Saturday, October 27, 2012

Looking for love

On a recent driving trip around Ireland, we passed through Lisdoonvarna, population 800, the site of the photo featured on this week's Sepia Saturday.  Banners announcinhg "Matchmaking" events were being removed from the streets. Later we read that Lisdoonvarna hosts the world's largest match making festival; as many as 40,000 people from all around the world descend on the place looking for love.  Matchmaking is one of Ireland's oldest traditions and for the last couple of hundred years, a good deal of it has taken place in Lisdoonvarna during September and early October.

Here's a link to a video about the event and an interview with one of the famous matchmakers, the third generation of his family in the business. He's made 3000 matches and claims if you lay both hands on his magic book, you'll be in love within 6 months.

Match Maker Ireland

Stretching my imagination to the absolute limit (I can hear it creaking), perhaps there's a link between  Lisdoonvarna's matchmaking activities and our photo. Could this disgruntled old lady be a match maker and could these people be looking for love?

On second thought, setting aside all far-fetched romantic notions, I think this grumpy looking woman is renting out the clothes piled in a heap behind her. The hapless group of men and woman could be bird watchers (two of them are holding something - binoculars or martinis?) dumped out here for the day only to find themselves totally unprepared for the muddy weather. Instead of being a helpless old woman on the verge of eviction, is she an opportunistic entrepreneur ignoring their pleas for help (the turned face) and raising the price of the clothing rental as the velocity of the rain increases?
For more ideas about this very strange encounter, grab your bumbershoot and visit


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Sticky Beak

I recalled this photo from my family archive when I saw Kat's selection for this week. That's me in front, looking frightened by the ghostly image of my sister peering at me from the other side. As I was three years old, I don't think I'd have been much help cleaning the window so I suspect my Dad and sister cooked this little scene up.

In the photo of the week, I agree with other contributors that the snoopy guy in the murky window is a Nosey Parker or has a "sticky beak" as the Australians say. He's probably neglecting his own job and as my mother, being quick with the cliche, used to say, he should "mind his own business."

On second thought, perhaps he is doing his job. It crossed my mind that he could be a lip reader, hard at work. Police and agencies like the CIA use lip readers even though they have a modest success rate and can be easily thrown off by an accent or a mustache. Note that if you're going to do covert work, (and you're not a ventriloquist, or Mary Matalin or have a pair of naturally immovable lips) one of the smarter moves you could make is to grow some facial hair. Or as demonstrated by the coppers here, make sure your back is to the window and the brim of your hat is low.

In my own case, I'm unable to raise much of a mustache, even though this was supposed to be one of the benefits of I keep an anti-lip reader disguise at hand, ready at a moment's notice. Here in Fallbrook, you can't be too cautious....

Put on your own disguise of choice and help unravel the mysteries at


Friday, October 12, 2012

Sepia Saturday #147 Stirring things up

What a handsome group. The uniforms are natty and the stirrup pants look neat as well as being practical. Who'd want to ride into battle worrying about your pant legs flapping around or riding up?

Flapping pant legs are a hazard in many situations, not only battle but also sport or dancing. Stirrup pants have always been a must for baseball players. 
Aside from being practical there's the fashion aspect of these pants. They've been "in" and just as quickly"out" over the years - there's been a few such cycles during my life. I owned stirrup ski pants once and a couple of pairs of boot-type pants made of stretchy material, held taut and in place with stirrups. They were comfortable as long as they fit properly and the crotch stayed where it belonged and not pulled down by the stirrups!

From what I read, they're back in fashion again - if Paris Hilton is wearing them, they're in. This time around they're often called "jeggings (jeans + leggings) with stirrups".


How about Katie Holmes, another fashionista, looking like a nun from the knees up and a dominatrix from the knees down.  

Now they come in all colors, fabrics and patterns. Here's an unfortunate choice of pattern for pants that may sag or pull getting those stripes out of alignment.


Not being a dancer, I can only guess about stirruped panty hose. Probably bare feet are not as slippery in shoes as stockinged feet? I don't think this is an appealing look, but maybe it's practical.

 At my age, it's hard to relate to the young skinny models sporting these pants in the fashion pages.

But even when the cute skinny girl is removed from the picture, the disembodied pants are still out my league. The absent body is pretty darn good looking.

I wish I could stir- rup something to end this with. I've stretched the theme to its limits like a pair of these pants pulled over an over-sized fanny.  Happily I don't have any photos of myself or any family members in this kind of stretchy stuff. The closest I could come thematically is this shot of my Dad (front and center) and some comrades in uniform in Canada, probably Fort William. What a lot of show-off Canadians -  bunch of tough guys, posing outdoors in the snow!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

LA Philharmonic - Dudamel conducts Beethoven

The score was incomplete at the first performance of Beethoven's 3rd concerto. His friend, Ignaz Seyfried who turned the page of the music for him that night, later wrote:
"I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper."

The delectable Gustavo Dudamel didn't use a score for the 3rd concerto or for the Eroica symphony  which we loved seeing him conduct.  A joy to watch, at times he swayed on the podium and seemed to be letting the sound wash over him; at other times, he appeared to be very precisely conducting each and every note. At the beginning of the Eroica, he holds up his hands and then opens them and it feels like he releases the music into the air.

When he conducted with Leif Ove Andnes playing the 3rd piano concerto, he'd look over his shoulder at Leif when the piano sections segue into the orchestra parts and from our third row center seats, we could see his dimples opening up. You could feel how much both Dudamel and Leif were loving playing together. The seats were the best I've ever had at a symphonic performance. Worth the money, it was great to be almost sharing the piano bench with Leif; we were close enough to see all the intricate finger action required for the endless arpeggios and complicated trilling in the concerto.

The audience is another matter. Is it just me, or has it become OK to remove your shoes whenever you sit down? As we filed out of the hall for intermission, we were surprised at the number of people who had their shoes off. One woman who had been wearing knee high boots, took them off and put them out in the aisle, so you had to walk around them. Her bare feet were hoisted half way up the seat in front of her. She didn't seem to notice the crowd pointedly avoiding the offensive boots.

I'm of the opinion that the currently fashionable footwear with excruciatingly high heels are just that - excruciating. For the sake of fashion, women wear these ridiculous shoes and bear the pain just long enough to make an entrance or endure a few minutes of standing around. Then, off with the shoes, which in my opinion, is in really bad taste. I guess I'm some kind of prude.

Richard told me the woman next to him had dropped her cell phone during the performance and then retrieved it from under the seat in front using her toes (she too had slipped out her shoes), deftly pushing and pulling the thing back to her. He admired her dexterity but who needs the distraction? The fiddling with the phone, the nasty feet, the athletics of the retrieval.

"Foot conscious" after intermission with the various bare feet displays, I became aware that the concert master was tapping his foot. Tapping is a real no-no for a symphonic instrumentalist.  He'd start to tap and then change foot position...after a few moments the other foot would tap. You could tell he was trying to keep it under control, because we were so close that we could actually see his foot was struggling to tap inside his patent leather shoe. There was something endearing about his effort for control and to deliver a totally professional performance.

The symphony orchestra players are decked out in white tie formal wear, look fabulous and play magnificently. Too bad some of the audience members don't even have the discipline or courtesy to keep shod for a couple of hours.

Driving in Ireland

I'd never drive in Ireland again. Not that I drove this time; my husband did all the hard work, but sitting on the passenger side enduring the hundreds of dives off the road for passing cars was horrible. 

The typical road in Ireland, excluding the relatively new and excellent motorways, looks about like this. I'd call it a little more than one lane wide by our standards. 


Yet traffic moves both ways and to add to the terror, you are driving on the left side of the road. My brain has to adapt all the time to accommodate balance problems - add in the "wrong" road side and I was on over-load. The speed limit on these roads was an unbelievable 100 k per hour. As if it isn't bad enough that half your time is spend in the bushes on the so-called shoulder, often you happen across cars which are stopped dead, unloading passengers, people talking to friends etc. My final solution was to keep my eyes closed much of the time. What beautiful Irish countryside??? I saw the insides of my eyelids during our time on the roads.
You might turn a corner at 100k (in fact, we never drove anywhere near the limit) and there ahead would be a little knot of socializing people -  chatting away, or walking three or four abreast across the road or bicycling at 10 k per hour. Cars hurtling toward them with screaming passengers and screeching brakes don't seem to bother them (is it the Guinness?). 

Richard didn't find driving enjoyable but he didn't experience the depth of discomfort I did. He'd probably do it again if he could find a mute navigator/passenger or one with severed vocal cords and considerably more courage.

Passing buses was the worst. They just press on toward you unflinchingly and you do what you can...back up or drive into the weeds.  

No wonder car insurance is so expensive in Ireland. When you return your rental car, they don't ask if you had an accident, they ask how many you had! 

Don't get me wrong, I loved Ireland. Next time, I'd choose to be in the biggest vehicle possible (aka a tourist bus) and occasionally glance down and out of the window at the cowering, pale glassy-eyed tourist drivers sitting in the road side shrubbery, sweaty hands clutching the steering wheel, staring up at you, waiting for you to glide by. 

Erin go bragh!    

Saturday, October 06, 2012

October Book Club Meeting- My Stroke of Insight

"How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I've gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career." Jill Bolte Taylor
The book chosen for this month was "My Stroke of Insight' by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. A neuroanatomist who suffered through a stroke herself, she writes from a unique point of view about the brain.

Beth hosted and we had an array of treats to accompany our discussion - all nice, cool dishes perfect for the very warm evening: tuna sandwiches, crackers and cheese, olives, fresh veggies, Thai peanut cole slaw.  Rascal, Beth's dog, demonstrated his burgeoning stealth theft skills by almost scoring a half tuna sandwich. Before any of us noticed, he had his head on the kitchen counter and was positioning his mouth sideways to get hold of the morsel, when one of us noticed and a chorus of shrieks drove him off, sandwichless. As far as brains go, the subject du jour, ours (book clubbers) are still slightly ahead of Rascal's (Australian Sheep Dog), but he's gaining fast and living up to his name. 

We all found the book interesting and informative.  Some found the technical sections a bit slow.  The author's relationship with her mother, G.G. who nursed her back to health over a period of 8 years, was particularly touching. Dr. Bolte's original motivation for study of the brain was her brother's schizophrenia. She states that his dreams became delusions while Jill was able to translate her dreams into reality - what was the difference between their brains?

Bolte delivered a TED lecture in 2007.  It's a very intense talk and one of the most-watched in the TED series. Try it out here - stick with her. Like many of the TED lecturers she takes a couple of minutes to warm to the milieu but then WHAMMO!
Dr. Bolte with a real brain

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor TED lecture

Next month's book is River of Doubt by Candice Miller

 Beth's alternate choice was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell



which also sounds terrific from the reviews and from the information about the upcoming Tom Hanks/Halle Berry film.


Thinking about vines

It's been so hot here most of the week that I've stayed inside (ugh), watching the garden through the glass. Plant leaves curled up and died while I watched.  It was 100 degrees in the grove at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Even writing about gardening takes almost too much effort...

At the family reunion, I admired the two story vine growing on my cousin Marianne's house. When I said I loved vines, she replied,"So do I. I like it when you go into an office and you see the twining end of a vine coming around a corner and your eye follows it along and it goes over an office partition, on top of a storage cabinet, behind a utility table, over a water cooler and finally you spot a little 4" pot with a scraggly stem coming out of it on somebody's credenza."  No vine is too small or insignificant for Marianne's admiration.

Here's her two story house vine...

This is no straggly little vine. It's actually lifting tiles and damaging the roof. Not only does Marianne have beautiful landscaping but she also tends to thousands of grape vines at Pretty Penny Vineyard. She's a Master Gardener and knows what she's doing.

Our vine attempts pale by comparison, but one success is the snail vine which went crazy in the heat. Graduating from a 1 gallon pot a scant six months ago, it tries to dive down and back into the air conditioner. We have to keep pulling it out and encouraging it to go forward. As contradictory as it may sound, it's job is to grow upward and cover up the down spout. Maybe it's all too confusing for the poor thing. "Think Up!", I yell at it as I walk by.

I don't know if "string of pearls" is considered a succulent vine or  not. It thrives in a couple of pots with Mother-in-Law's tongue. I think the Mother-in-Law likes the jewellery. My interest in photography effects (using Lunapic recently) has been revived because my photography skills seem to be deteriorating;  no patience for attending to necessary details. Posterizing partially makes up for the lack of focus and weakness of composition.

The passion fruit grows amazingly fast, lassoing the fence as it goes. The lassos are aimed at particularly good sturdy anchor spots, like at the X where two pieces of wire fencing meet.  It lashes round and round and round. We're eating the passion fruit slathered over our grapefruit halves in the morning. It's a good combination.

Instant gratification comes from the morning glories. They have no directional problems, growing pretty well straight up, but they could use some improvement in the architecture of their understructure.  Some of them are almost mushroom shaped with bare stems in the middle which pull the vine up the fence and then a big poof of growth blossoms out at the top.


Bees are gleeful in the coral vine. You can hear the buzz 10 feet away and I can barely get in there to take a picture. The twining shoots on this thing are just a crazy tangle. Like a vine on drugs, it's heavy headed and doesn't seem to have any sort of plan. The shoots go out and twist around themselves, ignoring opportunities to clamp on nearby. They remind me of Barbara's spider webs on drugs.

I planted six soybeans in this spot. They were attacked by grasshoppers early on and I forgot about them. Next time I looked these morning glory vines were growing in the same spot. I guess the seeds were carried in with the soy beans. They're growing at a tremendous rate around the supports I put in for the kiwi plant, now almost engulfed.

Best of all are the dwarf bougainvillas stretching out over the wall and blooming with gusto. Dwarf in size maybe but boy, they work hard. I'd given these all up for lost after last winter when they died back and looked all washed up.
But they've resurrected and seem full of joie de vivre even in this stifling heat.

It's a really good day to watch the trailer Nancy posted for "Nanook of the North". It's here in case you are broiling wherever you are today.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Sepia Saturday # 146

You wonder why all these people on the dock were waiting for the arrival of the SS Imperator. No doubt loved ones were arriving from afar: children were waiting for parents or grandparents; lovers were waiting for their beloved. Maybe some of these people were avid readers filled with wild anticipation about the latest episode of a serialized British novel, a very popular literary form in the mid-19th century and still employed in the early 1900's. Crowds, they say, would gather on docks waiting for word of "what happened next?". Charles Dickens was one of the first writers to employ this method of story-telling for the Pickwick Papers and later David Copperfield.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Dickens birthday

And look at all the boater hats! I had to visit Wikipedia (isn't that what Sepia Saturday does to us?) to find out more about them. Any fashionable person in this era might wear one, but I was amused to learn that they were "supposedly worn by FBI agents as a sort of unofficial uniform in the pre-war years". I doubt this is a crowd of FBI agents, but there might be one or two agents mixed in, blending with the crowd, waiting for some intriguing passenger of interest. I'm sure that an interesting story resides under every hat we can see here.

Now we most commonly see these worn by barbershop quartets

My last thought about this "listing" ship, which looks quite unsafe to me, has to do with my own family of survivors. I believe I possess a "ship wreck survival gene". Dabbling in genealogy I found out that my great grandfather James Armstrong left Ireland in 1834 on the "Newry" bound from Belfast to Quebec. The ship was blown into the rocks in a storm and sunk in Wales on the Bay of Carnaron, but James survived, went to England where he worked and saved enough money for another passage to Canada. Eventually he made it to March, Ontario where he farmed and lived to be 100, dying appropriately on St. Patricks day 1904, leaving as issue 11 children, the last one born when he was 65, the old devil. 

The aunt I was named for, my sweet Aunt Helen, survived not one but two ship wrecks in the twenties.  She was lucky enough to be on ships where the Birkenhead Drill was observed.     

HMS Birkenhead
The Birkenhead Drill is also known by the phrase "Women and children first". When the HMS Birkenhead sunk off the coast at Capetown in 1852, troops who were being transported on the ship were ordered by their commander Colonel Seton to stand fast while the women and children found places in the few life boats. 193 of 643 on board survived. Rudyard Kipling later immortalized the soldiers chivalry in the poem,  "Soldier an' Sailor Too":

To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin’ to shout;
But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An’ they done it, the Jollies - 'Er Majesty’s Jollies - soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too!

Read more about the German ship SS Imperator, ships and sailing stories at:

Sepia Saturday