Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Indian Summer

Today may be the last day of Indian Summer and I made good use of it. The compost is on the kitchen garden and then I topped it off with shredded leaves. The compost pile has been turned. I found more things to put away for the winter and I got the snow shovels out preparing for the snow coming our way. Even when I think the garden is ready for winter, it is amazing how many garden chores I can find on a warm day.

Testosterone Tree

I was wrong about the tree. It is not 8' in diameter. It is 12', which means it is impossible to reach the upper limbs even with a 10' ladder because the ladder is 6' away from the trunk of the tree. So the top third of the tree is undecorated. And the bottom third has no ornaments, just lights, because the dog has no control over his tail. I did buy some honking huge red and gold disco balls, which helps fill in the gaps between the limbs and are scaled right for the size of the tree. The menfolk in my house insist it is beautiful, but, heaven help me, it is Charlie Brown's tree on steroids, roped off to the ceiling!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holiday Day

My sister had Thanksgiving for my family today, or the 33 of us that could make it. Lots of good food, good conversation and laughter. As is the tradition, started by my father, we took a long walk after dinner. Niece Jennifer claimed the 7 point antler we found in the woods. My husband noted that the many children living nearby hadn't found it because they weren't out exploring the woods, or even outdoors at all, in the sunny 60 degree weather.

Ron made a trip to our tree farm this morning to cut the Christmas tree and when we got home from the get-together, we put it up. Ladders, ropes and wenches were required. It is the largest Charlie Brown tree you ever saw. And it is beautiful! It looks like a real tree. I'm a little perplexed how I'm going to decorate it as I do not have gigantic scale ornaments. Here are the stats: original tree -13+ feet; ceiling height - 11 feet; breadth of tree - 8 feet. And that's on our enclosed porch. No way will it fit into the bay window, the traditional spot for the tree.

UPDATE: I was the required wench, although we used a winch to hoist the tree. My husband is the source for this correction.
Ron, tree gatherer extraordinaire and Earth Girl herself
wondering if the tree will fit through the door.

It is taking two strong teenage boys with their father on the rope to put the tree upright.

And here is the tree in all its beauty, almost there. Just need to tighten the rope a bit.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Next steps

Next steps-Holiday
How do those people shop the day after Thanksgiving? I'm still pooped from cooking and cleaning and eating. It is our tradition to cut the Christmas tree today from the tree farm at the Highlands. The trees are getting too big and we now have to cut it in half and only use the top part. Last year I tried to make wreaths with the bottom limbs but that does not seem to be my skill set. They served as winter mulch for the heuchera, which always heaves with the constant freezing and thawing in northern Indiana.

Next steps-Unknown
My weariness is not only physical. My dear mother-in-law made a raw announcement (how could it be anything else?) yesterday about her health. Final tests and biopsies will not be done for several months, but it doesn't look good. Her sons were shell-shocked; still are. We are in that dreadful waiting period between knowing something is seriously wrong and knowing what the medical plan will be.

Next steps-Maturation
And I have to run errands with both sons. Ron needs to establish a bank account to deposit his National Guard earnings and Ricky needs to renew his driver's permit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Preparing for Thanksgiving

My in-laws are coming here tomorrow for Thanksgiving and I spent today in the kitchen. There are three pies cooling, two loaves of cranberry nut bread, five loaves of homemade wheat bread plus a gaggle of rolls, a large bowl of apple coleslaw and a large pot of cranberry chutney. The turkey is thawed and ready for the morning.

This year I made an apple-butter pumpkin pie from a recipe that Ricky made in his culinary arts class. It didn't set as solid as a traditional pumpkin but it sounds good. The cranberry nut bread is a recipe from my childhood and a Thanksgiving tradition. For over 30 years, I have used the Tassajara Bread Book as my guide in baking. It contains my favorite recipe line; when describing the sponge method, it says, "Let it rise for an hour or 45 or 70 minutes." I totally did not follow instructions because I let the sponge rise for 75 minutes. The cranberry chutney was a new idea this year, sparked by something I read online somewhere. It turned out pretty good, even though I added a tablespoon of cinnamon instead of half a teaspoon. I thought I could shake out an approximate amount, but it flowed way too freely. There's enough to take to my family's gathering this Saturday, and I think it will be delicious on leftover turkey sandwiches.

The boys were off school and cleaned the house, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, picking up their rooms and doing laundry. Oh, and they ran the dishwasher three times! All that's left is a last clean of the bathrooms. It's a blessing for them to clean without constant supervision. Tomorrow I will put them in charge of setting the tables. Let's see if they remember how the silverware is placed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Minor and Major Day

Most of my day was spent doing little things, such as finally planting those peonies and ferns. Then I picked Ron up from school and turned him over to the Armed Forces. The papers are all signed but he still has to pass his physical next week and there is a minor problem with flat feet. He's been practicing standing with his toes curled under to arch his foot and minimize the problem. If he passes, he will be inducted into the National Guard on December 1, beginning his weekend duties. Between his junior and senior year he will take basic and then his advanced training after he graduates from high school. He's planning to train as an MP, while taking college classes in Criminal Justice.

I just erased a paragraph making an analogy between planting the flowers and releasing my son, but it didn't work. Too weak. This letting go stuff is hard. He is only 17 and still so young.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Late Autumn Activities

My tender bulbs are stored in a cool dark place, even though I have a love/hate relationship with them. They are harsh mistresses, beautiful but demanding. My tender annuals are potted and mostly adjusting to the indoors. I'm ashamed to admit that I still have some peonies and cinnamon ferns waiting to be planted, or at least heeled in for the winter. But I did manage to can the pears given to me by a co-worker. These are winter pears and very tasty. I think this is the second time in my life I canned anything and all six jars "pinged."

I had a little rant going in my head about how I buy "perfect" fruit in the store, but am pleased to receive "real" fruit from local orchardists. As I was leaving my local garden market last summer, they asked me if I wanted a bushel of peaches free. Because of a few blemishes, they were destined for the trash but she knew, and I knew, that they were perfectly fine if you just cut out the bruises. We had peach cobbler that evening and the rest are in my freezer. The pears weren't perfect, but we munched on them for several weeks as they ripened and I have six pints for this winter. What didn't feed my family, fed my compost. The same is true of the free apples I get. I wouldn't buy them in the store, as I search for only the most perfect specimens, but I am pleased to get a bushel from my brother every year. Of course, most of these are varieties that you can't find in the grocery store. Makes me want to go plant a few fruit trees.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nurturing the soul through gardening

I wasn't sure what I would post today, until I read a review of a recommended book. The book is Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul by Dave L. Goetz. A friend at church, the source of many good book recommendations, thought I would like this book about searching for community. It sounds pretty good, but a comment by the first reviewer made me cringe at his cluelessness about gardening:
In the pleasant bedroom communities of America, it can seem as if people are more concerned with tidy flowerbeds than they are the things that nurture the soul.
When I need to nurture my soul, I get down on my knees, hands in the dirt, working with God's creation. I observe the beautiful flowers, the patterns in the leaves, the growth habits, the tiny creatures, how it all works together. I breathe in the fragrant air, whether from newly-turned earth or flowers. I feel privileged to be part of it, to create a thing of beauty. My stresses melt away and I live in the moment.

Then later in his review he uses a garden as an example of ways to move toward more silence! If the garden can nurture the soul of a visitor, how much more does it nurture the soul of the gardener?

Now if he had referenced perfectly manicured, overly chemically-treated lawns as a soul-sucking surburban activity, then I would have nodded my head in agreement!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Four Books

I only have 13 labels under books and that is just not acceptable. If a book is good, I normally finish it before starting another. For some reason, I now have four good books underway: political history, gardening essays, classic novel, and contemporary novel.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin is one that I could not put down until the war started. The Civil War was so horrorific that I have to force myself now to read about the battles, the mistakes, the lost lives.

I'm reading The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell. I'm going a little slower than I normally would on this book because I'm posting thoughts about the essay for the gardening book club.

Since Team of Rivals is such a thick book, I couldn't read it while on the exercise bike, so I grabbed Vanity Fair by Thackeray off the bookshelf. So this is my exercise reading.

Finally, I need to start The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle for December book club. I'm looking forward to this read.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sukiyaki 1950s style

As I labeled old posts, I decided today's post would be in the category with the least entries and recipes won. It is conventional wisdom (which I always question) for blogging that no one cares what you had for dinner, but here is the recipe for what we had for dinner last night. Anyone who enjoys cooking may find this post interesting as it is a delicious and quick meal. Rave reviews even from the teenagers. And mostly healthy except for "lots of soy sauce." Why is it 1950s style? Because my mother made it for her family in the 1950s. I was fortunate to have an adventurous mother. She found this recipe when she gave a missions class to the teenagers at church about Japan.

Brown 1 pound thin-sliced tender steak in oil until medium rare. Add 1 cup sliced celery and 1/2 cup chopped green onion. Saute slightly and add lots of soy sauce. Cover and steam for several minutes. Add 4 oz. sliced mushrooms with juice and 1 package frozen chopped spinach. Steam until warm. Serve over rice.

Earth Girl's Modifications: I rarely measure anything. I used water chestnuts instead of celery last night because that's what I had on hand. I used several cups of sliced fresh mushrooms and fresh chopped spinach. I never use the grocery's "stir fry beef" because it is not tender enough. Partially freeze the steaks to make slicing easier and cut across the grain.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell

Carol at May Dreams Garden had a good idea for us garden bloggers this winter, a book club, and this is our first book. I read this several years ago and look forward to reading it again. This is not a "how to" book, but a series of delightfully honest and well-written essays focusing on the joys and agonies of gardening. I read three essays tonight and here are my thoughts:

On the Defiance of Gardens
"'s about time for another summer storm to smash the garden to pieces, though it may hold off until the phlox, tomatoes, daylilies and zinnias are in full sway." For me, it is always the peonies that take the brunt of storms. I tend to pick a huge bouquet just before they fully open so I can enjoy them.

"Indeed, almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise." This is one reason I enjoy taking photos of my garden. I also think perspective is important in viewing the garden as paradise. Just crop out the ugly parts. This is why I don't let the pictures of perfect gardens in magazines bother me anymore. I've gardened long enough to know that no garden is perfect.

"Whenever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks." Almost a hundred years ago, Gene Stratton-Porter was concerned about the loss of native plants and transplanted over 10,000 wildflowers into her woods. She kept meticulous records and every year she added Hookers Orchid to her orchid bed. Her garden was neglected for about 50 years and Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri) was last seen in Indiana in 1969. That breaks my heart.

And he ends the essay describing how gardeners must be defiant to the "natural way." While I understand the whole concept of a garden is not natural and we are often fighting against nature's way (weather, weeds, design), I disagree that a desert or a swamp cannot be seen as a "garden." Here is my proof.

Earthman vs. the Seasons--Winter
"Resolve not to try delphiniums...again." But I have to! Gene's garden was filled with delphiniums. There are none now. I've tried them several times in my home garden with nice displays the first year and nothing after that. Another winter project-figure out how to grow delphiniums in northern Indiana!

"I must never let anybody know I suffer because..." This hit home. It is so easy to complain about what's not right, what I plan to do, how I meant it to look, rather than simply be grateful for what's right, what worked, and how it looks this moment. At work, Carol and I sometimes forget to enjoy the garden. Visitors' comments help us see the garden with fresh eyes and we've made it a habit to walk through the garden and look at all 35 beds at least once a week, noting what's beautiful as well as what needs to be done.

Earthman vs. the Seasons--Spring
There was a long section on various cultivars of daffodils. I love daffodils but their names have been lost if I ever had them. So many were "pass along" bulbs. The situation is even worse at the site. Next year I may have to try his highly recommended "Passionale." I'm a sucker for fragrant flowers.

Then he turns his attention to perennials, which most nurserymen sell in the spring, although "field-grown clumps, planted in the fall, are best." He's right. And the plants you find in the stores in the spring are forced to bloom before their time. You bring home a spent plant and then have to nurse it back for several years before they "show what they can do." This is because the nursery trade sells more plants if they are in bloom. That's bad enough for annuals, but even worse for perennials. The plants Mitchell mentions in this essay are all rather common, but delightful mainstays in my gardens: phlox, baptisia, hosta, daylilies, peonies, foxgloves, primroses, columbines, coral bells, hollyhocks, and shasta daisies.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm not ready for this!

Ron called me from the bus tonight, "Bad news, Mom, I passed my ASVAB test. Bad news for you, but good news for me."

I'm not ready to write this post. I need more time to think about it. But time has run out and this is not my decision. My son is 17 and initiated his first discussion with a recruiter over a year ago. He learned about a program where he can take basic training between his junior and senior year in high school, with advanced training after he graduates. No papers have been signed, but passing the test was the next step. He wants us to sign this week, so he can take his physical next week.

This is something my son has wanted since sixth grade, the 2001-2002 school year. Just as he was entering adolescence and his ascent into manhood, twelve years old, terrorists attacked his country. He felt so impotent. He was ready to bear arms that day. Ever since, all he has talked about is becoming a soldier. And he has researched it. He read books and watched movies about wars back to ancient times. Even when my friend's son was killed in Iraq, Ron's resolve did not waiver. Part hero. Part servant. That is just how he is made.

Ron knows I'm torn. If this is his heart's desire, I want him to succeed in it. I know the discipline will be good for him. I just don't want him to actually fight. When he first came to live with us, I would check to see if he was breathing at night, this miraculous gift from God to me, this precious boy. I worked hard to keep him safe, secure and free from harm, to erase the horrors of his first few years and fill him with good childhood memories. I don't think they will let Mama come along to watch over him. He would be mortified to know I even wrote that last sentence. And, truth be told, he is fast reaching the age where he watches over me.

So I tell myself, it's the National Guard and not full-time active duty. I can steer him into training in a non-combat field. They will pay for his education.

Still I'm scared.

I wonder if they really need my signature.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Blog Changes

The reason for the new look is that I upgraded to the new version of Blogger. It's OK, but I wish I could change the title bar graphics.

I also modified the links to add blogs I read often and remove those I no longer read. The link order is not based on how much I love to read you, but by category. (And the new blogger doesn't give me the capability to add link headings.) The first few are gardening/nature links, then fashion links, then mother links and finally those that are not easily classified. I read a few political blogs every day, but didn't include those because this is an apolitical blog. A few of the linked blogs will have occasional political content with which I don't agree, but that is not the focus of the blog.

So go over to the links and find someone to enjoy today.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

This isn't the best shot but we got lots of compliments on the tree. A Girl Scout troop was especially taken with the wasp nest, birds nest and other decorations courtesy of nature. Also the sale of dried hydrangeas (to support our seed catalog habit) was excellent, thanks to the drama of the tree. There was folk music in the Cabin and a band in the Carriage House. When things quieted down a bit late last night, we started jigging. I hope it worked off some of the homemade cookie calories I consumed.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bats at Christmas

I have regrets this evening. Regrets because I'm not usually passive-aggressive.

The craft lady at work uses the Garden Shed for crafts at special event. The last craft event was Fall Family Fun Day and the next event is tomorrow, the Holiday Open House. We have been working in hyperdrive mode for about a month getting the gardens ready for winter. To phrase it as kindly as possibly, she doesn't have a problem sitting for hours at a time while at work.

Anyway, she expects us to clean and decorate the Garden Shed; it is her due. Several years ago, there were six gardeners. There are two today. Somehow we two managed to clean and decorate the Garden Shed while she took the week off. We even managed, with the help of an awesome volunteer, to package some seeds, dried flowers, bulbs and herbs to sell during the event.

Doesn't sound very passive-aggressive, does it? Well, I refused to take down the bats hanging from the ceiling, which Craft Lady put there for the fall event. I thought about putting red ribbons around their necks, but stopped short of that.

First wasps and now bats. I wonder if anyone will notice tomorrow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wasp nests at Christmas

Today's low will be tomorrow's high temperature, so it was a beautiful day to work outside. The work release crew did not show up so we had to open the paths in the garden for the Holiday Open House this weekend, especially since they are dedicating the new water feature in the garden. I had scheduled today to decorate the Garden Shed for the open house and made some progress. They use the Garden Shed for making crafts and there is a lot of traffic. Last year I was appalled at the condition of the tree ornaments used on the tree in the shed; they were tattered ugly craft ornaments from years past. They held a lot of sentiment for those who made the ornaments, but it made for one ugly tree. (Sure, I put ugly ornaments on my tree, but they were made by my children when they were young. ) So I decided to go with a nature tree in the Garden Shed, using lots of dried hydrangea, broom corn and seed heads. I also put in the nature items we've collected this year, such as birds' nests and a large paper wasp nest. I think it is beautiful, but we will see how others react.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tucking the garden in for its winter slumber

Twelve men from a work release crew were assigned to the site's garden today. Since the garden is surrounded by trees, leaves are a major problem. The work crew raked out the beds and paths and then mulched the leaves while my co-gardener and I cut back the plants in the garden. Then the work crew dumped the mulched leaves on the beds and we spread the mulch. The crew is coming back tomorrow, so the garden should be ready for its winter rest. I don't know how we would have done it without the help.

I have mixed feelings about cutting back growth in fall or the spring. I understand any diseased plants should be cut back in the fall and fall cleanup makes spring work easier. (Spring work at the site involves digging up a lot of invasive Star of Bethlehem bulbs.) If I cut back in the fall, I make sure there is a mulch layer to prevent frost heaving. On the other hand, I love pulling back the dead foliage in spring and finding tender green shoots. I also believe nature creates its own winter mulch for plants with the dead foliage. Meanwhile some seed heads create winter interest. So the site has been cleaned for the winter while my home garden remains filled with dead foliage until spring.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Late breaking wiper news

I hate.hate.hate car problems, and today it was only the windshield wipers. But it was raining (mist more than rain, to be truthful). And I was on the highway. Driving fast. With big trucks kicking up lots of dirty rainwater on the windshield. And that little booger decided to just flip over, the back of the wiper was scraping the windshield instead of the front. Using all of my mechanical intelligence, I pulled off the highway onto a country road where I could drive home without the wipers and dump the problem in my husband's lap. He just flipped it back into place.

Aren't you glad I decided to blog every day this month so you can read this enthralling report?

Monday, November 06, 2006

White Hat Answer

One last chance to guess who the man in the white hat is. Here are some more clues:

1. He died from getting hit in the back of the head with a suitcase.

2. At his funeral Rudee Vallee sang "Empty Saddles."

3. He appears on the sleeve of The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

4. He was one of Wyatt Earp's pallbearers.

5. Most of his movies were silent.

6. He starred in Westerns and his horse's name was Tony.

Still give up?

Here's the answer.

Tom Mix

An Effective Campaign Ad

Here's a link to page which will take you to a campaign ad that I have enjoyed. The "humorous spoof of a campaign attack ad" works very well for this voter.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Restoring a Historic Garden

Renee asked about my presentation last Friday about restoring Gene Stratton-Porter's "Tame" Garden, so here goes. The basic presentation was the same as I gave at last spring's garden walk (inspiration, creation, neglect, renovation, restoration), but I inveigled an overhead projector and added pictures to the presentation. Projecting some of the old photographs revealed amazing details. Click on the picture of her touring car for a larger view. This is what she used to collect specimens from the wild. She hung large waterproof bags along both sides of the car and stuffed them full of plants. Note the plants stacked high in the back seat. The most interesting feature is the fuzzy hood of the car, which is how she transported mosses she collected. I'm not sure what the black box is that she is holding, but I suspect it might be her 40 pounds of photography equipment. And she went into the field with high boots and breeches, very improper for a women in 1914.

The presentation went well, but I almost didn't make it. As I grabbed my coat to leave the house, I bumped the very large and very heavy table leaf that I store in the coat closet and it fell on top of my foot. I fell to the floor and just gasped, but the show must go on and I had both the laptop and flash drive with me, so I hobbled to work. Thank goodness for cruise control because I couldn't use my right foot much. It's feeling much better now but the entire top of my foot is black and blue.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More Phone Calls

I vaguely remember the phone ringing this morning.

Ricky: "Hi, Dad! Is it late there?"

Dad: "No. It's only 7:45."

Mom, mumbling from her cocoon of blankets: "It's 1:45."

Dad to Ricky: "Hang up and go to sleep."

The phone rings at 8:30 this morning.

Ricky: "I woke up to a bed full of ice. Got to go now."


Samson, our yellow lab, has a thyroid condition so we have him on a strict feeding schedule. I was puzzled by his behavior this week. Pace, whine, nudge and stare with woeful eyes. I finally figured out that it was the time change. In his doggie world, he has to wait an hour later for his evening meal.

DST- Daylight Savings Time or Doggie Starvation Time?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Comments Moderated

Holy Yodels! What happened on the comment about NaBloPoMo? I have word verification enabled to prevent spam, so this commenter intentionally posted his/her/its rambling rant which I didn't bother trying to make sense of after a few sentences. Scrolling down to the second comment, I discovered Renee asked about the presentation this morning. Details forthcoming. However, I have enabled moderation of comments. Before a comment is posted, I will be approving it. Someone please comment so I can test this thing.

Teenage Phone Calls

Little did I know that I was buying a hot new product when I finally broke down and got cell phones for my sons. One is driving and both are in extracurricular activities, so they were always borrowing my phone. We have made some interesting discoveries about how 17 year old boys use the cell phone.

It's fall break and the twins are attending a Campus Life weekend trip. I just got a phone call from Ricky, "Mom, Ron hates it when I dance." I repeat his statement and ask what I'm suppose to do about it. Hubby chuckles in the background. Now they can tattle wirelessly. (One boy is an extrovert and the other introverted. One is having a wild and crazy time and the other is embarrassed. I've seen this pattern for years.)

When we had the soccer fire-up, the kids were text messaging each other. "Why?" husband asked them incredulously because they were all sitting around the campfire.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

National Blog Posting Month

So I posted the entry below (White Hat Quiz) this morning around 7:30 in order to have a post a day as I took up the NaBloPoMo challenge. I wasn't going to mention it on my blog, just attempt to make a post a day. Well, the entry was dated the first instead of the second of November. That's the reason for this post! It's not really cheating, is it?

OK, so I'll add a little more content. I'm still fine tuning tomorrow's presentation to national garden club execs. I think it will be fine except the content I'm adding includes the Latin names of the wild flowers on the site. I always botch the pronunciation. If I have time, I'll practice using this excellent tool, Fine Gardening's Guide to Pronouncing Botanical Latin, except these are mostly cultivated plants and not wild flowers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who is the man in the white hat?

Friday I am giving a presentation to 45 executives from a national garden organization about the restoration of the formal garden, so I've been poring over the archives at the site (Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site--Wildflower Woods). I found an interesting photo taken in the garden in 1931. Can you guess the name of the man in the white hat?

Hint 1: I'm asking about the man in the BIG white hat.

Hint 2: He's a film star.

Hint 3: His films have no connection with Gene Stratton-Porter except they were contemporaries.

Fresh Spinach

About ten days before the massive recall of packaged spinach due to e-coli contamination, I planted spinach seeds for a fall crop. I was so pleased with myself for creating an alternative source of fresh organic spinach. However, we've had an early fall and the growth has been slow. The largest leaves are about half an inch now. If I picked the whole crop, I may have enough to garnish a salad.