Sansevieria. It’s almost impossible to kill, produces oxygen like a champ, and has over 70 varieties. Sansevieria is also named the snake plant, or mother-in-law’s-tongue due to it’s sharp, pointy leaves.
I started off with a single snake plant about a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve divided and sub-divided the clumps of stalks every so often. In all this time they flowered exactly once. Heck, I didn’t even know a snake plant got flowers…
One of my oldest and best friends just came to visit. Before Shaun arrived I scurried around with all the cleaning and prettying up tasks I’d put off – one of them being to repot those stressed snake plants. And lo and behold, during Shaun’s visit they suddenly began to send up flower stalks!
These babies grow at an astonishing rate, practically as you watch. The flower stems grow as much as four inches a day! (No joke. Ask Shaun: I made her look each morning.) Even she oohed and aahed in wonder at how fast they rose.
Here are a few photos of the flowering stalks. And they are not slightly out of focus just because I’m a lousy photographer. They are blurry because they grow right before your eyes.
Here’s to flowering plants, Round Two. I hope I don’t have to wait another decade for Round Three!
Ah, Kubah National Park on Borneo…. froggie paradise. The park is also home to other species. We met these guys.
And these. They were the size of my out-stretched hand!
When we planned what to do and see on Borneo, I made only one request. Okay, I admit it was a demand. I wanted, no, I needed to go on the night tour to see endemic frogs.
Our tour guide picked us up in front of the hotel and drove us out to Kubah National Park, where the park ranger met us. The four of us headed up into the park in the deepening darkness. And I do mean up: we climbed to 1,ooo feet to reach the part of the park where the most frogs hang out. The road was lit only by the beams of our torches and the flashes of fire flies.
Fire flies! I haven’t seen them since my childhood in New England, back when their on-and-off glow was an atmospheric element of every summer evening….
It was glorious.
It was also very, very funny, at times like being in a Monty Python sketch. Overcast, humid as hell and still hot as hell, even in the middle of the night. I dripped sweat and my glasses kept fogging up. Pitch black darkness, except for our flashlights…. which the two guides and I were shining on the frogs so that Uwe could capture them in photos. He didn’t want to use the camera flash, not wanting to startle the wild life and because light from a camera flash is too artificial. So I took his flashlight and held a torch in each hand, aiming them as directed. It was as though he were a mad director with a camera crew. It didn’t bother the critters one bit – they went on singing, and croaking, and hanging out on bole branch and vine…
A highlight in a night of a parade of wonders was the long-nosed horned frog. O.M.G. If folks on safari speak of the ‘Big Five’, froggers go into raptures about this guy:
He lives in the leaf litter on the jungle floor, and remained motionless even as the park ranger cleared away the leaf detritus around him so that we could see him better. The horned frog, mahogany frog, and narrow-mouthed frog found in the pitcher plant are the rarest of the rare, the ‘Big Three’ of Kubah Park’s frog world. I clearly saw the first two, and saw the third jump from a distance.
Ah, Kubah National Park on Borneo…. froggie paradise.
March 2019 Journal entry:
Just returned from an exhilarating 2 and ½ hours night tour with nature guide and tour guide at Kubah National Park. We saw frogs on trees, leaves, vines, boles, the sides of the road…. Two rare horned frogs! Mahogany frogs! A teeny pitcher plant frog – just one – it jumped away before we could look more closely but I did see the tiny thing leap (the narrow-mouth frog first described in 2010). Three different lizards. White-lipped frogs. Cinnamon frogs. Firebelly toads. Harlequin tree frogs. We had to head up to 1,000 feet up a road in the dark, the ranger with a head light. Unreal how he could spot the frogs. Glorious sounds of running water and night sounds of the jungle all around, my glasses fogging over with the heat and humidity, a large frog pond formed by wild pigs’ rutting. The frogs surprisingly calm, not jumping at our presence, just hanging out in their domain. I was in the moment, totally blissed out, just there, present with each frog we spotted. The guide and ranger and I backlighting each critter with our flashlights so Uwe could photograph it. The deep jungle trees and vegetation and clicks and buzzes and calls of frogs all around us. Nature’s Symphony. Glorious. An Australian recorded just this place and won an international competition for the most beautiful sounds in the world. Borneo’s really promoting sustainable growth, they recognize what they have here. The Malaysian part of Borneo, that is. I feel hopeful about a corner of the planet for the first time in a very, very, very long and sad time. Man, I like Borneo.
But with this frog tour tonight: I’m blissed out. It satisfied a deep soul place inside me. I am beyond happy. My heart feels filled.
I was beyond surprised when I got a phone call that Mr. Bond’s ex-wife wanted to me to come over. I put on a skirt (I have no idea why now, but it seemed appropriate to dress nicely if you were meeting royalty). His daughter from a previous marriage met me at the door and led me into the house where the baroness waited. The daughter left us alone to talk.
Baroness U. von O. was elegant, cool, and studied. She wore a dress and heavy jewelry. She’d removed one of her large earrings and clipped it to the matching gemstone necklace around her neck. How did I come to know her husband? She asked more questions. She lived in Paris, she said. Had I ever visited Paris?
The questions confused me. Paris? I was a sixteen-year-old girl who had cleaned her ex-husband’s house twice a week. I wondered why she even wanted to meet me.
Eventually the daughter returned. The baroness stood and shook my hand again. She left the room. Mr. Bond’s daughter took the chair the baroness had been sitting in, and as soon as Baroness U. von O. was out of earshot a very different conversation began.
“We found a drawer full of notes from you,” the daughter said.
I used to bring fresh flowers and harvest vegetables for Mr. Bond. (My parents always grew more than enough to give away – our garden covered half an acre.) I’d leave a note on the counter by the sink to say hello and tell him what was in the refrigerator. I always ended my note with PS: Have a nice day. This was back in the ’70s when the expression became wildly popular.
Mr. Bond had saved all of my notes.
“We found a stack of notebooks, too. Pages and pages in his handwriting,” she continued. “He was writing a book. He already had a title; he was going to call it PS: Have a Nice Day. I think my stepmother was more than startled to learn about you. You see, after she left him and went back to Europe, my father turned into an old man. Your notes brought a little bit of brightness back into his life. I for one wanted to meet you, to thank you for being nice to my father.” Then Mr. Bond’s daughter asked if I’d like something to remember him by. Maybe a nick knack? An object in the house I’d liked?
“Do you have a picture of him I could take?”
She fetched a photo album and removed a photograph. George Bond stands outdoors in short sleeves and a smile. The camera has caught a bright flash of sun, and the air above him is obscured by a ball of light. On the one hand it’s simply a bad photo. But I liked it. I imagined that snapshot captured a bit of his aura, the energy field that surrounds each of us like a protective shield, like a halo.
I’ve held onto that photo. I keep it tucked in an album of my own early memories. Today, for the first time in decades, I took the photo out to examine again. I found myself looking more closely: the tree behind him appears doubled. It’s as if he stands poised at the crack between this world and the next, left and right reflections of one another at the folds of time. If we’re lucky, sometimes we connect with people for brief periods that resonate beyond their life spans. For a short while I knew a Mr. Bond. George Bond. I see him still, an incredibly kind man who saved my notes, his image glowing in a photograph.
When I was in high school, I went twice a week to wash the dishes and vacuum the house of a man who lived a few blocks away from us.
His name was Bond. George Bond. He was a divorced, silver-haired lawyer who lived alone in a beautiful house with a big yard and a player piano.
My parents grew a ridiculously huge garden. Often I’d make up a bouquet of fresh flowers from my mother’s rows of zinnias, daisies, black-eyed susans, cosmos, snapdragon, calendula, nasturtiums, gladiolas, sunflowers and bachelor button. I knew where the vases were in Mr. Bond’s kitchen cabinet, and would place those fresh flowers on a table in his living room.
Throughout the summer and fall I brought him bags of fresh vegetables. I’d put the produce in the refrigerator, and I always left a note for him on the kitchen counter.
He left me notes as well, thank you messages for what I brought (I remember a dry note about how the onions were a bit strong). I doubt he cooked much, but he was always gracious.
Sometimes Mr. Bond arrived home while I was still cleaning. We’d sit and talk. I was sixteen, and he’d ask me about the classes I was taking, my interests, etc. I was mortified whenever our golden retriever Sam followed me over to his house, but Mr. Bond just laughed. He enjoyed my wonder the day he showed me how the player piano worked.
Mr. Bond was a nice, nice man.
A day came when he left me a note that he was going in the hospital for a heart operation, so I needn’t come the following week. But he didn’t survive the surgery, and suddenly I found myself at his funeral. The passing of Mr. Bond was my first experience of the reality of death, and it’s finality.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral service. George Bond was a widely known attorney and community leader, busy with civic and business activities. The church pews were completely full. I had known him only as a kind employer and an adult I liked to talk with.
A few weeks later my mom called me to the phone. A woman introducing herself as his daughter was on the line. She and Mr. Bond’s last wife were in town to close up his house. His ex was minor royalty and had flown in from Paris. Baroness U. von O. of Copenhagen, Denmark wanted to meet me. Why would a baroness possibly want to talk with me? The next day I found out.
You’ve now reached Installment #30 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals. We’re not even close to the end! See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.
The fixture fixed itself firmly to the fixture.
The boil boiled in the sky, falling fast towards the earth.
A bevy of bevies is one fleet fleet.
The trip tripped along the shore line. (1)
The consortium consorted, while the moggies kept to themselves. (2)
This devil has imps!
Fixture of barnacles 
Boil of hawks 
Bevy of deer 
Trip of dotterel 
Consortium of crabs
Tasmanian devil babies 
NOTES:  I completely forgot about barnacles. Marilyn Albright over at alaskamexicoandbeyond.wordpress.com/ alerted me to this one. Thanks, Marilyn!  A boil specifically designates two or more hawks spiraling in flight (3).  Bevy refers to roe deer only. sciencebasedlife.wordpress.com/  I had to look it up. A dotterel is a plover, related to sandpipers (1).  Tasmanian devils are solitary and fierce: there is no term for a group of Tasmanian devils. But devil babies are called imps, which more than qualified them for my lists. The devil is endangered. greentumble.com
I was going to tell you about Malaysian Borneo when I got sidetracked by their neighbor Brunei. Moving on quickly (which is what we did as we flew over the sultanate on our way to the state of Sarawak), we landed in Kuching. What a lovely, lovely city. Kuching should get its own post, and likely will. We roamed along the riverfront walk and slurped down laksa noodle dishes with gusto. Kuching is a great spot to head out to various national parks to see wildlife.
Borneo is home of the native Dayak tribes. Remember childhood tales of the wild headhunters of Borneo? The Dayak call this ritual Ngayau. We visited Dayak long houses. Smoked skulls still hang at the hearth in the central long house.
The most important tribal figure is the head chief, closely followed by the shaman. This medicine man, also known as a balian  is responsible for the health of the tribe as well as interceding between the worlds.
During our time in Kuching I’d been glancing in shops without actually entering any of them. Among the streets of tourist trinkets, one store fascinated me. On the last day I made a beeline for that shop. 
And then I made a beeline for a shelf lined with containers topped by human figures.
Jerry Ang, the soft-spoken shop owner, kindly answered all my questions. He told me these were Dayak shaman medicine containers. The figures are hand carved from polished buffalo or cow bone. A shaman had hand-etched the jar with scrimshaw patterns. Dayak shamans used the containers to store herbs, magic powders and betal lime to make medical potions. Some still contained resins – Jerry and I opened each jar and sniffed.
The carved figure indicates the illness the potion was intended to treat. Some of the figures held their heads (aches and pains of the head) or their stomachs. Some figures even depicted a person crouched over… the traveler’s curse of diarrhea for sure.
My piece has a prawn carved on the back: Jerry thought maybe prawns were one of the main ingredients in the medicine. Or perhaps the prawn indicated the woman who made the potion (he said the figure was female), or an ancestor. An on-line source tells me the scrimshaw work represents animals that bring good luck. If anyone can give me more information, I’d be most grateful!
NOTES:  Balian is the term used for traditional healers on Bali, too. Healing arts are passed down through generations. Twenty years ago I did a massage exchange with the son of a balian there; he had been taught by his father. To learn more about the Dayak shamans go to http://factsanddetails.com. The article gives the following information: “Shamanic curing, or balian, is one of the core features of these ritual practices. Because illness is thought to result in a loss of the soul, the ritual healing practices are devoted to its spiritual and ceremonial retrieval. In general, religious practices focus on the body, and on the health of the body politic more broadly. Sickness results from giving offense to one of the many spirits inhabiting the earth and fields, usually from a failure to sacrifice to them. The goal of the balian is to call back the wayward soul and restore the health of the community through trance, dance, and possession.” [Source: Library of Congress, 2006] Or see Wikipedia: The Dayak People  See also Unika Borneo, the shop where I found my figure. I receive no commission for mentioning the store. I just think they deserve to be mentioned. More figures can be admired at https://borneoartifact.com and https://www.esotericstuff.com
Christmas is a tricky holiday for me. My family always celebrated this time of year with gusto, and my mom made it really special.  The first year I spent Christmas with my German husband’s family I was hit with a bout of longing for America, for my dead mother, for all things beloved and familiar.
“I’m really, really homesick. God, I miss home at Christmas time,” I confessed to my mother-in-law.
“Well, this year you’re with us. This is your home now.” Her mouth was pinched. I had just royally offended (to say nothing of hurting the feelings of) my new husband’s mom.
I was on the brink: I was going to start crying and not be able to stop. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” I said. I put on my boots and coat, fast. I walked by myself through the snowy dark streets. Of course, on Christmas Eve the roads were silent and totally empty; everyone was in the lit-up homes, celebrating the birth of Christ with their families. I walked for probably forty minutes, until I was worn out and too cold to remain outside any longer.
And then I went back to the house and smiled.
I still get homesick this time of year, but after being here so long Uwe and I have our own traditions. Putting up a tree and decorating it always helps. We used to just walk up the street to a yard that sold trees, select one, and carry it home between us. Now Uwe purchases the tree at a shopping center parking lot, and I trim it with all kinds of ornaments.
The former Eastern Germany is known for wooden ornaments. I bought three in Leipzig, for both my sisters and one for my own tree. I also hang special ornaments that remind me of where I grew up.
About twenty-three years ago we spent the holidays in Sofia, Bulgaria, where my sister Pam was teaching. I bought some insanely delicate glass ornaments there.
I’ve never seen anything like them, before or since. When I sat down to write this post, I googled Bulgarian ornaments, hoping to get some info on where they were made. But instead I was directed to cheesy sites selling images of Bulgaria, probably mass-produced in China….
So I have no idea if these quirky (and highly breakable) ornaments are still being made in Bulgaria. I get them out each year, though. Aside from the kitty-cat missing an ear, they’re all intact.
Wishing everyone the blessings of the holiday season. Do whatever you need to in order to make the occasion joyous. Happy holidays, and see you all in 2019.
The rest of us will be enjoying Schadenfreude, the fine art of taking pleasure in someone else’s humiliation.
Anyone who follows Game of Thrones (if you haven’t heard of it, you live in a cave somewhere) knows about the infamous Walk of Shame. Cersei was forced to parade naked through the streets while the locals –always happy to take part in a public spectacle – threw hard objects and body fluids at her.  We watched in horrified fascination!
I thought that was a great scene and a nicely creative bit of Schadenfreude script writing. It seemed like a new version of the old tradition of locking up criminals in stocks for public shaming. Until, in the space of 24 hours, I visited not one but two places where the Walk of Shame really did occur as official ‘justice’…
In the Pfalz region of Germany, history is writ large for the little town of Schifferstadt. Let’s start with the Bronze Age. In 1835, the amazing 3,400-year-old Golden Hat of Schifferstadt was found by a farmer named Josef Eckrich. 
This Golden Hat is the oldest Bronze Age magical headdress ever found and was worn around 1400-1300 BC. Only four Golden Hats are known to exist, and this one was deliberately buried.
Schifferstadt’s local church St. Jacobus is over a thousand years old, dating back to 1101. It’s an imposing Romanesque sandstone edifice with a lovely wooden ceiling.
It contains an unusual crucifix, displaying three figures rather than only Christ, and includes a woman in the depiction.
Schifferstadt’s Town Hall is sweet, charming and historic. It was built in 1558 and is one of the oldest and most beautiful Rathäuser in the Rheinpfalz region.
But don’t let the beauty fool you. The Town Hall could be the site of gruesome cruelty. It served as the court of justice and trials took place upstairs. Conveniently, the building also contained a prison; a pillory and working dungeon were utilized under the stairs.
Outside, the corner of this charming building was put to use for punishments of a more public nature. Once found guilty of a crime, you were paraded in disgrace through the streets. When you arrived at the Rathaus, you perched on the stone pediment/platform (ingeniously constructed right on the building) to endure the jeers and abuse of your fellow townspeople.
In my next post I’ll tell you about another glorious spot known for its Walk of Shame. God, I love history….
NOTES:  Body fluids. Yuck.  Josef Eckrich sold the Golden Hat for 570 Gulden. 120 of these Gulden were paid in a reward from König Ludwig I, who wanted it for his Staatssammlung (collection). For more information on these astonishing magical hats go to Jaunting Jen, Ancient History Et Cetera, or Wikipedia: Golden Hat
At the end of August I made a visit to the Pfalz region of Germany with friends. We went to visit friends of my friends (if you follow). The couple I’ll call Josef and Beate showed us around the historic city of Speyer. The Speyer Cathedral is the most important Romanesque church on the planet.
A bold boast, but true. For starters, it contains the world’s largest Romanesque crypt. The crypt has been described as ‘the most sublime monument on German ground.”  Speyer is the last resting place of both kings and emperors. The Pope had to crown a king (always men, natch) for him to be officially titled Holy Roman Emperor. Depending on political conditions, the Pope might – or might not – name the ruler “Imperator Romanum”.
The oldest grave belongs to Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1039. Take that date in for a moment. This church was consecrated almost a millenium ago. And it’s built on the site of an older church, founded hundreds of years earlier. Speyer is the heart of ancient Germany.
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl came from the Pfalz and is memorialized with a plaque in front of the cathedral. Kohl was notorious for bringing dignitaries to admire the cathedral and then making them eat Saumagen for lunch. 
Speyer’s Cathedral was placed on the UNESCOWorld Heritage List in 1981. Yes, the breathtaking and harmonious proportions make this a site and sight to see. But what really blew my mind was the story of Josef, which he told me as he showed me around the cathedral and the crypt.
He spent much of his childhood in a boys’ home run by nuns, just around the corner from the church. The sisters had plans for him to become a priest. Each Sunday he served as altar boy, taking part in the church services.  Then he met Beate, the woman who has been his wife for 52 years, and that took care of that.
As we stood at the high altar Josef talked about the years after his mother died and he came to live as part of the religious community. I looked out over the vast interior of the Cathedral and almost felt dizzy. Yikes. This wasn’t some great monument for him. He wasn’t describing a thousand of years of history; he’s literally at home here. This grand space helped formed him as a human being. Josef, his story, and the soaring church are beautiful.
NOTES:  – German poet Reinhold Schneider.  Saumagen is the German version of Scottish haggis. Instead of suet and sausage in a sheep’s intestine, the Pfalz version uses pig’s stomach. I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad. Tasty, even.  Josef is 74 years old, so the services would have been conducted in Latin.