Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Trials and triumphs of growing grapes in a cold climate

Valiant grape cluster. Don't they look yummy!

I started testing this variety in our cold climate because I was assured they'd be fine. My husband made a trellis system for me and I planted them at the end of our horse field then surrounded them with some chicken wire. I was concerned the horses might try nibbling on the grape vines but I could have saved myself the trouble. They weren't all that interested.

Tom doesn't like grapes
The grapes didn't do very well. Between pests, and what I later learned was a cold 'well' right where I'd planted them, they were pretty pitiful. So I took some cuttings and started more in the greenhouse. These did very nicely and produced a respectable number of sweet clusters. They really do taste a lot like a Concord grape.

Well, to make a long story short, our house burned down, we rebuilt but just couldn't live there with the bad memories, so moved. The place we moved to had a limited growing area and I didn't bother with any grapes the first year. The next year I couldn't stand it any longer and planted a vine outside (didn't have a greenhouse this time). I protected it a bit and thinned the plant to only 3 clusters as per most grape grower instructions. They were nice and sweet when I sampled them but when I came out a few days later to reap my bounty all the clusters were gone.

Foxes Eating Grapes
We live in a fairly rural area so likely a fox or coyote helped themselves. They were nice and neat about it. The vine wasn't damaged in any way so I guess they just sucked off the grapes. Stinkers.

Before last winter I thought I'd try a light pruning and gave the plant a heavy cover for winter protection. We'll get warm days for a couple of days and then it plunges down as much as 20 degrees the following day - all with no snow cover. I mounded the vine with grass clippings and wood chips as high as I could and then, after attaching the vine pretty solidly to its trellis, I wrapped the unmulched part of the vine in four layers of floating row cover cloth.

And...We're Off!
Sadly I'm a lousy photographer so these aren't mine but they look exactly like this.

Man, did that ever work. I've got over 40 clusters growing on a single, small vine, mostly between 2 and 3 feet off the ground. Now I don't know what to do about thinning the clusters. How far apart should I thin? Ack.

Guess I'll do a bit of reading to make sure I do it right. Knowing that I can easily grow great vines with just a bit of fuss at the end of the year, I'm going to take as many cuttings as I dare and get my vineyard started!

Of course, now the vine will be really attractive to the beastie that ate the grapes last year. I've purchased one of those motion detector sprinklers though, so we'll see how they like a squirt of water in the face when they try to steal them.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

When Your Dog is Dumber Than a Bag of Hammers

Okay, so Spencer is basically a pretty smart little dog. He can send a text just as well as the next guy and he knows how to give you the 'ain't I the cutest thing' look to get pretty much anything he wants.

But he's a chewer. Generally he saves his chewing for the appropriate chew toy but he branched out when no one was looking and went on to bigger and better choices. I USED to have a pair of slippers something like this. Got them for Christmas last year.

Note the pom poms. A couple of months ago my daughter said, "Hey mom, what happened to your slippers?" I looked down and a pom pom was missing off of one of them. I was pretty sure I knew who the culprit was. Spencer's the only dog in the house and neither my husband nor I had taken to secretly eating pom poms. We waited to see what would happen. Spencer didn't get sick and didn't seem to rid himself of the pom pom in the normal way so I forgot about it, after taking the precaution of removing the rest of the pom poms.

About a month ago Spencer started throwing up. He was miserable. Took him to the veterinarian. She x-rayed him and found the pom pom stuck in his intestinal tract. Three days and $2,000.00 later he came home minus the pom pom (which the vet put in a baggie to show us - ick) plus a long batch of staples on his stomach. We took to calling him 'zipper belly'.

He was healing up nicely and all seemed well but about two weeks after that we noticed that his Kong Wubba, exactly like these, was missing a leg. Now these toys are extremely durable. I can barely cut off the legs with heavy-duty scissors when they get a bit tattered.

Again we waited. We couldn't believe Spencer had managed to get off one of the legs and if he had, how on earth had he swallowed it? But once again he became lethargic and stopped eating and drinking. Back to the vet we went and he had another x-ray. Sure enough the thing was in there. It made it through the stomach and past the first turn on its way out then got wedged and wouldn't budge. So another three days at the vet and another $2,000.00.

My husband said, that's it. If he does anything like this again, it'll be the last thing he does. But hubby is as big a push-over as I am so I'm not too worried.

Spencer's back to normal now, with more scar tissue on his belly than a major organ transplant patient. And because I doubt he's made the connection between swallowing things he shouldn't and suffering through the ordeal of an operation, he has no toys at all except for a hard rubber ball that can't be swallowed and can't be punctured. His scar is all covered over with hair so no one but us and his groomer know his shame. And he's a still a pretty handsome fellow after all his problems even if he's somewhat lacking in the brains department.

Man, this bow tie is strangling me!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Positive Affirmation Babylonian Style

Ruins of ancient Babylon

Part of late twentieth century 'New Age' thinking, positive affirmation refers to a positive mental attitude accompanied by a carefully worded written statement or 'affirmation', spoken confidently to one's self repeatedly. For example, one can think, write down and say over and over - "I am confident my environment is safe and divinely guarded". According to this thinking, doing so makes the words true.

Processional Way, Aibur-shabu: attribution: Jackie Craven

But there's nothing new about positive affirmation. The ancient Babylonians practiced positive affirmation to an even greater degree. The 'doctrine of the name' asserted that as long as anything had no name, it didn't exist. Once named, the name of the object or person was an image or representation of it much like a shadow or reflection is a representation.

Speaking the name can evoke the almost perpetual power that the knowledge of the name confers, though it is limited in practice by the impossibility of perpetual repetition. (1)

Since giving the name and speaking the name wasn't sufficiently powerful, writing it down could project the name indefinitely, giving it perpetuating power. That is why a single proper name came to be the god Ningirsu, in the temple of Uruk, spoke favourably on the subject of Urukagina with the goddess Baba. (1)

Anyone who repeated his name reinforced the action described, causing benefit to the man himself. City gates and walls in Babylon would have names designed to ensure good influences for the city, like, Bel hath built it, Bel hath shown it favour.  

god Marduk: attribution

The famous Processional Way in Babylon bore the name Aibur-shabu which meant 'the enemy shall never pass'. King Nebuchadrezzar's own name meant 'O god Nabu, preserve/defend my firstborn son'. Nabu is the Babylonian diety of wisdom and son of the god Marduk, Babylon's patron god. Powerful stuff.

Every time a person used the proper names for people or objects they reinforced the positive affirmation so not only could an individual benefit himself by speaking his own affirmation, so could anyone using the name, affirmation being built right into the name.

Unfortunately, positive affirmation wasn't too effective for the Babylonians. The confident positive affirmation given to the Processional Way by King Nebuchadrezzar, the enemy shall never pass, proved unsuccessful. In 539 BC the enemy definitely passed over the Processional Way, overthrew the government of Babylon and took the city, putting an end to the neo-Babylonian empire.

Demon Pazuzu: Although himself an evil spirit, he drove away other evil spirits and was frequently buried beneath household threshholds for protection: Wikimedia Commons
(1) Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria by Georges Contenau

Monday, March 24, 2014

Marriage in Ancient Babylon

selling women in ancient Babylon

Generally, marriage in ancient Babylon was monogamous, although secondary wives could be chosen from among the slaves, particularly if the first wife was barren or too ill to satisfy her marital obligations. Both custom and law allowed the barren wife to supply a slave-girl as her surrogate to bear children. The resulting children were legally considered the wife's children. A childless wife could also adopt a second woman as her sister and permit her to marry her husband.

Until the time of her marriage a girl was under the protection of her father. He was free to marry her to whomever he thought fit and she was dependent on him for getting married. If her father died, her brothers took over his responsibility.  If she was in service in another household as security for a debt of her father's, the creditor was only free to dispose of her as he liked if she had neither father nor brothers. In theory, wives were not bought and sold but there are texts which make it clear that purchase in a disguised form did in fact take place. One would think a girl would prefer to remain single rather than be forced into marriage, particularly marriage with an undesirable partner.  But, according to the thinking of the time, it was a woman's 'destiny' to marry and provide sons to perpetuate the male line of her husband's family and it was a duty most women took seriously.

Marriage was preceded by a ceremony of betrothal. The girl's future husband poured perfume on her head and brought her presents. After this small ceremony, although she could remain in the home of her parents if young, she was considered a full member of her future husband's family; so much so that if he died she would marry one of his brothers or if he had no brothers, one of his near relatives.

Both families brought a financial investment to the table - the groom's family were contracted to provide a bride-price in silver and the bride's family were contracted to provide a dowry of equal value. The dowry consisted of household items, silver rings, slaves and even fields. It could also include furniture, textiles and jewelry. Not infrequently the dowry included the bed used to consummate the marriage. Both the bride-price and the dowry could be paid in installments until the first child was born, at which time the balance of both payments was due and the marriage was legally finalized.

prostitute in ancient Babylon

The virginity of the bride was a matter of concern. The 'best men' of the bride were a group of friends who protected her and were responsible for her chastity. After the wedding night it was their responsibility to display 'the bloody sheets'. If the virginity of the bride were in dispute, expert female witnesses were called upon to offer testimony. In one letter from Mari a betrothed girl was pursued by another man. There had been some kissing and intimate touching but the young woman  insisted that she did not sin against her betrothed because she had denied the man intercourse. This seemed to be the criteria for establishing whether a woman was raped or seduced, in order to determine culpability.

The actual marriage was simply a delivery of the wife to her husband. The husband declared, 'she is my wife', in the presence of witnesses and that was that.

There were, of course, 'specialists' who engaged in what we would call prostitution. Taverns run by alewives were houses of pleasure where men drank, listened to music and had intercourse with prostitutes. The walls of the taproom were decorated with clay plaques of naked women or other erotic scenes. Married women took lovers but it was a dangerous business. While a husband's sexual escapades were punishable only if they seriously harmed a third party, those of the wife and her lover were dealt with much more harshly. If the lovers were caught they were bound together and thrown into the water. The husband could be granted permission to have both parties killed or mutilated. He could cut off his wife's nose and make her lover a eunuch. If the wife told her husband she no longer wanted him, once again, death by drowning and if it were proven that she had been  disobedient or a manhunter, breaking up the home and bringing discredit on her husband, you guessed it, she was thrown into the water. Drowning seemed to be a popular judgment.

There is little to glean from the personal correspondence of ancient Babylonian literature, as they seem to have been fairly modest in expressing their most intimate feelings in letters. However, I don't want to leave you with the idea that marriage was simply a passionless contract so I'll close with a 'medical' text and a poem composed around 1750BC.

Sumerian couple

Medical text.
When the patient is continually clearing his throat; is often lost for words; is always talking to himself when he is quite alone, and laughing for no reason in the corners of the fields; is habitually depressed, his throat tight, finds no pleasure in eating or drinking, endlessly repeating, with great sighs, 'Ah! my poor heart! - he is suffering from lovesickness.
(Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero, pg 102)

Poem of a man who returns to a loving woman he'd previously abandoned.
Yes! You are the only one who matters! Your face is as beautiful as ever! It is as it used to be,
When I held you close to me
And you rested your head on me!
I shall never call you anything but 'Enchanting'
And 'Wise' shall be your only title for me!
May Ishtar be my witness:
Henceforward your rival shall be our enemy!
(Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero, pg 105)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Great Dragon Dilemma: Should I or Shouldn't I?


I'm in a bit of a pickle. I'd like to include a dragon of the sea serpent variety in my historical novel set in ancient Babylon. But will readers accept a dragon in historical fiction or will that push it over the edge into fantasy?

In the Bible, the book of Job has an entire chapter devoted to a sea monster, a leviathan. This enormous creature was a lethal fire-breathing snake-like apex predator without equal and without fear. But did such a beast ever exist?

Every country has dragons in their mythology and stories of dragons have been passed down through millennia. They must have some basis in reality.

The Aberdeen Bestiary, written in the early 16th century, describes the dragon as 'bigger than all other snakes or all other living things on earth'.
The third century historian, Flavious Philostratus, said about dragons in India and Ethiopia that 'the marshes are full of them' and that they were 'thirty cubits long'.  Pretty darned big. Depending on how you measure a cubit, (18" makes a royal cubit while usual measurement was the length of a forearm) the creature could be as much as 45 feet long!

Now before you say, not possible, keep in mind that the blue whale runs around 98 feet in length, an African bush elephant measures about 35 feet from trunk to tail and the largest confirmed crocodiles are 20 - 23 feet long. One of my favorite apex predators, the almost extinct Barbary lion, is pretty small in comparison at only 11 feet long but he has a guaranteed spot in my novel.

African Lion 

Dragons are incorporated into much of ancient Babylon's artwork. The Ishtar Gate is ornamented with some pretty cool dragons in glazed-brick relief but they're rather fanciful affairs not actually meant to depict living animals, well at least not as far as we know anyway. They seem to have scaly bodies and snake heads, scorpion tails, the feet of a lion and the talons of a bird of prey.

But one of the best 'proofs' I found for water dragons in ancient Babylon is this white limestone boundary-stone housed in the British Museum and recording certain privileges granted to a chariotry captain by Nebuchadrezzar I.  This is the front of the stone. You can't see the dragon very well from this view.

But here's a side view and you can clearly see a thick giant serpent dragon running the length of the stone.

Cool, right? So, I'm thinking - maybe a dragon isn't such a far-fetched idea after all.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Getting the Green Thumbs Ready!

I love growing vegetables. Just ordered my seeds for this year and I'm pumped! Can't wait to get them started.  I live in a zone 3 short growing season area so have to start a lot of plants indoors and then transplant good-sized seedlings outside after the last frost date. Depending on the plant, I'll sprout my seeds anytime after the beginning of March. I like to sprout them first 'cause I don't like wasting space in seedling trays with seeds that might be duds. I just put the seeds between damp paper towels, seal them in a Ziploc bag and leave them on top of the fridge until they sprout.

I bought this combo of trays, 12-cell plug insets and 7" high vented dome covers from West Coast Seeds.

I like these dome covers because they have vents on either end to allow for moisture control. I'm also going to use them out in the garden over any tender young plants that might get too chilly early in the season.

Last year my husband made me a log raised bed. Mine's buried under several feet of snow but it looks pretty much like this one at , just longer and wider. We have a lot of trees on our property and some of them had to be taken down so this was the perfect solution for a couple of the larger ones.

Last year I experimented with using ramial wood chips as soil in the raised bed but I was too impatient and didn't let them rot long enough so my poor little plants didn't grow much. The chips use up a lot of nitrogen while they're rotting. Toward the end of the season my vegies perked up and I could tell by their rapid growth (before frost took them) that this method was going to work really well. I have access to plenty of wood chips and will help speed up the rotting process by layering the chips with fresh cut grass so they've got lots of nitrogen to use.

Hubby's building me a greenhouse too. He built me a beauty at our last place (where our house burned down) This is the only picture I have of it now. All the interior pictures were on the old computer that burned down with the house.

It was a great greenhouse. This was taken before the extra bits of plastic were cut out so there's a piece hanging inside. The roof was made of twin-walled polycarbonate panels.The back north wall was solid wood and I grew my grapes on that wall and up over a trellis I made for them so they didn't shade any of the other plants growing in front. The back wall also had automatic vents on either side that opened when the air got too hot inside. It slanted toward the south which was all open pastureland so it got tons of sunlight.

We've got a less than ideal growing area at our new place. Last year I watched the sun travel across the sky all season so I could figure out where best to put the new greenhouse. Best place is in the dog yard so he'll have to share.

One of the fun new vegies I'm going to try this year are lemon cucumbers. They look interesting, don't you think?

from Wikimedia commons

Friday, January 24, 2014

Emergency Power Outage

Sorry I haven't posted for awhile but we've been going crazy around here. We're contractors for BC Hydro and some severe storms left about 37,000 homes without power farther north of us. So began a mad scramble to restore their power. The downed lines covered a lot of territory, some of it cross country and only accessible with snowmobiles and snowshoes.

Where possible aerial lift trucks were used to get certified workers close to the power lines so they could use insulated trimmers to cut away broken limbs or snow-pressed branches. Fortunately there were enough trucks up there so we didn't need to take ours. All we had to bring along was our crew and snowmobiles. There were crews from all over the province. Crews put in 16-hour days for as long as necessary and the cost to restore power will be in the millions.

Our crew told us about being out at midnight one night and walking almost an hour up a hill to take down a single huge tree that had fallen across a line. By the time they got up there they realized they couldn't just cut it down but would have to climb it in order to take off some of the top before cutting down the rest of the tree. It's always dangerous climbing a partially downed tree as you can't tell how much damage it's sustained and there's a risk it could snap while you're in it. Also, once you free up the top branches that are now bending way, way over, there's a risk of being boomeranged out of the tree and killed. Thankfully, all went well and they got the tree down without incident.

My part is the paperwork. Ugh. And let me tell you there's a lot of it. Every person and every piece of equipment has to be accounted for every day plus our meal and motel costs. One department wants things accounted for one way and another department another way. Payroll isn't done the normal way either so I had to figure out how they wanted overtime taken care of and recorded. I've been immersed in paper!!!

I'm glad to say that the crisis is now over, power is restored and my emergency paperwork is almost cleared up. Yippee, I can breath again. Well, sort of. Now I have to get back to doing our maintenance audit for the BC Forest Safety Council. It's due in a little over a week and I've lost so much time. Then there's the year-end accounting stuff to take care of and T-4s to send out.....

Sigh. I'm living in this office and haven't written a word on my novel the whole time. It will probably be March before I can begin working on it again. Oh well, fresh eyes and all that.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Ancient Babylonians Did For Fun: Entertainment in Ancient Mesopotamia

Did they have any free time to enjoy themselves? You bet. In ancient times the working classes had twelve days off each month. In general, our modern society has only eight days off each month, four days less than the ancients. Huh.

Assyrian Royal Lion Hunt, from Wikimedia Commons

The most widely recognized recreation was that of the ancient kings and their love of big-game hunting. They preferred to hunt large, aggressive animals as a successful royal hunter could prove his kingly power to be legitimate. Archaeologists have discovered many bas-relief panels depicting lion hunts and it is plain that the lions weren't given much of a 'sporting' chance. Kept in game reserves, the big cats were driven by servants into wooden cages and then released to be attacked by dogs and beaters. The job of the beaters was to hit the lions with sticks and drive them toward the king, waiting in the safety of his chariot to kill them using a bow or spear. Occasionally a king is pictured on foot, apparently grasping a lion by the mane before thrusting his sword into the beast. Even if this were true, I doubt the lion had much fight left in him by that time. I chose one of the less graphic scenes above as some were pretty disturbing. It was an ugly sport.

Lavish banquets were also held and bas-reliefs show kings and queens receiving guests in lush gardens entertained by musicians and waited on by servants at tall tables of four. One of the most extravagant affairs was held by King Assurnasipal II to celebrate the construction of his new capital city. There were over forty-seven thousand guests and tens of thousands of animals were slaughtered to feed the huge crowd along with ten thousand loaves of bread, ten thousand jars of beer, ten thousand skins of wine and crates of vegetables, sweet fruits, nuts, honey and cheese.

Ancient Mesopotamian Boxers from

But enough of kings. Boxing was a popular sport, as was wrestling. They also played a form of polo but instead of sitting on the backs of horses, men sat on one another's shoulders. In the Epic of Gilgamesh "there is a reference to Gilgamesh oppressing his subjects by tiring the young men with endless contests of this polo and then taking sexual advantage of the young women." (1)

Ancient game from Ur, Ancient Encyclopedia History

Board games were popular too and archaeologists have recovered a couple of types. One was a game of twenty squares. Players raced using button-like pieces that moved according to rolls of the dice. Everyone, from the very rich to the very poor, played this game. Boredom must have accounted for some archaeological finds. Unearthing the huge statues of bulls that guarded either side of King Sargon's palace at Khorsabad, excavators found this very board game scratched into the pedestal of one of the enormous statues, much as we might do with a game of tic-tac-toe. Probably by guards. The second type of board game contained fifty-eight holes, an early model for cribbage. Still another game board was found that contained instructions on the back for playing the game using game pieces shaped like various birds. The word for game pieces was 'doll, figurine', just like we use the word 'man' in chessman. There were also dogs, cones, pyramids and other shapes.  Most games were played by throwing dice and moving game pieces. The dice that have been found were cubes made from bone, clay, stone or glass with the numbers one through six scored on them.

Lion and Hedgehog, from BAS Library 

Children played with miniaturized weapons of the time such as slingshots, bows and arrows, boomerangs or throw sticks much like today's children might play with toy guns. There were also spinning tops, rattles, jump ropes, pucks and mallets, hoops, balls, and the buzz or button - a disc piece of pottery with holes for string. Children played 'house' or 'grown-up' and used miniature furniture for role playing - tables, beds, stools, dolls and small-sized animals. They also played with miniature carts, wagons, chariots and ships. A little hedgehog on wheels and a lion on wheels were found at Susa, dating back to around 1250 BC. It's unclear whether or not they were toys or offerings to the gods. They look like toys to me.

Ancient Lyre, from
Singers and musicians entertained at festivals. Stringed instruments, pipes and a clay whistle have been recovered from excavations. Lyres and harps have been found throughout the Near East and an elaborate lyre inlaid with shell and trimmed in gold was found at the Royal Cemetery of Ur.

Finally, men and women were entertained by the performance of literary works, sometimes set to music and sung, sometimes recited by more than one person like actors in a script. For a price, a 'teller of tales' would regale you with a story in the market place.

So, there you have it. Like the old French proverb says, "The more things change, the more they stay the same".

(1) Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Karen RheaNemet-Nejat

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What is it about the New Year...

that brings out our compulsion to make resolutions?

Maybe it's hope.

A fresh year brings fresh hope - hope that we'll make smarter choices, accomplish our goals this time. In the middle of the dullness of winter we give ourselves a bright future to look forward to.  We've sung Old Lang Syne, we've oo'd and aa'd over the fireworks, we've given and received the midnight kiss. Now it's on to a better year!

Unfortunately our resolve seldom lasts.Talking to a fitness instructor, he said that the new year brings hordes of people out to buy equipment and start exercise programs. By February many are still going strong but by March enthusiasm is waning and by April all but the most determined have dropped it altogether. Dieting follows the same downward trend. So does the resolution to quit smoking, etc.

Yet year after year we doggedly continue to make those same resolutions - and hope. The blogger at Hard Hobbit to Break has made 365 resolutions! Must be some kind of a record. Isn't the human spirit resilient? I sure think so. We intend to hope again, and this time, this time, we will triumph. Ha ha!

Hubby and I haven't gotten off to a very good start. Today was our anniversary. We'd planned to have a nice evening out, just the two of us, something we don't do nearly enough and had resolved to do better this year. So, why am I at the computer instead of out with hubby? Well, he's a contractor for BC Hydro and we had a huge snowfall today, there are tons of power outages and he's had to take out a crew to help clean things up. He'll be gone all night. Perfect.

Okay, so starting tomorrow....