Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tomato Time on the Gulf Coast

Earlier than I've ever done a gardening post before, here is my Spring fever report. No matter how long I live on the Texas Gulf Coast, I can't get used to how early the time comes to plant tomatoes. I went to the Urban Harvest Farmer's Market last weekend and bought five varieties of tomato plants straight from their growers. The 10 day forecast showed no freezes expected, so I got them into the ground a few days ago. I still need to hunt down the Juliet variety I've grown with success before, but among this year's novelties as far as new varieties go, I chose Maremmano, Costoluto Fiorentino and Sweet 100s.

The Maremmano tomato is an early determinate, hailing from western Lazio, a province of Rome. We need early tomatoes here to get fruit before the weather gets too hot. The Maremmano is a red, round 3 inch fruit that grows in clusters, said to be good for slicing and sauces. Costoluto Fiorentino is an indeterminate heirloom tomato with pumpkin-like ribs widely cultivated in Italy. Hopefully it will produce numerous mid-sized to large tomatoes. The Sweet 100 is an indeterminate cherry tomato, known to grow as tall as 10 feet - we'll see. Hope springs eternal at this time of year.....

I have a small collection of clippings and Houston area garden books, but this year I decided to put on my librarian's hat and make index cards for each plant, tree or shrub we are trying to cultivate. I had fun collating facts from different print and online sources. Hopefully this will help me focus the right kind of care on each plant. Last year's experiments with beans, cucumbers and squash were not all that fruitful, so I'm concentrating my efforts on the known producers - tomatoes of course, along with herbs, greens, sunflowers, nasturtiums, zinnia, morning glories and coneflowers. The two Meyer lemon trees took a beating from this past winter's 3 or 4 freezes, but I think they will come back around. A friend at church gave me an unknown variety of orange tree that she grew from seed, and we are going to put that young tree in a large, portable planter. It's good to keep citrus trees relatively small so you can cover or move them in the event of freezing weather.

Hard for my family and friends in more northern states to believe, but we've had temperatures in the high 70s this week. With the high humidity, it feels even hotter. Every gardener here knows that familiar sweaty feeling of disbelief. How can we feel so overheated already when there's much hotter weather to come? A big annual event here is the Azalea Trail Home and Garden Tour, taking place March 4 - 6, 2011. Many years ago, I had fun doing the tour with a bunch of friends on bicycles. This year I'll probably be too busy sticking to my own little patch of green. Wherever you are, I hope something green is beginning to bloom.

"Nothing is more the child of art than a garden." - Sir Walter Scott

photo by KAO - Basket of greens & herbs, seed packets, etc.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lines and Shadows: Recent Photos

Camera in hand, my eye is easily drawn to intersecting lines and shadows, often where nature and what we would call the manmade overlap and combine. Today I've been fooling with Picasa and Picnik to see if I have any use for their features. No decisions to report. I'm mostly content using two versions of Paint Shop, one from Jasc, the later from Corel. I've never made the move to Photoshop, but may decide to in the future.

One of my goals with collage is to use more of my own photos, and I've also been getting more into applications of paint, pencil and simple printmaking effects. The variety of choices is ever- expanding. The photos chosen for today's post could easily make the transition to mixed media collage. Allowing myself to play with software and materials at hand leads to breakthroughs. Such is the life of an artist, a "job title" I've only recently felt entitled to use.

Making the transition from public librarian to working artist is a privilege, for sure. Retirement makes this possible and I am most grateful. In a recent email to a writer friend, I found myself stating that any day where I don't get to make art is less than optimal. He agreed 250%. It feels great to have a grand obsession. New ideas keep marching in. The trick is staying in balance, keeping yourself physically fit and well nourished, as well as having time for family and friends. With that in mind, now it is time for a morning bike ride or walk, filled with a blogger's relief that I have reported something or another to the world and am free to get back to other pursuits! Cheers - KAO.

Photos by KAO:
Street Surface Abstraction, Long Island, 2010
Rain on Screen Abstraction, 2010
Vines on Arbor, Antique Rose Emporium, Brenham TX, 2011
Iron Arbor Against Sky, Antique Rose Emporium, Brenham TX, 2011
Herman Park Japanese Garden Pond, Houston TX, 2011
Herman Park Forest Floor Abstraction, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Who is Ptolemy Grey and why should we care? Walter Mosley's novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Riverhead, 2010) does more than introduce a Mr. Grey, a 91 year-old African-American addled by dementia who is given a second chance at getting his life in order via the dangerous vehicle of an experimental drug. What will he do with what little time he has left? This extremely well-written novel is not without suspense.

Ptolemy Grey's last days are well worth our time. What family he has left in southern Los Angeles have been taking advantage of him, raking what they can from his retirement checks and generally giving him the shaft. The exception is his nephew Reggie, but he becomes the victim of a drive-by shooting. Then along comes Robyn, a teen angel in disguise. Not family exactly, more a friend of the family -- and she more or less adopts Ptolemy, and vice versa. Soon his cluttered apartment is made over, the plumbing back in order, the kitchen sink empty of crusty remains.

Battling with his newly recovered memories, Ptolemy identifies a lack of courage. The child of a sharecropper, Ptolemy grew up in Mississippi and witnessed the lynching of Coy, a man he considered a mentor and whose ghostly voice voice he still hears. In fact, Ptolemy is hiding a cache of gold coins Coy gave him, coins stolen from a nasty plantation owner. And so the plot thickens as we watch Ptolemy get his surprisingly considerable estate in order. Karmic revenge is also involved, but I will leave those details undisclosed.

Although some of the flashbacks and distorted memories were at times confusing, that is to be expected in a book touching on dementia. What emerges is a prickly and robust time-lapsed photo of Ptolemy Grey in the making. We begin to understand his every quirk and motive. Whether we approve of some his choices is another thing, and would be good fodder for book group discussions. Not to be hyperbolic, but for me, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey comes darn close to being a Great American Novel.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Visual Joy @ Caladan Gallery

On a lark, I submitted three of my collages to Caladan Gallery when they put out a call for art related to Visual Joy. It was a delight to learn that my art made it into the show, which is online from February 1 - March 4, 2011. The collage shown here is one of them, entitled "And So We Were Born Unto the Universe".

Marjorie Kaye, Director of Caladan Gallery, has this to say about the theme: "Love, humor, quiet reflection: all of these illustrate, in addition to other experiences, what it is to be in a state of joy. Color and form generate this; the flow of paint, the capturing of natural formation; emotion, expression and deep spiritual realization reflect it. It seems to be easier to reflect the frustration and isolation of existence in these times, than it is to give oneself over to pure joy. The works chosen for this exhibition are signs of life in a troubled time."

There are eighteen artists in the show. My joyful reaction to the works of Howard Berelson, Lauren Curtis and John Knight was immediate. Howard Berelson creates digital works which remind me of Millefiori glass, composed with delightful bursts of color and intricate details. Digital artist Lauren Curtis presents two transcendent images of spiritual rapture. Painter John Knight composes playful oceanside landscapes ripe with colorful biodiversity.

Although I showed with Caladan Gallery one other time, somehow I didn't pick up on the genesis of its name. Caladan is a fictional planet from the Dune series by Frank Herbert! As a librarian, I am always delighted to see literary interconnections such as this. In closing, here is a quote from Dune: "The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience." (spoken by Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam to Paul Atreides, a statement based on the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard.) Native Americans speak of the creative life-force as the Great Mystery, and in my humble opinion, making art surely leads there. Infinite are the lessons, interlaced with pure joy.

photo: Collage, "And So We Were Born Unto the Universe", 2010, by Keddy Ann Outlaw.