Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Almost-Disaster Zip Line

The tree across the creek bit it in the ice storm, but you can see the drop!

We took a walk and saw the 60 foot Oak tree, with the 20 foot girth that we had put the zip line around for the kids when they were young. It was over the canyon where the creek runs and at a proper angle to actually zip with sufficent speed for a fun ride. We even had a mattress at the end so smashing was softened. We had chained an old tractor seat to sit correctly over the line and decided Lize, who was six and the lightest person in the family, should go first.

 Bad plan... she was too lightweight and the thing stopped over the creek, that had spikes of willow trees we had cut off for the project. She panicked and let go her hands and looked like she was going to jump the 25 feet to the creek... and the spears of willow.

I stood below her, burst into tears and coaxed, 'Baby, please, please hold on, hold on until Daddy can lasso your foot and we can pull you to this side'.

The depth of the canyon... except it has no rocks... it is red stone/dirt.

*This comment may be listed as one of the worst things you hope to never have to say to your child... it seems a bit irresponsible.. just a bit.

Michael frantically got a rope and successfully tossed it to her, where she carefully slipped it around her ankle while holding on with one hand. 

 No wonder I seem shell shocked sometimes!

*BTW, My father was afraid of heights because he always had a desire to jump... perhaps it was a genetic thing?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Gardeners Will Garden

The urge to dig in the soil and plant a seed is as old as civilized mankind for the thrill of watching a seedling emerge and reach fruition is unsurpassed. Every nation has appropriated sites for carefully tended public grounds, and their continued popularity is a testament to our love affair with gardens. According to space and circumstance gardens may be found on grand estates, in tiny cottage plots, or even in cheerful window boxes spilling with blooms. Each provide a living testament to our desire to nurture and surround ourselves with natural beauty.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 BC were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World… quite an honor for a garden! Many royal gardens in Europe have been cherished for generations and Prince Charles of Britain has restored many while pressing a national gardening agenda. Our own Thomas Jefferson was more pleased with his gardening innovations at Monticello than all of his diplomatic successes and even his Presidency. He avidly collected seeds, cuttings, and plants from his travels, bringing them home and carefully documenting their successful progress or failure. We have him to thank for introducing many of the species we now consider standard.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the cramped and simple gardens belonging to poor laborers and factory workers in Europe were the birthplace of florist’s flowers as we now know them. A lovely example is the magnificent Carnation which was once a quarter-sized Dianthus. Petals were doubled and redoubled as enthusiastic breeders toiled in their tiny spaces after working long hours at grueling jobs. Their joy is apparent in the creations they have bequeathed us and we are grateful for their efforts.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1990 and former Communist countries were opened to the West for the first time in decades. The horticultural community was stunned at the advanced plant breeding that had occurred in impossible and suppressed conditions behind the Iron Curtain. With no laboratories, no conservatories, and little money, gardeners had persevered in their efforts to advance and improve many species and were honored by a grateful horticultural community.

Much of the hybridization we enjoy today occurred in the back yard Victory Gardens of WWII. At President Roosevelt’s request, everyone in the nation was asked to plant a garden to allow our surplus food to be sent to overseas to our troops. This program was enthusiastically adopted and petunias and marigolds were replaced by vegetables in an astonishing national effort. Most of the fresh produce consumed by the nation was grown in small garden plots and the success of this program remains unsurpassed today.

The realization that gardeners will garden regardless of hardship or circumstance is comforting. We are called to the soil for there is perpetual harmony in gardening and it knows no boundaries.

Rachel Ruysch Oil Painting: ‘A Carnation, Morning Glory, and Other Flowers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Meeting Angels Unawares... A Christmas Story

It was late December and our children were still little so naturally we were broke. Christmas was coming and although we were not extravagant, we still provided special food and thoughtful gifts for all eight of them. We were entering the on ramp on I-40 to drive home from a grocery excursion and saw an elderly gentleman standing on the side of the hi-way, leaning on a wooden crutch. He was about 75 with a stubble of beard, dressed in ragged clothing, wearing an old gray hat. His belongings were in a small stained bag, and he had an old woolen blanket pulled tightly about him. I felt sudden sadness upon seeing him and asked Michael if we should stop. He said no because we had three of the children with us and he would have to squeeze him in the backseat with them. He said that surely someone would pick the old gent up for me not to worry. And yet both of us felt a nagging sadness at the old man’s plight.

The following morning we realized we had forgotten some necessary items and again made the twenty mile run to the adjacent town. It was overcast, drizzling and a very cold blasting North wind made conditions miserable. As we drove I asked Michael if he thought someone had picked up the old man. He promised me that surely someone had. We bought the last of our necessities and had only forty dollars left as we entered the on ramp.

Sweet Jesus, he was still there! How could he still be there? We stopped just beyond the old man and Michael got out of the car to help him to his seat. He settled in and I turned the heater to warp while he began thanking us. He said he was trying to make it the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico where he knew he could stay for the winter. He was Canadian and had served in WWII for the US but had been denied benefits due to his citizenship status. He had fallen on hard times and just needed a bus ticket to get on his way but could find no help in getting one. He had been standing on the side of the road for many days.

Michael suggested that we take him 15 miles to the Travel Plaza where all of the truckers stopped for gas and that perhaps he could find a ride from someone there. He gratefully accepted the idea and said he was warming up a bit. Michael stopped at the plaza and pressed our last forty dollars into the gentleman’s hand as he helped him into the building.

As we drove away we kept feeling a nagging worry and so after unloading our bundles, we drove the seven miles back to the plaza to check on him to see if he had gotten a ride. Our inquiries were met with puzzled looks for no one knew what we were talking about. No one had seen him... not the people Michael had nodded to as he opened the door, not gas attendants nor any the truckers. Only we had seen him and I have often wondered if he was there as a holy test for us... a test of our humanity, our faith, and one to show our children by example how to generously love.

As times become more difficult, let us remember that often our sense of compassion, our sense of brotherhood and our ability to unconditionally share with those less fortunate than ourselves may be tested.

And ‘Forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares‘.
Hebrews 13:2

*Icon Credit: Maria Sheets



Monday, December 12, 2016

Festivities Warm the Season... the Yule Log

Winter has appeared in all of its frosty finery, with crisp frozen mists and the crunch of ice as one walks about in the early morning.  To lighten these dark days, festivities were created by our ancestors, and many are seated in magical lore.

In Northern Europe, it was believed the dead visited during the time the land was barren, so ceremonies were created to appease them.  One Solstice festival was called ‘Jule’ , pronounced ‘Yule’ and honored Odin. Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death and Yule customs varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts. The bonfires of former ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule Log, perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.

The origins of the Yule Log can be traced back to the Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen indulged by feasting, drinking Yule, and watching the fire leap about the log burning in the home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with the Yule Log's sacred origins are closely linked to representations of health, fruitfulness and productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged home by oxen or horses as people walked alongside and sang merry songs. Often it was decorated with evergreens and sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally set alight.

In Yugoslavia, the Yule Log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight. The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored fabric, and doused with wine and an offering of grain. In an area of France families would go together to cut the Yule Log, singing as they asked for blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their flocks. Their ceremony included carrying the log around the house three times and christening it with wine before lighting it.

To all of Europe the Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for twelve hours to twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood was saved to light the next year's log. The ashes that remained from were scattered over fields to bring fertility or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes they were used in the creation of various free cattle from vermin or to ward off hailstorms.

Few homes today contain a hearth so a modest way to include this ceremony is a fire pit… the burning wood may bring the pleasure of smoke and exotic aromas wafting through the night air… and perhaps it may bestow blessings upon your home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Natural Decorations

As Winter deepens, festive decorating reaches a zenith for no other moment encompasses such a variety of celebrations rolled into one package. Included with the birth of Christ, is the Winter Solstice, the New Year, and almost every civilization has some sort of celebration at this time. Besides religious festivities, one adds gift giving, families gathering and the general feeling of kindness toward mankind, making it indeed a miraculous season.

 Part of the ancient reason for celebrations was to ward off the boredom of deep winter, and so it is during this time that the miracle of evergreens appear all the more special. Always in the garden, yet often under appreciated during the summer season, many make a name for themselves now.

 A simple December pleasure is crafting wreaths and holiday arrangements by scouting greenery from the garden. Using a wire or simple grapevine wreath gather traditional cedar, spruce or pine boughs as a basis, for not only will they provide a stellar aroma, but their sturdiness will anchor all else that is added. Perhaps add the merriment of holly, with the interest of magnolia boughs or patterned arbor vitae. Gather interesting vines and weeds to complete the process. Add pinecones by twisting a small piece of wire around the base of the cone, leaving a bit to tie the to the wreath. One year we sprayed the wispy weeds with gold spray paint… it was the same year we sprayed our ’holiday’ tennis shoes gold as well.  And even those with seasonal allergies may appreciate a lovely outdoor decoration!

 For indoor decorations, Nandina, Holly, and Ivy are perfect companions and are virtually odorless. Both the Holly and Nandina have Christmasy-red berries that will look lovely in your arrangement. Choose a large vase, add a ‘frog’ to anchor the greenery, then begin adding your selections, turning and building as you go. By the end, if you need visual interest, scout the garden for some Pyracantha or privet berries… and spray them gold. Then pick an old pair of flats, and spray them gold too!

Privet: Spray with some snow?

 Remember that every house needs a sprig of mistletoe. For years Mistletoe was the assumed floral emblem for the state of Oklahoma so it has a special place in our hearts. (It was replaced by the ‘official’ Oklahoma Rose in 2004.) Mistletoe has a long and colorful history originating in Northern Europe, the birth place of this extraordinary plant.

 All Mistletoe plants are parasitic; 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 an extraordinary species. Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate and this enigma lends itself to mysticism and lore. It hangs airborne between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months, all of which defy reason. Christmas greenery is utterly fantastic!