BookScapes: The Gown

Jennifer Robson has chosen a winning subject for her fifth novel, a story about the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown and the transformative role it plays in the lives of three women: Ann Hughes, an embroiderer in the London workroom of designer Norman Hartnell; Ann’s co-worker, Miriam Dassin, a French emigre and Holocaust survivor; […]

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Mesquite Season in the Hill Country

It’s mesquite bean season here at Meadow Knoll, and as usual, our honey mesquite trees are loaded. These were a prized native food, rich in plant protein, calcium. potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The beans were usually ground into flour and baked as a flat cake or mixed with venison and smoked or dried as […]

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BookScapes: Briefly 08/07/19

Every now and then, I happen on a book I really like, but which bothers me. Recently, I’ve happened on two books, both excellent, that bother me in the same interesting way. Here they are, briefly. Once Upon a Time: A True Tale of Memory, Murder and the Law  by Harry N. MacLean This book […]

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BookScapes: The Last Stone

I write crime fiction, so I read a lot of true crime. I often find the genre difficult, but it’s fascinating at the same time, especially as it has evolved over the last couple of decades. Recently, one of my author colleagues (Leia Francisco) made a distinction between “liking” a book and “appreciating” it. We […]

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LifeScapes: Button Bush and a Major Chicken Event

The button bushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) that grow along our little creek are in full bloom just now, their round, highly symmetrical blossoms delighting the bees, hummingbirds and butterflies–especially the giant swallowtails, no doubt graduated from the larvae that completely stripped my dill this spring. No problem, though.  I plant much more dill than I need. […]

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Bookscapes: The Pink Suit

I’ve added something new to my new website: a blog called BookScapes. It will include what I’m thinking these days about books, the writing process, and the publishing/book industry. It will also include reviews of books I’m reading or (if they’re still worth thinking about), books I’ve read in the past. I plan to repost […]

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BookScapes: The Real Lolita

Now that the new website is organized and functioning, I’m planning to add something new: reviews of books I’m reading or (if they’re still worth thinking about), books I’ve read in the past. I’m a voracious reader of all kinds of books: genre fiction, literary fiction, nonfiction, and I’ve been reviewing books here and there […]

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Mustard

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. —Luke 13:9 Most commentators agree that the mustard Jesus refers to in these passages is the ordinary black […]

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Wormwood

But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. —Proverbs 5:4 He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood… —Lamentations 3:15 Bitter-tasting wormwood appears frequently in Scripture as a symbol of repentance, punishment, and suffering. The general term “wormwood” refers to a number of plants belonging to […]

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Thistles, Thorns, and Nettles

And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. —Isaiah 34:13 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? —Matthew 7:16 Thistles—thorny weeds that thrive in uncultivated […]

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Saffron

Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense… —Song of Solomon 4:14 Today, we recognize Solomon’s saffron as our own familiar fall-blooming crocus (Crocus sativus). In spring, much of the Holy Land is bright with the white, pink, purple, blue, or orange-yellow flowers of over a dozen different kinds of crocus, several […]

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Rue

Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.. —Luke 11:42 Ordinary garden rue (Ruta graveolens) is the plant referred to in Luke. This shrubby, multi-stemmed perennial […]

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Sunflowers: In Bloom This Week

                Every year, the sunflowers bloom along our lane, as dependable as the sun itself. This native sunflower is Helianthus annuus–native, that is, to the Americas, although it has now traveled around the planet. The Americans who were here before us used every part of the sunflower. They […]

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Nigella

Doth he not cast abroad the fitches and scatter the cumin?…For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cumin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cumin with a rod. —Isaiah 28:25 & 27 There has been a great deal […]

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Rose

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. —Isaiah 35:1 The desert “rose” of Isaiah 35:1, according to Biblical scholars, is most likely the Bunchflower daffodil or narcissus. (The original text uses the Hebrew word for “bulb.”) Known to botanists as Narcissus […]

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Mint

But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.—Luke 11:42 The ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans used mint far more often than we do, both in […]

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Cumin

When he has leveled its surface, does he not scatter dill, sow cumin, and put in wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and emmer [awned wheat] as the border?–Isaiah 28:25 Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is the same plant that many people grow in their gardens today. It is an annual member of the […]

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Onions, Garlics, and Leeks

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. —Numbers 11:5 The virtues of the three most familiar of the Allium family—onions, garlic, and leeks—were well known in Biblical days. Onions and leeks were said to grow wild in […]

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Flax

She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands…she layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. —Proverbs 31:13 Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is the oldest known of textile fibers. It was used in the Holy Land for clothing, towels (John 13:4-5), napkins (John 11:44), girdles and undergarments (Isaiah 3:23 […]

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Dill

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law. —Matthew 23:23 The word “anise” in this verse refers to dill (Anethum graveolens), which like coriander, is a member of the Parsley family. It was used in Biblical times […]

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Coriander

..And it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. —Exodus 16:31 And the manna was as coriander seed, and the color thereof as the color of bdellium. —Numbers 11:7 These verses refer to the seed of the coriander plant, Coriandrum sativum. Coriander is a white- or […]

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Castor Bean

And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd […]

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Bitter Herbs

And they shall eat flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. —Exodus 12:8 The “bitter herbs” of Exodus were likely plants such as lettuce, endive, chicory, dandelion, watercress, and sorrel, which were eaten as a salad with the Paschal lamb and unleavened bread at […]

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Bay Laurel

 I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. —Psalms 37:35 The sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) grows in dense thickets in the Palestinian mountains. It retains its leathery, aromatic leaves and looks green and prosperous all year long. For the Psalmist, the “green bay tree” was a symbol […]

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Anemone

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. —Luke 12: 27- 28 Most authorities now regard the Palestine anemone, Anemone cornaria, as the famous “lily of the […]

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Apricot

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit therof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. —Genesis 3:6 It has […]

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More Plants and References for Additional Study

Almond (Frunus amygdalus) Exodus 37:17-24 Aloe (Aloe succotrina) John 19:38-42 Broad Bean (Fava vulgaris) Ezekiel 4:9 Caper (Capparis spinosa) I Kings 4:33, Ecclesiastes 12:5 Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) Isaiah 1:8 Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) Luke 12:27 Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) Numbers 33:9, John 12:12-13 Fig (Ficus carica) Genesis 3:7, Matthew 24:32 Grape (Vitis vinifera) Genesis 9:20-21, Jonah […]

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A Few Favorite Flubs

There’s only one hard-and-fast rule about writing: No book is ever perfect. A corollary to that rule: once a mistake is in print in a physical book, it stays in print. Books are like buildings: they’re there until (*shudder*) they’re burned or bulldozed in the landfill. Of course, authors and publishers do whatever they can […]

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In bloom this week: Flame flower

Our native Standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) has some other, more appealing names: flame flower, Texas plume, scarlet gilia. A biennial, it grows wild in our meadow. Its ferny first-year growth flourishes in dry, gravel-y soil; if we get good rains, the bloom stalk can grow to five feet or more. Here in the Hill Country, […]

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Coffee Is An Herb, Too!

Yes, of course it is! We’ve been drinking coffee in the West for only about three hundred years, but people in the Middle East began drinking it centuries before that. Legend has it that a Yemini shepherd watched his goats nibble reddish-brown berries from a bush and then leap and dance, having a high old time—a caffeine […]

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Birds of a Feather

The painted bunting has been called “the most beautiful bird in North America,” and I believe it. He’s certainly the prettiest native bird I’ve ever seen. These birds winter in Mexico and points south, migrating north for the summer. For the past couple of years, at least two breeding pairs have arrived at Meadow Knoll […]

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Freeze Now, Flavor Later

Your herbal harvest is at its peak, but you’ve got your hands full with other tasks. How can you capture all that flavor? It’s easy! Blender-process 2 cups of herbs (one herb or a sweet or savory combination) with one-half cup mild-tasting vegetable oil. Spoon into an ice-cube tray and freeze. Unmold into labeled freezer […]

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Lemon Verbena: Tart, Tangy, Tasty

  Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is a native of Argentina and Chile, introduced into Europe by Spanish explorers. This is a tender perennial shrub with a bright, brash lemony scent. Grow it in full sun, and cut back the side branches to produce more of those delectable lemony leaves. It will appreciate being potted up […]

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Milkweeds and Monarchs

I love this tidy little plant, which is sending its silvery seed parachuting across our meadows this week. The Monarch butterfly larvae love it too, and feed on exclusively on it. Like other milkweeds, this one (Asclepius asperula) contains toxic cardiac glycosides that make the adult Monarch distasteful (phew!) to potential predators–an effective way to stay alive […]

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Do Tell!

There’s a first time for everything. We’ve lived at Meadow Knoll for over 30 years, and this is the first time we’ve seen a snake on a hummingbird feeder. We watched for several minutes, and this five-foot bullsnake didn’t move. He was busy pretending to be an innocent, inviting tree branch that a wing-weary hummer […]

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Drum roll, please!

Drum roll, please! After 20+ years (and several makeovers) on my old multiple websites, I am delighted to have a spiffy new site to share with you! Life has a way of calling the shots. Last year, Peggy (my longtime webmistress and assistant) married, moved to Portugal, and retired. Lovely for Peggy and I wish […]

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In bloom this week: Heirloom rose

The red heirloom rose is blooming on the porch. Roses that can be traced back to a time before the Civil War are called heirlooms. They’ve been found growing beside old houses and in cemeteries and churchyards, and are propagated by collectors, sometimes called “rose rustlers.” (Yes, I know. Makes me smile, too. I once […]

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Rosemary. Remember.

Thousands of years before refrigerators, people who lived around the Mediterranean noticed that rosemary leaves kept fresh meat from spoiling. About the same time, over in Egypt, embalmers began using rosemary to make mummies. These demonstrations of the herb’s ability to preserve led people to believe that rosemary could also preserve memory. Which is why […]

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Rhubarb: A Tart Tale

Rhubarb isn’t for everybody. This truth was impressed upon me as a child, when my mother brought home some fresh rhubarb from a neighbor’s garden. She called it pieplant, and made it into a pie. I made for my bedroom. I’d rather do my homework than eat rhubarb pie. It tasted like medicine. No wonder. […]

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The Magical, Mystical, Magnetic Onion

They’ve been around all your life. You’ve avoided them, indulged in them, and maybe even been embarrassed by them. For, after all, there is nothing quite so smelly as the ordinary, extraordinary onion. But I’ll bet there are things about onions you don’t know. You’re probably not aware that the inhabitants of the ancient Egyptian […]

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