Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Cross in the Midst

a red poppy (coquelicot) in our garden last summer with a cross-shaped center

Red and green are considered to be the traditional Christmas colors. And since the holiday season generally ends on the 12th day of Christmas (Feast of the Epiphany), I believe I’m not yet too late to post photos of a flower with the “holiday colors” *grin*.

Red corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas, coquelicot in French) are common in fields during summer time here. Driving through the countryside bordered by stretches of green meadows dotted with flimsy red flowers gently swaying to the cool breeze on a clear summer day with a blue sky is a memorable experience. The view is a palette of primary colors that breathes of care-free days, of daydreaming under a tree, of staring at the horizon reliving some cherished happy memories. The vista’s bucolic charm is so inspiring there’s no wonder Claude Monet painted several tableaux of this landscape. And it also did not come as a surprise that many people remember at least one of these paintings (if not the artist).

I know these are more appropriate as summer photos. But then, it’s nice to have something “warm” to look at as we wait for spring to come. And look at the black and white center of the flower. It is shaped like a cross, the usual representation of Christ. So I’m thinking red and green with Christ in the heart of it (literally and figuratively) equals Christmas. And this red poppy is a good representation of it.

In any case, whether you see it that way or not, this red poppy is still beautiful to me. Last summer was actually the first time I saw a poppy like this (or maybe it's just because I have never taken a closer look at these flowers before). It grew by itself in our garden; perhaps, the wind blew some seeds of it from somewhere. Although field poppies are generally considered as weeds, I like them. And I hope a gentle zephyr breeze will deposit some more of them next year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings

May the spirit of Christmas be with us today and always. Have a wonderful holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hi, Ho, Red and Silver Away

our Japanese barberry on a frosty day

During winter, our Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is full of red berries. It seems to keep up with the holiday spirit --- the fruits as little red Christmas balls and the shrub as a Christmas tree, albeit without the ever-green leaves. And on a frosty day, it takes a magical appearance as the shoots and branches glisten like silver, its sheen competing with the luscious color of the berries. Red and silvery white, even without the green, spells Christmas. Like Santa Claus with his suit and long beard. Or Rudolf, with its shiny nose lighting the snow covered path.

I am not very fond of tending this shrub (we have around 4 of them) because of its very thorny shoots and branches. Imagine 3-cm long thorns scratching your hands, arms and head as you try to weed, cut or just pick up the dried fallen branches. And they are so sharp that they can sometimes prick you through your gloves or clothes. BUT they are nice to have in the garden. If you use them as your hedge plants, burglars will surely find difficulty going through them. As ornamental plants, they flower from mid-spring to early summer with tiny pale yellow blossoms. The ones we have are atropurpurea cultivars and their maroon/purple colored foliage break the monochromatic green of the rest of our shrubs.

And even though they shed their leaves when cold season comes, their bright little fruits take the relay of bringing a dash of color in our garden. The elongated berries (hence the name “bar”-berry, although there exists spherical ones as well) are edible, vitamin-c rich with a very tangy flavor. I haven’t tried eating them, but birds seem to like them a lot. The berries are used to make jams, infusions or in some dishes with rice or chicken. In Iran, Berberis vulgaris plants are cultivated for their fruits. But in Canada, the plant’s use is restricted or banned because they host the fungus that causes wheat rust (source: wikipedia). Well, as the saying goes “one man’s weed is another man’s flower.”

So far, our shrubs aren’t yet a nuisance for us (except when we have to cut them). And we don’t have to worry about feeding the birds during winter; there’s a “buffet” waiting for them in our garden, courtesy of our barberries. Plus, we have a natural Christmas décor --- twiggy shrubs with tiny bright red balls. Add a good amount of frost and they turn into silver-coated branches covered in “sugar-dusted” berry candies equal to winter holidays feast for birds (literally) and men alike (figuratively).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

When CSI Meets Supernatural

the book I won in one of Lisa's give-away contests

This is what I found in our mailbox last weekend --- the book Lisa of Lisas’s chaos sent me! Since there’s nothing to do outside since it was really cold and the ground was frozen(I cannot do gardening), I spent my Saturday and Sunday reading The Mephisto Club. Thank you, Lisa, for making a bleak weekend enjoyable.

I find this novel by Tess Gerritsen a combination of American TV series CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), Millennium and Supernatural with a dash of Da Vinci Code. I used these shows and book as comparisons because many would be familiar with them, especially those in the United States. It’s like CSI for there’s Jane, a Boston police detective and Maura, a pathologist as two of the main characters. Well, Jane and Maura aren’t part of the crime scene unit per se but you get the feeling of watching an episode of this TV series as you read the novel, especially when there are describing the results of autopsies and other medical findings. The two women in the story investigate a series of murder which is quite particular for its gruesomeness and clues of strange symbols and Latin phrases left behind on the crime scenes. Here is the similarity with Supernatural for it seems that they are dealing with satanic rituals or even with a demon raised from hell by believers of the dark force.

Jane and Maura are helped by an eccentric group (The Mephisto Foundation) monitoring demons’ or more specifically The Watchers’ (children of fallen angels and mortals) activities on earth. The Mephisto club (both the book and the group) sites the Books of Enoch and Jubilees in their studies and researches, works considered non-canonical by the Catholic Church. I find this a parallel to the Da Vinci Code’s reference to other non-canonical books like the Gospels of Mary Magdalene and Philip. The Mephisto group, combines science and religion in their “mission” to prevent evil from spreading. In Millennium, there’s also a group of men and women with the same dedication and methods, however their goal is to read the signs of the times for the Second Coming.

I’m not saying that The Mephisto Club is a sort of spin-off or collage of these TV series and novel. I just think that by sighting them, it would help give you an idea of the “atmosphere” of the story as you go from one page to another. Reading it is like watching someone walk on a tight rope --- you are half-afraid he might fall and half-excited to see if he can make it to the end. You keep your eyes on him because you don’t want to miss a thing and yet you dread watching him take one step after another. Your heart is suspended in mid-air until the tight-rope walker reaches the end of the line. And then you can breathe a sigh of great relief.

The narrative includes some entries from the villain’s diary --- an effective way of drawing the reader closer to the story and gets him into the head of the killer. One gets to see things from his perspective and a glimpse of the antagonist’s character. In excerpts of the journal, adding the phase of the moon as part of the “date” gives it a more sinister atmosphere, like some sort of mystical countdown before your worst nightmares come to life. And what really happened that summer between Dominic Saul (the villain) and his haunted and hunted cousin Lily is quite unexpected (well, at least for me). I only thought of it as a remote possibility. I assumed Lily is running away from his cousin for she found out who he was – a “demon” in flesh and blood. But it was more than that. Well, I’m not going to ruin the story for those who intend to read the novel so I won’t go further discussing this unexpected twist.

My favorite character in the story is Anthony Sansone, the wealthy, educated and suave leader of the Mephisto Club. His mysterious character, antecedents and his strange habits make him a likely candidate for the villain. I like the way his character is developed, the subtle innuendos that he might not be what he appears to be, the feeling of ambiguity about who he really is. I feel like I have to be on my toes and on my guard when you I’m trying to figure him out. It is only in the end that I’m convinced he is one of the good guys.

Since this is the first Jane Rizzoli-Maura Isles novel of Gerritsen I’ve read, it would have been nice if the author have written something about Warren Hoyt (Jane’s worst nightmare so far) and Amalthea Lanks (a dark “stain” in Maura’s life). It doesn’t have to be long as I’ve found out that two of Gerritsen’s previous novels are about these people. It’s just that it would make first-time readers like me get a glimpse of why Jane gets so disturbed with the mention of Hoyt’s name or Maura’s effort to disengage herself from any perceived association with Amalthea. Yes, scars on Jane’s palm left by Hoyt and his continual fantasy of her are mentioned; and that the killer Amalthea as Maura’s biological mother is referred to in the novel. But I find that it did not really show the strong hold of these killers over the two protagonists. Maybe a nightmare or a short flashback of a scene on how the villains left a scar on the two women’s psyche would establish more the connection and feelings they have for the killers. In the novel, the tension appeared “flat”, making it difficult to relate to their animosity towards Hoyt, Amalthea and Joyce O’Donnell, a psychologist who defends in court “criminally insane” people like the two murderers I just cited.

But that’s just my view. And in any case, what I just pointed out does not change the fact that the story is as the cliché goes “a page turner.” Especially when Dominic’s entries in his diary becomes “darker and darker” as that unfortunate summer progresses and The Mephisto Club members are being murdered one by one by an unknown killer.

And speaking of the killer, I just have one nagging thought about Dominic. How come he became “The Chosen One” of The Watchers according to his mother Edwina Felway? There’s no mention about the particular circumstances of his birth or his upbringing that would explain this idea of being the “leader” of these evil doers on earth. It would have given a deeper understanding of Dominic’s dark character. Well, of course, he’s already evil by the fact that he killed many people. But I would like to know if he was really evil incarnate or was it his upbringing that made him evil. Maybe, since the story involves the “supernatural”, it would add a more frightening atmosphere if something about him being born under some kind of astrological sign or event was said, something like in the film The End of Days. And this fact would be revealed in his diary at the end of the story because Lily did not really burn it. Or by some mysterious way this part survived from the fire --- which would be parallel to Dominic surviving being hit by a shovel twice and escaping from a locked car that is pushed into a quarry filled with water by his cousin.

I don’t mind having some loose ends in a story. After all, it would provide a good jumping point for a prequel or a sequel. But filling this “void” in Dominic’s character would make the story more cohesive, so that the lengths mother and son went through to kill Lily and the Mephisto Club would have be more pertinent and not just because they are born evil. The revelation doesn’t have to be long, as I’ve said, just another entry in Dominic’s diary which would be the starting point of a prequel novel.

Well, maybe I just want everything to have a reason. Maybe in Dominic’s case, he’s just evil. Period. No story or explanation can shed light to his dark character (excuse the pun). But whatever my opinion is on this matter is, the novel is really worth reading. The twist and turns of the story come as a surprise for the reader. And with the characters and events presented, I’m now thinking of a prequel- sequel like Lily’s life before and after being a part of The Mephisto Club, or that of Anthony Sansone’s, or Dominics’ before he was killed (and who know, maybe he has a son somewhere).

Whew! This is one long post! If you're still with me up to this point, I really appreciate your effort *smile of gratitude.* I don't mean this to be a book review, I just want to express some of my thoughts about it. Think of this entry as my way of thanking Lisa for this very nice gift. And maybe at the back of my mind, I’m trying to make up for not updating my blog for almost a week *smile*.

Well, today is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the northern hemipshere. Perhaps, the long dark hours seeped into my subconscious, compelling me to burn the midnight oil. Who knows? *winks*

(all photos except the book are taken at Reims Cathedral in Marne, France)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blooming Friday

our yellow autumn-blooming crocus (Sternbergia lutea)

We don’t have flowers anymore because winter had settled in earlier. We are experiencing below zero temperature in the mornings which would sometimes last the whole day. Like today. And it’s not even officially winter yet! So for my Blooming Friday posts, most of them will be our flowers last summer and autumn. I guess that would be the case until spring comes.

For this Friday, I have chosen our autumn blooming crocus (Sternbergia lutea). I found a tuft of it growing in a corner behind our house on our first fall here. I thought it was just some grass but when I saw the bright yellow flowers, I was really charmed. Their golden color provides a striking contrast against the vivid green of their leaves. An interesting combination --- a fiery ball of beauty set on a lush cool foliage.

I find it poetic that when deciduous plants start to become bare, this richly-colored crocus sprouts from the soil. As the vegetation turns yellow to red-orange then brown, the ground gets lit by these gay colored flowers, giving a new breath of life to the surroundings. Like a re-birth of warmth and festivity, even for a short time. A sort of last hurray before winter comes and the ground goes to sleep.

see my other blooming fridays
see other blooming friday participants

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

a caterpillar and an unknown insect in our garden

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Fairest of Them All

my favorite pelargonium

This is my favorite geranium/pelargonium. We don’t have it at home, so my in-laws gave us several cuttings. Unfortunately, all of them died except for two *sigh.* I don’t exactly have a green thumb and growing plants is a real challenge for me. But I still like doing it because it’s fulfilling --- having leaves sprout from a seed or a cutting, seeing it branch out and grow lush, witnessing a bud turn into a flower. Besides, plants don’t nag, whine or grumble when you neglect them. They just stay in their corner, silently waiting for you to give them some attention. They do “show” their displeasure by refusing to give flowers or having their leaves droop. But providing them with a good soil and adequate sunlight (a one time deal), and timely-given water and feed (not an everyday task), the return is a hundred-fold --- a myriad of flowers and fruits that can lighten up a dreary day. In fact, a single flower or fruit is enough to draw a smile from me. The satisfaction is immeasurable.

So I’m hoping that by next summer, I will have at least one flower from the remaining two cuttings we have of this particular pelargonium. I love the flowers’ delicate color and the subtle change from one shade of pink to another. They are soft on the eyes as they are to the touch. And it is a very interesting flower for it only has visible “veins” on the two upper big petals. They appear to be “eyes” with very long “eyelashes” artfully inviting people to discover their allure. And the stamens with their vivid-colored anthers are beckoning not only to the bees and butterflies but also to human contact. They must feel fuzzy and ticklish.

Well, in case I don’t have them by next summer, I will still continue trying to grow them. I find them to be the prettiest of all the pelargoniums I’ve seen so far, hence I believe they’re worth the effort. I just have to be patient and work more on my gardening skills *smiles.*

Friday, December 5, 2008

Weekend of Surprises

our backyard last Saturday

Last Saturday, I got a note from Lisa of Lisa’s Chaos telling me that I won one of her giveaways for November. Yipee!!! As far as I can remember, this is the first time I won in a draw-lots contest. So I’m extremely happy that my name was drawn *wide grin*. It’s a book entitled Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen and I’m looking forward to reading it. What an early Christmas treat!

So, to Lisa, thank you very much. Not only for the giveaway but also for regularly visiting me and leaving a warm word or two. I haven’t met her yet in person, but based on her blog, she really takes time to check on others and establish real-life relationships with her co-bloggers. And if any of you are getting tired of the world’s hustle and bustle, please visit her site. Her gorgeous photos, especially the flora and fauna, would make you sing à la Louis Armstrong “what a wonderful world.” And they are always accompanied by funny anecdotes and interesting stories. In fact, reading her posts make you feel like you’re having a chat with her in person over a steaming cup of coffee/chocolate or lemonade (depending on the season) with a slice of sinfully rich cake to boot.

And the following morning, I was greeted by this wonderful scenery (please see photos). It’s quite rare to snow in November as we are in a low-altitude area. But then, like winning Lisa’s giveaway book, it seems that “Christmas” came early this year. We had a roughly 4cm-thick snow. It was raining a bit but the snow stayed the whole day! I would have loved to take many photos but the drizzle got me and my camera wet and cold *sigh*. Oh well…

I hope everyone had a nice week. I had a very busy one, hence I wasn’t able to update my blog or visit yours. But I’ll try to catch up in the coming days. So here’s to another wonderful weekend for everybody. Cheers!