Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Come hear my talk

Are you curious about the restoration of the gardens at the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site? If so, you have an opportunity to hear me speak about this topic on Friday, March 2, at 1 PM at the Allen County Home and Garden Show.

Now why would I encourage more people to come? Because I want some friendly faces in the audience! I'm finishing the slide presentation with historic photos of the garden as well as photos of the spring wildflowers.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pileated Woodpecker

As I joined my husband on the front porch this sunny morning (before the freezing rain hits), he motioned me to be quiet and pointed to a pileated woodpecker in the north woods. As we watched and listened to the thrumming, the woodpecker would stop, cock his head, and then throw it back, like he was tossing an insect into his gullet. I didn't have my camera, but later I took this photo of the extremely large hole he created in a black cherry tree.

In the last Audubon count, there were two sighted in in our area. We see them several times a year. This is good news because over a hundred years ago, they were considered extinct or rare in Indiana. This information about pileated woodpeckers was published in 1890s in Birds of Indiana.
Formerly tolerably common resident; now extinct in many localities and rare in all others. Breeds. None have been seen in Franklin County for twenty years or more, and probably none are now to be found in the Whitewater Valley. It has been reported as present, but rare, in the following counties within the past few years: Monroe (Evermann, Blatchley), Vigo (Jenkins), Dekalb (McBride), Porter (Trouslot), Decatur (Shannon), Starke (Coale, Dury), Allen (Stockbridge), Gibson and Knox (Ridgway). Many are the interesting accounts given of these birds by the older citizens, who knew them as "Logcock," "Black Woodcock" and "Woodcock."

My uncool life is cool!

I've been convinced (or convicted) this week to evaluate my life. No life shattering events, just unintentional urgings by readers of this humble blog. Hey, maybe I'm getting ready for Spring.

First, I posted that my Vibe is uncool. But two harbingers of cool contradicted me: Renee, one of my coolest friends, and Ricky, my teenage son who has a finely honed sense of cool. Why did I think it wasn't cool? Is this how I think of any car I would drive?

Second, I'm having fun (and working hard) teaching children how to tap maple trees. A request for volunteers went out to Master Naturalists and I decided to do it. It is close to where I live. The owner of the woods is a dear friend from church in her late 80s. I needed a push to get outside this winter. And it is something I've never done before. Then Lucy comments, "For what its worth, I think you have a really fabulous life :)" Thank you, Lucy. Your comment was worth a lot as it prompted me to give thanks for the many ways I am blessed.

Third, I considered seriously taking a corporate job, lured by the paycheck and benefits. I reconsidered, especially when my husband urged me to weight those benefits against the quality of my life, and turned down the job. When a friend heard about this, she wrote in an email, "I can’t tell you how secretly (and now, not so secretly) happy I am that you said no to that job. It seems to me that in declining that position, you also made the decision not to participate in corporate slavery again. Part of it’s selfish – I like having you around to play with – and part of it is truly seeing a more joyful, fully engaged woman who is spreading her many talents around more fully." I'm deep in the woods of my life, seeing only the trunks of the trees and haven't taken the time to see the forest. Thank you, friend, for giving me a fresh perspective on my life.

Finally, I read this post by Lucy.
Today, my worst problem is going to be ... hmmm ... maybe bad hair. MAYBE a child will be cranky with me, give me attitude. Maybe a child will use all the tape to cover her desk. (These are not unheard of problems.) Maybe I'll get bad customer service at the restaurant I go to when I don't feel like cooking dinner. Maybe I'll have to get gas before I can run errands tonight.

But, in general? Its AMAZING to be me. Or probably "you" for that matter. Without knowing who you are, I know you have computer access. That says a lot about you. Like ... you have electricity. And ... you can read.

So. Take a moment. Really think about it. Yes, it IS fabulous to be us :) For those that want to keep it that way, here's a tip ... At our house we have a new rule: Do NOT answer the phone on Wednesdays!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


We picked up a new car today, rather an additional used car. For me, not my sons. That makes four: Jeep Wrangler, Suburban, Ford pick-up and the new car. See a pattern? I live in an all-male household, males who like trucks and truck-like vehicles. Four wheel drive is an essential. Poor gas mileage is another constant.

So I figured out that I can pay for my new car with improved gas mileage, as it gets more than twice the gas mileage of the Suburban. Assuming gas remains about $2.30, I will save at least $1.15 for every mile I drive and the new car will be paid for in 10,000 miles, which won't take long for me. UPDATE: 10,000 miles? Did I type miles? I mean 10,000 gallons. I should break-even between 25,000 and 30,000 miles.

It's not a Buick LeSabre, but it's definitely not cool. It's a Pontiac Vibe and it is orange.

School Closings

School was closed two days due to snow last week.

The first day was idyllic. We were snug, warm and well-fed. Everyone pitched in willingly to clean the house after we put on some rocking music. It sparkled. We baked a Valentine's cake and played board games.

The second day was the polar (haha) opposite. Snow needed to be shoveled and driveways plowed. Teenage siblings snapped, complained and were generally teenagers. The sparkling house became less so as they tracked in and out.

The third morning, there was a school delay. Ron came into the computer room and told me they just announced a closing. My response was kind of a guttural groan, or perhaps a shriek. Anyway, it was purely emotional. I was so looking forward to having the house to myself again. Ron laughed and laughed because he was just kidding. He laughed about my reaction for several days.

School is closed again today due to heavy fog and icy roads. And the power went out for about an hour. The temperature in the house dropped 8 degrees in the hour. We have a generator to run the cornburner and a kerosene heater, but Steve had already left and I wasn't cold enough to have the confidence to set them up. I'm starting to thaw out again. At least enough for my typing fingers to work.

Maple Syrup Time

Tapping commenced this week. I'm volunteering at Yoder's Sugar Bush Camp this spring. I will demonstrate to numerous school children how to tap a tree. That should be interesting because I have never, you know, actually tapped a tree. But I've read about it and I saw it done. Does that count? Training was last week and I will spend tomorrow and Friday with school groups and then about once a week thereafter.

I love this picture of the girl drinking sap straight from the tree.

Friday, February 16, 2007


I have a love affair with soil. Sure, the blooms entice me into the garden and the foliage seduces me to remain there, but neither compare to the sensuousness of soil, especially early spring soil. The pungency. The sensations as I crumble it in my hands. The dark color.

Last summer, my husband and a community service worker built a three-bin compost site at the historic garden: one very large bin to hold the new stuff and two smaller bins to turn the compost as it ages. I can't wait to get my hands on the finished compost this spring to mulch the beds. Plus we will be using the compost bins to explain soil and composting to the school children when they visit on field trips.

So I am sorry I did not have a chance to read January's book selection for the Garden Bloggers Book Club, Teaming with Microbes: A Gardeners Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. Read the bloggers' comments here. This is definitely on my to-read list.

More: I meant to mention that the Renegade Gardener listed this book as his Top Pick this month. Also I want to attend this public conference at Merry Lea Environmental Center September 28-30.
Sacred Soil: Reclaiming the Source of Our Food
Each fall, Merry Lea holds a conference for people of faith who share a passion for the care of creation. Participants spend much of their time outside, exploring a theme that enables us to experience renewal and hope through an in-depth look at the way ecosystems function. This year's theme, Sacred Soil, will explore the truth about food. For many of us, even those of us who “know better,” food comes from the grocery store. It is a cheap commodity, manufactured by a corporation and produced in a factory like Happy Meal toys or rubber boots. In reality, food comes from the earth; it is grown in the soil and depends on the health of the soil. Soil is sacred because our lives depend on it, and because it was created by God. The registration fee of $75 includes six meals. Lodging available for $15/night upon request.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Weak in the knees

Sunday afternoon, we are alone, deep in the woods, next to the river, far from civilization. He turns to me and gives me a look. My legs go limp. I need something to keep me from crumpling at his feet. From his look, I know he is feeling the same way. As one person, we turn our gaze eastward.

Steve still has that effect on me, but this is not a Valentine's post. We had just spent an arduous afternoon cross-country skiing. I used my ski poles to hold myself up and we were looking at the car parked half a mile across the field.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Environmentally Sustainable Village

At the annual Master Gardener's banquet (I'm now a bronze level advanced Master Gardener), Dr. Luke Gascho from Merry Lea Environmental Center spoke about the recently completed Reith Village, a sustainable environmental and energy sufficient group of buildings. Phase one of the village includes three cottages and a classroom for students to study for their Masters in Environmental Education. Merry Lea is run jointly by Goshen College and the Nature Conservancy.

Reith Village was designed to meet the Platinum Standards by LEEDS. It hasn't been officially graded yet, but in two trial grades, it ranked platinum.

I found the presentation fascinating and it gave me some ideas for when (or if) we build at the Highlands, our tree farm. Follow the links if you are interested, but here are the highlights from the talk for me:
  • A microwatershed contains all the drainage on the site, through the use of a 15,000 gallon cistern.
  • The nonpotable water is pumped into the buildings to flush the toilets.
  • They have an on site sewage system using a wetlands cell biofilter and a recirculating sand filter.
  • The drive and parking lot are recycled concrete with grass overplanted to encourage drainage. The sidewalks are made of permeable concrete for natural drainage.
  • The wind generator has a long payback period, 17 years, but it has an expected life span of 35 years.
  • Local tulip poplar was used for siding and interior work
  • 75% of construction debris diverted from landfills. (See the photo where they are spreading chipped-up leftover drywall on the lawn.)
  • Roofline skylights open to let out heat in the summer to reduce cooling costs.
The presentation was much better than the website. I notice there is a tour this spring. I think I'll try to go. After all, my in-laws' farm borders part of Merry Lea's land.

Seeds to Syrup

I'm a little slow placing my seed order this year. I made a list of what I want to order and all I have to do is find them in the seed catalogues. Last year, I discovered Select Seeds and I found quite a few of the plants I want to grow in their catalog so far. This is such a pleasurable thing to do, what is taking me so long?

Tomorrow we are planning to go cross-country skiing for the first time since there will be a heat wave. It's reaching 21 degrees! Monday I'm being trained as a volunteer for Sugar Bush, a unique maple syrup program for school children. Then I need to wrap up my freelance project.

Colts Shirts

The excitment was reaching a feverish pitch last Sunday as the boys prepared to go to their respective Super Bowl parties. Having a Colts hat was not enough and I didn't have the supplies to paint their bodies, so they begged me at the last hour to go shopping to buy jerseys. Being a mean mommy, I said no. Then Ron had the idea of printing out pictures and pinning them to their clothes. I mentioned that you can buy computer transfer paper and create your own iron-on decals for shirts. So a quick run to Office Depot and we were in business.

I stood back and watched them in amazement. They haven't been interested in "crafts" for many years but they enjoyed this. I was also amazed at how quickly Ron picked up Photoshop: Layers, check. Image adjustment, check. Lasso tool, check. Text boxes, check. They created three t-shirts, one for each of them plus one as a gift for their host.

Tell me, what is the secret with teenagers? Why do they roll their eyes one day at such an activity and then feverishly engage in it another day?