Saturday, June 26, 2010

Even Though You're Wearing Those Uptown High Heels...

"...I can tell from your giant step, you been walkin' through the cotton fields..."

Why is Max smiling?

He's smiling because we're getting a whole new crop planted in our back field this year!

And because he has nothing else to smile about. He's a demised feline, for goodness sake.

Every year I wait with bated breath (not baited, that would be pretty gross) to see what crop will be planted in that field.

This year, as you might have guessed from my quote, it's cotton!

Usually it's something boring like soybean. I mean really. Who cares about a tofu-field?

One year we did get corn! I felt like I was in a Stephen King movie. More than one Stephen King movie has some sort of evil field of corn in it.

Since Chuck's had this house though (which is about 7 years now), there has never been cotton. Guess it's about time in the ol' crop rotation to plant something different. Because it seems that every farmer's field in the area (probably owned by the same people) has cotton growing in it. And it seems to be doing way better in this drought than anything else is. Which is weird, because from what I understand, it usually requires a lot of water to grow.

Why do I like cotton so much? When September rolls around, it will look like a bed of snow has fallen all over the field. Like this one would have looked like if we'd waited a little while longer to take a picture of it. This one was on the way to Greenville...Chuck's hair was just growing in after the chemo. :)

I didn't even realize where cotton came from until a few years ago. Cotton growing on a plant?? Pish tosh! And I thought a Cotton Gin was a fancy drink!

No, not really. I just never really thought about where cotton came from. Being from Canada, it's weird to see something that I use to take my nail polish off with just growing on a plant outside my backyard.

Some fun facts about cotton:

~Cotton's been grown for over 5,000 years.

~The top cotton producing nation is China.

~Pesticides are heavily used with cotton. I guess to keep out these nasty little creatures, called boll weevils.

They will eat the hell out of a cotton crop. They entered from Mexico in 1892 (insert illegal immigration joke here), and caused a whole mess of destruction because they had no natural predators to take care of them. A huge effort to eradicate them came in the late 1970's, with advent of new types of pesticides.

~The English word “cotton" comes from the Arabic word qutun or kutun.

~US paper currency is 75% cotton.

~Cotton production drove the slave trade in the US (ok, so they're not all 'fun' facts). That's one of the reasons that the South was trying to hold on to slavery...they were convinced that the Southern economy would crash without slave labour to pick, gin and bale the cotton. With the invention of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1793 (which was really an 'improvement' and not an 'invention', there were simple cotton gin-esque implements in India about 1,500 years ago), more cotton could be refined at a faster rate. So they needed more and more slaves to meet demand. Nasty, ugly, vicious cycle. Thank goodness humanity eventually won out over money.

~Cotton is a member of the Mallow family of plants.

~The leading cotton-producing states are Texas, California, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Arizona.

~ Development of synthetic fibers (especially polyester) hurt the cotton growing industry for awhile, with high demand from consumers starting in the 1960's.

That's right! That leisure suit you bought in 1976 was keepin' cotton down!

Incidentally, the world's first polyester factory is near here, just outside of Kinston, NC. We drive past it every time Chuck needs to go to a cancer appointment in Greenville. It was opened in 1953 by the DuPont family.

While I was taking pictures of the field this morning, a fire ant stung me right beneath my toenail. You can see the poison inching it's way down my whole foot in a red and puffy hurts like a mofo! My skin reacts strongly to minor insect stings.

I really suffer for my art.

Hm....someone needs a pedicuuuuure!

My title and song quote come from an old song that was remade by Old Crow Medicine Show that's called "Down Home Girl". I saw them live in early May...even if you're not a huge fan of this type of music, they put on a rollicking good show. And if you're not a fan of this're crazy.

'Cause it's awesome.

Watch this video. Mistress Kyna commands it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Your Mother Was A Hamster, And Your Father Smelt Of Elderberries!

I like the sky.

And I know a lot of other bloggers on here do too, with their "Skywatch" meme. Joy @ GardenJoy & Winthrop has some especially nice posts. Also Shyrlene @ The Bunnies' Buffet

I'm not disciplined enough to keep a schedule. In case you haven't guessed, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of girl.

The other day, however, I saw the perfect sky picture. Was just about home, and I had to screech into the driveway, race in the house, grab the camera, and run out to the backyard to snap a photo. This seems to be the manner in which all my sky pictures are taken.

I always call this sort of sky a 'God Painting'.

I stood there in quiet, reflective awe of this scene. Meditating on the powerful beauty of the world.

Then I suddenly imagine the sound of approaching coconuts in the distance, and it all morphs and swirls together into a Monty Python animation...

...and a giant foot comes down and squashes me and my camera with a "THPPPPT!"

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't Fear The Mulcher

I have a lot of crazy fears.

Ok, maybe they're not so much 'fears', but 'avoidances'. And they're not the normal ones!

Heights? I can swing that.

Public Speaking? Hand me that microphone and watch the magic unfold.


Ok, I'm a little afraid of death. Just a smidge.

But what are the silly things I'm REALLY afraid of?

Effing telephones. And look! It's a whole gang of them! O_O

I can't stand calling people. I have a hard time picking up the phone if people call me! If I have to phone for a doctor's appointment? I always chicken out and go down and make the appointment in person. For all my magical face-to-face communication skills and comical writing stylings, I don't come off well on the phone. The only people I feel comfortable calling are my Mum and Chuck.

Phones are evil. All of them. Not just the rotary kind.

What else?

Oh horror of horrors. I hate balloons. "Globophobia" is the scientific term. I don't like when they're near me. Especially floaty-helium-filled balloons. That are losing their helium. And just float down at eye level and follow you around.

And if someone pops a balloon? Fuggeddaboudit.

What else?

Mascots. I don't like when they come up and try and hug me. I didn't like it when I was a kid, and it's even more creepy now. Because only dirty, sweaty, cigar-chomping old men inhabit those mascot suits. Everyone knows that.

What else?

Is that....! *gasp*...MULCH???

Who put that there? What crazy person mulched my garden??

Oh yeah. It was me.

I don't know why I have this aversion to mulch.

Before you tell me how crazy I am, let me tell you I already know.

Mulch is awesome for the garden. Keeps moisture in. Keeps roots cool. Minimizes soil depletion. Adds organic matter to the soil, thus making gardens lush and beautiful.

So why do I tend not to use it?

I don't know. Why don't I like phoning people? :)

Chuck had never used it because he assumes that mulch harbors termites. I kind of thought this might be BS, but I wouldn't mulch close to the house because of it.

One day I was clearing debris from beneath my hydrangea. A piece of wood mulch had blown under there from another area, and I went to pick it up. A whole mess of termites squirmed out of it. And this was right next to my house, so I wasn't too happy.

And I have a hard time finding a mulch I like. I know I should compost and make my own, but I don't do that, and I probably won't anytime soon. So try not to flame me too much about that :)

So why would I start mulching now?

I've told you that there are drought-like conditions going on at Casa Del Kyna. Days on end with no clouds or rain. Just blazing sun all day long.

Taking a major toll on my plants and trees. When water does hit the soil, it just seems to evaporate. Even when watered early in the morning, or late in the evening.

So? I decided to finally get some mulch into that one small back garden. It's still nowhere near my house of course. Baby steps, here people, baby steps!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Birthday Trip Pt 4~James Madison's 'Montpelier'

On Sunday, the last day of my journey to Virginia, we went to James Madison's 'Montpelier' plantation.

James Madison was the 4th President of the United States, he succeeded Jefferson. He was the author of the US Constitution.

It was an extremely scenic drive NW from Charlottesville to Orange, VA where Montpelier is located. It took about 30 minutes on a road that had more curves than I do. Beautiful farms, country manors, lush foliage, was very similar to my drive through Kentucky a few years ago.

We arrived very early in the morning, which was good because it was shaping up to be a SCORCHER of a day. This was the first view up the long drive. Very impressive in person.

We made our first stop at the Visitor's Center. We watched a 20 minute film about Madison and his wife Dolley, as well as the restoration project that is still underway.

Chuck was a little 'meh' about going to see Madison's house, before we got there. We almost changed out minds about going, and taking a trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway instead. After we started the tour, however, I know he was very glad we came.

As with the tour at Monticello, there are no pictures allowed of the inside of the house.

The front door:

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were very good friends. They often made the few hour trip to each other's plantations. Jefferson shared his builder with Madison, so much of the architecture of the house is similar to the style of Monticello.

The view off of a second floor patio, towards the Blue Ridge Mountains (which you can't see through the haze in the air):

The house is actually quite empty inside. The way the tour guide described it is that Monticello has had a hundred years or more of love put into restoration/maintenance. A man named Levy owned Monticello for a long period of time, and kept it as close to Jefferson had it as possible. Montpelier didn't have that luxury.

Dolley Madison was a gregarious, robust 26-year-old woman. She was a widow with a young son, when the 43-year-old James married her in 1794. Her son was named Payne Todd, and Payne seems to have been a fitting name for the type of person he was.

Payne was the major reason for their persistant financial troubles. He was a major gambler, and accrued a lot of debts. After Madison died, Dolley sold Montpelier (which was originally built in 1764), as well as most of their belongings to pay off the creditors. She died penniless in 1849. She was given the largest state funeral in history though, to date.

She also made it to the era of photography, which was rare for people of the Revolutionary period.

The house eventually fell into the hands of the DuPont family, in 1901. And from the sound of it, they completely effed up the place. Not only did they add on to the house till it was 36,000 sq ft, but they covered it in pink stucco. Yep, PINK STUCCO. With a green front door.

The film at the beginning of the tour showed a picture of old Mrs DuPont sitting in the house as she had looked like the inside of a trailer. A tacky, 36,000 sq ft trailer.

They owned the house till 1983, and restorations on the 'bones' of the house began in 2003. It took until 2008. The entire house was covered in a white tarp for awhile.

Each shingle on the roof is handcrafted:

And now, the interior restoration...wall colour, furnishings, fireplaces, stairs, underway. There are a few pieces that Madison owned which are still in the house: a four poster bed, a sofa, and a desk among them.

The rear of the house:

The back of the house has a path leading down into the gardens. A sculpture of James and Dolley sits here. It's really nice, although from Dolley's description, her boobs should probably have been made a lot bigger.

Chuck thinks James Madison was a lucky man! Their age difference is almost as wide as ours. :)

There are two trees from Madison's period that have survived.

One is a black walnut. Which are everywhere in Virginia.

But this one is the most interesting to me. It's a 'Cedar of Lebanon'. The Marquis de Lafayette brought this one to the Madisons as a gift.

Lafayette visited the Madisons twice. I think this also had a lot to do with Dolley. Everyone just loved her. She really set the standard of what the character of a 'First Lady' should consist of.

Montpelier has a large garden area. It's a lot different than the one at Monticello. It's much more about design, more green, less flowers, no vegetables. Quite a few Grecian urns.

Some of the peonies were still in bloom:

The Montpelier grounds also house a chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. It's a fantastic organization that rescues old, retired racehorses that might otherwise not be cared about, abandoned, or put down. These horses have put in their time working for their owners, and now they're getting rewarded by these awesome people.

I think the woman said they had over 60 horses at this ranch, which were all out in the giant pasture hiding in the shade of the trees. The oldest of the old horses hang out near one of the horse barns.

I'll say it again,these horses looked OLD.

You can sponsor them at the ranch, and they also adopt out the horses. Much like social services check on children, they also check up on the adopted horses periodically to make sure they're being treated well. Great place.

Although I don't think I'm allowed to adopt a horse. Chuck's afraid of them. He rode one once, and he said it kept trying to bite him. I said that I thought the horse was probably just a good judge of character :P

I think he was sad that he didn't take this opportunity to pet these ones like I did. They could barely raise their heads, let alone bite anyone.

Montpelier also has it's own Archaeological Center on the grounds. There is an ongoing dig, especially in the area where the slaves lived and worked.

It was Sunday, so the archaeologists weren't working, but on other days you can actually eat lunch in the picnic area and watch them work.

We took a stroll down to the Center, where you can poke around in their archives. There are drawers of buttons, glass, porcelain, nails, etc. All of the archaeology tools are covered in orange clay.

On the way back up from there, we stopped at Madison's 'temple'

And we came across some horse graves. I've never in my life seen a horse with a headstone. These were racehorses that were owned by the DuPonts. They were sired by Man O War, which was a very famous racehorse. Battleship is the most famous of the offspring that are buried here.

We took some last pictures of the house and grounds before we headed down to the Madison cemetery.

The Madison cemetery was quite a sweltering walk away from the house, near the Visitor's center.

Madison's monument looked about the same as Jefferson's, but nothing really was written on it except his name.

Madison died in his study in 1836, at the age of 85. He had SERIOUS rheumatoid arthritis. He couldn't even move during the last year of his life. But they say his mind stayed sharp till the end.

Dolley's remains actually had to be moved to this cemetery from the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, where she was originally buried.

Some interesting things I learned on my summer vacation to Montpelier:

~Although Dolley sold most of their belongings, some of the things have been recovered. The visitor's center has more of Dolley's things than James'. Among them are her engagement ring, her bible, her smelling salt case, and her snuff box. Since most respectable women didn't smoke in those days, they took snuff instead. As did Dolley.

~Even when James was old and sick and bedridden, the parties hosted by Dolley at Montpelier carried on. James was placed in the study, which was just off of the dining room. He couldn't come out and sit and converse with the guests, so she just opened the door to the study so he could participate in the festivities.

~James and Dolley were introduced to each other by Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr was the
third vice president of the US, under Jefferson. He was more famous, in my opinion, for killing Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of U.S. Treasury) in a duel. But hey, at least he did some good matching up these two opposite-seeming people first! James and Dolley were inseparable for most of their 42 year marriage.

~James was a very quiet, very small man. Reports on his height vary, but he was between 5'2" and 5'4" tall, and 120 lbs. He was neither charismatic nor physically imposing. But he was extremely well respected for his knowledge. He came prepared to every meeting, and stated the facts. He was mentally ready for anything opposition could throw at him.

~Dolley and James were huge collectors of art. They had a few original portraits of the Fathers of the Revolution, as well as other famous paintings. Most of them have been lost to private collectors. There is one large one from the 1600's hanging in the Visitor Center gallery. Once the collector realized it had belonged to the Madisons, he graciously lent it to the gallery at Montpelier.

~Since I ended my last post about Monticello with relatively well-known facts, I'll end this post with some. Madison's presidency was marred by the War of 1812. It was unfortunate timing, because otherwise his presidency would have been more revered. The Madisons were the first presidential couple to inhabit a completed White House.

Dolley is most famous for saving the portrait of George Washington when the British burned the White House during the war. What a cool chick she was. Shame about that pesky son of hers...

Thus concludes my birthday trip to Virginia. Hope you enjoyed it!

We travelled home on Sunday evening, and the next day was my actual birthday on May 31. I invited some good friends over, and I made some DELICIOUS ribs and collard greens. The cake was strawberry shortcake.

Thanks to Chuckles for not putting 29 candles on that thing. It might have burned the house down....