Amaryllis! Amaryllis!

What with the world going to hell in a hand basket, I thought maybe you’d like to read about something uplifting this week.

Two years ago, I took all my individual amaryllis bulbs (always save your amaryllis bulbs; they are very easy to grow to re-bloom) and planted them, with plenty of space between them, in a big blue ceramic pot.

I let the bulbs grow their foliage in the pot all summer, in full sun and I watered and fed them occasionally. When the frost nipped, I cut all the foliage back to the bulbs. Said bulbs, I noticed, were making new little bulbs and now generally being obstreperous and crowding with each other. I hauled the pot into the cold area of the dining room where it sat in the dark, with no watering, for about six weeks. When I saw the bulbs beginning to grow on their own, I hauled the pot (I keep saying ‘hauled” because it is a heavy, large ceramic pot and I want you to appreciate my strength and effort) to the sunny windows of the living room and began to water. And now look. Each bulb has sent up one to two stalks and each stalk has six flowers. That’s a lot of blossoms, each six inches across, and more coming. It’s been blooming for three weeks now.

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So. Save your amaryllis bulbs after they’ve had their flowering. Plant them all together in a big pot. In the summer, let the foliage grow like crazy. Keep the pot watered and feed it once a week with a balanced fertilizer. (I use, I’m afraid, the blue stuff. It just works better for flowering houseplants.) When the nights get nippy in the middle to end of October, cut all the foliage back (ALL of it) to the bulb. Don’t cut the bulb. Put the pot in dark-ish, cool-ish spot. Don’t water. After six weeks or so of this rest, the bulb will start sending up a green leaf or flower stalk. As soon as you see this, bring it out to the light and begin to water. Don’t feed, since the bulb supplies all the nutrients now for the flowers. And sit back and enjoy your own Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (While the rest of the world largely ignores the beauty that is theirs to create.)

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Dark Matter

“Oh, I LOVE winter,” younger me used to say. “It’s so much fun, you can cross country ski, and snowshoe and make snowmen and it’s so cozy.”

I suppose it was last winter that did me in. So now, winter has become my time for escape. And my escape in winter is reading about physics and astronomy. As the white stuff piles up and daily living is more of a chore of shoveling snow and hauling wood, to curl up and read about the tiny world of quarks or the vast world of galaxies is delicious.

Right now I am reading Lisa Randall’s new book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (selected by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings as one of the top 15 books she has read this year—a list, BTW, guaranteed to make you feel inadequate.)

Randall talks about dark matter, the concept of which I couldn’t quite grasp for a long time, but now I do. We can’t see dark matter because it doesn’t reflect light and we can’t feel it because its force is too weak to have an effect on us at its level in our everyday lives. But we know it exists because in greater densities it exerts a gravitational force. And not only that, but there is much more of it than the matter we can see. So the truth is, we are literally surrounded by dark matter.

Love that.

As I grow older, more experienced, less sanguine, and more settled into convenience, the awareness of the vast mystery of our Universe is a tonic. And that, perhaps, is the real fountain of youth.

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Housekeeping note, please read: I’d like to encourage readers of this blog to migrate over to my website and hit that thar follow button. Right now I publish my blog mostly on both sites but at some point in the future, it will just the website.

The Media Room, The Men’s Room, and The Coat Hanger

I feel like I’ve been away for days. Oh, wait, I have been away for days. We left home last Sunday, and here it is now, the following Monday. The van, packed with bikes and wheels and other flotsam, is parked at the Comfort Inn in Pennsylvania, where we are spending the night after 10 hours on the road, having left North Carolina and the 2016 Cyclocross Nationals.

The Biltmore did the Nationals proud. The organization, from my perspective, was perfect; I loved the venue, the Big House, the pits with a view of some of the race, even the mud. Everything operated smoothly until…

I locked the car key in the cab of the rental van. On Sunday, a half-hour before the Elite Women’s race. Since the back of the van was open, this shouldn’t be a big deal. But alas, this cargo van had a metal grate between the cab and the back. Just in case we wanted to transport prisoners, you know.

At first Richie and I thought we’d unscrew the million and a half bolts that held the grate in place. But they were cranky and we didn’t have the time. Then Richie thought about using a long piece of wire to use as a grab hook to ensnare the key (because we could see it plainly enough, on the dashboard.) Only trouble was, no coat hanger. I went to find one.

Nothing at the clothes vendors, nothing in the Van Dessel bus, nothing in the Antler Village shops. I was just on my way to Registration to see if they could contact security, when a man with a media badge intercepted me and told me that he liked reading my blog. Well, that’s a nice thing to hear! I would have loved to talk more, especially since he was telling me about his wife who helped restore the tapestries at Biltmore (and being a weaver, this is fascinating) but I’m afraid I interrupted him, and told him I really needed to find a metal coat hanger. Oh, he said, there’s one in the men’s room of the Media room. We ran to the Media room. I waited in the vestibule as he got the coat hanger. I thanked him–I hope profusely–and ran back to the van. Triumphant, I waved it in the air as I skidded to a stop in front of Richie, who dangled the key in front of me.

“It’s all set,” he said. “I taped two of these wire place markers together and used that.”

I had briefly thought of that as I had glanced at them on my way to find a coat hanger, but I thought the joint would be too wobbly and the key would fall to the floor and become even more inaccessible. So I didn’t try it. Or even mention it. But Richie did, and I admire his willingness to take that chance.

“Faith replaces doubt in my philosophy,” Philippe Petit once said. Wise words, indeed, even for the more mundane challenges in life.

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Big House Thursday

I talked Richie into going to the Biltmore House today, since no one on our team was racing. What a treat that was! Of course I had seen photos of the house, and I thought I knew what it would be like inside: cold, drafty, overwhelming in an I’ve-got-tons-of-money sort of way. But it wasn’t. It was actually—and this is hard to comprehend for a two hundred fifty-room house—cozy. We took the audio tour (which I recommend) and I’ve come away with a different idea of rich. More in the noblesse oblige way and I’m not being ironic. Biltmore did, and continues, to provide employment for hundreds of people—today eighteen hundred people work on the estate.

Back in the late nineteenth century, when Biltmore was being constructed, workers were paid well. Stone carvers were paid four dollars a day in an era when four dollars a week was a typical wage. After the house was up and running, each servant was provided with a private, furnished room—unusual for that time. The Vanderbilt’s treated people so well that it was not uncommon for generations of the same family to work at Biltmore.

So maybe you’re thinking that if you’ve inherited millions of dollars, it’s not exactly hurting you to treat people well, but all the same it is a choice. And the fact that these uber-rich people made the choice to promote and nurture rather than to exploit says something about wealth that you maybe don’t see often enough today.

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Natz Wednesday

For the drive down, I’ll just give you a few visual impressions: Manhattan backlit against a sparkling Hudson river; crossing over the Appalachian mountains in a snow squall; a prominent confederate flag flying on Tennessee hillside; also in Tennessee, a sign on a building: JESUS IS LORD. WE BUY GUNS. (I hope they don’t vote.) And the respite of Asheville.

The race venue at the Biltmore estate seems to be, so far, impeccable. No traffic jams, we all have parking, signage everywhere so you know where you’re going and how to get there. Our hotel, the Marriot Residence Inn is beyond friendly. They have put out extra hand towels in the lobby for the racers to use on their bikes, along with a nice sign wishing us good luck in the races.

The pits are huge, well laid out, and, the piece de resistance: we have two port-a-potties! We pit people dream of having our own port-a-potties. Oh, the bar is set high, folks.

The watchword for today is friendly. And to underscore that: I was waiting in the line at the catering tent—yes a catering tent—to get a cup of coffee and the person behind me, one Jonathan Ruiz (don’t know if I’ve spelled that right; sorry if I didn’t) recognized Buddy from the Internet, and bought me my coffee. How sweet is that.

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