Thursday, May 31, 2012

"The Woods Are Lovely...."

     "The woods are lovely, dark and deep..."
                                 R. Frost
    Frost was in the woods in the winter, I know, but these  words  describe the woods in spring and summer too.

    I love walking into a heavily shaded section along a wooded path and feeling the temperature drop and the silence deepen softly where little rays of sun occasionally seep through to the floor of the woods. But darkness pervades and offers respite from the sun and heat.

  Ferns carpet the floor , under an umbrella of green leaves, the silence broken by the occasional woodpecker calling it's mate.  The understory is gently covered with tiny wild flowers, shyly spreading in all directions.

   Today the woodland path I take is permeated with the heady odor of wild roses, probably escapees from some long forgotten garden.  It is a very warm day and this makes the scent almost overwhelming.  The entire landscape is covered with small white flowers which will turn to rose hips once the flowers have faded.

Eventually, I pass the sunny spot where wild flowers, like red clover, plantain and mugwort grow uninhibited by lawnmower, or weeder.  I notice several "useful herbs" among the vegetation and wonder if perhaps someday, a cure for many of our killing diseases might be found in these plants that most people refer to as weeds.

A walk in the woods is never complete until one finds a brook or stream or a tiny lake.  The water provides a growing spot for the tall reeds where the red-winged black birds love to nest and play. Today the yellow flag, a wild iris that grows in the shallows, is in full bloom and the swans and snowy egret and the geese all vie for attention.

  Heading  home, I walk through my suburban neighborhood and  pretend that all the gardens I pass are part of my "estate."  After all, if I can see them, I can enjoy them.   I love the flowers on this Kousa Dogwood, a small tree I covet but have no room for in my yard.

Eight reasons I walk in the woods:  to exercise, to meditate, to take photos, to observe nature, to offer thanks to the Creator, to visit with a friend, to enjoy silence and to bird-watch.

Do you walk in the woods?  Why?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


  I used to be a runner.  I loved it and found time  in my busy day for a work-out no matter what.  I was running 3-4 times a week and lifting weights 2 x week.  Yoga was my choice the other days.  One day,  not too long after I ran a 1/2 marathon with my daughter,  I woke up and noticed that my joints were screaming one word over and over, 


    Pain, the  fifth vital sign, had entered my life and wouldn't loosen it's grip on my joints.  So I  sadly said good -bye to running. 

 That's when I became a walker, soon realizing that I could  exercise  nicely, thank you very much, with none of the pain!

  So I traded in my early morning runs for long walks at the beach or in the woods, with or without my best friend.  I discovered that walking is just as meditative as running and now I notice many interesting things I would have missed had I been pounding the pavement.  

  Recently, however,  my lazy human nature has been getting the best of me.  My list of reasons not to go for a walk grew longer and longer.

 1) It's too hot
2) It's too cold
3)  It's too early
4)It's too late
5) I'm hungry
^) I just ate
7)  The dog ate my sneakers
8) I just drank a quart of iced tea
9) It's raining
10) It's snowing
11) It's too humid
12) I have no one to walk with
13)  I have to get to work
14) I just got home from work
15)  I'm too tired
16) I'm too busy
17) I want to relax
18)  I'll just read one more chapter,then I'll go.

   The truth is only #8 holds any water(hee-hee) as an excuse.  So I was delighted to stumble upon a blogger who is also an avid reader and librarian.  She hosts a "Readers Workout" on her blog called  Joy's Book Blog and invites other bookworms who want to join, to post their progress with their exercise program.  I  thought, 

"This is just what I need to kickstart my sneakers into gear. "

 And if I publicly commit, then I'll be more inclined to keep at it.  The idea of exercising with other readers, however remotely, intrigued me.

  So, I am committing to 900 minutes of exercise during the month of June.  I plan to spend most of the time walking but will do two 30 minute strength training sessions a week.  I would like to add in some yoga but will wait until I'm a bit stronger.  Otherwise I'll be doing way more Savasana  than  Downward Dog.  
   I went for a long walk yesterday and took some photos along the way. (I LOVE my cell phone)  I'll share them in another post later this week perhaps.

   Are you exercising and if so how do you stay motivated?


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fragrant Pink and One Little Friend

                                  "Let the north wind blow,
                                       the south wind too!
                                   Let them spread the aroma
                                      of my garden,
                                      so the one I love
                                      may enter and taste
                                      it's delicious fruits."
                                                                  Song of Songs 4:16

  This week my garden is all about shades of pink and fabulous fragrances.  The roses  and rhodos are in full bloom competing with the peonies for the  honor of most beautiful girl at the party!  What is blooming in your garden?

Glorious Peonies, but only for a week

These peonies were here when I got here in 1979 

Favorite Pink Rhodo lights up a shady spot
Peony Garden still blooming after all these years

Love Rose

Cinco de Mayo just getting warmed up

Carefree Rose, so delicate ,so fragrant

Carefree Rose bud

I'm trying Snapdragons to attract the Hummingbirds this year

I  like to cut peonies for bouquets to keep them from flopping over in the garden

And they  make the house smell wonderful

This Little Friend lives in my garden

Thought for today - Pink is like a tranquilizer for me and a perfect garden color, especially in late May.

Friday, May 25, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time

    Reading is one of the high pleasures of my life.  I was a bookworm as a child, first  waiting for the bookmobile to arrive on our street, then  losing myself in one wild adventure after  another, traveling to foreign lands and time tripping across the centuries.

     Novels, mysteries, biographies, all were enthralling to me. I sped through an entire series of biographies of famous people, all the series books, like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames.  When I had exhausted everything I could find, I moved on to young adult books.

   I recall one story still so vivid in my mind.  It was  a novel about a boy who walked across Europe during World War ll to escape from the Nazis.  I wish I knew the title of that book.  It taught me more about the horror of World War II than any history lesson ever did.

    By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I was reading  adult novels like Gone With the Wind , Diary of Anne Frank, Rebecca, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird and so many others.

    Later I discovered the pleasures of non-fiction and still later, poetry.
One of the saddest moments in my life was the day I realized that I would never be able to read ALL the books in the world!

  Summer presents the best excuse to find a cool spot and bury myself in a good yarn.  When it's too hot to weed the garden or go hiking or biking, it's a perfect  day for reading.  All I need is a tall glass of herbal iced tea and  a good book and I'm ready to be transported on a mini-vacation.

 My  current book list  for this summer includes :

            * The Marriage Plot  by Jeffrey  Eugenides

            * In The Garden of  Beasts: A Tale of Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Eric Larson(currently reading)

            * Wild Blood  by Flannery O'Connor

            * The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach
            * The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
            * The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
  I also have a list of non-fiction books I'm working my way through for fun and perhaps to learn a little something.  They include:

             * In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit

             * Pilgrim at Tinker Creek  by Annie Dilliard

             * Urgings of the Heart by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon

   I'm always looking for book recommendations.  What have you read recently that you enjoyed?  What are you planning to read this summer? Is the summer a time to read mindless fluff or to tackle something challenging?  I've heard arguments for both.  Leave suggestions in the comment section at the end of this post.

Take away -  I'm planning a trip around the world this summer through the portals of my book shelves.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rosemary - The Cable Guy's Favorite Herb

Rosemary has inconspicuous blue flowers in early spring

This rosemary thinks it is on a hillside in Italy

But it's up against a south facing foundation on Long Island

     I never had much luck coaxing rosemary to winter over in my yard.  I usually had to replace it when spring arrived.  No matter where I put it, it would succumb to our up and down temperatures here on Long Island.  I tried taking it into the house in a pot but that never worked either.  I had  no sunny southern exposure  and it always languished all winter and then croaked sometime in March.

     Until one year when I noticed a small speck of dirt against the foundation of the house that faced south and had a slight cut-away, giving protection from two sides.  I figured, "what have I got to lose," and I tucked the rosemary in that corner on a crisp fall day.  It has flourished there ever since, growing every which way and although it is not the most beautiful shrub I've ever seen, it has stayed alive for many years, yielding enough leaves for my own needs and anyone else who wants some and prompting a comment from the cable guy whenever he is working on my wires which are on the house behind the plant.  
"What is that wonderful smelling plant growing on the corner of your foundation?" 
     I dry rosemary and use it in all the usual recipes.  It is especially good with poultry and is a must add to my turkey herbal rub on Thanksgiving.  I use it with garlic and  sage  and a bit of olive oil to rub on a pork roast before putting it into the oven.  

 I especially love to grind some dried rosemary with black pepper, pour a good olive oil over it and serve it for dipping with a good loaf of French or Italian bread.  It also goes in my favorite Christmas yeast bread recipe. (Remind me to post that wonderful recipe at Christmas.)

  Rosemary tea is useful as a hair rinse after shampoo and is especially good for brunettes.  It makes the hair look shiny and feel clean.

  Rosemary is said to be for remembrance , for digestion (read flatulence) and for the pain of arthritis and so it makes a good tea for the elderly.  Pour 8-12 oz. of  boiling water over a teaspoon of rosemary leaves and brew for 10 minutes and strain.  Serve with a bit of honey and lemon.  And it tastes good, so don't wait until you are 'elderly' to try some!

  Like many herbs, there are a few  legends about rosemary.  The most famous is the legend that rosemary flowers were white until  Mary, while fleeing to Egypt with the Christ Child, hung her cloak on a rosemary bush and from that time on, the rosemary bloomed blue.  


Today's Take-Away -  If you can find a corner of the garden sheltered in winter, and facing the southern sun, you can grow rosemary.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Chili For a Crowd

  Although I'm not  a vegetarian, I like to eat several meatless dinners a week.  This adds  variety to our meals and seems like a healthy approach. Chili for a crowd is one favorite in our house.

  I make a batch and freeze some for a night when I'm not in the mood to cook or I lingered too long in the garden.  This recipe, adapted over the years by  a cook who can't bear to follow a recipe as it was written (me) came from the original Moosewood Cookbook  written back in the '70's by  Mollie Katzen when vegetarian cookbooks were hard to find.  She was a real pioneer credited with bringing vegetarian cooking out of the commune and into the mainstream.

                                       Chili for a Crowd

  *Cook 1/2 cup of quinoa in 1 cup of tomato juice and set aside. (The original recipe called for bulgar but I like the quinoa better)

  *Saute 1 &1/2 cups of chopped onions, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 cup of chopped celery, 1 cup of chopped carrots and 1 red and 1 green pepper and 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers in olive oil.

  * Add 1-2 tsp of ground cumin, 1/2 tsp of coriander,  1-2 tsp of basil, chili powder to taste, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few more minutes.

  *  Add  3 cans of beans, drained.  I usually use 2 cans of black beans and 1 can of red kidney beans.

  * Add quinoa,  1 can of crushed tomatoes, juice of 1/2 lemon, some red wine and  a dash or two of cayenne pepper and cook gently in a dutch oven on the stove or bake covered in the oven. (If you can find it, add some epazote- a Mexican herb that eliminates the  negative side effect of eating beans!(Think Blazing Saddles.)

  *Before serving, stir in chopped  sharp cheddar cheese and heat until melted.

  * Serve in soup bowls  topped with fresh cilantro and sour cream or yogurt.

Thought for Today -  There are a hundred ways to make chili.  Try meatless for a change.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pregnant With Promise

Heavenly scent
Viburnum about to explode

Rhododendron in full bloom

Peonies ready to pop

Climbing Roses  open early this year

Honeysuckle - Calling all Hummingbirds

Yarrow flirts with a White  Cedar

Cinnamon Fern

Giant Hosta catches the late afternoon sun

Lady's Mantle ready for the show

      May offers so many rewards to the gardener.  The landscape is  pregnant with the promise of so much to come.  And yet, this lovely month  has it's own abundant pleasures too.  Many gardeners pine all year long for the month of May.

       The brilliant shades of green, so newly arrived, compete with one another for attention.  There must be more shades of green than any other color. I'm convinced, it's God's favorite color!   And in May, not a leaf shows damage from heat, humidity or insects.

      The budding flowers and shrubs are lining up ready to compete for our attention.  The Rhododendron and Azaleas are blooming, of course, and a few roses have decided to join the May party this year, not willing to wait for June.

     I find time everyday to wander around the garden, looking for surprises.  Sometimes I take my camera, trying to capture that elusive sense of peace I feel whenever I join the toads and bees in their playground.

      Thought for today -  A walk in a garden can be a meditation, a discovery, a contemplation, a time of peace, a time to give thanks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Attracting Birds to My Garden

"The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches."  Ps. 104

    OK, I do love the birds.

   When we began to envision our current garden fourteen years ago, we decided that it had to be a home for as many birds as we could attract.

     Our suburban neighborhood is loaded with some very tall old oaks.  These giants provide a canopy and an oasis for many of the birds who both live here and pass through in spring and fall, like the Baltimore Oriole.
Oriole stops  by

   When we designed the garden we planted shrubs to act as roosting and shelter for many of the birds.  Some of these shrubs are berry-bearing, providing food in the fall for berry eaters, like the orioles. My neighbor has a mulberry tree, a magnet for a variety of species.  I have a love-hate relationship with this particular tree.  I love the birds it attracts but I hate the mess the berries make on my cement walk.

    Adding a birdbath is essential for attracting birds. They both need and love water. My next project is to add a small fountain to my bird-bath, as many birds find spraying water irresistible.
Time for a bath

American Goldfinch eating thistle  up-side down
    We grow many annual and perennial flowers and allow them to go to seed for the nourishment of our seed eaters, like the American Goldfinches. I plant bee balm, butterfly weed and butterfly bush, bee balm and an annual sage especially for the hummingbirds.
Love, love love these tiny jewels

    There are also lots of hiding places for the birds who forage on the ground, like the robins and the white-throated sparrows.

    May is a favorite month for back yard birdwatchers.  The orioles arrive, set up housekeeping in a tall oak and raise a family.  If I'm lucky, I get to watch them teach the fledglings to fly!  Their clear joyful whistling song can be heard throughout the neighborhood during the spring mating season.  It reminds me of a teenage boy's wolf whistle, not heard by this old girl in many years!

Yellow Warbler
      May is also a good month to spot some warblers on their trip further north. I've spotted yellow-rumped warblers, black throated blue warblers and yellow warblers.  These little guys are not easy to see and a joy when I do catch a glimpse.
Yellow -Rumped Warbler

    During the winter, we provide suet for the woodpeckers, safflower seed for the cardinals, thistle for the finches and sunflower seeds for most everyone who passes through, including, mourning doves, blue jays, chickadees and tufted titmice and of course sparrows.

    In every season, in every kind of weather, on every day of the year, I can depend on my winged friends to brighten my day.  Observing  backyard birds provides a welcome respite from the stresses of the day.  They are colorful on a dull day, spirited when I'm feeling low on energy and instructive if I pay attention to their habits.

    I do love the birds!

Today's Take-Away -  Inviting birds to share the yard is good for me and good for the birds.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We Need a Little Humor

   I love a good joke, especially one that provokes an uproarious belly laugh.  Having inherited my wild open-mouthed laugh from my father, I've never been shy about showing my appreciation for humor.    It always tickled my funny bone  to hear him burst into laughter while sitting by himself, reading the paper.

  Humor can get one through the toughest of times.  It is good for the body, good for the mind and good for the soul.  It is pretty obvious that God has a really good sense of humor.  Just look around you.

   Some of my favorite people in the world are folks who have brought tears to my eyes from too much laughter.

  Think Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and  Carol Burnett cracking each other up in just about any skit they did.

 Think Alan Alda and  the gang from MASH.

 Think Lucille Ball working on the candy assembly line or hawking vitamins with Ethel.

 Think Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna,

 Or how about Carl Reiner in 'The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming"

 Or  Art Carney addressing the ball in  the Honeymooners?

 I still giggle when I think about Billy Crystal  and Cloris Leachman in 'The Princess Bride'  "I'm not a witch, I'm your wife."

 Although I appreciate humorous writing, I have no knack for it.  Here's a link to  a blog I enjoy reading.  The  writer, Chris Vanderberg, is able to take everyday episodes and turn them into hilarious vignettes. She could be the next Erma Bombeck. I laughed when I read her her piece about her love affair with  with her i-phone.

                      Peppers and Arias

Monday, May 14, 2012

Catnip-Herb of the Week

Catnip faassini - up close

    Like most herbs, catnip is an interesting addition to the garden. The wild variety, nepeta cataria, is well-known for attracting cats and driving them a bit crazy.  If you love cats, go ahead and plant that variety.

  As a bird-lover, I'm not particularly interested in attracting cats to my yard, so I plant a less enticing variety called, nepeta faasseni or nepeta mussini. This sun-loving plant will form a lovely clump growing to about 2 feet.  It flowers early and will repeat if pruned during the summer.  I especially like to plant it in front of rose bushes, which have ugly feet.

Planted in front of my Cinco de Mayo Rose

    Nepeta cataria is traditionally used to make catnip tea, mildly sedating to humans.  It has a minty flavor and blends well with chamomile or lemon balm.

One in every room
    I like to cut catnip when the plant is in  full flower and make small bouquets to place around the house.  Alternatively, I hang the bouquets up side down to dry and use them in dried flower arrangements or wreaths.
Hanging to dry

Dried Herbal Bouquet Up Side Down

   During Victorian times, flowers had a language all their own.  If a lover wanted to convey a particular message to his beloved, he chose a particular flower to send her.  Catnip meant "intoxicated with love."

Catnip - smells good, tastes good, looks good, easy to grow.  What more could you ask of a plant?

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