Monday, May 27, 2013

Holiday thoughts & garden journal

Thank you veterans!
I hope all our veterans receive our nation's sincere gratitude for their service to our country. All servicemen & women give up their lives to enlist, some never return. On this Memorial Day remember the fallen and be thankful, their ultimate sacrifice has promoted freedom and thwarted oppression around the world.

Lone honeybee on scabiosa
Today there are more thunderstorms, after several hot days. The garden is really starting to bloom. I find myself continually drawn to the yard for a few minutes of weeding or a stroll and hours later I return to the house! I'm just puttering, pruning or camped on the porch with a cuppa tea. Irises are done, the roses are starting to peak, the viburnum is in full bloom and the gladiolas will soon be budding.

A hummingbird has been frequenting the feeders, others probably won't arrive until June. One baby cottontail rabbit has taken up residence in the stump garden and as yet, there isn't much damaging nibbling occurring (only a few stalks of parsley). With all the rain, peeper frogs can be heard in the evenings now, a sound we haven't enjoyed for several years. Our lack of honeybees is worrisome, my garden plant choices are meant to favor bees and butterflies but neither seems prevalent.

The box gardens are doing well. The tomatoes are eight inches tall, some with flowers. The beans sprouted although something nipped a few leaves off a couple of the plants; I am thinking caterpillar, not bunny. I added two pepper plants to the raised garden where beans are missing. All the strawberry plants have berries and I have even harvested enough for one cereal bowl from the backyard containers! There is something almost magical in the newly picked beauty of a strawberry & the sweet, tart, juiciness is nectar on the tongue. No store bought strawberry can compare to those homegrown.

The dogs have gotten flea sprayed and a bath with Dawn (blue original) dishwashing detergent. Dawn kills fleas on contact... I didn't believe it until I tried it, but yahoo it's true. Add an all over vinegar spritz and the pets are set. Wendy, the cocker spaniel, also got an haircut with the clippers and is now sporting her summer shear. The cuteness never ends with those two beasties. Can you tell they love their dog cookies?!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Maker's movement

I was listening to NPR this past weekend and heard a program documenting the rise of crafting as a response to our increasingly electronic world. Glenn Adamson described the advent of craft post industrial revolution, as before that everything was handmade. A fascinating interview Sunday on the program, To the Best of our Knowledge, listen here . This got me thinking about the rise of crafting in my world, in a home without TV, I turn to knitting and gardening as a relaxing yet productive means to wind down or entertain myself. I think creativity is very stimulating for the brain and offers opportunities for challenges, problem solving and decision making in a non-stress, yet productive manner.

My daughter, Val has apprenticed with a master paper marbler, John C. Bielik, of Shelbyville, MO and sole proprietor of Period Papers and Design. John demonstrated his beautiful craft this weekend at Lewis & Clark Heritage Days in St. Charles with the assistance of Val. Paper marbling or using the proper Turkish word, Ebru, is the ancient art of applying swirled paint patterns onto paper. The paint is suspended on a water/starch solution and by floating the paper on that solution, absorption of  the created paint pattern occurs. Very old books often have such swirled paint papers inside the cover and on the end pages. Each marbled paint pattern is specific and created by whisking droplets of paint on the water surface then moving the colors around with a rake. See some of John's outstanding work here, .

I am of the opinion that craft is important to preserve. Given our economy and the poor job situation perhaps this is an opportune time to hone some skills in this area. Sell your jelly, or hat... Everyone has a talent, perhaps the maker's movement will fuel the next generation of careers.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hardcore Gardening

Got in the yard yesterday to plant 60 gladiola bulbs, 5 tomatoes, basil, parsley as well as seeds for bush beans, swiss chard, and two varieties of radish. While planting, my daughter and I got soaked to the skin in a sudden downpour, at least the rain made the digging easier and now our hair is soft and curly...

We've had a week of temps in the 80-90 (26-32C) range, up from last week's temps of 50-60degrees (10-15C), so suddenly it is summer! My strawberry plants got fried, even with lots of extra water and  mulching them heavily with straw. My son and I finally had to make a shade screen from some weed paper, clothes pins and a bit of fencing. I think they will survive but I probably won't get any strawberries this season. I have as backup a couple of containers of strawberries on the back patio; these escaped the extreme heat damage, so there will be some fruit for the cereal bowl. Apparently Missouri got it's couple weeks of Spring, so now we're onto our hot & humid summer conditions.

The irises, roses, peony and rhododendron have burst into bloom. I got one application of Neem Oil on the roses before the buds opened to curb the aphid appetites. The Queen Elizabeth (pink) and Goldglow (yellow) climbers on the house are outstanding this year, attributable to several applications of fish emulsion last year. My poor wilty transplanted rose has two green un-shriveled leaves so I am more hopeful for its survival during this heat wave.

So while we are sweltering in 91 degree heat with 67% humidity most of the garden plants are thriving with an extra drink of water in the evening. The two 6 inch goldfish I winter over in an inside aquarium are now swimming in their outdoor pond, noshing on mosquito larvae and algae. The backyard raised beds are delayed due to the deleterious effects of heat on the human builders. The weather is supposed to be cooler by the end of the week so we can complete the project. Amazing how quickly we get behind in the garden...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sock knitting complete!

Emma & I/Regia sock yarn
My socks are finally done! Val finished hers a while ago, as well as two hats, two cowls and a beer cozy. I am garden distracted and if it is any excuse, my socks were knit on size 2 double points. Anyhow here's to bragging rights that our annual pair of foot coverings are finis!

Val & Wendy/Paton sock yarn
As you can see the dogs had to be in the photos too, sporting their custom fur leggings with the skin tight fit. Looking sharp girls!

We are now planning our next knitting projects. I am thinking a small forward looking project like mittens. Val is ogling pillows or a cropped lace cardigan. I know who will be a master knitter some day...

Repurposing & gardening

Happy belated Mother's Day to all! Missouri had a cool but sunny and glorious weekend. I spent most of Saturday in downtown St. Louis at my son's graduation ceremony. He is now a is a precision machinist with a degree and a job as well, so big huzzahs for him! We did serious Thai food eating and celebratory ice cream cake was had by all. The rest of the weekend was spent puttering around the yard.

I'm a bit late getting milk weed seeds (for the Monarch butterflies) started but I did spend a good part of the winter saving toilet paper rolls for transplant pots. Once sans paper those little rolls are pretty useful and don't all belong in a landfill. I can get two seed starter pots from one roll by cutting it in half. Then make four half inch cuts on one end, fold them up so they overlap and you've got a nifty starter pot to fill with potting soil and a seed. I usually set them on a tray so watering isn't a mess and then they are easy to carry outside to plant in total.

Another use for an empty roll  is as an electric cord organizer, just wind up the cord and slip it inside the roll. As a handy bonus you can write the cord length or specific cord use on the cardboard roll before storing. I'm sure there are many other terrific uses for this "free" resource, so let me know...

I have been transplanting & dividing perennials around my yard to extend the mailbox garden. Things still have a bit of wilt and I am concerned about the rose, but overall I think everything will survive. I have even sneakily planted a mini yellow pear tomato plant and some green onions into the flower mix. I am a dedicated lasagna gardener, meaning basically I don't disturb the resident topsoil just pour mulch and dirt on top of the grass. A terrific book, Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza, gives excellent instructions. Read many book reviews here You can certainly buy the book on Amazon, or ideally preview it at your local library but for my fellow, book addicted penny-pinchers this website is my go to favorite for reasonably priced used books, see

While finishing up with gardening yesterday evening, I spotted my first hummingbird of the season, a female looking for a feeder where I had one last year. I got busy making some homemade nectar: Boil 1/4c. white sugar in 1c. purified water for 5 min. Cool completely. Fill feeder and hang in a shady spot. All four of my feeders are out today, but only half full because it's early yet. I'm hoping for another hummingbird visit soon.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shucking fear & taking my own leap of faith

Well, I've finally decided... I am going to get my Bachelor degree in English at University of Missouri. I've gotten brave enough to take my own excellent advice. I've had tons of "valid" reasons for putting off this personal commitment, the first four pop right to mind; too expensive, you have kids in college, the job market sucks, working nights and going to school is exhausting. I could certainly continue to pretend an associates arts degree earned in 2012 along with my ancient nursing degree are enough but no, not any more! I have felt opportunities lacking, given my talents and subscribing to victim of circumstances is not a good a good mental health place. This is my one and only life, so I had better accomplish this lifelong dream!

I spent years homeschooling my youngest after her day at public school. She had a medical condition and learning disabilities, so teaching her with a different perspective truly helped her academics. After spending years thinking outside of the public school education box, I got good at reaching her mindset in creative approaches. Last year, when I volunteered teaching English as a second language (ESL), I found a niche I loved. It is fascinating to work with a classroom of folks from all walks of life and language bases while creatively helping them to achieve mastery with the English language. So my ultimate goal is to actually get paid to do this rewarding work, here or abroad.

This summer I will be taking a fast track American Lit course before I start at UMSL in the fall. Got my fingers crossed this will all work out financially, and that my body will hold up at UPS long enough to get though this final school hurdle. Look at me living the dream... Good thing my kids know how to cook!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Welcome May

Lilac in front, Kerria with yellow cheeseball flowers in background
Wow! Sunny and in the 80's for three straight days. There was much accomplished yard-wise and in the gardens, as well as several loads of laundry were hung out on the clothesline to dry. Unfortunately, my knit socks were not finished since I spent most of my time outside. Yesterday, the rain started again and temps plunged down to 50, so I'll probably get those socks finished soon.

During our weather reprieve the lawns all were mowed, a new raised bed constructed, an existing garden was enlarged with a truckload of compost and my spring pruning commenced. The lilacs burst into bloom with the heat. I have a hedgerow of five huge bushes, of which I severely pruned three last fall, but all have flowered including my new one in the front yard. I have two Japanese double Kerria bushes and the small one in the front yard is doing a very nice bloom; the backyard one is 6x6 feet and looks like a giant mound of cheese balls. Both plants give very satisfying spring blooms after the bulbs have passed.

We are back to wearing cardigans and cowls, as well as enjoying a hearty bowl of soup. Here is one of my favorite large quantity soups:  Italian Garden Soup

Saute in olive oil 2-3 onions, chopped with 3 stalks of celery, diced
Add 48oz. of low sodium chicken broth
Add 2-14.5oz. cans of diced tomatoes with juice
1 block of frozen spinach
6 fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 small zucchini, diced into bite-size chunks
Season to taste with basil, oregano and 1 bay leaf
Partially defrost in microwave for 2 minutes a 14oz. bag of Fit 'N' Active Turkey meatballs on a plate & add to soup (Aldi's brand)
Pour in 1-16oz. bag of frozen cheese tortellini

Simmer to boiling then return to simmer in covered large soup pot for a half an hour. Serves 6 generously. Excellent leftover and reheated.