Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Pumpkin Question

A Pumpkin Question

I put out a pumpkin for Thanksgiving decoration. It remained on our doorstep through Christmas and the beginning of the New Year, a bright entry to our winter home. Today it called to me to cut it open. I usually like to make pumpkin soup. Sometimes I bake pumpkin cookies. I bake the seeds or share them with the birds outside.

But I had lots going on recently and didn’t get to making my favorite pumpkin recipes. I wondered about the lifespan of the pumpkin, if it was still usable. So I checked around. It seems pumpkins last about 8-12 weeks if uncarved, which was within the parameters. They fare best in temperatures about 50-56 degrees; our weather has been unusually warm this year so most of the time it has been in the 40s to mid 50s. The last couple of days, however, it has been hovering around freezing. Was my pumpkin still good to cook with? I wondered.

I cut it open and saw that it must have frozen last night and thawed when the morning warmed up, not the best way to preserve it. I would hate to see it go to waste. Perhaps I’ll boil it up and see if it is still good to use.

Any ideas?

Pumpkin lifespan:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Squirrel Knows

Squirrel Knows

Wow, it’s 2016. Didn’t last year seem to fly by? Time to take stock of things. Not to make resolutions, necessarily, as they rarely last through the year, but to see what is of value in our lives, to appreciate the people we love, and to move in positive directions. Do we respect ourselves? Are there things we’d like to change?

It isn’t necessary to do everything at once; rather let’s be realistic and focus on one idea at a time. We have to focus on the everyday things. This squirrel knows that. It is giving itself a good cleaning. It does its other usual chores as well like going in search of food, digging up nuts and seeds that were buried for the winter, looking for a mate.

Squirrels are inventive creatures, particularly when it comes to food. They can figure out ways to get onto bird feeders. They can sniff out acorns that were planted in the fall. One squirrel, which was being fed with peanuts by a friendly homeowner, took to knocking on the back door when it didn’t see its daily bounty.

I hope that this year is a good one for us all.

Squirrels’ behavior:

A story I wrote for Chicken Soup for the Soul My Resolution: if you haven’t read it yet, here it is:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Coreopsis on the Table

Coreopsis on the Table

The last of the coreopsis flowers graced our table last week. The plants were blooming despite the change in seasons, the erratic temperatures, and their tight quarters in a flowerpot on our patio.

These are hardy plants even though their flowers tend to look delicate. Coreopsis can tolerate a variety of soil conditions and weather. Depending upon their height, they can be used as back borders or edging. Their blossoms, which vary in color, last into the Fall, providing lovely table decorations.

I was impressed by how long the flowers lasted in the vase. They seemed so fragile, yet they stayed full and lively for the whole week. What a vibrant expression of nature in such a compact form. And that got me to thinking of how we often judge people by their outward appearance. Delicate doesn’t necessarily mean weak. It is more important to understand the inner strength of a person than to assume we know all there is to know from a glimpse at a person’s body.

When the coreopsis flowers finally wilted, I said goodbye and thanked them for sharing their perspective with me. We can learn something about the world and ourselves from the most surprising encounters.

An intro to coreopsis:

A look at the beautiful coreopsis varieties:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Skipping the Privets for Skip Laurels

Skipping the Privets for Skip Laurels

Our privet hedge needed replacing. It had grown too tall, become too leggy, infringed upon our neighbor’s side and was no longer attractive or functional. But when we removed the woody shrubs, we remembered why we originally planted them; we had wanted some privacy, which was now suddenly lacking.

It was suggested we look at Skip Laurels. So we went to the nursery to check them out. They were nice – full and green with the promise of white flowers come spring. We had some put in and I find that I love them. I welcomed them to our yard and I happily chat to them whenever I’m outside.

Why do I do this? Is it a myth that plants respond to human/plant interaction? Years ago my friend and I heard that talking to plants help them grow so we each prepared pots with the same soil and the same plants. We watered them equally. Then we talked to one plant but not to the other. After a month we noticed that the plants we spoke to flourished while the other plants were not as vibrant.

Science now shows that plants interact with each other. We seem to be part of a universal communication system even if we don’t all speak the same language. Wouldn’t it be nice if we would use that knowledge to help us all flourish, plants and people alike?

Wow, this tells you absolutely all you need to know about Skip (schipka) Laurel:

Does talking to plants really help them to grow? Check out these studies:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Our Dog

Our Dog

You never know what’s going to happen when you're away on vacation. We were walking along a pleasant street, just trying to get a feel for the area, when we came upon two dogs having a great time playing with each other. They seemed to be part of the family that was standing by a car and talking. We moved along not thinking about it until we noticed that one of the dogs was walking alongside us.

“Hey, dog, go home,” we said. He didn’t.

As we walked further he came with us, measuring his pace with ours. We looked back down the street to see where its people were but they were gone. We wondered if this was a stray. His hair was ragged and he looked skinny. His muzzle was gray so we knew he was an older dog. Was he lost? Confused? But what could we do? We were on vacation. 

“Go home,” we repeated hoping he had a home.

We tried crossing the street; he followed. We walked slower and let him get ahead of us but he stopped as soon as he realized we were lagging, turned around and waited until we caught up. We asked a man who was walking on the street if he knew whose dog this was. “Isn’t it yours?” he said. “He seems to know you.”

We decided to go back to our hotel and see if they could call someone to come for the dog. We were almost there, passing the place where we first hooked up, when the dog took off and ran across the street. We heard someone yell, “YAY! There you are!” It sounded like our dog had found his family. Was he staying with us because he thought we would lead him back? He didn’t follow us as we reversed our steps and crossed onto the main road again.

We were relieved that he obviously was with his family again. And yet, in a way we had become his family, too. At least for a little while. Our dog added his presence to the stories we would tell when we got back home. Aren’t those stories what connect us with the world?

Monday, September 7, 2015

It's Still Summer

It’s Still Summer

It’s still officially summer and the temperature continues to be shorts-friendly. But things change in September. School vacation is over. Neighbors are back from the shore. The flowers that enlivened so many of our yards are off until next year. There are no more purple lilacs adding sweet perfume to the atmosphere. Faded blue hydrangeas are a reminder of former puffy table decorations. Dried flower stalks are starting to bend over the full-bodied hosta leaves.

There are always exceptions, of course, depending on where your garden is. My hibiscus plants are still pumping out those incredible blossoms, almost in a frantic end-of-season burst. The bees are still looking for nectar, gathering over the hummingbird feeder. And the mosquitoes are as big a nuisance as ever.

I actually like the change of seasons; there are always things of interest to see and learn. The insect on the last of the fading flowers I thought was a moth but it turned out to be a. Cabbage White Butterfly, a common species that is a frequent visitor to gardens. I discovered that they exist pretty much all over the world. Summer turns into Fall later in the month and things change even more dramatically. For example, the deciduous trees sport dramatically colored leaves, which then turn brown and fall leaving the branches bare and shape of the tree beautifully evident. I often stop and look up, delighted, into the burst of color.

There are so many possibilities in the change of seasons – to see something new, to rethink something familiar, to expand our understanding. The shift of my perception of moth to butterfly pleased me. I saw it anew. Perhaps that’s what the seasons really foster, new ways of seeing our usually familiar world.

Learn about the Cabbage white Butterfly:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hummingbirds are Exciting

Hummingbirds are Exciting

There is something particularly special about hummingbirds. They are so small yet full of such energy. And sometimes surprises.

I was sitting out back the other day watching them flit back and forth from the feeder, their wings stirring the air as they hovered. Then one of the hummers came directly in front me, fluttering about a foot away. I was astounded! I spoke to it as it hung there, thanking it for coming over to say hello. I thought my voice might have scared it away but it remained. Was it listening? Was it checking me out, trying to see if I was an adversary? It stayed there for a full minute then sped off into the tree behind me. It soon returned to the feeder and proceeded to chow down, ignoring me completely.

I couldn’t stop talking about the experience to anyone who would listen. My sister said that when she was in Florida there were many hummingbirds and they were quite friendly. I wondered if this was just a young one who was exploring its environment but whatever the reason, I was infinitely pleased.

Sometimes nature presents us with large, demanding challenges like earthquakes or snowstorms or droughts. Sometimes, in our often-turbulent world, it offers the tiniest, delightful possibilities for us to reflect on and appreciate.

Facts and encouragement:

Check out the hummingbird stories: