Friday, December 31, 2010

Baby Sitting Julia~

I have committed myself to babysitting my first grand baby twice a week, so I keep four month old Julia every Wednesday and Friday. After raising my eight, it seemed such a small undertaking. And I had done the full nine yards with mine… it was very serious business raising environmentally conscious, compassionate, well-rounded individuals. How hard could one baby be?

I came to my marriage to Michael with a two year old and then had our seven from 1975to 1987; our only daughter arrived last. With careful planning and cutting corners, I was able to stay at home with them, a luxury few young people today are able to have. The duties and work were rewarding yet time consuming and nothing escaped my thoughtful, yet overzealous, intent. Gardens were planted to provide home grown organic food which was consumed both fresh and home-canned. Six loaves of bread were made every other day and jellies were made from fruits in season. The cloth diapers I used were line dried… disposable diapers contain formaldehyde and who would want such a chemical touching baby skin? Plus line dried diapers absorbed vitamin D from the sunlight, which was an added boost for house-bound infants. All of my children were nursed, and since mother’s milk contains a tranquilizer, they were relaxed and happy babies. Each time we added another, I would place the baby in the middle of the fray with the only instruction, ’don’t let the baby cry’. The current baby would be passed from child to child, with no one ever feeling taxed and the little one felt incredibly loved.

Marie Winn’s groundbreaking book 'Children Without Childhood' was published in 1983, and mirrored my concerns about the loss of traditional childhood. A researcher, Ms. Winn had noted that the brain activity of monitored children went into ’sleep mode’ while watching television! Naturally my children had limited exposure… instead they were sent to the yard to play!

Enter Miss Julia! To make a long story short, I realize that Julia is my granddaughter, not my daughter, so I have no real input into her life style… she has her own parents for that. Friday morning, we worked on her vocals, (she will learn to say ‘Grandma‘), played pat-a-cake, this little piggy, and took intricate notice of her feet before feeding her a bottle and putting her down for a nap. She dozed a few minutes and woke up fussy! Really fussy… like I had to dance with her for almost four hours! As I was nearing collapse, I noted she was looking at the TV. Perhaps, perhaps… no it was so so wrong! But I was tired… dancing for hours was much harder than weeding a 60 foot flower bed!

So, I did it; I took the giant leap into the moment... which included high definition! I pulled her little bed to the television, put a pillow behind her propping her upright, turned the channel to Disney and watched as she began chortling to her animate ‘friends'. She was delighted! It’s a new world and who am I to hang onto the past? Why would I? I am now a thoroughly modern Grandma… and I shall embrace the moment!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Mature Garden...

A Repost Dedicated to all of us who overdid this Christmas~

An interesting thing about the mature garden is the fact it usually has at its helm a mature gardener. Sometime during the evolution, major changes are in order as the passion of unbridled youth becomes somewhat diminished with the passing of decades. Rows and rows of carefully planted and tended perennial and annual beds plus standard vegetable patches must make way for a garden friendlier to the capacities of the gardener as age approaches. Obviously once the knees, back, and hands become aged, crawling around toiling and transplanting, hand weeding, pruning, and hoeing looses much of its charm.

Almost overnight, particularly after a year of too much rain and too much grass and weed-growth, it becomes perfectly clear that 'downsizing' is not only desirable, but a necessity. It is now that flowering shrubs and wispy grasses, once looked upon as simply 'filler' in the garden, begin appear in the forefront of the gardener's mind.

If the lovely selection of shrubs is reviewed, it becomes evident that one can have scented and flowering beauty all season with very little effort. One of the nicest things about shrubs is after flowering they continue to look splendid for the duration of the season, some with berries which appear from the flowering, some with simply exquisite foliage.


The Viburnum species are a marvelous addition. They flower early and fill the garden with the first breath of spring and following flowering they still appear attractive dressed in their verdant finery of bold and interesting leaves. For a late spring bloomer, some Spirea would be a nice addition. With her sweet little clusters of flowers and the tendency to survive extreme temperature, this gem survived the Oklahoma dust bowl and makes a lovely focal point. Later, the Heavenly Bamboo or Nandina would bloom and look divine. With the cream-colored flowers replaced by berries which turn scarlet by Christmas, they have long been a staple in Southern gardens. A few Crape Myrtle would add texture, color and a stunning flowering display for all of August through September. If cut back in the early spring, they will bloom as a shrub rather than become a tree. If the tips are trimmed after the first flowering, they will flower again. Pyracantha makes a perfect Halloween display. The list is endless!

If one decides to downsize and rethink the gardening efforts, look around at the gardens that have already done it for inspiration. In many gardens
flower beds have given way to a host of shrubs, grasses and easy-maintenance lawn and yet the level of sophistication is striking. Friends of ours with a fabulous Koi pond inspired us. Situated within a patio setting, their pond is full of fish, blooming water lilies and outstanding grasses, surrounded by shaded places to sit... and relax. With the gentle splash of the waterfall, they have created a serene and peaceful air within their garden. It feels unhurried, appears self-maintaining to a degree... and compared to weeding and hoeing, how hard can fish be?

My Fish~ very easy maintenance!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Birds, The Cats, and the Mastiff... The Game

I’m watching something hilarious unfold in the yard; Jenny Guinea and Rajah have decided to protect the little birds. Apparently they have enlisted the help of Bruno, the Mastiff, to chase the cats away from the hedge row. The cats are hanging out, hiding in the hedge adjacent to where the little birds eat, hoping to snag a snack.

Jenny is telling Bruno...wake up Bruno!

So now we have the nervous little birds in a flurry of winged flight rushing enmass away from the feed when the cats leap out to chase them. Bruno hears the ruckus and actually wakes from his nap to race like a freight train to the bottom yard. Barking and dancing his way to the feeder he scares the bejeebers out of the cats, who have just scared the bejebbers out of the birds!

As he arrives the cats jump to the tin roof of the shed and rattle their way across to the over hanging trees. He jumps and baritone-barks as they leap to the safety of the trees... and the birds seem pleased by their plight. The cats sway in the branches until Bruno loses interest and lumbers off to nap on the back stoop again. Everything settles down for a bit before it happens all over again…this is like the instructions on shampoo. (Wash, rinse and repeat)

Rajah and Bruno resting after the fray!

Additionally the squirrels are in cahoots with the cats and have made it their job to bedevil the Corgi, who goes berserk as they steal bird feed. They chatter and toss walnuts as he races from tree to tree... barking and jumping as though he could climb!

There is so much going on here... there is never a dull moment!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

After Christmas Thoughts

The daring Titmouse!

This time of year our feathered friends need help until the first insects of spring emerge and their antics will stave off boredom as the winter progresses. In full summer the leaves on the trees tend to muffle the excited calls of the Jays, the squabbles of the Sparrows, the hyper twitters of Chickadee, Titmouse, and Goldfinch. Even the rapid-fire drilling of the Woodpecker is lost by insulation. However with the stark and leafless trees, the birds become center stage and will provide hours of house-bound entertainment for those who feed them.

A standard mix of wild bird feed is easily affordable and will draw many birds to your feeder. If you add thistle to the mix the Chickadees will be grateful; add more sunflower seeds and the Cardinals will adore you. As I watch the feeder, I am always amazed at the unspoken respect the Woodpecker receives. Perhaps it is his funky feet or daunting beak that intimidates the others for when he arrives every bird exits in a rush. The only exception is the daring Titmouse who will zoom in to snatch a seed without stopping to rest. Once the Woodpecker leaves, the other guests return to dine in a boisterous group, unafraid.

They tend to eat at specified times much as we eat breakfast lunch and dinner so often the feeder will be abandoned only to be full within the hour. A bird feeder is a marvelous way to enjoy the winter from the warmth of your living room.

Since the garden is resting and many are sequestered inside, thankfully the catalogues have begin arriving. Gardening catalogues are our ‘dream books’ and it is always exciting to see what has been newly discovered or hybridized. And since all we can do now is plan for the coming season, stroll the garden and begin making plans where to add something new and exotic, something you have never tried to grow yet. It will add excitement to the season to watch its progress each day.

For those gardeners who enjoy action, perhaps include an Easter Egg plant which promises to delight the children. A member of the potato family, it sports lush green potato-like foliage and produces absolutely adorable clusters of ‘eggs’. As the clusters mature the white eggs gradually change color and become a deep cream, pastel yellow or orange, with some even changing to a light green. This odd specimen is an annual but produces enough seeds in the ripened ‘eggs’ to collect and share with friends. The requirements of normal or loamy soil and full sun make it an easy choice as an ornamental and with a mature height of only twelve inches, it may be planted almost anywhere. It blooms from early to late summer with as many as twelve ‘eggs’ per plant making it a long lasting delight for the garden.

For the Gothic gardener or to please the family teenagers, there are a variety of ‘dark’ choices to plant. Black Mourning Bride, of the Scabiosa family, is a perfect choice. A native of the Mediterranean, it has been in Europe since 1629 and grown here since colonial times. Called the pincushion flower and prized by Victorians, it is still used in Portugal and Brazil as a funeral flower. Its showy and fragrant little blossoms last up to three weeks when cut making it a prize for those who make arrangements. Its flowers also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, further enhancing its continued popularity.

The internet is a wonderful tool which can enable the gardener to plan and order now… while the garden is sleeping. Happy New Year and stay warm!

*Rajah dines during the 'off' hours.
Other photo credits: Sharon Bastianelli with permission

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More on Mistletoe!

Mistletoe has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies most originating in Northern Europe, the birth place of this extraordinary plant... it is amazing!

All Mistletoe plants are parasitic, meaning they attach to a host and thus take from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has independently evolved five, making it one extraordinary species. It is a large family with over nine hundred species located in Europe, North America and Australia. Without becoming too scientific, it is safe to say that most Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate.

The enigma of Mistletoe easily lends itself to lore. It hangs air born between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months. It was said to have been revered by the Druids as most holy, especially if it appeared on an Oak which was their most sacred tree. The golden berries of the plant were considered a key linking the heavens and underworld. Cut with a golden sickle on December 23rd (the day of the marriage of the solar and lunar forces), it was not allowed to touch the ground but was caught with a white cloth. Two white bulls were sacrificed for the ritual which ensured fertility, protection from evil, abundance, and harmony. The ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe has its origin in these pagan beliefs.

Norse mythology has Baldur, the solar hero child of Frigg and Odin, killed by a twig of Mistletoe. As Baldur descended to the Underworld, it was said that he would not return until after doomsday. Then, as the solar god, the light of the heavens, he will usher in an era of peace and light to mankind. His story is long, full of conspiracy and jealousy as the gods and goddesses of old were prone to petty emotions, however the historical power of the plant has remained.

Never to be outdone, the Greeks too have a story with Mistletoe as the centerpiece. Aeneas, a young hero, used the power of a golden bough of Mistletoe as the key which allowed for the safe entrance and return of a mortal to the Underworld. He went below and sought his father for advice and counsel and returned unharmed yet transformed and spiritually reborn.

Among Christians, it is said that Mistletoe was once a vibrant tree which was used as the wood for the cross of the crucifixion of Christ. Afterwards the disgraced tree shriveled and was reduced to a parasitic vine as punishment.

Medicinally, although the berries are poisonous, it has been used as a remedy for epilepsy with wood amulets said to ward off attacks. It has been used to reduce stress related heart palpations, relieve headaches and dizziness caused by high blood pressure, and since ancient times to treat tumors. Recent medical research has promising results with Mistletoe as a cure for cancer.

Whatever the reason to include this marvelous plant… a kiss below it, a wish for good luck, or simply a spot of bright green color… it is truly a magical addition to any Christmas decor.

Photo Credit: Ray Woods Plant Life

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Tree... and the Weather

For those who garden, observing the weather changes is practically a religion, practiced as a daily devotional. Over the weekend, winter arrived with blustery winds and drastically dropping temperatures. When watching the national weather one begins to count our blessings even though we are incredibly dry. Our poor neighbors to the north east have been plummeted with too much snow, and it seems there is no end in sight for them. La NiƱa with her unusually cold ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific has become part of the current weather system and with this pattern, we may expect little moisture over the winter. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, La Nina, strengthened during August and "Nearly all models predict La Nina to continue at least through early 2011, and will begin to exert an increasing influence on the weather and climate of the United States. These impacts include an enhanced chance of above-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic North East ." Unfortunately, this excludes the Southwest, and we will remain dry with no chance of a white Christmas.

The lovely evergreens have begun their seasonal show and it is always impressive that they choose the winter, as the world is encased in frosty slumber, to appear in their finery. Bearing fruit or berries despite the cold of winter, they have always been considered quite remarkable and were an important aspect of ancient pagan rituals. The Romans considered evergreens symbols of fertility and used them to trim their homes for the new year while northern Europeans hung them over doors to ward off evil spirits that were believed to stalk the winter landscape. German and Scandinavian people had long made evergreen wreaths to celebrate the Winter Solstice and over time were included in their celebrations of the birth of Jesus.

It is said that Martin Luther began the German tradition of decorating trees. In about 1500 as he was walking through a snow covered forest, he was struck by the beauty of dusted evergreens shimmering in the moonlight. So enamored was he by the natural beauty that he placed a tree inside for his children, decorated with lit candles symbolizing the starry sky and honoring Christ's birth. Following this tradition, the church began to include a tree for Christmas and by the mid-1600’s it was decorated with apples to symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.

About this time German Christians began bringing trees into their homes and soon they began to decorate them. Their tradition arrived with Hessian immigrants to the colonies and overcame the austere (and unpopular) Puritan belief that ‘all work and no play’ included banning Christmas celebrations.

In 1832 Charles Follen, a German immigrant and professor at Harvard, decorated the first American Christmas tree to share with his family and friends. And in 1846, a young German Prince Albert presented his new bride Victoria with her first tree and thus the English Victorian Christmas was born. Word of decorated Christmas trees spread rapidly and was embraced by almost all Christian cultures; it remains today a universal symbol of the holiday season.