Tuesday, November 29, 2016

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

There's been a lot of yaying and naying lately about the issue of decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Like most things in life, there are various reasons why people choose when to do their Christmas decorating and how they do it. I like to have my tree up by Thanksgiving, and here's why.

I'm a procrastinator. In fact, I'm The Queen of Procrastination and while you might think putting up a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving is contrary to procrastinating, it's actually my way of trying to overcome my affliction. If my house is already in the Christmas spirit, then I'm much more likely to be in the spirit too and get my shopping done before Christmas Eve. It's supposed to work that way in theory anyway.

Now, let's get this whole "celebrating one holiday at a time" thing out of the way. I love Thanksgiving. LOVE. IT. Family, good food, Macy's parade, football (I can't believe I even said that), and relaxing with no guilt about doing it. But of course, Thanksgiving is also all about being grateful for your blessings and our family sure has plenty of those to be thankful for. Just thinking about them puts me in a festive mood.

Christmas decorations put me in a festive mood, too, and as a Christian, the birth of Christ is a blessing to be thankful for. So Thanksgiving is the perfect way to usher in the Christmas season by being first thankful and then celebrating by sharing with others in the form of gifts. Having Christmas decorations up at Thanksgiving just isn't a conflict of interest for me. It's all just one big, long lovefest.

Part of what makes this early decorating possible is that we don't put up a real tree. This year will make the 41st Christmas my husband and I have celebrated as man and wife and in all those years, the only time we had a real tree was our first Christmas. I saved a pine cone from that tree, framed it, and it sits out all year long on a bookshelf.

 I have a fear of a dried-out real Christmas tree going up in flames due to some sort of lighting malfunction and I don't need that kind of stress. Not when there are perfectly lovely artificial trees that give the same effect. I understand the whole experience of shopping for the tree and making that an event in itself, but I'm willing to forgo that for safety's sake.

If you're a real tree kind of person, let me help you keep your cut tree as safe as possible by giving you some tips:

  • Firs, pines, and spruces will hold onto their needles equally well, but the biggest factor for this will be how long it's been since the tree was cut. Unless you cut the tree yourself, you probably have no way of really knowing this. If the tree is losing more than a few needles when you shake it or pull your hand along one of its branches, pick another tree.

  •  Just before you put your Christmas tree in its stand, make a fresh cut straight across, at the base of the trunk, removing at least a half-inch of wood. Sap begins to seal off the cut so making a fresh cut will allow the tree to better absorb water.
  • Do NOT whittle away any of the wood on the sides of the trunk to make it fit in the stand, because it's the outer layer of the trunk (the cambium) just under the bark that transfers the water up into the rest of the tree. Drilling a hole up into the middle of the tree trunk won't help the tree take up water, so don't bother.
  • Water temperature won't affect uptake and there's no proof that adding substances to the water really helps prolong freshness, so don't waste your time doing that either. Check your water level every day to make sure you keep the base of the trunk submerged. 
  • Keep your tree well away from any heat source, and the cooler you keep the room, the longer the tree will last before drying out.
  • Choose low energy lights, such as LED lights or in the case of incandescent lighting, the miniature ones give off less heat, lowering chances of causing dry needles to ignite. Of course, if your tree is that dry and brittle, it shouldn't be in your house anyway. 

The holidays hold special meaning for each of us, so let's all enjoy them in our own way and pray for peace. I think we can all agree we need more of that, no matter what time of year it is.

A similar version of "O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree" first appeared in my In the Garden weekly column in the Paulding Progress newspaper on December 2, 2015.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Back in the Egg Business

We got an entirely new flock of chicks on Easter Sunday this spring - eight of 'em. I'd say we got eight hens, but it turned out that the two Black Australorps were roosters. We enjoyed the crowing - sort of - but we don't want to feed any that don't feed us, so luckily a local took them off our hands. They wanted Black Australorps for breeding, so they're happy and we're happy.

We've been getting eggs since mid-July, starting with Owl, the Leghorn. She's been a laying machine, having only missed two days since she started laying. Buffy, the Buff Orpington, started laying a couple of weeks later and she's been pretty consistent too. Five days ago, Ruby, our Rhode Island Red, started laying beautiful darker brown eggs.

Today, I got a real surprise when I went out to gather eggs. There were FIVE! Yesterday, three, today, five! The new layers are the ISA brown and one of the Ameraucanas. That's the thing with having so many different breeds - we know who is laying and who isn't.

One of the new eggs today was blue, and since we have two Ameraucanas and they lay blue eggs, we know that one of them is the only one left to start laying. They're also the only two hens that don't have names.

How about Dottie and Dinah?

We ate our last store-bought egg about a week or so ago and I'm really glad to be back in the backyard egg business. I also love how beautiful these eggs are.

In spite of the differences in their colors, the shells themselves come in only two colors. That's right. Hens only lay eggs that are two basic colors - white and blue. "But what about the brown ones?" you say. If you look, the next time you crack open a brown egg, you'll find that it's white on the inside.

The brown coloring is a pigment that the hen applies to the outside of the egg shortly before she lays it. One time, I gathered an egg right after one of our first flock Buff Orpingtons had laid it and it was still wet. I wiped the moisture off and some of that brown coloring came off! But once it dries, it's on there for good.

We had scrambled eggs for supper tonight, so I took some photos to show you that it's true about the coloring.

But the yolks and whites inside all look the same. (They taste the same too.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Want To Go See the Monarchs in Mexico? Let's GO!

As if it wasn’t exciting enough yesterday, when I announced my upcoming new book, The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, I’ve got more exciting news today.

I’ve mentioned that the number one thing on my bucket list is to visit the monarchs at their overwintering location in central Mexico. Each fall, they travel up to 3000 miles one way to the oyamel fir forests high in the Sierra Madre mountains. The habitat there is perfect for them to spend the winter until it’s time for them to make their way north in March.

This location in Mexico wasn’t known by those studying monarchs until 1975. Of course the locals knew the monarchs came there. How could they not know? I have a copy of the 1976 National Geographic magazine, telling the story of the discovery to the rest of the world.

Now, I’m going to be traveling to the state of Michoacán in central Mexico to see them for myself! I can’t tell you how thrilling this is for me. But not only am I going, I will be the co-host, along with a local guide, for a small group tour. This means YOU can go with me!

This is a six-day trip (February 28 – March 5, 2017) that will take you to two of the monarch sanctuaries, where you will stand surrounded by thousands and thousands of monarchs, dripping from the trees, and fluttering all around you. It will be magical.

The monarch sanctuaries and the greater Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are located about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City, in the Transvolcanic mountains of central Mexico. They have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and as such, is legally protected by both the Geneva Convention, The Hague Convention, and international law.

But first, we'll visit one of the local villages and experience culture that is native, and we’ll see an archeological site. Then, after two days of visiting the monarch sanctuaries near Angangueo, we’ll travel to Toluca to see the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden – a football-sized building, whose walls and ceiling are stained glass works of art. There are over 500 different species of plants showcased in the garden, but you’ve never seen anything like this beautiful structure.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Lexaxis7

We’ll begin and end our trip in Morelia, the state capital, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll need to arrange your airfare to and from the airport there (MLM). You’ll find all the details and the itinerary for the trip here. Our tour agency, S&S Tours, is based in Sierra Vista, Arizona, specializing in small-group tours to various parts of Latin America. They’ve been in business since 1993 and have a BBB rating of A+. They've been visiting the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico every year since 2003.

Due to the sensitive nature of the sanctuaries, the number of people allowed in at one time is controlled. Our group will be no larger than 10 people, including me. I already know of one other person that’s going on the trip, so that means there are only 8 more that can go. To secure your spot on the trip, you can download the application here and follow its instructions.

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on the tour brochure or application form, just email me at ourlittleacre@gmail.com or call the travel agency direct at 866-780-2813

I hope you’ll join us! It’s sure to be a fun adventure!

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