Monthly Archives: November 2014

THIS SEASON IT’S YELLOW

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SPIDERS? CHICKENS? AIRPLANES?

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Chlorophytum Comosum

This striking plant, called hen-and-chickens in South Africa where it is indigenous, has long been known to the native populations, some of which still use it in various forms of herbal medicine. It was first identified in 1794, and given the name Chlorophytum Comosum.
Since then it has been cultivated into many varieties all over the world, gaining itself common names such as spider plant, airplane plant; the botanical name of this particular one is vittatum. You can tell that it’s a very obliging plant, easy to grow, by the fact that it thrives in my garden even though I’m not possessed of green fingers. It’s certainly what you might call an enthusiastic plant, throwing its offspring out into the world to seek their fortune, rather like the mythical Jason did.

Now that you’ve had a botany lesson, let me tell you how Jason’s latest hat came about.

The chickens/spiders/airplanes that this plant has produced continuously since summer have been catching my eye daily. I needed to do something with yarn! Mythos Minor was particularly enthusiastic as he’s under the impression that the wild antics of knitting yarn and fingers are solely for his amusement, but Jason maintained his thoughtful composure.

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Are we ready to continue?

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Which colour are we playing with first?

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This inaction is getting seriously boring – are you going to knit or what?

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Who’s that coming in the cat door?

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Taking cover

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Mythos Major offers to help

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Plantlets for Africa

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What’s going on?

How and when did these sturdy plants come to the Pelion Peninsula? Greece has been a seafaring nation since antiquity which makes me wonder if some plant-loving adventurer collected the first specimens in the forests of unknown Africa?

CREEPING…CRAWLING…COLOURFUL

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Eye-catching! The Hawkmoth caterpillar

The Death’s-Head Hawkmoth is very large with markings resembling a skull, hence the name, and has long been associated throughout Europe with all manner of superstitions. It squeaks, which I find fascinating, but this unique ability has doubtless contributed to its ill-deserved reputation as an announcer of death, predicting everything from plague to war.

The genus name is Acherontia, a reference to the river Acheron in the Epirus area of Greece. The Acheron flows from the mountains down into the Ionian Sea, and was prominent in Greek mythology as one of the five rivers of death in the Underworld.

Perhaps Persephone wandered its banks, weeping into the dark waters?

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Not small

I’ve seen the Hawkmoth caterpillars on the property fairly frequently, feeding their way voraciously along, but have never been able to capture a good picture of the moth. Unless one happens to fly into the light, they’re not easy to spot at night but I’ve heard the strange squeak they make; one can understand why primitive peoples were so preoccupied with them.

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I wasn’t ready for this close-up!

No pesticides or poisons of any sort have ever been used on this land so we are fortunate to have quite a variety of insects which creep and crawl, flutter and fly about on their foraging missions, ducking and diving from their natural predators. Yes, of course the garden suffers to some extent, but it’s amazing how the birds by day and the bats by night sort things out somewhat.

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Forget the cyclamen flowers, I need the leaves

The colourful Death’s-Head Hawkmoth caterpillars are so striking that the lowly worms inching and squinching their munching way along seem insignificant by comparison.

Whether they creep or crawl, are large or small, worms and caterpillars are highly regarded by birds, so their lives are constantly under threat whatever their colouring.

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Watch out for birds!

Knitting needles, a few yards of yarn and a button or two – I give you GoogliBugs.

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Quite tasty, no?

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Minor’s puzzled…where’d he go?

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What is this stuff?

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Nice ‘n’ fresh!

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Trying to worm your way in?

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Lots here to fatten me up!

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These leaves aren’t up to much, don’t you think?

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The food’s beautifully presented

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Pink’s my favourite colour

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Are we related?

With a lot of luck, these may become moths and butterflies!

PERSEPHONE and POMEGRANATES

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The pomegranate – known since antiquity

The burial mound at Amphipolis, near Thessaloniki in Greece, has been very much in the news recently but now that an ancient skeleton has been found the excitement has reached peak levels. Thanks to modern science we’re accustomed to the fact that age, sex, height of skeletal remains can be determined, but it’s astonishing that scientists fully expect to learn details such as colour of hair and eyes of the person buried in this tomb. He or she was certainly of great importance as indicated by the splendour of the burial chambers, though the tomb has unfortunately long since been looted.

The mosaic floor is of superb quality. Only imagine the skill and expertise required to carry out the back-breaking work of assembling the scene. I wonder if the pebbles were collected and sorted for the artist by helpers? One would think so. This National Geographic article gives a brief description of the mosaic.

Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, featured prominently in Greek mythology, though the concept of a goddess responsible for the rebirth of plant growth in the spring has a history which predates the latest versions of the Greek myths; birth and death have always preoccupied Man’s mind.

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Winter fruits: Apples and pomegranates are frequently mentioned in the Greek myths

Needless to say, after all the skulduggery and trauma of being dragged underground, Persephone was more than a little anxious to return to her mother from the Underworld.  In one version of the Greek myth, Hades agreed to free her if she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything while in his underground kingdom.

But he tricked her, of course – Greek myths are big on tricks and treachery!

He fooled her into eating some pomegranate seeds, with the result that her freedom came with certain conditions: six months on Earth, six months with him as Queen of the Underworld. Thus did the ancient Greeks explain the seasons.

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Jason’s quite cosy in warm winter colours


Some years ago I knitted my friend a shawl in what has become my signature style, using many colours and textures of yarn; the original shawl is featured in my first book (2000).

We were photographing this one in late Fall before Aeolus, that normally nimble god of the wind, had dispersed all the Bougainvillea blooms, and together with a bowl of pomegranates on the table – the colours were irresistible. So much fun setting up the pictures!

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Highlighting the colours

Persephone is a lovely classical name, not often heard nowadays; Persa is the common pet name. Persephone, a favourite subject of artists and sculptors, is frequently depicted delicately draped in floating wraps and shawls.

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Worn by an antique olive jar

Did she knit brightly coloured shawls to cheer her through the dark dismal days in Hades?

Apple SlapDash

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Starking apples

Such an abundance of apples! Hera would have loved winter here in Pelion when the apple trees are laden with fruit, but the gods only came during the summer to disport themselves on the beaches and relax in the cool shady forests of Mount Pelion. Zeus of the ever-roving eye must have had a grand old time chasing nymphs through the glades, while Hera seethed and sulked. She was probably only too glad to get him back to Mount Olympus for the winter, though by all accounts that didn’t cramp his style.

The sweet, red Starking apples are my favourite. Freshly picked and with a little cheese, they’re a treat worthy of the gods; did Hera ever try them like this? I often buy too many, but apples are so easy to prepare in all manner of ways that there’s no need for any to go wasted.

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Topped with flaked almonds

My apple cake is very quick and easy – it has to be for I’m not known for my culinary skills – and came about one day when friends called, asking if they could drop in later for coffee. I needed to rustle up something sweet, but what? I had apples a-plenty, didn’t feel inclined to make pastry, so decided to fall back on my Mother’s 2-4-6-8 standby cake, and hope for the best. The results were better than I’d expected, so here’s what I do if you’d like to try it.

2 eggs, 4 oz butter, 6 oz sugar, 8 oz self-raising flour.
That’s it, and very useful has this basic mix been to me over the years. You can add some cocoa, vanilla essence, almond essence, etc. to the mixture. This is truly a very basic recipe you can fling together in a hurry, and liven up as you choose.

For this cake, you need apples, obviously, which you either cook yourself or use canned apples.

To prepare the apples:
Core and quarter the apples, peeled or unpeeled as you prefer; I no longer peel mine. – the skins are good for you.
Place in a pot, cover with water and add sugar to taste.
Bring to the boil for a few minutes – you don’t want them too soft.
Drain and spoon into a greased baking dish or pan.
I like to use a square or rectangular one as I find it easier to cut even pieces.
Preheat your oven to 375 degF while you mix the cake.

To prepare the basic 2-4-6-8 cake topping:
Cream 4 oz butter and 6 oz sugar
Beat in 2 eggs and mix well
Gradually beat in the flour
Add a little vanilla essence
Stir in some milk if the mixture seems too stiff

To complete the cake:
Toss some raisins or sultanas over the apples if desired
Sprinkle with cinnamon
Spread the cake mixture evenly over the apples
Sprinkle flaked almonds over the top
Bake at 375 degF until nicely browned (about 30 mins)

This is very tasty served as is, hot or cold.
Ice cream or cream makes it really yummy!

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Quite delicious!

I was once asked what this apple cake is called.
“Oh, it’s really a very slapdash thing,” I replied, and that’s what we call it.

 

MINOR TAKES A MAJOR STEP

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Why are you doing this to me?

Mythos Minor made his first visit to the vet yesterday, so you could say he’s categorically a fully-fledged feline member of the household. He’s well-documented, holding his own pet passport, and has had his first shots. Our wonderful vet, Therese, found him in remarkably good condition considering his travels and travails to reach us.

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What’s his official name going to be?

It was immediately clear that Mythos Minor isn’t the most appropriate name, given that the original Mythos has very similar colouring, and confusion could result at the borders. Confusion does tend to result at the border crossings, but generally has less to do with the pets and more to do with the various customs controls, passport checks, and idiosyncrasies of the officials who man these checkpoints.

I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that I have a guilt complex – probably the result of a convent schooling – and start looking shifty as soon as we begin the approach. Border guards in some of the Balkan countries still wear uniforms reminiscent of the Soviet era; my active imagination conjures up scenarios worthy of any movie set during the Cold War, and I get particularly twitchy in the no-man’s land when exiting one country and entering the next.

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In the pink

The question of Minor’s proper name remains. As several of our beasties are named after alcoholic drinks (we shamelessly copied our friend Neal in this form of pet nomenclature) I’m thinking “Cognac” might suit the little terror, given his deep caramel colouring, though it appears Minor is going to stick.

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A very Friskie lad

My friend sent this delightful ad for “Friskies” which is quite pertinent to Minor’s current situation.

GOLDEN APPLES?

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Apples feature in several of the Greek myths, as they do in the mythologies of many cultures.

Hera was given a wedding gift of apple trees from the Earth Mother, Gaia, when she married Zeus. Theirs was what you might call a tricky courtship for Zeus deceived her into marrying him.

The wedding planner did them proud and although the occasion was a most splendid affair, quite over the top, with gods and goddesses in attendance, lavish gifts, out-of-this-world food, including streams of ambrosia bubbling about, the relationship went rapidly downhill from there. Truly the stuff of tabloids and trashy TV.

Hera, who had a pretty good background of her own and was quite the career woman, became the goddess of marriage once their unhappy union was sealed. The Greek myths tell of Hera’s jealous rages, for Zeus was not the poster boy for fidelity, and their thundering rows on Mt Olympus struck fear into many a trembling mortal, so one wonders if brides of the time were all that eager to have her blessing?

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Sweet, juicy, organically grown

Hera’s golden apples grew in a garden guarded by a dragon, together with nymphs who flitted about day and night on patrol, for the fruits were much prized. Hercules was charged with obtaining these apples as one of his twelve labours; much mayhem ensued as a result of his efforts.

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An apple a day? Not me!

Frankly, I am in awe of the ancient storytellers whose wondrous imaginations gave us these tales. How on earth did they remember all the minute details of each myth?

I’m hard pressed to recall who are the Twelve Gods, never mind all the demi-gods and various other hangers on, whose exploits are so varied and enthralling. Got to hand it to those who first dreamed up the gods and made them mortal in their foibles.

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Oranges, or golden apples?

The Greek myths have held people spellbound for centuries. They’ve been told and retold in countless versions, discussed, debated and dissected in every conceivable forum, with even the apples coming under scholarly scrutiny. Were these apples, described as golden, in fact oranges?

Were they not apples at all, as believed today by some classicists? Others disagree, arguing that oranges came from the East and were not known in Ancient Greece. The dispute continues enthusiastically among those for whom the fascination of these fables never fades.

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Do I want an orange? No thanks!

Jason steadfastly refuses to comment.

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MYTHOS MAJOR AND MINOR

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How do I open this?

This is Mythos, who was named after the award winning Greek beer, Mythos. A very popular brew, Mythos has a good head of foam topping its rich golden colour, so it’s easy to see how Mythos cat got his name, but feline Mythos also has a good head on his shoulders for he was sharp-witted enough to make his home here.

Mythos has a long sad story of his own, which I will tell you in some future post, but today I’ll introduce what is likely to become the latest addition to the furry and hairy household.

For want of a better name at present, I give you Mythos Minor.

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I don’t care that it’s the dog food – there’s so much! And I’m SO hungry

This feisty little chap showed up here just over a week ago, in the rain, out of the forest. Skin and bone, skin and bone but with the typical hugely swollen bellyfull of worms.

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Are you my mom?

When Costa saw him a couple of days later he assured me that the intrepid infant had made his way to us from the furthest end of the village, a distance of at least a mile, across rocky headlands and through dense undergrowth. If Costa says so, then it is so.

Costa is familiar with all that happens here, and it would seem that Mythos Minor was one of several cats and kittens that scrounged around at a particular taverna, now closed since September. This is an annual saga.

Well-meaning holiday makers feed many of these feral cats, but when they leave the cats (and dogs) have to fend for themselves. Anyway, Costa is quite convinced of Minor’s origins. How on earth did this spunky soul make it to us, and how long did it take him? Fortunately, unlike Raki, he’s fully weaned.

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All these big cats frighten me.

What to do? Like all kittens, he’s very cute and curious.

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Smells good! This is catnip?

We’d love to keep him, even though he’s already caused much upset among the other cats, all of whom are rescues. We’ve brought him to the attention of Sharon at PAWS  and our fingers are tightly crossed that he might be adopted, but…..

That’s Raki? He doesn’t like me!

Right now Junior has a warm bed in the shed with a heat lamp and all comforts.

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Please take care of me.

He’s taken out several times a day to play about, climb trees and be socialised. He’s very friendly and affectionate and absolutely hates being put back into the shed after we’ve tired him out.

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Stepping boldly forth

He’s a spunky soul, and does his best to stand his ground, but two of our big toms are determined to hurt him. Funny how they’ve forgotten the dreadful circumstances each was in when they were rescued!

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So much to explore!

He deems everything worthy of his attention, and zooms about as long as I am there to protect him.

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Raki is NOT happy

Mythos Major was advancing on Minor earlier this morning.

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Why should I be nice to the little brat?

Anxious to avoid an upset, I tried to distract him with a cat treat which he is very partial to. Minor had no intention of being left out though, figuring that anything Major got he should get too.

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Bribery – it worked!

Minor’s more than just courageous though; he’s one smart kitty and pretty soon decided not to push his luck,

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Deferring to the big boy

… contenting himself with the leftovers.

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Is that another little bit?

Mt Pelion, home to many of the Greek myths, stares down upon me as I write as though it knows that Mythos Minor is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon.

AMPHIPOLIS

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Jason

The Greek Ministry of Culture has recently made known details of the current excavations at Amphipolis, in northern Greece. News outlets worldwide are featuring the amazing discoveries at the tomb site, which have archaeologists in a flurry of scholarly speculation, and interested laymen eagerly anticipating each new revelation. The tomb appears to date back to the time of Alexander the Great, and although some have debated whether it was built for him, it’s highly unlikely that his remains were ever brought back to Greece. Could the tomb be that of his mother, or is someone of great importance to the royal family buried here? Debate rages among academics and amateurs alike.

What is not in dispute, however, is the stunning quality of the marble sculptures and the mosaic floor which have been uncovered so far. The public is understandably barred from the dig, but the Ministry of Culture has released some pictures and a short video.

The mosaic floor is quite spectacular! Composed entirely of pebbles and bits of stone in natural colours of white, black, gray, blue, yellow and red, the mosaic is large and includes the abduction of Persephone, one of the fascinating Greek myths. The scene has a border of spirals and squares in the typical Greek meander style. Sometimes called the Greek key, the meander is named for the river Meander, which twisted and wound its way to the Aegean Sea.

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Part of the Mosaic

I am fascinated by this mosaic, and particularly by the border, and have attempted to echo an aspect of it in two-colour stranded knitting. “Hats off to knitting!” I say, for knitting a small item such as a hat allows me to play a bit with colour and pattern. The hat is knit in the round, in three colours, using no more than two colours per row, with the background colour predominant. I used charcoal, grey and oatmeal tweed yarns, for the flecks of colour in each yarn are reminiscent of the flecks of colour in the stones of the mosaic. The meanders of the mosaic are too long for me to reproduce in knitting, for this would involve carrying the yarn not in use across the back of too many stitches, so I’ve copied the squares for this first sample. I think I might be playing with this for a while.

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Can’t resist the cyclamen!

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Natural Colours

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Jason Loves Flowers

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Jason Meets a New Friend

This praying mantis is nearing the end of his/her life, for it will not survive the winter but if it’s female, its eggs will have been laid, and we’ll have lots of these curious predators about the garden.

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Contemplating the Mountain, Shrouded in Mist

Mt Pelion and its environs, home of the centaurs, is the birthplace of many of the Greek myths. Here were first told wonderful stories of the gods, their attributes and achievements, their moods and misdeeds. Through how many centuries did these tales form part of the oral tradition? How far were these fables carried by wanderers and nomads to people and communities before ever being written down? Who was the original spinner of these enthralling yarns, and how much were the exploits of the gods embellished in the telling and re-telling of them?

We will never know.