Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Miracles Still Happen

I just watched Bob Woodruff on Oprah. On January 26, 2006, he and fellow ABC newsman Doug Vogt were on assignment in Iraq and were hit by a roadside bomb. Woodruff was seriously injured and just now, over a year later, he is returning to work. As I listened to him describe the way his life was affected following the traumatic brain injury he received, I saw glimpses of a not-so-distant time in my own life, and I could relate to him in a way.

I wasn't hit by a bomb, but in January 1999, my brain was attacked by Neisseria meningitidis causing bacterial meningitis, which then progressed to septicemia (blood poisoning). For two days, I was unconscious and my family didn't know if I would live or die.

But I woke up, and spent six more days in the hospital and many weeks at home, recovering.
When Bob said he had problems identifying common objects, I understood. In the days following my return to this world, I had difficulty doing the simplest things. When writing words, I would come to a letter - e, for example - and I would have to stop and think how to form it with my pen. I would be in the middle of a sentence, and while I could think it in my head, making it come out my mouth was quite another matter. The thought might be in there and I'd have trouble verbalizing it, or I would get halfway through telling something and stop because the entire thought just disappeared. I had never had a problem verbalizing anything in my life, and it was frightening.

Looking back, I can tell anyone who is going through this to just have patience, it will come. But at the time, it was alarming to think I might never again be able to function as I did before. I feared that I might not return to my job as a dental hygienist, which required precise small motor skills. Not only did my recovery require patience on my part, but those around me needed a large dose of it as well. There really was nothing to be done but to give the nerve cells time to heal and relearn their functions - and nerves heal slowly. Some never do, but the body is amazing, the brain in particular, because cells can learn to do things they were never meant to, when pressed into service.

Severity of injury affects the recovery time, to be sure, but like Woodruff, one year was a milestone. It took about that long for me to say I was back to normal, or as normal as I was likely to get. I do have some residual effects from the meningitis, but thanks to my wonderful infectious disease doctors (Nohinek, Schomogyi, and Smith-Elekes in Fort Wayne, IN) and the hundreds of prayers said on my behalf, I am here and can enjoy life far better than the majority of those unfortunate enough to be overcome by this deadly bacteria.

Bob Woodruff is amazed at the miracles that have taken place in his life, and so am I. Amazed and thankful. Welcome back, Bob. You've come a long way.

Not Max

There's Max, of course. And then there's Not Max. Of course.

The Great Kitty Migration of 2007 to Our Little Acre has officially begun. Romie woke me up early this morning, which he knows better than to do unless it's something very important. "Honey, did you let a cat into the garage last night, thinking it was Max?"


"Uh, well, there's a Max look-alike in our garage right now, laying in the kitty bed, purring."


If I roll over and go back to sleep, maybe when I wake up, I'll realize it was a dream nightmare. But as Jack jumps up on the bed and starts playing with my feet, I know I am awake and it's for real. I rolled over anyway. It's too early to deal with this.

When I got up an hour or so later, I went downstairs and cautiously opened the door to the garage. I peeked out and sure enough, there was a yella fella eating from the dish of cat food. He looked up briefly, then went back to what he was doing. He wasn't scared of me, in fact, once his appetite was satisfied, he came over and rubbed up against my legs. He let me pet him and I noticed he's very thin. He appears to have been 'out there' for awhile, but his friendliness tells me he once had a place he called home.

I don't know if he will end up staying here or we'll find that he belongs to one of the neighbors. I've not seen him in the neighborhood before, but I'll check around. In the meantime, if he needs a warm place to stay and food to eat, he's got our number.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Flowers Are Us

I got to thinking about this the other day... How much of what I do in regard to my gardening helps the flowers to grow? Is it really as much as what I do or what I don't do? I picture myself working hand in hand with God when it comes to growing things. Over the course of my lifetime, I am learning more and more, but I will never have the absolute knowledge and insight that God does.

When I place a seed in the ground, I have hope. And faith. I do not know if it will germinate and grow or not. And if it does, I have no idea if it will flower the way it's supposed to or if the dog will pick that spot for her afternoon nap and break it off before it even has a chance. But God knows all that right from the start.

I think He likes it when we make the effort to assist in The Great Circle of Life, although He doesn't need us for this, because He built perpetuation of the species right in. I haven't planted a hollyhock seed in years, yet this biennial comes up and blooms fabulously year after year. And there is that silly white peony that was 'dead' for over ten years. Have you heard the story on that?

When we moved to our house in 1977, the landscaping was minimal. The house was just two years old, so what was there was just beginning to get established and there was a lot of space on Our Little Acre that was empty. But there was a white peony bush over at the south side of the property. I remember it because I wondered why someone would put it there, all by itself. It would bloom at the end of May and then sometime towards the end of summer, Romie would mow it down to the ground. It always came back in the spring.

And then it didn't.

Along about 1990, the peony disappeared. I was quite surprised because I always thought peonies were one of the methuselahs of the garden. They are known to live to the ripe old age of 100 or more. Since we didn't know when our peony was planted, we didn't know the age of it, but it's pretty safe to assume that it probably wasn't there before 1975, when the house was built. It was not a large bush, and what was there before that was a woods. I don't think we had an unusually tough winter that year, but the peony was no more.

A couple years later, my girlfriend Jane gave me a white lilac bush for my birthday. I decided to plant it in the bare spot where the peony used to be. I love lilacs, not because I think they're particularly beautiful to look at, but because they smell so good. My grandma says that people used to plant lilac bushes by the doors to their homes, so when guests would come for a visit, it would smell nice as they came in the door.

As the years went by, the lilac grew and flourished and became a nicely-shaped small bush. The lilacs bloom here in May and don't last nearly long enough for me. By June, they're gone and I turn my attention elsewhere. But one June day about five years ago, I was walking by the lilac and I noticed a cluster of white, smack dab in the middle of the bush. Since blooming time was long over, I had to get a closer look. And what I saw made me smile. It wasn't a lilac bloom, but a PEONY! The white peony was back.

It would probably have meant death for both the lilac and the peony to try and separate them, so they now co-exist and we call it our 'Peolac.'

This just further reinforces the thoughts I've been having about my role in growing things. God and I work together on this and I'm grateful that He allows me to play my bit part, but the truth is, I have very little to do with it. Seeds want to grow. Flowers want to bloom. It's what they do.

I just hope I do more to help them than to hinder them.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

Scilla peruviana

Giant Squill, Peruvian Hyacinth, Cuban Lily, Caribbean Lily, Star of Peru - all are common names for this unusual beauty, but mostly misnomers. The Giant Squill is native to southern Spain and was first described by the famous taxonomist, Linnaeus (1707-1778). It was named for the first ship to bring bulbs to England, The Peru. It later became naturalized in Cuba and other Caribbean islands, thus its other names.

S. peruviana is hardy to zone 7 (possibly 6), and must be lifted in colder zones. This large bulb is suitable for growing in pots. It likes being planted in a sunny location with its nose peeking out of sandy, well-drained soil and resents being disturbed, once established. If the bulb is lifted and divided, it may skip a year or two of blooming until it becomes established again. There is a short summer dormant period in July, but its foot-high wide blades of foliage are mostly evergreen the rest of the year. Peak bloom period is in May.

I was captivated by this unusual-looking flower and was lucky enough to find the only one at our local Meijer store that had two bulbs in the pot instead of one. As I looked for it online, I see that it is relatively inexpensive as large bulbs go, with prices generally in the $2 range for a single bulb, although they are usually sold in groups of five.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Be A Part

Look around you, look up here
Take time to make time, make time to be there
Look around, be a part...
~ Little River Band

I'm not a joiner. First of all, when you belong to any club or organization, that usually means meetings. I have somewhat of an aversion to voluntary things that tell me I have to be in a specific place at a specific time. Oh, I've been a member of many groups over the years: 4H, a women's investment club, a mental health board, church committees, church bell choir, etc. But as time goes by, I find myself avoiding most things that might appear on my calendar on a regular basis.

One group I used to belong to of which I never missed a meeting was "Stitch 'n' Bitch." Five of my girlfriends and I would get together once a month at one of our homes and we'd work on whatever project we had going at the moment.

It started out that we all were into counted cross-stitch, so that's what we would do. We had young children, so on a Friday night, after we got our kids to bed and kissed our husbands good-night, we'd head to the home of whomever was the host for the evening. This meant that we rarely got started before eight or nine o'clock. But we had all night!

We had loose rules. You had to bring a snack to share. But it was okay if you didn't, because there was always more than enough for everyone. You had to work on something. But it was okay if you didn't do that either, because it was really the 'bitching' part that brought us together. And like the Girl Scouts, we had an official uniform - pajamas. I told you we were loose.

Since we were out and about in our jammies, it was understood that if anyone had car trouble or slid off the road in snowy weather (yes, that happened once), the husband of the host was responsible for taking care of the 'rescue.'

We watched Friday Night Videos in its early days (it debuted in 1983). I can vividly remember seeing Land Down Under by Men At Work. It had to be one of the very first videos that aired on the show and I thought it was the coolest thing. As our interests changed, there was variety to the busy work that accompanied the bitching. We baked cookies, sewed clothing, shampooed carpets and even had a baby shower for one of our members. There was very little actual bitching going on and we were all a wonderful support to each other, giving and getting child-rearing advice and solving the rest of the world's problems. It was a great time and I have no idea why we stopped doing it. I miss those days.

I am currently a card-carrying member of the American Horticultural Society. My mom introduced me to it, as she has done with a lot of gardening things, and it's got to be one of the best values for the money in the gardening world. Just $35 gets you:

  • One year of membership in the American Horticultural Society
  • A one-year subscription to The American Gardener magazine
  • Access to a Member's Only section of their website
  • Special discounts on gardening products and books
  • Free Seed Exchange
  • The AHS Reciprocal Membership Program, giving you free or reduced admission to over 160 botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the U.S. and Canada and discounts in their gift shops
  • Free or reduced admission to over 25 regional flower shows

I just renewed my membership, and in the last year I used my card numerous times when visiting public gardens and flower shows, including The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Cincinnati Flower Show, Kingwood Center, Cleveland Botanical Garden, Winterthur Museum and Country Estate, and our local Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.

My admission fees to these places would have been $61.50 without my member card. I also got 10% off my purchases at their gift shops. This year, I purchased a three-year membership for both Romie and myself, at the special price of $90. That breaks down to $15 a year for each of us, and that alone is the price of one day's admission to the Cincinnati Flower Show.

Convinced? No, I don't get a commission on membership sales; I just think this is a fabulous deal not only for active gardeners, but for those that just like visiting gardens. If you agree, click on the AHS logo below, and it will take you to the online sign-up page:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

275 years ago, George Washington - 'Father of Our Country' - was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. While we may picture him standing in the boat crossing the Delaware River, or think about his wooden teeth (they weren't really wooden), he was also a plantation owner, raising wheat as a cash crop. He owned 8000 acres containing five farms with over 3000 acres in cultivation.

The farm at Mount Vernon where his family actually resided was on 500 acres and had a pleasure garden, a kitchen garden, serpentine walkways, and groves of trees. He had a greenhouse, where he kept tropical and semi-tropical plants such as coffee, orange, lemon, lime, sago palm, and aloe. He grew hollyhocks, peonies, primroses, heliotrope, larkspur, and many other annuals and perennials. It is documented that he grew the sometimes difficult Crown Imperial.

We have an offspring of one of George's trees. In 1785, he directed the planting of tulip poplars (Lirodendron tulipifera) on the bowling green near his house. When Jenna was doing her leaf collection for biology class in ninth grade, I learned about this tree with the uniquely shaped leaves. I've always loved foliage that's out of the ordinary, so decided then that I would one day own sweet gum, gingko, and tulip poplar trees. Through American Forests Historic Tree Nursery, I purchased a tulip poplar propagated from one of those that grows at Mount Vernon. They no longer offer this particular tree as grown from one at Mount Vernon, although you can get a white ash that is.

Our tulip poplar got off to a rocky start. Both the first and second one died, but they have a lifetime replacement guarantee on their trees and the third time was a charm. Just this past year, in spite of the Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars munching on its leaves, ours began to grow in earnest and we hope to see it really shoot up this summer.

I visited Mount Vernon in the spring of 1994, with Kara's eighth grade class. It was a beautiful place and if I'd been into gardening then and
if I'd not been responsible for several adolescent girls, I would have enjoyed it even more. Sad to say, I don't recall the tulip poplars, but Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area is somewhere I'd like to return to, so maybe someday I can see the ancestors of the one growing in our back yard.

*Photo of Lirodendron tulipifera leaf by Bill Thompson III

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Harbinger of Spring

I saw the first sign of spring today. It wasn't a robin. We see those all winter long. They'll stay here if they can find food. It wasn't the crocuses. They're still buried under the snow. I didn't hear any frogs singing either. It was the fog and the resulting hoarfrost.

Fog at this time of the year occurs when the air begins to warm and it comes into contact with the cold ground. With all the snow we had last week, temperatures in the thirties were enough to produce a dense fog. So dense that all area schools were closed and numerous car accidents occurred. I had a close call myself, when I drove to work this afternoon. And the fog stayed that way all day.

When I looked out the window this morning, the ice crystals that formed on every cold surface painted a picture of muted fluffiness. Our county was once part of The Great Black Swamp and is the flattest in the state of Ohio. This contributes to the high incidence of fog here especially when winds are calm. When the air is especially humid, it freezes on the cold surfaces, forming the frost. Crystal builds upon crystal and the result is what is called hoarfrost.

Hoarfrost is an amazing thing. It is usually ephemeral, as the slightest wind will destroy it. Knowing this, I rushed outside with my camera, to try to capture some of the delicate and fragile beauty. As I was walking around, I was aware of how quiet and still it was. The only sounds were the crunch of my feet in the snow and the staccato of a nearby woodpecker. I stood and listened to that woodpecker for several minutes and breathed in the crisp air. While I'm not a big fan of winter, I do love the feel of the cold air as I breathe it in and it smells so clean.

The snow has started to melt, and I can see green grass. By the time all of the snow is gone, I have no doubt I will have to grab the camera again to take pictures of the crocus blooming. After all, March 21st is just four weeks away, and I have to think that my garden is as anxious for spring as I am.

Winter has lasted just about long enough.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Free At Last!

I'm exhausted. And if I'm exhausted, I can only imagine how my two favorite tech support guys feel. We just spent a marathon geeky tech weekend holed up in our house, only going out twice for needed equipment. Jim and KC arrived here late on Friday night, and after a good night's sleep and an omelette breakfast, work began on setting up a wireless network here.

Now that might be a simple thing for most, and it would have been for me, were it not for the screwy internet connection I have. I feel certain if I had a 'normal' setup here, I could have done my own networking. But it's not normal. It's just weird. My next-door neighbor has the same ISP that I do, because I referred them to him. So why doesn't he have a problem with setting up a network? He just signed up with them last year. I've been with them for nearly four years. He has new equipment. Mine is old.

We have wireless internet through a company out of Omaha, Nebraska, and this is one of two options we have here for high-speed internet. The other option is satellite through DISH Network or DirecTV, which I don't want because it's not very reliable. We know this because we used to have DirecTV, and any time it rained or snowed, we had no service. Our current wireless internet service involves a transmitter that's placed atop a grain elevator eight miles away, which broadcasts the internet signal through the air by line-of-sight to an antenna mounted on our roof. Our antenna then transmits the signal to my computer via coaxial cable. And there is the problem. That coaxial cable. No router accepts a coaxial connection.

Neighbor Tim's signal gets transmitted by way of CAT5 cable. I'm jealous. I want CAT5 cable. My ISP says they'll trade their new CAT5 connection for my old coaxial connection for $400. I say that's not right, since they own my equipment anyway. They say my equipment still works, so if I want the new equipment, I have to pay. Not fair, I say. I referred my neighbor, he subscribes to their service, and he gets the new stuff? Hmmmmph.

You see, my dream has been to actually be able to use the laptop computer I got last year from Dell while sitting by Romie in the family room while he watches TV. I have used this laptop a total of five times since I bought it, and none of those times has been in my own home. All because of my internet connection from hell.

So after hours on the phone with Jim and a previous visit by KC and still not being able to get me networked, these two technological angels decided to coordinate their schedules and come from Cincinnati and the west suburbs of Chicago to go head-to-head with my nightmare. And my nightmare quickly became theirs.

I can't begin to tell you what all transpired in our dining room, where my desktop computer is located. I just know that they put in a total of 50-60 combined hours of work, while I kept the food and drink coming. There was a lot of tech talk that was flying back and forth between them. I did hear a few familiar words every now and then, such as the and and, but I don't know what DHCP stands for.

We made one trip to Ft. Wayne to Best Buy on Saturday and another to Office Max on Sunday. The first time was to purchase a different router than the one I had. Lots of configuring and programming went on with that, to no avail. So by the time they got to Plan F (or was it G?), another trip to Ft. Wayne produced a new 100GB hard drive. They had read in an online forum that one person had done all the things that they had done, but only a fresh install of the operating system finally allowed the wireless network to be established. I only had 7GB left on my original hard drive, so it was decided that adding another drive and starting over with the new one just might work.

Jim had to leave at 3:00 PM on Sunday, so KC started work on the new hard drive and used all the knowledge that he and Jim had gained through their combined effort. He worked late into the night last night, and got up this morning and started in again. And this afternoon, around 2:00 PM, I was sitting on my couch, reading and sending e-mail WITH NO WIRES! ON MY LAPTOP!

I am one happy girl. And grateful to two caring, giving people who drove hundreds of miles and spent an entire weekend doing this thing out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course, they refused any compensation, but if they think I am going to let this go unrewarded, they've got another think coming.

It's good to know that chivalry is alive and well in the world though.

*Picture of coaxial connection by Matt Myles.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sea of Snow

One of the largest snowstorms I can remember in my 49 years is now past. We are enjoying the beautiful remnants of the Blizzard of 2007, now that the driveways are cleared and our routines are back to normal. That doesn't mean that I don't wish for 75° weather, however...

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?
"I've been to London to look at the queen."
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you there?
"I frightened a little mouse under the chair."
~ Mother Goose

Max came to us last year. He was a big bit of orange fluff and his hunger carried him through his fear of us. When he thought we and the other cats weren't looking, he'd sneak into the pool house and have lunch. So many times I'd approach the building, not knowing he was in there, and he'd streak out of there like the proverbial bat out of hell, scaring the bejeezus out of me in the process.

I didn't like him at first. It was merely the fact that he was orange, and I didn't like orange cats. I have no explanation for this whatsoever. I just didn't like them. My parents had an orange cat when I was born. His name was Tom. And there was a man in our town named Tom that had an orange cat named Fred. My dad's name is Fred. Both Tom and Fred (the cats) lived good long lives and I don't recall any bad experiences with either of them.

But Max had a heart of gold. And as he became more trusting of us and most of the other cats accepted him into the family, we soon fell in love with him. Even me. The first time Max let me touch him, his loud purr and affectionate ways just did me in. How could I NOT love him? Max, whose favorite place in the world is in your lap. Max, who drools in ecstasy with every caress of your hand. Max, with eyes that match his immaculately kept fur. Max, who loves spending time in the garden almost as much as I do. It can't be helped - I love Max - orange fur and all.

Our dog, Simba, does not like Max and never has. Every chance she gets, Simba chases Max and barks him up a tree or under the pool lounge. And Boo, who is normally very docile and laid back, becomes very aggressive towards him, so we can't leave the two of them alone together in a small space. It's never Max that makes the hostile move. I'm not even sure if he's capable of it. He's just here to love and be loved by us and if everyone understands that fact, we'll all get along just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Tonight, Max is outside somewhere. He was out with us earlier in the day, while we were taking pictures of the incredible results of yesterday's blizzard, but when we came back into the house, he was nowhere to be found. In warmer weather, he's been known to disappear for a couple of days at a time, and we don't worry a whole lot, because he always has come back none the worse for wear, and after all, he was out there on his own before he found us.

Cats have incredible survival skills, but it's -5° at the moment, dark, and we don't know where he is. He's our boy and we want him safe and warm. Tonight, I pray that God has provided shelter for him wherever he is, and I hope to see him sitting on the bench on the back patio in the morning, as he has done so many times in the past when he returned from visiting The Queen.

UPDATE: As of 2:00 this afternoon, Max is enjoying the warmth and security of my computer chair. Warm because he's inside the house, and secure because with him and me in the chair together, it's pretty snuggly. I'm once more a happy girl, and I swear Max is smiling, too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Here we go again...

What was that I was saying just a couple of weeks ago? We experienced blizzard conditions all day today, and at nearly midnight, it's still going strong. Seven inches of snow right now, and generally 25-30 mph winds with gusts to 40 mph, so there's some serious drifting going on. We won't reach the conditions that we had in 1978, but this is the biggest snowstorm we've had in many years. I was supposed to work all day tomorrow, but our county is currently under a Level III snow emergency, meaning anything but emergency travel is prohibited, and you will be subject to arrest if you're caught out in it. Not that I want to be anyway.

The wind has been coming from the north-northeast, so our normally cozy family room has been chilly. That room has the most windows of any room in the house, and most of them face north and east. Fuzzy socks and throws are making a fashion statement, and lap cats are welcomed. The more the better.

I guess they do make snowstorms like they used to.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

Yesterday, we went to our daughter Kara's house. She had called the day before, desperate to plant something. "Mom, what can I plant NOW?" I suggested a couple types of bulbs she could force. She wanted to do seeds. I explained that it was a little too soon to plant seeds inside without lights, because they'd get too leggy before she could get them outside, so I mentioned winter sowing. She thought that would satisfy her urge.

I took her some milk jugs and between the two of us, she had six for planting. We were off to Lowe's to look at 'stuff' and find her some seeds. She decided to do nasturtiums, flax, dianthus, Canterbury bells, bachelor's buttons, and Chinese Forget-Me-Nots. She got a big bag of potting soil, but they kept it outside and it was more like a brick of it than a bag, because it was frozen solid.

While we were shopping for seeds, Romie was off in the lighting department and when we met up with him, he'd found some lights on clearance for $26. We'd been looking for a couple of years for a replacement for some old track lighting in our family room and by golly, he'd found it. Oooh, goody! A new project!

We got back to Kara and Adam's and I helped her fix her milk jugs for sowing. We couldn't actually plant them, because of the potting soil being frozen, so I left her with instructions. "These had better grow!" she said as she glared at me, like it would be all my fault if they didn't. I told her not to expect results of 100%, and if she did, she'd better give up gardening right now, 'cause that wasn't ever gonna happen. She hmmmphed at me.

When Romie and I got back home, he took the old track lighting down and installed the new. This was what followed:

Romie: Okay, flip the switch. This should work.
I flip switch. Lights don't work.
Romie: Hmmm....
Romie does some thinking.
Romie: Maybe if I switch the wires...
He switches wires.
I flip switch. Lights don't work.
Me: Well, if you think you've done it right, maybe you should ask the electrician at work tomorrow.
Romie: I'm thinking maybe it has to do with the ground wire.
Me: Maybe you should ask the electrician tomorrow at work.
Romie: I wonder if your dad would know what we should try.
Me: Why don't you call him?
Romie does some more thinking.
Romie: I can't figure out why this won't work! Give me one of the old lights and let me see if one of those will work on it.
I hand him one of the old lights.
Romie: Okay, flip the switch.
I flip switch. Light works!
Romie: Now why won't the new ones work???
Romie looks at the new light more closely and unscrews glass cover.
Romie: Well, no wonder it wouldn't work. There's no light bulb in here!
Me: I thought you put them in. You asked me if they pushed in or screwed in, so I thought you had put them in.
I run upstairs to get a white glove (they're halogen bulbs) and come back downstairs and put a light bulb in the light. Romie puts the light in the track. I flip switch.

Life give us so many opportunities to do something stupid, doesn't it?

There were six lights altogether, but six would be too many for where we're using them. It's nice to have a spare, though, and we've got two. Except that one light bulb was missing. And one didn't work. Now that required a trip back to Lowe's for the other two light bulbs, which I did today after work.

Wonderful people at Lowe's, there are. I got my two replacement light bulbs with no muss and no fuss, and when I was finished, the sales associate asked if there was anything else I needed. "We got lots of new plants in today."

And there it is.

I just know they rigged those track lights to necessitate a return trip just to tempt me with plants or other garden-related paraphernalia. Do you like my new pictures?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

A visit to the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, earlier this week produced this detail of a staghorn fern (Platycerium) clinging to a moss-covered cement wall. The rainforest there is always refreshing, with its organic essence and the soothing sound of the waterfall. I caught Mom napping on one of the benches while she waited for me to browse. I wanted to join her and make the world go away for awhile. It was a lovely place.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Henry Mitchell

I'd never heard of Henry Mitchell until a few months ago (so sue me, as Henry would have said), but as I was looking through the gardening genre of books at Amazon.com, a few of his caught my eye. I'm right now reading Henry Mitchell On Gardening and when I'm done with that, I intend to read his other books, which are a collection of essays he's written. He used to do a column called Earthman for the Washington Post, before his death in 1993.

He was an ordinary gardener like you and me, and not afraid to admit his shortcomings or failed attempts at growing a zone 9 plant in a zone 7 garden. Like the rest of us, when we see a flower that we must have, we near-sightedly read the tag and dismiss the information that might deter us from having it. If we fail and it freezes out one winter, we try again, planting it in a different location. We mulch it. We mulch it more. By gosh and by golly, we will grow that plant. It's as if someone double-dog dared us. After all, the plants don't read the tags, do they?

Gardeners, as a group, are somewhat delusional. If you don't like that word, then try idealistic.

" But you don't garden and deal with gardeners for very long before
you discover that good sense has little to do with it."

- Henry Mitchell

We are on a never-ending quest to grow the gardens we see in our minds. And sometimes when we look at them,
we see our dream realized, even if others don't. But our gardens are mostly for our own enjoyment anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Mitchell lived in our nation's capital and wrote of his exploits there, but there are gardening basics that apply whether you live in Key West or Anchorage, and many people learned these through his writings. He shared his everyday experiences and there was always a tidbit of information that you didn't know before, as well as insight into his delightful personality. He related to us, and vice versa.

If you read blogs or write blogs, you'll soon see that Henry Mitchell had the routine down, long before blogging or online journaling became popular. Thankfully - gratefully - his columns have been preserved in his books:

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Little Bit of Summer

I have seen it. I have smelled it.

I mentioned earlier that the
Amorphophallus rivieri was in bloom at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Gardens in Ft. Wayne, for only the second time in twenty years. Today, the temperatures reached a balmy 17°, so Mom and I drove to The City to see it. And smell it.

Amorphophallus rivieri

The day didn't start off very well on my end. All in a matter of about fifteen minutes, I tried to get the dog into the garage (she didn't wanna), tried to find either Max or Boo who were both hiding somewhere under a bed or sofa to put one of them out (because having them both in the house for very long is a very bad idea - I'm not sure who doesn't like whom), bumped up against the dirty garbage can and got my freshly-laundered off-white coat more 'off' than white, got stuck in the driveway, tried to shovel myself out and in the process accidentally hit the corner of the snow shovel on the front bumper of The Beetle and put a big scratch in it, tried to call my mom to let her know I was going to be late and she wasn't answering either of her phones, and when I went back in the house, the dog went in, too. She's not allowed in there, because she weighs 65 pounds and is like a bull in a china shop and this morning she had muddy paws. I finally got her out of the house, tried to shovel myself out again and realized there was too much snow packed up under The Beetle. I needed a push to get out and of course the neighbors weren't home, so I had to call Romie at work. By this time, I was so frustrated that I don't know if that water falling down the front of my face was from the cold or if they were real tears. Whatever it was, it had now messed up my makeup. And Romie laughed at me.

But he did come home and got me out by shoving The Beetle from behind with his car and I was on my way. God, I love this man.

We ate lunch at Club Soda - Mom's first visit there. The decor and ambience makes you feel like you're in New York and not the rural midwest. We ate in the loft and it was obvious that several business lunches were going on and I was definitely dressed in the wrong color. I was wearing color. Shades of black, gray, and blue were the couleurs du jour and I had on red. But we were not about business today, and by the time we left, I felt right at home because they were decorating for Valentine's Day. Mom had to be happy just having cream of broccoli soup because she still has one week left of her all-liquid diet, due to her surgery last week. I had French onion soup and spinach salad. Yummy.

We drove over to the conservatory and from the moment we stepped in the front door, we left winter behind us. The organic aroma of leaves and soil had me almost salivating. We took a quick walk through The Tulip Tree gift shop, where I spied a mature jade plant that didn't have a bad anything on it. Mom talked me into buying it, not that I needed much convincing. It was relatively inexpensive, as are all the nice healthy plants for sale there. I picked up a beautiful Rex begonia and English primrose, too. We both passed up the nice Ponytail palms that were selling for a dollar each and later regretted it.

On to the stinky plant. We had to ask for directions to it, even after several people said, "Just follow your nose." We didn't actually smell it until we were about six feet away, and then the fishy odor was very obvious. It wasn't as offensive as I'd expected, but I wouldn't want it blooming in my house, either. My cat's breath smells similar. We can now say we have been there and done that, a thing which was quite satisfying to Mom, since she is sure she won't be around to see it the next time it blooms. Whatever.

We took a look around at the other flowerage (yes, it's a word; I looked it up). The Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia) was clothed in all its peachy loveliness and we had us a few up-close sniffs of that. Mmmmmm. Smells like Florida. The Glory Bower (Clerodendrum) and many orchids were also blooming. I fell in love with a peachy-rose orchid that I'm not sure of its name, but that's a good thing, because I'd want to try to find it and buy it, even though I don't have the best of luck with orchids. I'll just visit the conservatory whenever I need an orchid fix.

We ran into a nice young man named Zach, who works there and I remembered that I'd spoken with him last October, when my friend Kat and I were enjoying the rainforest. He is into bonsai culture and is trying to get bonsai displayed at the conservatory. It seems a no-brainer to me, especially when they've got someone who is passionate about them and experienced working right there. He's got the mayor interested, so maybe it will happen one of these days.

The main room had oodles of azaleas, cyclamen and primroses of various colors planted along every pathway and most of the pathways had been turned into a nine-hole miniature golf course! We were compelled to play a round, just so we could say we played golf in February. Mom, who is an avid golfer on the full-size course, tried to inflict regular golf rules on me, but I wouldn't have it. Still, she was the winner by a stroke, and had a hole-in-one on the second hole. That was good for a free pass to the conservatory, but we forgot to pick it up at the desk when we were finished. We get in free because of our membership in the American Horticulture Society, but someone else could have used it.

We went back to the gift shop and gathered our purchases. We dropped mine off at home, where I was met by Romie rolling his eyes at me once again, when he saw I had bought more plants. He was sure we had no place whatsoever to put them, but plants are like Jell-O®. There's always room.

The day ended with the Evergreen Garden Club's meeting at Wassenberg Art Center, where a representative of Galbraith's Nursery in Ft. Wayne spoke about roses. I learned a few things, mostly good, but one downer - he said due to the extreme temperatures we have experienced this winter, we are certain to lose bushes, trees, and plants. Mom says with a smile, "We can buy more plants!" See, there's always a silver lining...

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


If I were of the sort to believe in reincarnation, I'm sure I must have been a green thing in another life. I look outside and see the sleeping flora, covered with snow, trying to keep warm. They're not doing much, merely subsisting enough to survive until spring. There's not enough heat or light to energize them enough to thrive, and so it is with me.

I don't know what kind of flower or plant I was, but this quiz says I'm a daffodil. "You have a sunny disposition and are normally one of the first to show up for the party. You don't need too much attention from the host once you get there as you are more than capable of making yourself seen and heard." Ha! Probably true. All of it. But it's winter and I don't feel like partying.

For years, I've said I would be happy to hibernate all through winter and I do this as much as I'm allowed. After working as a dental hygienist full- and part-time for over 26 years, now I only work half a day a week on a regular basis. I have a husband that goes out every day to make a real living so I can do this, and he expects little in return. He understands me. I feel guilty periodically and summon up the energy to cook a decent supper, dust the tables and vacuum a floor or two. But for the most part, I count down the days until the thermometer allows me to go outside with nothing more than a light jacket, and spend them reading and napping and tending to my plants. Then of course, there is the internet which is my link to the outside world. I could be the Dot Com Gal.

I have to interject here that I do have fibromyalgia, which certainly affects my everyday life and the lack of energy therein. But being a mostly positive person, I try not to let it rule my life any more than it does and some days I fight it with all I have. I'm much too young to let it get the best of me. But even before I was diagnosed, hunkering down for the winter looked mighty good to me.

It was -6° this morning when I got up and the wind chill was something like -15°. Cars won't start in that weather. Pipes freeze. Frostbite occurs in minutes for unprotected skin. The news people advised us to bring in our cats, because even though they have plenty of thick, warm fur to keep their bodies warm, their ears and paw pads can freeze quickly. So we have seven cats in the house. SEVEN! I feel like I'm living in a kennel. But there are few things more satisfying than curling up on the couch with a quilt and a purring kitty or two and taking a nap together while winter's out there doing its thing.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Make A Wish

Last night, as I went to bed, I glanced at the clock and it said 11:11. "Make a wish," I thought to myself, and I immediately remembered the day when I first heard that. I was in the car with Kara and Jenna and one of them said, "11:11, make a wish."


I don't recall now where they said the superstition originated, but from that moment on, every time I see a clock read 11:11, I think of the girls. They would probably be a bit disappointed to know that I don't actually make a wish, but I'm betting they'll forgive me once they know it makes me think of them.

I love things like this that make us think of other things and other people. It might be a song, a sight, a sound, a smell...

Aromatherapy is big business. It is said that lavender is calming and the fragrance of roses is an aphrodisiac, which is probably how the tradition of sending roses on Valentine's Day got started. Some noses are especially astute at discerning smells, and mine is one of them. Even after a year, our nose can recall a fragrance with 65% accuracy.

How many of us associate a certain smell with a certain person? When I smell Elizabeth Arden's Red Door perfume, I think of my mom. And when I smell sawdust, I think of my dad and picture him working away in his woodworking shop.

A cat's sense of smell is fourteen times as acute as a human's. They use smell to find their food as well as a mate. They sniff out enemies and other cats that have invaded their territory. They are among a few animals that have Jacobson's Organ, which is located in the roof of their mouth. When you sometimes see your cat appear to smile, with its mouth slightly open, they are using their Jacobson's Organ to sniff the air. Snakes have it, too.

There are those flowers in my garden that are especially fragrant and I look forward to the days when those are in bloom. First comes the honeysuckle. We have a whole trellis full of it and you can smell that from several yards away if you're downwind from it. If we're lucky, it will bloom in the spring and then again a couple of months later.

Then there is the Oriental Lily 'Muscadet.' Oh, how intoxicating it is! There were many days last summer when I had to wipe the pollen from my face because I had my nose buried in it. Not that I would have needed to get that close to smell it, but it was like the siren's song and drew me in.

The one that took me by surprise was the Peacock Orchid (Acidanthera). I had these planted in a large clay pot by the pool house and every time I would round the corner and go by them, I'd get a whiff of this heavenly fragrance. It was so subtle that it took me a time or two to figure out where it was coming from. After that, I was compelled to stop and have a sniff each time I passed by. They aren't hardy in our zone, so I have to bring them in for the winter, but they're every bit worth the extra effort required.

Some things don't smell good. Like the marigolds, for instance. I have never liked the smell of those, and while it has been said that some insects don't like how it smells either, there is no proof that its scent repels them. However, peppermint deters ants, garlic helps keep Japanese beetles away, and borage is said to discourage tomato hornworm. Come to think of it, I had borage in the garden this year, right next to the tomatoes and we didn't have any hornworms like we usually do. (Actually, we usually have the tobacco hornworm, which is nearly identical in appearance to the tomato hornworm. You can tell the difference by the number of stripes and the color of their horns. Tomato= 8, black. Tobacco= 7, red. No matter - they both can do lots of damage.)

Another thing to note about the hornworms - if you ever come across one and it has little white things hanging off it, leave them. Parasitic wasps lay eggs on the hornworm and the larvae feed on it. When the wasps eventually hatch, they search for other hornworms to parasitize.

Now how did we get from 11:11 to hornworms?

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