I’m still living in the past and vicariously enjoying Cambridge via Maria Nikolejeva, who writes:

“We all write in different ways. I remember a writer friend was furious when I mentioned that I had finished a novel in three weeks. Obviously the reason for his rage was that no decent writing could go that fast. However, the three weeks of actual writing had been preceded by months of thinking and researching. The process of transferring words from my mind onto the computer screen was a matter of my typing skills. However, I know, or know of, writers who proudly say that they are happy if they can write a hundred words a day. Or twenty. Or ten.

“Similarly, I can write a 6,000-word scholarly article in a day, but it means that I have been thinking about it for a long time and just need to write it down. I think best when I weed the garden or, as I have started doing recently, walking at fast pace in the park. After that, I rush to my desk to record all the clever things that came to my mind during the walk. I could never sit down to write a hundred words from scratch. I just don’t function this way. But some people do. Some fellow scholars set goals for themselves: a thousand words per week? That adds up to six weeks for a 6,000-word essay. Sounds reasonable, but it includes thinking and researching. If you intend to publish two articles a year, what are you doing the rest of the time?”

This sounds wonderful if you can do it. I don’t write in my head, or anywhere but on paper or on-screen. I know many people who “write in their heads,” and once had a professor, in grad school, who advised me to go for a walk and think through a writing problem I had come to see him about. Then as now, I could/can set out on a walk with the firm intention of thinking through a problem, and within a few paces become absorbed in looking at flowers, birds, the veining on leaves, clouds in the sky, unusual numbers of cars in a neighbor’s driveway, in waving at the kid playing in his yard, listening to birds or the wind, smelling burning leaves or dinners cooking, and otherwise being engaged in my immediate physical surroundings. Anything so abstract as writing or problem-solving takes not just a back seat but another bus entirely.

This is (part of) what I mean when I say I am one of Nature’s contemplatives. I contemplate what is near me, not anything abstract. If you put me in a blank-walled room, I could go into my imagination and amuse myself for quite some time. I might even be able to “write in my head,” in such conditions. I’m not sure that I’d be able to recall that “writing” when I was back with paper or screen, however.

What am I doing the rest of the time? Reading and thinking; transcribing wills and IPMs written in Latin, in secretary hand; struggling to turn “hey, that’s cool!” moments into actual coherent arguments (I suspect this is something that head-writers are doing in their heads, but again, I lose the thread pretty fast if I’m not making physical notes).

And, of course, prepping classes and grading. I am very behind on grading just now. Hence the procrastiblogging.

The dreaded annual report

It’s a relief to know that even famous professors at Cambridge hate putting together their annual reports (or did, ten years ago):

“I am spending – wasting, as it were – a beautiful autumn Sunday writing an annual report. Of course it’s my own fault, I shouldn’t have put it off until the very last days, but, frankly, writing annual reports is absolutely the worst part of being an academic, worse even than Quality Assurance and Grade Adjudication put together. . . .

It is not even an annual report. It is a biennial report, summing up my achievements since I came here two years ago. I thought that when I reached the height where I am now, all this would be over and done with. I cannot climb higher (because I don’t want to be Head of Faculty, or Head or School, or Second Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor twice removed). I cannot be fired. Let me be. But no, I must write this report, with everything I’ve done since I came here – I wish I’ve kept track – with a list of publications, five most important highlighted, two academic referees from Cambridge-acknowledged institutions who must know me well, but not too well, and the worst of all, a personal statement. I am sure there are services on internet that write personal statements for anyone, although I wouldn’t quite trust them. But if I could pay somebody, from the pay increment I might get through this painful exercise, to do this for me! I find it tedious and humiliating. I understand it is necessary – or is it? So many hours, days, perhaps weeks spent every year in academia to write these reports that will be scrutinised by numerous committees, and how many hours and days do I spend writing references for other people going through the same process. Perhaps I would not make a sensational scientific discovery today, Sunday, instead of writing my report. On the other hand, who knows? I am not sure whether it was on a Sunday that Newton was hit on his head by that famous apple, but surely he was sitting and meditating in one of Cambridge’s many pretty gardens rather than writing an annual report.”

Maria Nikolojeva, Confessions of a Displaced Hedgehog: Self-Assessment, 17 October 2010

It’s still Saturday in my time zone

So here are my six, at the 11th hour, after a few weeks of being too busy to manage to blog:

1, white flowers: Anemone Honorine Jobert (I’m reasonably sure), and the chives flowering right up against the fence.

2, the glorious exuberance of the front beds. Someone on my blogroll said she appreciated the subtle color of sedums in her fall garden. I think she must have meant the pinky-brown sedums that I had at the old house; there is nothing subtle about these, and the colors gladden my heart every time I see them. Look how well the globe amaranth Truffula fits in:

I love the way the lantana starts out red before opening.

3, fungus amongus:

4, the purples: lavender asters in the wild bit, 

and a tamer bushier aster (I think) along with another Honorine Jobert:

Now back to the vegetable garden for 5, a mess of marigolds and tomato vines, with lots of green tomatoes; I fear they may never ripen, as this patch is no longer getting any sun:

And 6, a leggy nasturtium, which would be happier with sandier soil and more sun:

When I’m not working (teaching online takes a terrible amount of grading and writing and organizing and transferring files around), I’m plotting garden changes. There’s a sunny area of lawn near the house that I wanted to use for a cottage-style flower garden, as it gets full sun most of the day, even now that much of the garden is more shaded. But since the vegetable patch only gets sun in full summer, maybe the sunnier patch should become a vegetable garden. That would mean a new rabbit-proof fence, lots of digging, ugh. And then what would I do with the former vegetable garden? A friend suggested having a potager near the house, mixing veg and flowers, and continuing to use the vegetable patch for vegetables that would be harvested in full summer; that is an option. Thinking.

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator, who is now well into Sunday. I expect he’s used to me showing up late, by now.


Now that the Tour de France has finally finished, summer (in my mind) is nearly over, and it’s time to concentrate on classes and getting ready for the fall.

How did it get to be week 5 of the semester?

Covid-time is a strange, strange thing in so many ways.

It’s starting to look a bit like fall, with some trees blushing a bit at the tips of branches, and shade falling very differently across the garden. There are plenty of green tomatoes still in my mostly-neglected vegetable patch, and I don’t know if they’ll ever ripen, because they aren’t getting any sun anymore. When we moved, I was delighted to find that the garden included an area safely fenced against rabbits where I could try my hand at vegetables. There’s also a patch of lawn, near the house, that gets sun nearly all day in summer, and still gets a good bit of sun even now, that I had my eye on for a cottage-style flower garden. But now I’m thinking that if I want vegetables, that patch should be where they go, and I’ll have to move the anti-rabbit fencing, and then what do I do with the erstwhile vegetable patch? Decisions, decisions, plus a lot of digging at some point.

“It is wonderful how much news there is when people write every other day; if they wait for a month there is nothing that seems worth telling.” O. Douglas, Penny Plain, start of chapter VI (reading on Kindle, so no page reference). I’ve been reading a lot of O. Douglas lately. Some of her books are available free on Project Gutenberg, others are cheap in the Kindle store. They are set mainly in Scotland, with a few scenes in London or elsewhere, and are lovely for scenery and the interaction of happy families. Romances often don’t quite work out; there’s a recurrent trope of the woman who remains faithful to a dead husband or fiancé (well, they’re written and mainly set during or after WWI, so this is probably catering to readers who suffered a bereavement in the war and like to see it glamorised a bit). Sometimes they’re a little preachy, but although many of the characters are related to Presbyterian ministers, for the most part the religion isn’t heavy-duty, and at least, being Presbyterians, no one goes into a convent, as sometimes happens in novels of this era (looking at you, E. M. Delafield). There’s not enough about clothes, sadly, given the wonderful material available to someone whose characters wear country tweeds for day and dress for dinner, but descriptions of meals, especially tea, make them sound like children’s literature. There is a rather wonderful evening dress of parchment lace over cloth of gold, long-sleeved and high-necked, worn by Nicole Rutherfurd in Jane’s Parlour. Or was it The Day of Small Things? The books blur a bit, but they are excellent comforting reading if you like light fiction by British women from between the wars. They’re rather like Thirkell-of-the-north, but with great sympathy towards the New Rich of Glasgow, less mocking than Thirkell is about Sam Adams.

At any rate, I’ve nothing much to tell you besides that I’ve been busy with teaching, grading, committee work conducted via Microsoft Teams (ugh), and the usual routines of feeding cats, cooking, and so on, all sandwiched around coverage of cycling. It was a great  race this year but I’m glad it’s now over so I can believe that July is truly gone and fall is here. I’ve put together more bookshelves, and hope that before Halloween we’ll have retrieved and shelved the books I’ve been missing and want to have back.

Did Adam Blythe just say that?

We’re watching today’s Tour stage, a bit delayed (I do have a job), and the main commentators just checked in with the Man on the Moto to see what his views were. Adam Blythe said he was riding alongside Richard Carapaz, who “just stopped for a nature break, and woo-hoo! He’s looking good today!”

Um, what exactly were you referring to?

Maybe I’d rather not know which bit of Carapaz is looking good.

Maybe there are other viewers who do want to know.

Mr Hub Cap Diamond Star Halo has competition in the what-did-he-just-say category.

updated to add: Sir John suggested that nature breaks might be Blythe’s beat (so to speak) and now it seems he’s right, as on Blythe’s next report we heard about Hirschi’s break. Oh-kay.

The view from my desk

Undine started it.

I’m up to the eyeballs in online course prep and other Stuff To Do, so here, have some pictures of my new study. I work facing out, in an ergonomic desk chair; the wooden chair is for sitting and reading in the window (or for cats to look out from). I also have a desktop computer with large monitor on the wall to the right.

How about you? Care to post a picture of where you’re working these days?

Six on . . . sometime

The pictures are from Saturday, taken during an outdoors break, but all my computer time that day was spent on class plans / setting up the online Learning Management System (ick). It was a long day.

So was Sunday.

So was Monday.

But considering that I worked all weekend, I’m taking today off (slept till 8:30 and did a lot of errands, woo-hoo, what an exciting day off), and I’m going to post my pictures.


something is chewing on the bark of a Japanese maple. I did some online browsing to see what, if anything, to do about it. The state ag board urges leaving the tree alone, to try to recover, but putting a wire fence around it to keep rabbits away from it. I have plenty of clover and other greens around; why can’t they eat that?


a dead bush in what it pleases me to call the Evergreen Garden. It’s actually to the right of the similar, live bush, to the right of the second photo. I’ll need to take it out. Since I recently planted two juniper bushes (at last: I bought them a month ago) in that area, for a moment I regretted their placement; one could have replaced the dead one. But as the dead one is at the end of the bed that’s closest to the road, I think I’ll preserve that space for annuals. There always comes a moment in the spring (“spring,” that is to say, snow-melt) when I’m impatient for color, the stores have cheap bright annuals, and the perennials in my garden are taking their own sweet time, so I might as well have a designated space for the quick fix.

3, more happily, Truffula the globe amaranth is doing well:

and, 4, she fits right into the color scheme of the front beds, where the big sedum is finally showing its colors:

5, I don’t know what this is, but it just came into bud in the shade garden.

6, another squirrel sacked out on the deck:

I’ve been feeling a bit like that lately. Too hot, too much work, let me just lie here and stare at something green.

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator. Last Saturday, he was afflicted by / enjoying plants that flung themselves into his shopping cart. I’m not going to turn up there three days late, but credit to Jon for inspiring me!

Six on Saturday, gladiolus edition

I think the former owners must have divided a gladiolus clump fairly recently, because I keep finding more of them around the garden, but in very small groups, just a few stems each. So numbers 1-4 this week are all glads:

For number five, we’ll go out to the drainage ditch and observe the baby’s thumb growing among the dayflowers:

And back to the shade garden in the front, before planting columbine recently, I yanked out a sapling that had got its feet under the table (so to speak) and uncovered a batch of small bulbs. I covered them up again, and now they have leafed out. Fall crocus? The columbine is either Alpina or Nora Barlow. I’ll have to make a note of which is where, next year.

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator, who has just one glad this week among a lot of colo(u)rful flowers.

A not-so-excellent woman

I’m tired of having so many books in storage. And why did I think I could bear to stash Excellent Women away? Well, when I packed it I thought it would only be for six months or so. As the moment for retrieving boxes comes closer (bookshelves are now up in my study, and the living room is next), I am thinking of things I’d like to re-read, and Mildred’s story is one of them.

But last night I found myself thinking less of Mildred Lathbury than of Allegra Gray, the scheming widow who snares Julian Mallory, Mildred’s (Anglican) parish priest, then loses him when she is too obvious about trying to oust his sister from the household. Mrs Gray is a clergyman’s widow, and so Mildred and the Mallorys expect her to be a respectable, suitable person to rent their upper floor; but she is a little too glamorous (with matte apricot skin clearly helped along by cosmetics) and a little too lazy (urging other people to hem her curtains) and definitely too manipulative (getting the vicar to give up his hearth rug to her). In fact, the parish comes to see her as a sort of Scarlet Woman from whom Father Mallory has a narrow escape, and think that Mildred, the wise virgin, ought to get a chance—but Mildred prefers the austere anthropologist, Everard Bone, who seems a little bit splendid.

Why, though, does Allegra Gray set her sights on a vicar if she is such a racy character? Why not branch out into the wider, wickeder world? And how did she find herself married to her first husband? Does she have some sort of perverse inclination to seduce the clergy? Did she grow up in a clerical household and marry one of her father’s curates, then try to stick with what she knew? Is the problem that there aren’t so many men left, after the second World War, and the clergy at least have all their limbs? As Mildred herself points out, it’s not unusual for married people to want to be on their own; if the vicar and his sister don’t find somewhere that is Else for Winifred Mallory to go, Allegra might well start trying to find her own solution to the problem of the superfluous woman. Ought Allegra to resign herself to widowhood, having at least had one man, while Winifred, Mildred, and assorted other women of the parish haven’t ever married at all? She seems like such a mild sort of villainess that I want to take another look at her, and see if there are any further hints to her back-story.

Maybe there needs to be Pym fan-fiction about Allegra Gray.

Six on Saturday

I’m back at this, after a couple of weeks off. Two weeks ago, I had a migraine and couldn’t face either the bright sunlight outdoors or screens indoors, and last week Saturday just got away from me. There wasn’t much new or interesting in the garden, anyway. But a few weeks can improve matters.

If I could get a decent shot of all the squirrels that visit our deck, I could do a whole “Six Squirrels on Saturday” post. I think there are seven that come around regularly: Short-Tail, Three-quarter Tail, Black Nose, Big Ears, Mr and Mrs Fat Red (not truly red squirrels, but redder than the others), and Scrunchy, so-called because s/he has a ring around his tail as if caught up in a pony-tail holder. I think these two are the Fat Red couple.

Two, we have two gladioli. The first to bloom was lemon yellow, the second, scarlet.

The interior of the red flowers is white at the center, but I could not manage to get a good picture of that. Jon’s glad (at The Propagator) looks very similar.

Three, a pot left over after someone’s garage sale, so I picked it off the curb.

Four, another look at the pink coneflowers by the Wright-inspired light in front.

Now we’ll go round to the vegetable garden. Five, two shots of the squash plant, one with the catnip that it’s trying to crowd out, and one showing the baby crookneck squash.

And six, the first cherry tomatoes, first on the vine, then the ripest one posing on a collard leaf before it went into my mouth.

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator. I look forward to seeing other people’s Sixes. I’m learning a lot by reading gardening blogs, especially those from other Midwesterners. I drool over English gardens, but have to deal with the climate I have; also, flowers like purple loosestrife are invasive in North America, and in general I’m in favor of having plenty of native plants, so blogs like those of Carolee and Chris help me figure out what I can do here. I hope to figure out a sort of English Prairie Cottage bed, eventually.