch at Subway almost every day. Always the same thing, because how often can you get a sandwich that has both bacon and avocado along an interstate? As you may suspect, I was thoroughly sick of this sandwich before we got home, eight days after setting out. But not sick of bacon.

Once the Mark O’Connor String Camp, which one of the kids enjoys each summer, moved its northeast session from New York City to Boston, it didn’t make sense to endure an urban inferno if we had to drive several hours. East Tennessee State University’s Mark O’Connor camp now seemed like the more habitable choice. After the ETSU dropoff, my husband and I pursued our own itinerary.

We stayed at the Carnegie Hotel at first, in Johnson City, TN. I recommend this place. We were very comfortable there. It’s right across from the university. They have a spa. I didn’t get around to trying it out, silly me, but you should. By the way, if you like to shop for groceries at Whole Foods Market, there isn’t one here. But they have Earth Fare, which is almost a clone. Shop here.

Our next stop was near Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I recommend this place too. I mostly recommend bug repellent and a rain jacket. We stayed north of the tourist madness that is Pigeon Forge, but near the main road leading to the park. On approaching the mountains, the skies opened up, so DH and I went first to the gift shop (because he had forgotten to pack his rain gear) and bought a nice jacket. By the time the purchase was made there was no more rain that day, of course. We did a short loop of 5.5 miles, halfway through which I decided I my “smartwool” socks were a stupid choice for such a humid hike.

DINNER AND A SHOW Enjoyable (except for my socks) as the hike was, the weather display we watched later from our restaurant seats was memorable too. We were at Uncle Buck’s Grill, in the Kodak-Sevierville area when the sky got dark fast. Once we noticed that some staff and patrons were looking outside with fascination and terror, and that the background hum of conversation had been muted, my situational awareness told me we were in a bad place to weather a tornado. Windows surrounded us, and a huge saltwater aquarium backed the entire length of the bar. There was a wall cloud, and branches of the small trees outside were being blown about fiercely. Power went out briefly and the emergency back up generators went on, while I scanned the exits and hoped the place had a basement.

Full-scale panic never occurred because ultimately that wall cloud did not give birth to a funnel cloud, and the storm soon moseyed off to scare another neighborhood. After a meal of blackened catfish washed down with a big margarita, we had relaxed. Dessert was a nice browse in the adjoining Bass Pro Shop, a bigger hunting and camping store than I’d ever seen before. Among its offerings is an assortment of hot sauces. (Anyone ever dare the one called “Nuclear Hell”? Still have any taste buds left?)

We drove to Kentucky the next day, on a quest for my husband’s ancestors. He got kind assistance from the ladies in the lower level of the Somerset Public Library, and left with new information, but more questions. That night we stayed at the Doubletree Inn, in Lexington. This is also a pleasant place to stay, with a restaurant onsite, as well as a Panera Bread shop mere yards away. On the news we heard that a tornado had touched down in Louisville, our next planned stop. Before leaving Lexington the next day, we toured the gardens at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. If we return there next summer (a possibility), we will also visit Ashland to see the garden, as recommended by the hotel desk clerk. She also recommended the cemetery for its landscaping.

YEAH — HAD LUNCH AT SUBWAY HERE, TOO It was sunny when we reached Louisville, where we heard that Lexington had just been issued a tornado watch (how’s that for timing?). Our first destination was the Filson Historical Society, which has a library of family records for perusal and copying with payment of a modest fee. While DH did the perusing, I toured all the rooms open to the public, with the help of a self-guided tour booklet that details the furnishings and many paintings on display, along with information about the original homeowners. It’s a lovely place and you should go. Afterward, we drove east on Bardstown Road in search of an historical plaque mentioned by one of the librarians. She did not promise that it still existed, and indeed, we didn’t find it.

One can get hungry perusing, you know, so dinner was next. From a number of appealing restaurants on a list, we walked from our hotel to the Mayan Cafe on Market Street — a delicious meal, which I accompanied with a drink that included fruit and prosecco. Along Market Street are other restaurants as well as shops and galleries we would have certainly explored if we’d had more time in Louisville. Another bit of Louisville that features intriguing shops, clubs and restaurants is Bardstown Road. It’s a bit bohemian in appearance. If you are in Louisville with a few spare hours, you should seek this area out. Then, please tell me what you find.

From Louisville, we headed back to Johnson City, Tennessee. The final night of the string camp featured a concert of all the instructors as well as Mark O’Connor himself. It was, as you might expect, outstanding fun, a delight for the ears. Once our teen had been retrieved from the dorms, we headed west again to visit family as far away as St. Louis, Missouri. Every day it rained a little while. Every day there was a tornado watch somewhere along the route. We dodged these by sheer luck, not planning.

WHAT THE HAIL? Around daybreak the final day of our trip, I awakened to the sound of hail hitting the hotel room window ledge. We all know what hail can mean, right? Worried that our tornado-dodging luck had run out, my first act was to hide my head under my pillow. Then I dared a look outside as the storm wound down, and saw not only NO tornado, but clearing sky! In fact, the ride home was through some of the best weather of the whole trip. Figures.

Along our hiking trail

Hometown farmer's market

Back home. It’s fair season. Trading funnel clouds for funnel cakes.

Mild Regret
October 3, 2010, 7:13 am
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No matter how I edit, embellish, dig, divide, re-envision or otherwise change my garden, the centerpiece remains a battered dogwood tree (Cornus florida). If it were not smack in the middle of the back yard, we could be playing badminton and volleyball in the summer, and pickup hockey in the winter, because the yard itself is quite flat.

But I’m too soft-hearted. It’s a native plant. It is home, cafeteria and perch to too many of my neighbors.

If I think back to my childhood, I recall skating on an area of frozen swamp that was part of my grandparents’ property. Dodging trees and the bits of tall grass that stuck out of the ice was part of the fun, but no one tried to play hockey there. This was also back before I knew what lawyers are. There won’t be a rink constructed around our old tree. All it would take is for a neighbor’s kid to take a check from the trunk of the dogwood and there would go my landscaping budget for years to come.

Occasionally, I picture how it could be as I look through my kitchen window, but our feathered guests wouldn’t understand hockey anyhow. And the tree stays.

The bleachers?

Not that I suddenly like the color pink, but …
August 24, 2010, 6:58 am
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Isn’t this a neat looking bromeliad? The buds are blue then open to pink petals.

A Home Depot find

Yummy!? Slugs and tomato leaves …
July 9, 2010, 9:31 am
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Baptisia, one of my favorite perennials

Don’t hate me, but I don’t have a deer problem. I live in the middle of town, with fences on three sides of the property. This means that only slugs feast on my hostas, otherwise known as deer candy. I leave the slugs alone, especially now that I’ve read that they are a choice nosh for the many fireflies who live in my backyard. Let them make a few little holes in the leaves, so their short lives are not devoid of pleasure.

Various mammals cross my garden path — rabbits, chipmunks, voles, opossums, groundhogs and, more rarely, a skunk or two. Since there are bird feeders, there are two other logical visitors: the neighbors’ cats, and squirrels. The latter, furry tailed rats that they are, have apparently bribed a grackle or two: I’ve seen those birds use their beaks to shovel showers of seeds into the air while they search for their own favorites in the mix. On the ground beneath, enjoying the bounty, the squirrels seem unfazed by the hot pepper coating intended to make the seeds unappealing to them. Perhaps their taste buds have now short-circuited and they no longer notice the burn.

Their willingness to eat stuff that shouldn’t taste good makes me suspect that a squirrel is the culprit who ate one of my tomato plants, admittedly the runt of the litter, down to a stick. Otherwise, who eats tomato leaves? In fact, I thought they were poisonous, although I’ve read that some fools smoke them for a cheap high. (I don’t think I want to cross paths with a hallucinating squirrel.) Hopefully, a memorable stomachache will prevent the same thing from happening to more of my crop. Rather than take chances, I’ll defend my plants with chicken wire and garden hose at the ready.

Speaking of slugs, this year I used shredded newspaper in the strawberry bed, into which I wound up placing the tomatoes that were left after I ran out of big pots. My strategy is simple: the slugs would be so distracted reading the local news (in slug-size bits) that they’d forget where they were headed and leave the plants alone. So far so good, because I know that plastic snake lurking nearby would not make any impression on them.

Hope the squirrels don’t eat the snake.

May 25, 2010, 4:36 pm
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Above is a bloom I would not try to pluck, basking in the admiration of visitors to Grounds for Sculpture last weekend.

As I was thinking of what I’d have to offer the bees from month to month, I started wondering whether I could also do an alphabetical list of some things that bloom hereabouts, not that I have an excess of free time to throw away on such an exercise, but it seems much more appealing than chores right now. You know the feeling. Let’s see now, Aster, Baptisia, Corydalis, D…hmm. Dianthus? No, that disappeared under a flood tide of vinca vine a couple years ago. Ah! Dandelion — I think they’ll continue to hold their own no matter what tries to overtake them. E? Elderberry, almost forgot. Foxglove (I may be cheating here because I can’t tell if these are first year or second year. They may just produce leaves this year.) I’ll go with Forget-me-not then, which kept up blooming for at least a month and still haven’t completely faded.

Back to my list: Geranium, Hosta, Iris, Joe Pye Weed, Kerria, Lobelia, Monarda (you’ll see I’m mixing a Latin and common names, or if that bothers you, how about Mayapple or Milkweed?), N? I don’t have enough sunny space left for nasturtium, but Nigella seems to like it here. For O I have Oenothera, but Q? Next is P for Plumbago, then Rose, Salvia, Tiarella, then U. U? What should I have that starts with U? Well, at least V is no problem, since I have Veronica, Viburnum and Virginia Sweetspire to choose from. Argh, can’t believe I’m stumped by W. No, I don’t have Wisteria, or even Wishbone Flower. Maybe it’s time to go shopping. The only X that comes to mind is the X in the names of hybrid plants. The Yarrow died. Good old Zinnia finishes off this list.

I could start up a second round with azalea, begonia, crocus, etc., but I think I’ll go out now and hunt for the missing U and W (hope I didn’t mistake them for weeds and dig them out). Anyway, it’s too nice a day to sit inside making lists. If anyone has a good idea for Q, U or W, I’d like to know.

Future Tomatoes
May 13, 2010, 10:17 am
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Where no veggie has gone before Last year I was so eager I planted my tomato seeds indoors in mid-February, which was quite a bit premature. Although most of the plants survived, they were pretty small and spindly by late May. This time, I waited until early April, so now they are still quite small, but I hope will become sturdy, because the weather should get significantly warmer soon. Still, I don’t feel I have the timing down exactly right yet. How do I get the quickest most robust seedlings? Listening to a portion of a fascinating DVD astronomy lecture series the other day, I think I may have stumbled upon the answer. The trouble is, it’s still just theory, and likely to remain so for a long time.

In fact, time is our friend in this theoretical tactic. According to some forward-thinking astronomers, there may be a way to go back in time without being turned into a frappé by the event horizon of a black hole. The lecturer I listened to showed a nifty diagram of a curved universe (actually multiple adjacent universes) with a route — via wormhole, of course — between the two event horizons of a spinning black hole. If you don’t pass through the event horizon, the thinking goes, you might somehow find a way to wind up at the other end of a wormhole that opens in the past or future.

You are wondering where I stepped off the tomato track. I didn’t. Here is what I figure: if you catch the right wormholes, you can plant your tomato seeds in July, when you KNOW it will be warm. A few weeks of growth later, before fall’s chill, you and your pots of tomato plants hop the wormhole back to mid-May. This gives you good size plants which get a double summer to grow! You bypass all the fickleness that is April. Ta-da! Prize winning tomatoes for the state fair. BLTs all around.

Back here on present day earth, the first three ripe strawberries got harvested. It’s time to put those tulle covers on the blueberries. And almost time to put the tomato babies outside.

The photo below is variegated Solomon’s Seal. The only care it needs is watering in the driest part of summer.

One of my shade garden favorites