The chickens lend a helping foot

Compost_optYesterday was the last Saturday of the month, which is the day of the great Berkeley compost giveaway. From 7:30 in the morning till it runs out, energetic Berkeley gardeners can shovel as much compost as we want into whatever vehicle or containers we bring.

This was the scene about 10 minutes before the official start of the process.  I was in the middle, so this is about half as long as the compost mountain stretched.  Nonetheless, people come early, as I did.

Then I spent the day carrying bags of compost downhill and spreading it in the unplanted sections of the garden.

Chicken dirt bath_optAs I have most of the growing sections fenced off, I decided to let the chickens participate.   They went right to it, picking out weed seeds and bugs, taking deep dirt baths, and generally mixing up the soil for me. For once, they did just what I needed, and left my seedlings alone.

Plus they were very happy to do it.


LarryLarry was telling me how North Korea says its rockets are poised to attack Washington DC, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

“How did Austin get in there?” Larry asked. “Why not Washington, Chicago and Peoria?”

Earlier, I had been commenting on my new rooster, Cloud, who has proven to be very timid. I hadn’t seen him mount any hens, but yesterday I saw him chasing a hen, which is a good sign.

“Good,” Larry said, “At least he’s bi.”

The Exemplary Sentence

Sentence DiagramForty years ago or so, I saw the Japanese film, Woman in the Dunes. It made a vivid impression on me, and the other day, I happened on the novel it was made from, by Kobo Abe. Here is a section from the opening chapters of the novel, translated by E. Dale Saunders. The man is wandering through the dunes, searching for insects:

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 9.17.49 AM


“The barrenness of sand, as it is usually pictured, was not caused by simple dryness, but apparently was due to the ceaseless movement that made it inhospitable to all living things. What a difference compared with the dreary way human beings clung together year in and year out.

“Certainly sand was not suitable for life. Yet, was a stationary condition absolutely indispensable for existence? Didn’t unpleasant competition arise precisely because one tried to cling to a fixed position? If one were to give up a fixed position and abandon oneself to the movement of the sands, competition would soon stop…

“While he mused on the effect of the flowing sands, he was seized from time to time by hallucinations in which he himself began to move with the flow.”

Woman in hte dunesOf course the man, always unnamed, soon has ample time to reflect on all aspects of sand. I found the novel excruciating! But I still remember the beautiful black and white images of the movie.

Realism in poetry

Sometimes you come across a poem that simply seems like a statement, as if there were no poetics involved; the poet is simply stating a series of facts in a way that happens to be particularly moving.  I think that these are often the most highly crafted works. Here is one by the Serbian poet, Vasco Popa:

Vasco PopaAbsolute Goal

Two Red Army men are carrying
Their dead comrade past our house

A little while ago my mother was feeding
All three with apple tart
And Vershats wine

My father advised the dead man
They should go over the roofs
And come out behind the nest of machine guns

The dead man laughed and hugged my father
And together with the other two
Chose a shortcut

I watch the Red Army men

They put their comrade in a cart
With the crooked painted letters
T o   B e r l i n

Vasko Popa
translated by Anne Pennington

Pizza–delicious and gluten-free

batter crustMy friend Tung handed me a little baggie of garbanzo bean flour the other day, and told me it made a delicious pizza crust. Just mix it with an equal part of water, and let it sit a few hours; it should be the consistency of thin pancake batter. I used about 2/3 of a cup to fill a big frying pan.  (Whole Paycheck and other good grocery stores carry the flour, as well as Asian groceries.) Turn the oven to 425 degrees and heat a cast iron pan till it’s very very hot. Cover the bottom with a generous coating of olive oil, and pour the batter in.

Set the pan back in the oven till the edges are crispy. Meanwhile prepare what you’re going to put on top. When the crust is ready, it looks fragile but is really fairly strong. Make sure all the edges are really cooked through, not soggy.  The crispiness is the key. Drain the crust on paper towels, then put it on a big plate.

For topping, Tung favors carmelized onions. I did carmelize some, but added carrots, cauliflower, and snow peas along with fresh spinach from the garden.

It makes a fabulous, healthy, and very pizza-like meal.

finished pizza

Seed time

I have a weakness for seed catalogs but have discovered that most seed packages contain a nearly life-time supply of seeds–except the super-specialized ones.  So I have quite a trove of seeds, all ready to plant. I look through the catalogs anyway of course, and I recently found an add for a tool that makes potting containers out of newspaper. You can see it on Youtube.  They also show some made from the centers of toilet paper or paper towel rolls, but you’d have to save these up beforehand. I’ve used egg cartons in the past, too, and always recycle any seedling containers I have.

potsIn any case, the wooden tool cost $20, so rather than order one, I took two cans (one slightly smaller diameter than the other) and basically did the same thing.   Continue reading “Seed time”

Poetry Monday–the problem with poetry

I had two books of poetry from the library this week, The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt, and Continuum, a selection of poems by Nina Cassian. Clampitt’s collected poems was 471 dense pages, and even though I have read a number of poems of hers I like, the sheer weight of it all was overwhelming. Any poet’s collected works is bound to have hundreds of uninteresting poems. It’s so much easier to get to know a poet through their selected works.  But in the case of Cassian, either I don’t like her, or I don’t like the selection.  It’s so difficult to get to know a new poet, to find the right poems, to get a sense of whether their voice really interests you!

So in hopes of saving you a little time, here is a poem by a poet you may not have heard of whom I like very much: Continue reading “Poetry Monday–the problem with poetry”

Pieces for the left hand

images-1This title, pieces for the left hand, is usually about piano pieces.  But on one blog or another, I read about J. Robert Lennon’s book with that title, and it sounded interesting enough to check out.  These little vignettes are mostly ironic, short pieces that make you smile or grimace.  Here’s a typical sample:


A local novelist spent ten years writing a book about our region and its inhabitants which, when completed, added up to more than a thousand pages. Exhausted by her effort, she at last sent it off to a publisher, only to be told that it would have to be cut by nearly half. Though daunted by the work ahead of her, the novelist was encouraged by the publisher’s interest and spent more than a year excising material. Continue reading “Pieces for the left hand”

Poetry Monday

t-elizabethbishop-0I realized in all the time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve neglected to include a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. She taught at Harvard just after I left, alas, my tenure there was deadly dull as far as poets went. Probably her most well known poem is a villanelle, called One Art. She and Lowell were great letter writers and a volume of their letters came out recently. She wrote a wonderful memoir of Marianne Moore, her mentor and friend, which is available online in the Collected Prose.  Bishop lived with her lover in Brazil for many years. This poem is from that time.

It Is Marvelous to Wake Up Together Continue reading “Poetry Monday”