Where there is a will there is a way

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Night Watering

There are few things I find more fun than throwing buckets of water on thirsty plants in the middle of the night.

Yes, my neighbours surely think I'm weird (but I think that's a given anyways).

Here's why:

Under the stars, crickets singing, sky black with stars.  Puff of cloud wafts by in the Aoearoa night sky.  Bamboo staves so tall they rise above our fence into the tangle of blackberry jungle from next door.

SPLASH!  I imagine the tomato plant's relief - and a strong smell of tomatoes wafts by to say thanks.

Splash!  The marigolds also say thank you, wafting a marigold smell.

I feel alot of energy, in the night - alone - with no one to bother me.  It's silent, except the crickets, and the stars.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Last Leaf (original story by O. Henry)

When I was young, I saw a short film of O. Henry's story, The Last Leaf.  The film wouldn't have won an Academy Award, but to a child, the obvious characters so roughly drawn out probably told the story better.  Anyways, I got it - it was a great message.  Such that I am really glad I shared it before I die!  (Everything on this blog I'm glad is there in case I get wiped out.)

Just for busy modern people I will summarize the amazing story so you won't miss it.

Two girls are living in a New York apartment building during the turn of the century or so. They are talented artists and have set up a studio together, Sue and Johnsy (nickname for Joanna).  But pneumonia ravages Johnsy.  Johnsy dreams of painting in France.  But she gets so ill and weak, she becomes fixated on a vine outside her window - how the vine struggles on the bricks, but each leaf eventually dies and falls away.  She watches them die, tired of struggling - and becomes convinced that when the last leaf falls away, she too will let loose her grip on the world.

A neighbour lives downstairs, Old Behrman, an old man who is a failed painter, obsessed with one day painting his great masterpiece.   Behrman curses, with his heavy accent, struggles with himself and never completes it.  "He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it." In the film I saw, he is shown as talking to his dead wife, dreaming of the past, grand days.  But now, he drinks too much and is cranky with everyone.  Sue goes to ask him to be a model for her painting of an old hermit miner, telling him also about Johnsy and her morbid fixation.  He curses, and calls Johnsy foolish.  Then she gets upset with him, and tells him what she thinks of him.  He then agrees to come pose for her painting.  Sue shows her the ill girl.  She is now sleeping, but Sue shows him the bare vine, with the last leaf only barely clinging on.  They fear that when Johnsy sees that the leaf is gone, she too will give up the struggle.

The old man poses for Sue, and that night there is a big storm.  When Johnsy awakes, as Sue fears she demands hoarsely to see the ivy vine.  The last leaf is still there.  Repeatedly, Johnsy asks to see it - and eventually when she sees the courage of the last leaf to hang on the vine, she decides she too can make it.

After Johnsy is out of the danger zone a few days later, and is getting better they find out that the old man had just died of pneumonia...

"The janitor found him the morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were wet through and icy cold. They couldn't imagine where he had been on such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it, and - look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece - he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell."

I remember so vividly this totally realistic beautiful painting of an ivy leaf used in the short film, with apparent shadow and all, despite being painted on brick it looked totally real.  To my child's eyes, it was a miracle.

The message of the story hit home to me (especially hammered in with the Christian take of the film), as it shifted the focus - to show the moral.  The greatest masterpiece is not necessarily some image on a canvas, which is meaningless on its own - it's in the context of life that art has meaning - the decisions of your life, your life is the greatest masterpiece. 

This is what guides me every day I leave some project I am crafting to perfection - to give my time to my children for example.

Courtesy of the online Literacy Network, the original story by O. Henry - The Last Leaf:

In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called "places." These "places" make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!

So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came prowling, hunting for north windows and eighteenth-century gables and Dutch attics and low rents. Then they imported some pewter mugs and a chafing dish or two from Sixth Avenue, and became a "colony."

At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their studio. "Johnsy" was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the other from California. They had met at the table d'hôte of an Eighth Street "Delmonico's," and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.

That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown "places."

Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer. But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely moving, on her painted iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes at the blank side of the next brick house.

One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, gray eyebrow.

"She has one chance in - let us say, ten," he said, as he shook down the mercury in his clinical thermometer. " And that chance is for her to want to live. This way people have of lining-u on the side of the undertaker makes the entire pharmacopoeia look silly. Your little lady has made up her mind that she's not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?"

"She - she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day." said Sue.

"Paint? - bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking twice - a man for instance?"

"A man?" said Sue, with a jew's-harp twang in her voice. "Is a man worth - but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind."

"Well, it is the weakness, then," said the doctor. "I will do all that science, so far as it may filter through my efforts, can accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages in her funeral procession I subtract 50 per cent from the curative power of medicines. If you will get her to ask one question about the new winter styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a one-in-five chance for her, instead of one in ten."

After the doctor had gone Sue went into the workroom and cried a Japanese napkin to a pulp. Then she swaggered into Johnsy's room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.

Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep.

She arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a magazine story. Young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature.

As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horseshow riding trousers and a monocle of the figure of the hero, an Idaho cowboy, she heard a low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.

Johnsy's eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and counting - counting backward.

"Twelve," she said, and little later "eleven"; and then "ten," and "nine"; and then "eight" and "seven", almost together.

Sue look solicitously out of the window. What was there to count? There was only a bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away. An old, old ivy vine, gnarled and decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.

"What is it, dear?" asked Sue.

"Six," said Johnsy, in almost a whisper. "They're falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head ache to count them. But now it's easy. There goes another one. There are only five left now."

"Five what, dear? Tell your Sudie."

"Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that for three days. Didn't the doctor tell you?"

"Oh, I never heard of such nonsense," complained Sue, with magnificent scorn. "What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well? And you used to love that vine so, you naughty girl. Don't be a goosey. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for getting well real soon were - let's see exactly what he said - he said the chances were ten to one! Why, that's almost as good a chance as we have in New York when we ride on the street cars or walk past a new building. Try to take some broth now, and let Sudie go back to her drawing, so she can sell the editor man with it, and buy port wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self."

"You needn't get any more wine," said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the window. "There goes another. No, I don't want any broth. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I'll go, too."

"Johnsy, dear," said Sue, bending over her, "will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look out the window until I am done working? I must hand those drawings in by to-morrow. I need the light, or I would draw the shade down."

"Couldn't you draw in the other room?" asked Johnsy, coldly.

"I'd rather be here by you," said Sue. "Beside, I don't want you to keep looking at those silly ivy leaves."

"Tell me as soon as you have finished," said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying white and still as fallen statue, "because I want to see the last one fall. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves."

"Try to sleep," said Sue. "I must call Behrman up to be my model for the old hermit miner. I'll not be gone a minute. Don't try to move 'til I come back."

Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor beneath them. He was past sixty and had a Michael Angelo's Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along with the body of an imp. Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress's robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it. For several years he had painted nothing except now and then a daub in the line of commerce or advertising. He earned a little by serving as a model to those young artists in the colony who could not pay the price of a professional. He drank gin to excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece. For the rest he was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.

Sue found Behrman smelling strongly of juniper berries in his dimly lighted den below. In one corner was a blank canvas on an easel that had been waiting there for twenty-five years to receive the first line of the masterpiece. She told him of Johnsy's fancy, and how she feared she would, indeed, light and fragile as a leaf herself, float away, when her slight hold upon the world grew weaker.

Old Behrman, with his red eyes plainly streaming, shouted his contempt and derision for such idiotic imaginings.

"Vass!" he cried. "Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not heard of such a thing. No, I will not bose as a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der brain of her? Ach, dot poor leetle Miss Yohnsy."

"She is very ill and weak," said Sue, "and the fever has left her mind morbid and full of strange fancies. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if you do not care to pose for me, you needn't. But I think you are a horrid old - old flibbertigibbet."

"You are just like a woman!" yelled Behrman. "Who said I will not bose? Go on. I come mit you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to say dot I am ready to bose. Gott! dis is not any blace in which one so goot as Miss Yohnsy shall lie sick. Some day I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes."

Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to the window-sill, and motioned Behrman into the other room. In there they peered out the window fearfully at the ivy vine. Then they looked at each other for a moment without speaking. A persistent, cold rain was falling, mingled with snow. Behrman, in his old blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit miner on an upturned kettle for a rock.

When Sue awoke from an hour's sleep the next morning she found Johnsy with dull, wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade.

"Pull it up; I want to see," she ordered, in a whisper.

Wearily Sue obeyed.

But, lo! after the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind that had endured through the livelong night, there yet stood out against the brick wall one ivy leaf. It was the last one on the vine. Still dark green near its stem, with its serrated edges tinted with the yellow of dissolution and decay, it hung bravely from the branch some twenty feet above the ground.

"It is the last one," said Johnsy. "I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall to-day, and I shall die at the same time."

"Dear, dear!" said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow, "think of me, if you won't think of yourself. What would I do?"

But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.

The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the lone ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall. And then, with the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low Dutch eaves.

When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shade be raised.

The ivy leaf was still there.

Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called to Sue, who was stirring her chicken broth over the gas stove.

"I've been a bad girl, Sudie," said Johnsy. "Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring a me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it, and - no; bring me a hand-mirror first, and then pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook."

And hour later she said:

"Sudie, some day I hope to paint the Bay of Naples."

The doctor came in the afternoon, and Sue had an excuse to go into the hallway as he left.

"Even chances," said the doctor, taking Sue's thin, shaking hand in his. "With good nursing you'll win." And now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is - some kind of an artist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man, and the attack is acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital to-day to be made more comfortable."

The next day the doctor said to Sue: "She's out of danger. You won. Nutrition and care now - that's all."

And that afternoon Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, contentedly knitting a very blue and very useless woollen shoulder scarf, and put one arm around her, pillows and all.

"I have something to tell you, white mouse," she said. "Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia to-day in the hospital. He was ill only two days. The janitor found him the morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were wet through and icy cold. They couldn't imagine where he had been on such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it, and - look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece - he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell."

Nanook of the North (first documentary)

If anything would make me respect people and humankind, it would be this - not our ridiculous tall buildings.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Water is life - tales from my garden

When you have access to unlimited water, you just don't appreciate water the same way as when you are on tank water, the supply is limited, and you have to bucket greywater to each and every one of your plants that you want to live.

I wheelbarrow a large container of water back and forth, bucketing water from a greywater container onto my plants - much cheaper and also more helpful to my plants than a gym membership.  But it is hard work for the value you will much later harvest, and all the lifting can injure my back.  Since Auckland is experiencing drought conditions of the like of which I have never seen in my 9 years living here (but apparently in 70 years), the only water my garden has gotten in the past month or wo has been hand carried.

(Basically, instead of hosing directly from our water supply onto the garden, we use water in which we have washed our clothes first - since we have to do laundry anyways.)

I have stopped buying new seedlings, as we have the space in my veggie patch - but not enough water (or time and energy to deliver it).

In a documentary I saw, societies can only thrive if they have water - which is obvious - but in this situation of complete water delivery using my own energy along, I can feel exactly how related water is to life.

If a plant has water - it lives.  How much water I can afford, is how much life I can support in my garden.

Water = life

Auckland field

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Maria McCloy and her African style

Portrait by Nadine Hutton

I love flipping around channels - you can find such beautiful jewels.

This jewel I found was Maria McCloy.

She grew up in England, and lived in a few different countries, with an English father and African mother.

She loves her African heritage, works as a publicist and journalist during the week - but loves searching vibrant urban markets for African prints, and turning them them into clutch bags and shoes covered in the prints.

During the interview (Inside Africa), she was wearing these large shining circular metal earrings.

Her love of amazing African prints and energy shone to me. 

NZ Herald article: Our plastic rubbish killing sea life / Sophie Barclay

Original article found here


Our plastic rubbish killing sea life

by Sophie Barclay   

5:30 AM Monday Mar 4, 2013

To mark Seaweek, Element magazine's Sophie Barclay meets those dedicated to cleaning up the oceans
Dan Godoy with a turtle harmed by eating plastics. Marine turtles can't differentiate between natural prey and plastic. Photo / NZ Herald
Dan Godoy with a turtle harmed by eating plastics.   
Marine turtles can't differentiate between natural prey and plastic. Photo / NZ Herald

Dan Godoy hands me a plastic jar. It's filled with rubbish fragments: fishing line, rope, plastic bag pieces, remnants of plastic packaging, the end of an old balloon and blue, jagged hunks of a bucket, about the size of a 20c piece.

The 224 pieces of plastic were found in the stomach of one turtle.

Plastics sit in a solid knot in the stomach, causing digestive problems. When turtles feed on normal foods, these begin to ferment, creating a buildup of gas. These turtles are called "floaters" and bob helplessly on the surface. They cannot feed and their metabolism drops.

"I've seen photos of turtles that have remained at the surface for so long that they get sunburned and their shell starts to peel while it's alive," says Mr Godoy, a PhD candidate from Massey University who is researching the biology of turtles.

At least 44 per cent of marine bird species are known to eat plastic. Last year a sperm whale calf found dead in the Aegean Sea contained all kinds of rubbish, including 100 plastic bags.

A floating plastic bag and a jellyfish look nearly identical, as do fish eggs and the tiny plastic resin pellets - nurdles - used to make plastic.

Mr Godoy says most plastics eaten by turtles are clear and white. "Marine turtles can't differentiate between natural prey and plastic."

Plastics are riddled with chemicals to create useful qualities such as flexibility or transparency.

Dianna Cohen, from the US-based Plastic Pollution Coalition, is supporting Waiheke Island's BYO Bag initiative, which aims to make the island plastic bag free. She says some of these chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA) and hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates, have been linked to cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's, autism, and a number of sexual problems like lower sexual functioning, sterility and infertility in humans.

BPA is allowed in New Zealand, and plastics containing BPA line our canned food. Its use has been banned in some products in countries including the European Union states, China, Malaysia and America.
Wind and ocean currents direct rubbish that has been dumped, dropped, buried or blown out of landfills into 11 patches in the ocean, over a period of about five years.

Of these, the best known is the "great Pacific rubbish patch" in the northwest Pacific which stretches about 700,000sq km.

Midway Atoll is also in the northwest Pacific, just over 2000km from Honolulu and 4000km from Japan. Evidence of humanity's "civilisation" litters the shore: toothbrushes, mugs, lightbulbs and lighters in an array of colours. And 8.6 tonnes of nets are washed up each year, often containing seals and turtles.

The water surrounding the island is littered with plastic detritus eaten by fish and mammals and regurgitated by birds to their chicks. Nearly all albatross chicks are fed plastic. Researchers found 17 bottle caps inside one adult bird's carcass.

New research from Dr Hideshige Takada, a Japanese scientist at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, shows that pieces of plastic suck in toxins in the seawater.

Dr Takada is researching persistent organic pollutants (POPs) - chemicals which include harmful pesticides such as DDT, and textile flame-retardants. POPs break down slowly. They can dissolve in oil, fat and plastic (a "solid oil").

"Concentrations in marine plastic fragments are millions of times higher than those in seawater," he says.
Dr Takada's study shows that microplastics are absorbing chemicals from the surrounding seawater and being transferred to the stomach tissues of plastic-eating seabirds.

POPs can harm DNA, affect the thyroid system and the brain, disrupt hormones and weaken the immune system. In 1998, mass deaths of seals in the North Sea were put down to high POP levels in the ocean.

Ms Cohen says there's more to stemming the tide than just cleaning up our beaches. The Plastic Pollution Coalition emphasises the four Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle and refuse.

About 225 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year. New Zealand imported nearly 210,00 tonnes of nurdles last year and 61 per cent of plastics made in New Zealand are used for packaging.

Single-use, disposable plastic accounts for 72 per cent of rubbish picked up on New Zealand beaches, according to research from Sustainable Coastlines.

Spokesman Camden Howitt says the public has the ultimate power to stop the plastic problem.

"Although nurdles on the beach seem like a manufacturing problem, it's really caused by demand for plastic-packaged products," he says. "Individuals can influence this simply by choosing to buy fewer products wrapped in plastic."

Essentially, says Mr Godoy, we need to realise that our actions have consequences.

"We always treat the ocean and the environment as though they are separate from us, but it's an integral part of us. It's our responsibility to acknowledge and understand what kind of impacts we have on a day-to-day basis."

Alternatives to plastic

Food storage
Glass, stainless steel, wood and ceramic containers.

Drink bottles
Plastic drink bottles last 500 years.
Steel or glass drink bottles cost about $20.

Bring your own bags
More than 40,000 plastic shopping bags are dumped in landfills every hour in NZ.
Cotton or hemp bags can be used thousands of times.

Alternatives to plastic
Plant-based "plastics" are made by manufacturer FriendlyPak and contain no toxic or dangerous ingredients.

Got a solution?
Submit your business ideas for solutions to single-use disposal plastic by March 10. Win $50,000.

Learn more
Dianna Cohen from the US-based Plastic Pollution Coalition will speak on possible solutions, Silo Park, tomorrow at 11.30am. Sustainablecoastlines.org has more information.

On the web

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