Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cyber Monday hint--the Polaroid i1035...

Oh, tomorrow is the annual non-event of Cyber Monday, the online holiday bargain chase. It's a non-event to me, because you can get great bargains online any time of year, probably better ones.

Case in point is the good, cheap (but no longer uber-cheap) Polaroid i1035 camera. I found out the hard way that it's best to search online for inexpensive digital cameras, because retailers love to pull the old bait and switch. (A Target employee actually admitted that they only had five bargain cameras in store, the day after they went on sale, which was the last straw for me.) I searched for a bargain camera because, being a photography newbie, didn't want to purchase too much camera for my abilities. I also didn't want to spend much because there are other useful camera-related items to get, such as rechargeable batteries and charger, SD card, and case (which I regret not purchasing earlier. But I digress).

So, earlier this year, I bought the i1035 at for $70, including shipping. (Unfortunately, not buying a camera case soon after meant that the camera got fried in the car a few months later, meaning that I ended up buying another i1035 for a total of $91 at Amazon, after putting up with a different, less cheap camera from another manufacturer.) Also unfortunate is that no longer sells this camera, although other sites do, such as Amazon. (Via Amazon, if you get the camera through Zeeland, you'll snag a great bargain, as it's the retailer that offered it at a great price earlier at

This Polaroid is lightweight, compact, yet has many features, at least ones that interest me, such as digital image stabilization (anti-shaking), and a nice large, 3 inch LCD screen:

rear of the Polaroid i1035 compact digital cameraIn practical terms, the generous screen means that a viewfinder is not necessary (and not even particularly desirable). The camera is easy to open (this was an issue for me with a Canon Powershoot A series camera, which took a long time to open to insert the batteries), and the features are easonably easy to use.

If you're a long-suffering Vista user, you don't even have to download software to transfer the photos to your PC--just hook up the camera to the computer via the USB cable, and click on the appropriate folders.

The default resolution is quite high, so the camera eats batteries (but then, don't they all?), so please store batteries in the case when you're not about to use it. (The case I use has room for both camera and loose batteries.) The high resolution means that pictures tend to come out quite clear (at least if you don't bother with the digital zoom, which even the manual warns against).

Since another holiday is coming up, I'm sure I'll get around to using its fancy features, such as:

However, for the immediate future, it's sufficient that I can take nice pictures with the Polaroid i1035, like many of the ones in the slideshow on the right.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oasis in the city...the National Arboretum

Recently needing a long walk to relax and unwind, and panicking that it's November ('cause the fall color will only be around a bit longer), I decided to go to the National Arboretum for the first time in a while, because I knew it would be peaceful as well as beautiful.

plants near entrance of National Arboretum Of course, I had to fortify myself a bit before my trek, so I got a candy bar, a sip of water, etc., soon after arriving there, and was gratified that there is some gesture of eco-responsiblity there, such as the two rainbarrels outside the shop.

However, my elation at that sight was short-lived, and my curiosity piqued, when soon after I spied the following display:

sign for Power Plants exhibitOh the folly! Because the arboretum is maintained by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, this exhibit showcases plants that are considered to have promise for use as biofuels, some to be turned into ethanol, and others into petroleum substitutes. Many of the plants are familiar, such as sunflower and soybean; however, I agree with George Monbiot that these can only be credible sources of fuel if recycled from chip fat (cooking grease).

Other plants might have good additional uses, but many are grown in other (esp. tropical) nations, although they seemed vigorous enough in Washington's mid-Atlantic clime:

castor plant leaf and signThe ugly, hairy, scary castor plant was seen entirely too often at various parts of the Arboretum (showed up in the herb garden, too). Ugh. Glad I'm not of the generation that was forced to drink castor oil as a child, as the plant is as unattractive as its oil is reputed to be nasty.

small poplar grove and sign

sugarcane plant and sign Didn't think sugarcane could even grow in a non-tropical climate. (And this past summer was relatively mild compared to most Washington summers, so I'm shocked that this sugarcane is thriving here in November.) But its use still should be confined to food, regardless of what Brazil is doing.

sorghum plant and sign Similar surprise with sorghum, a Southern sweetening staple of generations past. (Sorghum syrup, which can be found occasionally.) Again, this should remain a food, not be a fuel.

jatropha plant and sign The elusive jatropha, which was supposed to be salvation for farmers in India, and produces a high-quality oil that can be used as jet fuel, among other things. (Again, I'm very surprised to see it doing quite well in this non-tropical spot.) Let's hope its cultivation doesn't crowd out farmers trying to grow food, an unfortunate possibility, probability even.

Goodness, there were quite a few plants listed that the average person hasn't even heard of, such as...

cuphea plant sign Let's not forget the other unknowns: lesquerella, camelina, miscanthus. Time to find another hangout.

* * *

It's bonsai time!

entrance to bonsai collections
Because of renovation, not all of the plants are on public display. But a few of the beauties...

bonsai and silkscreen

holly bonsai

bonsai with crescent wall hanging

traditional bonsai * * *

One of my favorite parts of the arboretum is the herb garden, which is divided into various areas, such as Medicinal, Native American, Colonial, etc.

trellis near entrance to herb garden The view alone, just before entering the herb garden, says "ahhhhh."

One plant I was pleasantly surprised to see repeatedly here (at the entrance, again in the medicinal garden, culinary garden, etc.) is rosemary, which is growing higher than I had ever seen it...

rosemary bushes
Other of the many garden delights include Vietnamese coriander.

vietnamese coriander I rubbed the leaves, and they gave a strong cilantro-like fragrance. (Like the sign says, duh!)

creeping thyme

creeping thyme again Creeping thyme, another plant repeating itself. But I don't mind, in this case.

Last in the herb garden, but certainly not least, were the wide variety of chile peppers. A couple of the colorful denizens below...

jelly beans chile peppers

valentine chile peppersAnd these were only two of the many varieties of chile pepper there that are absolutely thriving. For some odd reason, before last year, I assumed that both sweet and hot peppers only grew during the hot months. Wrong. As you see, they grow during much of the fall, at long as they're in a decently sunny spot.

* * *

Of course, I couldn't leave before going to the magnificent Capitol columns. (Off in the distance a while earlier, a barbarian actually left his motorcycle on the side of the area, in the front of the columns. Yuck, in addition to the noise he and his friends kicked up for a short time. The nerve.)

Capitol columns and tree in distance

Capitol columns near hill in the distance

Capitol columns overlook

back view of the Capitol columnsIt's easy to forget you're tramping around almost 450 acres with all this beauty, that is, until later in the day, when your muscles send you a reminder.


Getting there by public transportation (to the R Street entrance) should be easier once all the blasted construction on Bladensburg Road and H Streets is finally done, when the light rail line is completed. This would also make it easier to do the proper thing after leaving the arboretum, that is, to go get a drink on H Street.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just around the corner...

Clagett Farm pathThanksgiving, that is. This is the last week of the regular harvest season at Clagett; late next week begins gleaning. At this point in the season, there are pumpkins, sweet potatoes, even peppers, aplenty, as well as greens, glorious greens, which do quite well when washed, torn, and frozen--makes them quicker to cook. (Hint for Thanksgiving!)

Of course, I'll miss walking back from various fields and seeing small delights such as:

spicebush maybeSpicebush?


Clagett Farm cows and barn * * *

The brouhaha from Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, includes many people proclaiming that if we'd all just eat grass-raised beef and other animals, all would be well. While I respect that position, the fact is that for most people, eating grass-raised animals is even less practical than going vegan.

Clagett itself demonstrates the impracticality of humanely-raised meat for most people. The simple fact is that raising critters this way requires lots of land, and time--time for little calves to grow up. This inherently limits the amount of such meat that can be produced, keeping the price of such an item a luxury. Add to that increasing demand for same meat, and prices go even higher. Organic meats, dairy, and eggs are MUCH higher in price compared to conventionally raised animal products, a much greater price differential than that between organic produce and grains and conventionally raised grains and produce.

Because the supply of such meat will always be low relative to demand (which is why the list for the meat at Clagett is closed, while there are probably slots available for shares for next year there), even people who have no problem with eating meat will be eating it a lot less frequently, if determined to only eat humanely grass-raised meats. Just sayin.'

(I'll be the one avoiding cooking, as well as eating, turkey carcass this holiday. I'll be fixing a vegetarian roast instead, and fending off the meat-eaters in order to eat some myself, as on holidays past!)

Jennifer McCann of the Vegan Lunchbox blog has a wonderful Magical Loaf Studio, where you can insert your favorite ingredients to come up with your own recipe for a vegetarian roast. Stupendous!