Tip of the iceberg

Winter is already jumping up and down on our friends to the east, but in the Pacific Northwest it has just been peeking at us. It’s one degree above freezing this morning, and the autumn sun is raising steam off the ground where the wet leaves lie. The steam kind of matches the fog on the hills.

geeseThe Canada geese have returned, to bask in our moderate winter. They fly over once or twice a day, in great rippling ribbons, and Max barks and believes that he chases them out of our sky. They are beautiful, and they sing.

There is a fire started in the kitchen woodstove. Upstairs, in the unheated bedrooms, there are crescents of moisture on the old window panes. It isn’t ice yet.


Yesterday I had some shopping time. It was forced upon me. I went to the city to deliver my elderly step-father to the dentist.

He is 92 and has outlived three wives. He was stationed in England during World War II, and he was in Paris for Victory in Europe Day. He beat alcoholism. He used to grow roses. Now he lives in a group care home, travels to bingo twice a week, walks to restaurants, and loves chocolate. His mind is fine except he’s stuck in about 1960 about many things. He believes what he sees on television, and he goes to a scary time-warp dentist.

The dentist’s office is a poorly-built structure set between a tattoo parlor and an all-night grocery, on one of the creepiest streets in town. This office, with its dingy carpet and drawn blinds, is technologically frozen. There is no computer, just paper files.  The dental equipment is ancient, the x-rays are still developed into films, and the dentist himself is 85.

But my step-father’s mind is clear and he is extremely independent. He won’t abandon this dentist. He loves going there and chatting old-man chats and feeling at home. I wait in the car so no one will steal it, and I say nothing and hope they don’t ruin what is left of his teeth.

Yesterday though, while the step-father was at his Terrible Dentist, I went shopping.

tangerine tree

You may recall that in the summer I impetuously planted the tangerine tree outside, in the ground. “No more cozy greenhouse mister, you are out in the world. Get a job, find an apartment, make your way!” If only.

I fed it iron, and kept it watered, and it grew new leaves and fruit and looks terrific. But now it’s like a lovely child playing on the railroad tracks when you know a winter train is coming.

bubblewrap rollSo I went shopping at a dreadful huge office supply store, because it was right next to the Terrible Dentist and also because the little stores didn’t have a large roll of bubble wrap. I had to actually do math, to estimate tree diameter and multiply by 3 (okay I rounded pi down) and determine how many feet I needed.

After I drove the step-father back home,  Mr O located a large circle of tall fence material.

The idea was to protect the tree from winter with a nice bubblewrap pajama. The challenges are remembering to uncover the top so it doesn’t cook on sunny days, and also accessing the fruit, which is utterly undisciplined and matures with wild abandon whenever the hell it feels like it.

But the top of the ensemble is easily untied so there is hope.

It took a lot of packing tape to get it all into shape.

tree coatOkay so here is the construction. I feel it looks like a stout jam jar, the sort with a cap decorated with a cover of something like gingham fabric, very Martha, and the gingham (in red checks?) held on with a ribbon…

What happened next is that I draped a string of tiny holiday lights on the tree, then Mr O and I picked up the jam jar construction and set it down over the tree.

Then, when the Cold Clear Night arrived and the temperature went near freezing, the little thermostat thing that Mr O had produced from out of somewhere turned on the lights.

lights under the coverFor those of you who did even worse in science classes than I did:  the lights produce heat, and this will save the tree from frosts.  And this is remarkable, because in this instance, and simultaneously, the lights are festive. Gleaming inside the jam jar. And mysterious, like if we accidentally captured something else in there, along with the tree.

But to be perfectly honest, as you know I am, I must admit it appears a little peculiar and ungardenlike.


But I refuse to worry about it.

In other news, with cream, eggs and sugar, and cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, the Halloween French pumpkin became a pumpkin pie.

I bet turnips can’t be pie.

pumpkin pie


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in stuff for your garden that isn't plants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Tip of the iceberg

  1. Roberta says:

    Holy cow, I would NEVER go to an 85 yr old dentist. My last experience was bad enough and he was only in his 60s say but very clumsy and forgetful. He forgot to order a gold crown and actually dropped my undesirable porcelain crown on the floor where he grunted around until he found it, re-surfaced and then proceeded to blow the dust off, “Good as new!” and put it in my mouth. I can’t believe I didn’t contract mrsa or some other hideous infection.

    The tangerine tree is beautiful with or without pajamas. I yearn for a citrus tree but can do without anything extra to fuss with for the time being, even if it is only once or twice a year.

    Wish we could have coffee and pie together! Would it be unseemly to ask for seconds?

    • linniew says:

      Good grief Roberta– I am so glad you survived the crown incident. (I hope you have a different dentist now. But it’s a terrific story!) I hate dental work. It is only my greater fear of dentures that drives me to dentists at all. When I’m there I have to practice mind control, and be cheerful and when there are fillings I have to lie (no it doesn’t hurt when it does but I don’t want another shot) and not faint when they give me the bill at the end.

      I wish we had the transporter machines installed (they were back-ordered until never) and then we could meet in San Francisco or some fun place and I could bring the pie and we could EAT IT ALL with some great local coffee. Someday.

  2. Ginny says:

    What a delightful post – I loved reading about the dentist and your stepfather and the little tree all wrapped and lit from within. It sounds cozy and wonderful at your house with the woodstove and the pumpkin pie.

    • linniew says:

      Thanks Ginny!
      I truly appreciate that you can see the happy wholesome side of all the details of my post. Of course I left out a few things, here and there, just a few things, only because of space restrictions, but in general everything is pleasant and healthy and balanced and etc. here. You can trust me on this.

  3. kininvie says:

    I honestly thought the daytime picture of the bubble wrap was a refugee from your Halloween post. And it’s maybe even spookier in the dark…Looks like a Thing with a Nose. Still, I’m sure the tangerines will benefit. Loved the geese – we have them too, though they are probably not all Canadian (though some are).

    • linniew says:

      “A Thing with a Nose” is very Edward Gorey– so I am honored! And I do consider “spooky” to be in the category with “lovely” and “captivating” and “great.” Unfortunately I am not at all convinced that the tangerines are worth the effort–but the bizarre lighted bubble I love.

      We are happy to share some geese with you. (FYI if you yell at them take me with you they just ignore it.)

  4. Grace says:

    Those geese! A murder of them [okay I know that’s for crows but it sounds cool] flew over while I was driving yesterday and they rained POOP down on my car’s windshield. Right place-right time! And I can see that the geese are not the only migration taking place. Your prose was top-notch–engaging and entertaining. I could actually see Dr. Ancient’s surroundings in my mind! A woodstove in your kitchen? Jealousy, jealousy!! Fingers crossed that the Jam Jar does the trick.

    • linniew says:

      A murder of geese! Oh Grace, this is so coincident. I was just thinking of murder. Fictional of course. And then the terrible windshield detail, which so enriched the scene. This has potential.

      About the wood stove. It is actually in a room which, 150 years ago, was the kitchen. Or as we say the “historic kitchen.” There’s a fireplace in there and the wood stove uses the chimney. Mr O thinks we should move the current kitchen from it’s place in the “historic dining room” — a lovely big room with space for a table and chairs and an island work table, that we should move from there back to the tiny “historic kitchen” where there is no room for anything much, hardly even a sink. So this is a conflict that has raged for more years than I want to think about. Thank heaven I have inertia in my favor. And the two rooms are adjacent so the wood stove heats both.

  5. Lovely interesting & entertaining post. It’s nice to hear of an old person having their own mind still and making their own decisions. So many are shoved away in “homes”. Love your Tangerine dream tree cover, so seasonal, cheery and useful too.

  6. b-a-g says:

    Linnie – this post started off like a piece of poetry, reminded us of our moral duty in the middle and finished off with a bit of science & dessert. What more could one of your readers wish for ? … except for a photo of Max.

    • linniew says:

      Your summary made me laugh b-a-g. I guess the post did finish up with dessert. Sorry about the moral duty part, that was unintentional. I do try to keep Max out of it sometimes, just for a change of pace. He’s such an easy photo op— I get lazy.

  7. I have to be given “gas” to have my teeth cleaned because they got tired of pulling me down off the ceiling. Your stepfather’s dentist sounds truly frightening. The tree cover looks like one of those blow up holiday lawn creatures cum mason jar by day, but I have to agree that it’s glorious at night. I love reading the comments on your blog. The dropped crown story was particularly horrifying.

    • linniew says:

      Yes there is something about experiencing those spikey sharp tools and then, if you’re unlucky, those whirring little drill torture devices…I had a dentist convince me once that my wisdom teeth absolutely needed to come out. They had been fine for years, and gave me no trouble, but I listened. He spent three hours trying to extract one tooth. (His outside office filled up wall to wall with patients waiting.) Then my mouth ached like crazy for two weeks. He never ever again mentioned taking out the other 3 teeth, which is just as well because I would have told him to go to hell. (He probably knew.) I go to someone else now. But Roberta’s story of the crown on the floor is worse.

  8. Ruth says:

    Oh wow, I love the jam jar with christmas lights inside! That’s so wonderfully avant garde, it even made me forget about the Terrible Dentist. (Phew!) I have a potted mandarin that I’ve been babying by shifting in and out of the glasshouse. Now that it’s spring I can move it out permanently for the next few months, but I bet it would love a little bubble wrap house of its own. Especially with fairy lights.

    • linniew says:

      Ruth, you are right, avant garde is so me! Thank you. (Are all you skeptics listening?) I think the jam jar configuration is good because it reminds the little tree that it is expected to produce food.

  9. Holleygarden says:

    What a creative way to protect your sweet ‘child’! Love the lights inside! How festive! I would think you could pull this off as a planned Christmas decoration!

  10. Linnie, you should write a book, I’ll be the first to buy it. You hook me every time in the very first sentence – your writing is hilarious but deep and real!!

    PS: 85 year old dentist? Crikey, I’m terrified of my 40 year old one.

    • linniew says:

      Wow thanks Christine! As a matter of fact I did write a book… I’ll let you know as soon as I hook an agent. You give me hope. And needless to say I’m totally with you regarding dentists.

  11. I think I’m going to rush out (in the dark) and put Christmas lights on the tree ferns we’ve just wrapped up today. I knew there was something missing….
    And that last remark that turnips (neeps over here) can’t be made into pie like pumpkin I’ll bet they can. They used the strangest things in cakes during the second World war. For example parsnips (with a bit of essence) became bananas. They must have had good imaginationsI
    Myself I think they best use for yellow turnip is to feed them to sheep! Don’t tell Mr K I said that!

    • linniew says:

      Oh Janet, a secret to keep from Kininvie?– You can count on me! And as for making pie from neeps, around here the saying is ‘good luck with that,’ which suggests a certain lack of confidence in the outcome. But never let it be said I am not open to the new and interesting, so please do report back on the turnip pie experiment. Soon. And don’t forget the fern lights.

  12. Alberto says:

    Oh my… please don’t talk about dentists anymore… This post was due for halloween, with scary stories in it!

    So your tangerine left the pole dancers in the greenhouse to join a brand new club ‘Colour bubbles in a jar’… I hope your tangerine will stay in the right way…

  13. cynthia says:

    Very enjoyable post. Sounds like you enjoy shopping as much as I do! And you left us with holiday cheer – lights and pumpkin pie!

  14. Fay says:

    Janet, you and linnew have been to the same garden wrapping up class. Linne the lights are genius, but dear friend, tell me max is not bubble wrapped and adorned with lights too?

    Your stepfather sounds wonderful. I’m glad your car wasn’t stolen, much better to go shopping instead.

    I’m currently working in my good life lab (kitchen) inventing a neep cake, I mean they make brownies from beets, so why not a neep cake or neep sorbet……it’s a beautiful colour.

    Peedie sends his regards to max, he passed me a note, he’s silently sulking, I went looking for trees and had adventures without him. I may send him to your dentist if he doesn’t snap out of it.

    Thank you for the goose, it arrived with some friends yesterday.

    • linniew says:

      Dear Mad Scientist Fay,
      A neep cake. OMG. This is some kind of breakthrough in neep-ness, and perhaps the beginning of a neep cookbook… Maybe we could even name the color: Baked Neep. It could appear on those paint shop sample cards, the ones with color names like French Nightgown and Stormy Sea. Let me know right away how the cake turns out! (And don’t tell me you are just teasing because I want to see the cake.)

      You are welcome for the goose(s), we seem to have lots. And please tell Peedie to act happy for his own protection.

      • Fay says:

        Removes science goggles and White coat. Deed is done, neep cakes/muffins in the kitchen (I have photographed the crime scene). Verdict, Undecided. Whilst hot they taste fine, but smell distinctly of mashed neep and no haggis in sight, which is quite a disappointment. Warm, they are not good. Much better cold, akin to carrot cake with no minging neep smell.

        I will leave them in the kitchen, hide the neeps and tell the family (sorry i mean victims) nothing, see the verdict.

        • linniew says:

          Really we should have a ‘reality television’ camera going in your kitchen. And I feel such a co-conspirator! Good thing Kininvie is out of town or he might be calling the police. I don’t know much about haggis but instinct tells me it’s well you left them out of the recipe… If the flavor of the cakes suggest carrot cake maybe you should add a little icing. Something with flavor like maybe lemon or cream cheese? To hide the evidence of neep, sort of? Boy and I was just getting to like your kids… Hey you want to go into a life of crime together? This is quite fun and I expect we could both use the money…

          • Fay says:

            The money would be great – if we do the whole TV thing, I’ll need a cleaner, a body double and new kids. I’m not sure these do are affordable, at least history dictates they are very expensive.

            The kids ate the cakes, unknown of the contents – banana was the common choice – choking occurred when the word neep was mentioned – I held my corner – what is a neep but a damn healthy looking, pale, bulging carrot, and they like carrot cake. The day was saved – icing might just be the clincher, thank you.

            Haggis is yummy – but not as a cake.

            I’m glad you’re embracing the word tattie – a real proper word.

            • linniew says:

              Thanks for the laugh Fay– My life isn’t ready to go on tv either I’m afraid!
              Excellent work with the children– they are lucky to have such a creative and strange mother. It keeps them alert and aware and…anxious. AND they learn about new foods.

              Yesterday I went for some neep entertainment in grocery stores, querying innocent people. Mr O almost left me there as I initiated my survey among the employees. And I didn’t even SAY ‘neep’ once, I said ‘turnip.’ But now I am working on a special neep blog post, not that I want to, but really it’s time. I’ll be counting on your commentary!

  15. Alistair says:

    Linnie, what a treat to see such sense of humour from a garden blogger, I definitely rate this as the funniest post of the year. The father in law and his 85 year old dentist had me doubled up, then you show us protection of a tree that looks like maws home made jam. Hey, I had a neep pie of sorts last night, consists of tatties and neeps mashed with bits of boiled brisket mixed through it topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven. alistair
    oh if you have a picture of your garden you could email it to me and I will add to my (Your Gardens) page along with a link to your blog. If I end up asking you this again just remember I am getting old, not 92 or even 85 but my wife tells me I live in the 60s.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Alistair- Your neep pie seems like it could be fine. But what do I know? I just hope Fay doesn’t get arrested for the cake. (See her comments here to hear that story.) I have decided that tatties is a cute word for potatoes. (See how my ‘words from context’ skills are progressing?) It may be time for me to go to a store and buy a neep so I can understand the neep flavor element here. (My virgin-neep-experience!) It would surely make content for a blog post. Who knew neeps could engulf us like this? Like tribbles. (Yes I’m a Trekkie.)

  16. Sheila says:

    I have missed your posts! That’s a lot of trouble to go to for a tree. I hope it appreciates its good fortune. I wonder if it had words what it would say?

    I like the top two photos especially. Geese are so evocative … of what I can’t quite say.

    • linniew says:

      It’s kind of frightening to consider what the tree might say. I expect it’s a little embarrassed and would run away to warm San Diego if it could.

      I love the geese, but this is the first time I’ve photographed them. (You can’t quite see in the image but they were all smiling.)

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