Monday, December 13, 2010

Apples - 'Tis the Season

'Tis the season – for apples! There are so many kinds of apples available now that we can treat our taste buds to a variety of flavors and textures. I have some personal favorites: Gala is pleasingly sweet with an undertone of tartness; Fuji is crisp and juicy, a good crunching apple; Jonagold is a cross between golden delicious and Jonathan apples with a slightly tart edge and good cooking characteristics.

Which leads me to another favorite of mine – baking. This year I made baked apples. I cut the tops off and cored out the apples, scraping some of the fruit away to form a bowl. I cooked unsweetened whole cranberries in a little butter, added a bit of agave nectar for sweetness, some chopped dates, a dash of cinnamon, and the zest and juice of one orange When the cranberries became soft and thickened, I added nuts and filled the apples with the mixture. Then I placed them in a baking dish with a layer of water in the bottom, and baked them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. They were warming and delicious, just right for a pre-winter dessert.

Homemade applesauce is easy to fix, too. Peel, core, and cube apples (I like to mix varieties and flavors). I do the same with a pear or two. Put the fruit in a saucepan, add apple juice, a tad nutmeg, and cinnamon to taste. Cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft. Then mash them together. A potato masher works fine. Leave some chunky pieces for interest.

Any apple recipes among your cooking favorites? Willing to share? Feel free to tell us about them.

For your info: there are lots and lots of apple varieties, enough for every letter of the alphabet according to this website Pretty terrific, for the apple lovers out there.

Happy apple-ing and a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Aloe for the Holidays

Here we are in the midst of the holiday season, a time to connect with friends and family, to reaffirm customs, and perhaps give gifts. I like to give things I value to the people I care about. One of the things I value is my prolific aloe plant.

Aloe is a friendly plant, easy to care for, and beneficial as well. It looks like a cactus but is really part of the lily family. It grows well indoors with little care (my kind of plant) and actually thrives on under-watering. It reproduces with small shoots that can be replanted. I keep an aloe in the kitchen because it soothes burns. It also is good to apply on scratches, sunburns, and skin irritations. I love this plant and love to give it.

So this year I am sharing the bounty and my good wishes.

I have been giving aloe plants, nestled in mugs with the invitation to come and join me for a cup of tea. I have done this for other occasions, too – a birthday, Mother’s Day, a hostess gift, or for no reason at all. It’s fun to find a mug I think that person will like and I know that aloe will be appreciated.

The best part of this kind of gifting is that I get to enjoy the company of my favorite people as they take me up on my invitation during the rest of the year.

Are you an aloe lover, too? Here is some aloe info: And do let me know if you have a particular plant that you really like. I am always happy to expand my windowsill garden.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quite a Cat

Thanksgiving is over but what fun it was. Family came in from far away places. Friends dropped by to say hello. And my grandcat kept me company.

This is my son’s special needs cat. He has what is called cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition that affects the balance part of the nervous system. An underdeveloped cerebellum means that the cat is uncoordinated and has problems walking. He zig-zags as he walks from one place to another and might end up in a different place entirely. He wobbles a lot and often falls, sometimes banging into a wall or landing on his back. He has trouble climbing up and tends to tumble, thunk, when he tries to go down. Whenever he is focused on something, like eating, his head bobs up and down involuntarily, which makes dining a messy proposition. If he feels insecure he will flop over on his side and reach out with his claws. Or if he is being petted and gets tired, since he can’t easily jump away, he will sometimes nip. It is his way of communicating. Our son has scars that testify to his cat’s communication skills.

When I first saw him as a kitten, I marveled at his beauty but wondered how he would survive. His disability did not stop him from exploring his world and relating to my son, however. He is now a senior citizen, somewhat slower but still active. When he visits he loves to sit in the chair in my home office and purr his contentment as the sun warms him, like any cat. I have come to love him and appreciate his courage. All in all, he is quite a cat.

I find it interesting how everyone, whatever the species, whatever the circumstance, finds a way to adapt to and engage in life.

If you want to know more about cerebellar hypoplasia check out this website:

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Sweet Potato

One day, about a month ago, I discovered that a sweet potato I had overlooked in my pantry was beginning to sprout. I remembered how long ago my friend had put toothpicks into a potato she was trying to grow and placed it in a glass of water. I decided to see if this potato would grow. So I plunked it into water – no toothpicks, no fanfare - and put it on my kitchen windowsill.

Almost immediately it started putting out new shoots. The stems presented beautiful oak-like leaves. The roots, thin, white, and thready, circled the bottom of the glass. Each day more leaves came out and turned toward the light. The sweet potato soon became too cramped in its small container so I planted it in a pot with what soil I happened to have handy. And then it really took off! What exuberance!

Now I am getting ready for Thanksgiving and while in the store I bought sweet potatoes. I will cook them on the holiday and savor their delicious sweet taste. At the same time I will be taking delight in the potato I will not cook. One feeds the body, the other the spirit. I haven’t planted veggies in my yard for several years because of the squirrels but perhaps it is time to think about doing it again. Then I will have both kinds of sustenance. Meanwhile, I will enjoy my windowsill sweet potato as it expresses its joyful self.

If you would like to grow sweet potatoes this link should help:

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Please

We feed the birds but they are not the neatest eaters around so some of what goes into the feeders ends up on the ground. Nothing is wasted, however, because the squirrels make short work of the dropped seeds. Squirrels are hearty eaters though mostly vegetarian. They dine on seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetation. I personally can attest to them liking green peppers, lettuce, green beans, herbs, and just about anything else I choose to plant in my garden. They also seem to be pleased with the uneaten dry cereal I toss out from my cockatiel’s food dishes.

This season has been warmer than usual so there has been more to munch on. The acorn crop has run its course but there were tons of them for the squirrels to bury and store away for the hard winter months.

So why is this chubby little critter peeking in my window like Oliver Twist with a pathetic “more, please” demeanor? It doesn’t look in the least malnourished. It is somewhat disconcerting to be stared at so pitiably while my husband and I eat our lunch. Hasn’t the word been passed along through the generations that I won’t forget him or his family or friends (birds included) when there is snow on the ground?
I guess it is instinctual to worry about where one’s next meal is coming from. There certainly are enough people in our world who can’t be sure of that. I push back my chair, gather the can where I keep the bird’s leftovers, and go out back. As soon as I open the door the squirrel hightails it across the yard and up the tulip tree. I spread the cereal beneath the feeders in case some birds would like to snack on something different, and go back inside. Before I resume lunch I look out and see a squirrel busily munching away. Is it the same one? Does it matter? As my grandmother used to say whenever anyone, expected or not, showed up at her door, “Come. Eat.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

The WOW Factor

There are some times when words aren’t big enough to wrap around what you are feeling. So let me describe what I was seeing instead.

I was out for a Fall day at the shore with my husband. Each shore has its own personality, its particular color of sand, the variety of things that wash up with the tide. This shore was at Gateway National Recreation Area in Staten Island, New York. It was mostly empty of people – except for a man and his son playing frisbee and the fisherman who caught something beautiful and large along the shoreline – and us. The beach had a jagged line of rocks and shells where the tide sweeps in and tumbles out again. It also had bits of glass that glinted against the flat, tan sand. I picked up green, white, and brown fragments that had been scoured smooth by the sea. It was hard to believe that they had once been bottles tossed away as trash and are now reclaimed as art by nature.

As we walked along the gulls toddled ahead of us. They seemed to have a definite space that they preferred not to have infringed upon. If we got too close, they would take off in a progressive flap of wings and land a little further along the beach.

The sky kept drawing my attention. It was incredibly big, not that it isn’t always, but the clouds dramatized the sense of its vastness. I couldn’t help gaping. It definitely had the WOW factor. Every now and then a single gull would fly off from the group and balance on the breeze. It looked small against that immense backdrop. Then, again, so did I; a valuable perspective to remember when I get too involved with myself. What a wonderful, enriching way to spend a day!
I would love to hear about are other exhilarating encounters with nature. Do you have any you'd like to share?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Meet the Mouse

I was planning to write about something else today but so many people have contacted me about my mouse problem recently that I thought an update was needed. So…let me introduce you to the mouse. Actually, this is mouse number three. We have had four to date. Each got a personal ride to a field surrounded by woods. They all took off like a bullet train the second they realized they were free from the trap.

I found out that the word mouse comes from a Sanskrit word that means thief. Totally understandable. We found a hunk of bread that had fallen from our bird’s cage in a cabinet near the fireplace. There were droppings there, too. We could locate the traps along the droppings trail. As mice are known to return to their surroundings, following the same path, I asked my husband, the mouse releaser and photographer, if it were possible we were trapping the same mouse.

“No,” he said. “They all looked different.”

He said one was small, another bigger, one black another mottled. Even mice have their own individual physical characteristics.

There was no mouse in the house this morning. We aren’t removing the traps any time soon, though, not until we have lots of mouse-free days. Our experience has been educational, I must say, and productive. I had been meaning to reorganize that cabinet for some time but just hadn’t gotten to it. And the pantry got a good cleaning. Quite a motivational prompting for something that weighs barely an ounce.

If you feel motivated to know more, here are some mouse facts:
Do you have any mouse stories you’d like to share?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mouse in the House

My husband and I were peacefully watching TV when he suddenly jumped up and shouted, “There it is!”

“What? What?”

“The mouse! It just peeked its little head out from behind the TV cabinet and then ducked back in.”

We have a mouse in the house that has been bedeviling us for the past week or so. We first found evidence of its visit in our bread drawer. When we took out anything edible there it moved on to the pantry. We learned that it likes crackers, cookies, cereal, and sunflower seeds – all organic and pesticide-free. The mouse has discerning taste.

We bought a new kind of plug-in trap that emits high frequency sound and claims to repel mice but it seemed to be having more of an effect, and not a good one, on our pet cockatiel so we bought a humane, catch-them-alive trap instead. We baited it with peanut butter and waited. The trap was sprung but the mouse remained free. We bought a different kind of trap and tried again. And then a third, with the same results. Was the mouse toying with us? I could imagine it laughing when we checked the traps in the morning and found them empty.

Now, I am all in favor of sharing and recycling, but there are some health issues here. I hope this critter realizes that its choices are limited. Either we catch it alive, and soon, and release it to run free in a field somewhere or it eventually will have to be (I hate to even think of it) captured in a conventional trap and sent on to mouse heaven.

Does anyone have a suggestion for how to entice a mouse into a trap for its own good?
NOTE: My friend Harriet May Savitz and I wrote a picture book called The Story Blanket, which deals with sharing and recycling, kindness and community. It was just reviewed by , a lovely site with a positive outlook on children's books and reading. It's a great place to see what the young world community is reading. Here is the review if you would like to check it out.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Autumn is a Wondrous Time

Autumn is a wondrous time. The trees come alive, ablaze with color. The leaves are suddenly free to express the beauty that they have kept inside through the rest of the year. The streets, literally, are lined with gold.

It is my favorite time of year. I love the brilliance of the reds and golds, the various shades of orange, even the rich browns that line the deciduous trees until the leaves fall. Then there is the delight of crunching through the piles of leaves on the ground. I grab handfuls and toss them into the air. I can’t help grinning as I watch them spin on their way back down. Yes, there is work to be done - raking can be quite a chore – but the joy is worth it.

Then there is the crisp air that awakens the spirit. After the heat of the summer, it is sweet to wrap up in a sweater; it’s like giving myself a hug. It is also a time of reflection. A mug of hot cider with a friend reminds me of my connection to others and the warmth that connection brings. A brisk walk leads to appreciation when I step back into my warm, welcoming home.

Living in the northeast of the US allows me to experience the fullness of the seasons. I know that lots of people prefer a consistently warmer climate; in the middle of winter I can certainly understand. But now, in the fall, I can only be grateful for this gift.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes It Takes a Tree

I don’t deliberately look for metaphors but sometimes one is directly in front of me and hard to ignore. In walking through a local wooded area, I came across a large, fallen tree. The trunk was rotted out, the roots were almost non-existent, and the branches were bare. It was obvious that it had been a tall tree full of leafy expression and expansive presence at one time. I don’t know how long it had been on its side or what caused its demise but I could still feel its energy and power. It had a place in the woods among the other trees yet it was also an individual that added something to the whole.

It’s easy to think of age as the only reason for a fallen tree; perhaps that is the most acceptable though health and circumstance often play roles in a tree’s downfall. However, its death does nothing to diminish what it had been. For a while it will be there physically for people to see and critters to use for their various purposes but one day it will be gone, its traces hidden by newer trees and plants until its being is barely a memory. But that doesn’t mean its life was worthless. It had provided much to the environment and whether or not it is remembered it will have left a lasting imprint on this earth.

And so, looking at this incredible life form, how could I not be affected? How, also, could I miss how alike all of nature is, including our own often exalted status as people? Sometimes it takes a tree to help us feel the value of being truly human.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chipmunk Bonanza

The temperature was cooler today, a reminder of the change of seasons and what will be coming as fall turns to winter. It is time to lay in seed. We feed the birds throughout the year though it seems we also feed a host of others as well. Some of our regular other customers are squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks. They tend to scavenge the seed that has been tossed off the feeders. The chipmunks (nicknamed munkers by our great-nephew when he was two years old) reside underneath the hose box beyond our back window and behind the arborvitae on the side of the house. They are cautious creatures generally, perhaps because they are so small, but not so much when my husband cleans out the feeders, clearing out the seeds that start to sprout. Then the munkers lose all reticence. This little one came out at just the right time for a seed bonanza. He stuffed his cheeks and ran back to his burrow. He refilled those cheeks three or four times before deciding he had enough. We watched his cheeks expand with each seed payload; obviously his mother never told him not to stuff his mouth. And that is a good thing. He was stockpiling food for the cold weather. Chipmunks hibernate during winter but will awaken several times to munch on their accumulated stash.

I tend to stockpile goods, too, in our freezer. I freeze nuts and seeds (my grandmother used to do that and I do now), flour, home baked cookies, sliced summer veggies and luscious berries. Even though I can buy my groceries at the supermarket whenever I choose, it is still a comfort having that extra supply in the background. Not so different from the munkers, I guess. It keeps a person humble.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nature, Wherever

On our way up to visit relatives in Massachusetts, my husband and I stopped for a rest. We found a pier not far from the Bruce Museum in Connecticut and got out to stretch. I was immediately entranced. What an ideal pier – an old construction at the end of a road that was developed on both sides. It almost seemed like a small defiance, a last stand. Some people were fishing. One man was just looking at the rocks with its mounds of seaweed slowly swaying. A couple of women had a brief brown-bag picnic as they stared out to sea. The ebb and flow of the water was meditative for me and I found my breathing imitating its rhythm. So peaceful. So wonderful.

And what has that to do with my backyard, I hear you say? I have come to value all of nature and see the concept of “my backyard” in a very broad sense. Sometimes my backyard does, indeed, refer to my local surroundings but I can’t turn off my connection with such incredible diversity just because I can’t see it out my back door. Whenever I step beyond my house the natural world is there, available to charm, challenge, worry, embrace, distress, amaze, amuse, teach, delight, impress me – if I stay open to it, wherever it may be, however minimal it is.

I am glad that we had that rest, at that particular place. It wasn’t easy to access. I hope more people find it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hole in a Tree

One lazy day, my husband and I were in a mood to go into the less developed areas around our town. He knew of a local lake that might be the perfect place to spend some time so off we went. And sure enough, it was a soothing spot at which to refresh our spirits.

In browsing around the lake, I found this tree with a hole in its trunk. Ah, what a prompt to the imagination. Who lives in there? What will I find if I look down into the blackness? What if there is a rainbow inside the trunk or a bustling city of tiny people? What if someone hid a treasure map there that would lead to uncovering the riches of a lost civilization – right in the heart of the forest? I was having an “Alice down the rabbit hole” moment as I thought about what might be in such a place.

Of course there were other considerations of a more practical nature. Is the tree a willing host or is it in trouble? Is the hole a sign of rot or of an active occupant? Why did it start and how deep does it go?

I know I can find the scientific answers but sometimes it is more satisfying to ponder, at least for a while, the questions and the possibilities no matter how fanciful, to let the creative juices flow. Sort of like what we do every day but tend to forget that we blend the scientific with the creative as we go about our lives.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mushrooms are Beautiful but Watch Out!

I found these mushrooms growing in the middle of my neighbor’s grass. When plants and lawns all around have been withering from lack of rain, these guys seem to be thriving. It surprised me. I thought mushrooms, being fungi, needed dampness and shade to flourish; these had neither and were doing just fine.

My father-in-law used to identify mushrooms and actually eat them from the field near his vacation cabin in Massachusetts. That always scared me and not without cause. Many mushrooms are poisonous. The giant puffball mushrooms are considered safe, I understand, but are these those? “Wildman” Steve Brill says you need to be 100% sure of the mushroom you are about to eat. Eat the wrong one and you can find yourself with anything from a slight tummy ache to what the drug ads call a “fatal incident.”

They are interesting, though, and come in a large variety. Maybe the ones I have been seeing are the “skull-shaped puffballs,” which only refers to the way it grows not to any lethal qualities. Mushroom identification can be enticing. There are mushroom clubs and tours and identification courses and videos and books and…If you are serious about checking out mushrooms, here are a couple of sites to get you started:

I wouldn’t trust myself to correctly identify the safe from the dangerous mushrooms, at least not yet, so I think I’ll continue to buy mine at the market. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to their beauty, in all their unique shapes, colors, and sizes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Acorns are Ready

There is a forty-year-old oak tree in front of my house. Its limbs spread out to create shade on these hot summer days and it is most appreciated. Sometimes I park my car under its branches instead of on the steamy driveway.

I feel the strength of this tree as it rises straight up, its roots extending deep into the earth and balancing outward at the same time. I imagine the yoga pose aptly named Tree pose was fashioned after the oak. It is also a compassionate tree that welcomes nests in the spring and a nurturing one as summer comes to an end; it is prolific with its seeds. There are acorns everywhere! Squirrels rush about burying them in preparation for the long winter ahead. My car crunches acorns whenever I pull out of my driveway. I imagine that helps break the hard shells and makes it easier to eat. The neighborhood kids exercise their throwing arms as they toss acorns down the street.

I gather some of them in a basket for a centerpiece. I love to look at their perfect form and think about how new oaks are hiding inside each one. There are so many from this one tree. Should the earth ever need to repopulate its oak forests, the acorns are ready.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Growing Up

I always thought that Spring was the most fertile time of year for the outside creatures but there has been an outbreak of babies lately – tiny chipmunks, squirrels, and birds abound. It’s fun to watch their beginning interactions with the world as they grow. Just as with people babies, and then toddlers, everything is new. They have to figure things out. How can you balance on a feeder and get the seeds without falling off? It is okay to make friends with a hawk if you’re a squirrel? Should I worry about that cat who’s a lot bigger than my chipmunk brother and me? I keep telling my grandson, who is just four, that it isn’t safe to run into the street; sometimes I yell at a bunny who wanders innocently across. They will all get what they need to know one day. Growing up is developmental.

These birds have fledged out of their nests but have not come into their fullness yet. Young birds look particularly gawky. The scraggly cardinal will become a beautiful adult but right now feathers are all in disarray. The bluejay doesn’t have its wing colors in yet but it has its potential prominence. The finches are still speckled and despite their tentativeness are fast-winged.

This is a visual reminder of the growing process. We all are born needing to learn and adapt but we also bring with us the essence of who we are. It is a joint progression, the physical and elemental, the innate and the learned. Babies are all the same – cute, worrisome, full of incredible potential. A pretty grand progression, I think.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Catalpa Pros and Cons

Catalpa Pros and Cons

When out on a walk I came upon a tree I had not seen before. It had seed pods that looked like elongated green beans. They were over a foot long! The neighbor who owned the tree said it was a catalpa. It produced loads of beautiful flowers in the spring and was very prolific. I was impressed with what seemed like an exotic tree growing so close to home. Was this something I should consider for my own yard? I did some research and found out there are pros and cons to the catalpa, sometimes for exactly the same features.

The pros: The catalpa grows pretty much anywhere with southern and northern varieties. It produces lovely, sweet-smelling flower clusters. It is a good shade tree that grows fast and thrives pretty much in any condition – poor soil, inadequate drainage, drought – a frequent choice for naturalizing. The wood is strong and has an interesting grain and is often used for fence posts. The tree attracts what are called catalpa worms, which are good fishing bait.

The cons: The flowers have a smell that may be overpowering. They also produce pollen that can be extremely irritating to those with respiratory allergies. When the flowers drop it is quite messy. The seeds scatter and plant themselves indiscriminately so it may be hard to control their spread and growth. The worms are actually the larvae of catalpa sphynx moths that can denude the tree.

Quite a mixed bag of characteristics. It makes me think of people, each of us with our own pros and cons both in relating to others and for our own development. We are strong but can be overpowering. We grow fast but we don’t always grow up. We can attract the right things to ourselves but may also crave them to excess.

I think I will pass on planting my own catalpa tree. My yard seems happy and mostly balanced. The catalpa feels like too much of a good thing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dragonflies Are Complicated

Dragonflies are complicated. They look so delicate yet they are tough survivors. They’ve been around for about 300 million years but except for a decrease in size look pretty much the same. They seem ethereal but are predators, on the prowl for feed since the day they are born. Ever try to catch one? They are fast insects. Their wings can go at 30 beats per minute! Their four wings go in all directions independently so they can go up, down, backwards, and sideways. They can even hover like a helicopter. They have incredible compound eyes that enable them to see 360 degrees – there is no sneaking up on them.

Dragonflies inspired myths in many cultures. Although they are harmless to humans, some people believed that they sting. They were sometimes called “darning needles” for fear that if a person slept outside the insect would sew up the person’s eyes. They also inspired art, poetry, and symbolism. Perhaps because of their swiftness they are often considered the harbingers of change. Since they breed near or on water, they have been associated with being a symbol of water purity.
I delight in their beauty and marvel at their versatility. But I would welcome their presence in my backyard for a simple reason; my yard has become a mosquito haven. They are out at all times of the day despite the fact that they breed in water and we are having drought conditions. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes. They could have a feast if they came to my house. And, I admit it, my eyes would feast on the beauty of these complicated insects.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hummingbird or Moth?

The butterfly bush has been attracting lots of creatures this season: lots of butterflies, of course, but also bees, moths, birds, and a variety of the hummingbird category. We did see the occasional hummingbird but more of the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth. There actually is a see-through (clear) portion of it s wing. When I first saw it I thought it was a hummingbird as it has the same kind of wing action, the habit of hovering at a plant, and a proboscis like the hummingbird, plus I had never heard of hummingbird moths before. But it is a moth, not a bird, no matter how similar. Now I am on the lookout for this intriguing expression of nature. It seems to be a regular visitor. It isn’t easy to photograph, however, because its wings move so fast. I read that they beat seventy times a second! Quite a feat, beating at that speed and staying in place. They are common in the northeast and easy to attract. Summer is just fascinating with its variety!

For photos and info about hummingbird moths check out an extensive list of butterflies and moths go to

Monday, August 2, 2010

Peach (Pipe) Dreams

I love preaches – the smell of them, the color, even the fuzz. That’s why I planted a peach tree in my yard a few years back. It took a while before the tree established itself but then it started putting out tiny green fuzzballs. They were hard and as yet inedible but they were peaches! I was excited about the prospect of having fruit from my very own tree. I watched as they developed over the weeks. They started to change color, ever so slowly, and to grow. I checked on them each day and noticed that a few had what looked like bite marks. Oh, well, there were enough peaches growing to share with the wildlife that inhabited my backyard.

As they changed color, I planned for pies and cobblers and could already taste their drippy ripe goodness eaten plain. One day I knew that they would be ripe enough to pick, if not quite ready to eat, in a couple of days. I went out, with basket in hand, hoping that I would be able to reach all the peaches, even the ones at the top of my not so large tree. It was then that I discovered while I was willing to share, the squirrels were not. They had taken every single one of those peaches. “Hey,” I yelled to the creatures who scurried away at my approach. “You’re not being fair. You have to leave some fruit for the people!” That was my initiation into growing peaches. The squirrels never did get the message. I still love peaches and the ones I buy at the farmer’s market taste just the way I imagine mine would, if I ever had a chance to eat one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Shoe Trees

Summer is meant for getting out, gardening, having fun. Only the weather was been so hot the last few weeks that I couldn’t bear the thought of being outside no less working in the garden. So I spent some time indoors instead, cleaning out closets, trying (not too successfully because it was pretty hot in there, too) to organize the garage, gathering things to toss, donate, re-gift, and recycle. But that didn’t stop the yearning to get my hands into the dirt. What to do?

I was about to get rid of was a pair of old, formerly comfortable but now were pinch-my-toes shoes when I noticed that some of my houseplants needed separating. Hmmm. Why not combine my activities?

I am used to making unusual crafts out of ordinary things for the children’s activity books I write. So…my shoe trees were born. I put stones in the bottom of the shoes and poked some holes in the sides for drainage, laid in peat moss and potting soil, and tucked in offshoots of the plants on my windowsill. A tad quirky, I admit, but so satisfying. Recycle and garden, all in the convenience of my air-conditioned home. Ah yes, summer is fun.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tigers in My Backyard

The Tiger Swallowtails are back on my butterfly bush and they are exquisite! The butterfly is named that for obvious reasons: it is striped like a tiger and the base of its wings look like the tail of a swallow. It is stunning – large, dramatic, and brilliant yellow. I look for it/them each summer. Usually several are feeding on the bush. Last year I saw a brown butterfly on the bush and thought I had spotted a new kind of butterfly but I found out it was a female Tiger Swallowtail. Females aren’t always brown so it had confused me. I saw her again this season. I guess a family has taken up residence in my backyard. I read that one of the trees a swallowtail likes for egg-laying is the tulip tree and, luckily, I have one! I hope it means that there will be many more summers with these lovely insects flitting about. What a joy it is to have them flutter around me, almost touching, in such a familiar way. But then, we are all part of the same universal family.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Believe

Sunday was a lovely summer day. I was driving slowly along on my way home listening to The Lettermen, the early 60s group, being interviewed by Liane Hansen on Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR. Tony Butala, the only original member of the trio, talked about how the group started and why their sound is unique. He had once told the group that when the harmonies blended right, a fourth voice can be heard. The song they used to illustrate this was “I Believe (For Every Drop of Rain That Falls),” one of the songs they sing in concert. I was intently listening for that fourth voice and thought I could hear it just when they got to the part about hearing a newborn baby cry or touching a leaf or seeing the sky. I looked up toward my own blue sky, then, and gasped. A hawk flew out from a grove of trees and floated in the air with wings fully outstretched, outlined by a puff of billowy clouds. At that moment I heard them sing the words, “Then I know why I believe.” And seeing the grace and serenity of that flight, in that setting, it was hard not to believe in the harmony of nature, in our inter-connectedness, in the bigger picture of life. I couldn’t capture the bird as I was driving but later I could reconnect with the inner image I retained as I again looked up into the sky. What a day!

If you want to check out the interview go to and click on Listen Now to hear some great harmonies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Where is Everyone?

I had to laugh when I looked outside and saw the squirrel sitting on the arm of the stacked patio chairs. It was July 4th and he seemed confused. Did I hear him say, “Where are the cushions? Where is everyone? What happened to the barbeque and the crumbs?” Well, the cushions were in the garage, we were in the air-conditioned house, and the party consisted of a brief outdoor stint before we scooted inside during this heat wave. We did venture out to see fireworks in the relatively cool (80 degrees at 9:00 PM) evening at a local high school. I love fireworks and these were wonderful. The show started out with a brilliant burst that often announces the ending but then went on to show some beautiful and different displays of color and sound. Although I had to hold my hands over my ears at a few points, it didn’t diminish my pleasure in the celebration.

What a great reminder of the energetic spark of America, no matter the current complications. Our nation began as a grand experiment and we continue to push the boundaries of tradition and limitations.

We all cheered when the program was over, wishing for more. Well, there will be more next year – more celebrating, more appreciation, more exuberance. But if it is as hot as this Fourth was, I will have to say, “Sorry, Squirrel, the cushions, and the tasty crumbs, will have to remain inside.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tractor Crossing

Things have certainly changed around here. There were farms when my family moved here and orchards. We picked apples and peaches just up the road. If there wasn’t time to go out to the orchard we could stop at the packinghouse and pick out a half-bushel to take home. The neighborhood I live in used to be part of a farm. My friend’s house was built on the site of the old farmhouse. When part of the lawn sank a bit, the original well was discovered. It had to be filled in for safety, of course, but for a while it was a window into the past. Now we have serious traffic jams and housing developments. Our township rescued the last working farm as a tribute to the community’s heritage. The market where fresh produce was sold all through the growing season was spiffed up and expanded but the bones of it are still evident. I was on my way there the other day and saw the tractor-crossing sign. It isn’t new but it caught me in a nostalgic mood. I’m glad the farm was preserved as a working entity rather than an historic artifact. Our roots, literally, come from the land wherever we currently reside and it’s good to remember that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rabbit at Rest

Oh, the bunnies. We have quite a few. They are adorable and pesky at the same time. One of them has been chowing down on our recently planted hostas. “Eat the wild strawberries instead!” I yelled when I saw it. “And the clover, why don’t you munch on that?” The creature paid no attention. The coral bells we planted last year are a beautiful memory and we gave up on a vegetable garden years ago. I can sympathize with Farmer Brown when he chased away Peter Rabbit. But just when I am feeling exasperated with them, they’ll do something that melts my heart. I watched this rabbit flop down in the middle of the yard and stretch out inch-by-hairy-inch without a care in the world. He (she?) was completely at rest. No fear at all. It made me glad that it felt so comfortable in our presence. And isn’t that how I like to live my life, non-threatening to other beings? How can I worry about a nibble here and there or a plant that ends up nourishing the bunnies rather than being pretty for us to see? Priorities, always priorities.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Red-winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbirds come each spring. I recognize the males from their red and yellow wing bands, spread on their shoulders like epaulets. They come before the females to stake out their claims for nesting areas. I thought they were marsh birds but I see them each year in my yard, often scattered amid the grackles. The ground is sometimes soggy because of the density of the marl but it’s certainly not marshland. Perhaps this is only a brief stop on their migration. I am glad to see them, whatever propels them to come. The red blazes when they spread their wings – quite a sight. If they feel comfortable or are not in display mode, the red may be tucked away with only the yellow showing. This bird has just fed on black oil sunflower seeds and seems quite at ease. Interesting that when he is relaxed he can keep his flashier aspects in check. It sounds like a reasonable plan. He knows who he is and doesn’t need to flaunt it all the time. Not a bad philosophy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Clover All Over

The clover this year is abundant. It pops up everywhere: in the schoolyard, on the road median, on obviously manicured lawns and on neglected ones. Clover is a member of the pea family, I discovered, and has nutritional value. It has been used as forage for cows as it contains macro and micro nutrients, which makes good milk and meat. It can be eaten in salads. The bees like it, too. As is evident on my lawn. The bees are flitting from flower to flower. I know because I am down there weeding, rather unsuccessfully, I might add, and see them close up. I wonder if I should be trying to get rid of the clover that is becoming more of the greenery than the grass. When I asked about the wild strawberries last week a friend suggested that I let nature take its course and enjoy the little bursts of red that peep out of the dense leaf clusters. Maybe I should do the same with clover and revel in the joy of the bees. Put in perspective, a lawn being taken over by clover isn't much of a problem. Something to think about as I spread clover honey on my multigrain bread.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Strawberries Are Driving Me Wild!

Doesn’t this look idyllic? What’s better than a strawberry patch in spring? How can I complain but, well, here’s the problem. These are wild strawberries. The fruit is too tiny to pick and eat and the vines are everywhere! They started growing in the deep back of the yard where they went pretty much unnoticed. By the time we became aware of their presence, they had already spread. We like to keep a natural kind of setting, not too manicured but still controlled. Hah! The strawberries didn’t get the message. They squiggled around the existing plants, moved out in long lines into the lawn, skipped over unsuspecting patches of grass and are now invading the side and front grounds as well. I know that the birds are spreading the plants and I am glad that the avian crowd can enjoy the fresh berries; however, these vines do not share space well with others. I am not one for using chemical warfare so I have been pulling them out by hand, a rather tedious job and not particularly effective. The strawberries definitely have the advantage over my limited tolerance for weeding. So (deep breath) I think this may be the summer I learn acceptance – of my interconnectedness with nature, of my body’s physical limits, and of the value of releasing control. Until I fully embrace all of that, does anyone know of an effective, non-toxic way to get rid of wild strawberries?

Monday, May 24, 2010

So Much Promise

Camellias are beautiful flowers. I saw this camellia bud at Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island. It was just opening to the world and allowed a view into its perfect insides. I was transfixed by the depth of its promise. So many petals, every one a part of the glorious whole yet exquisite in its own unique loveliness. They hint of fragility and all the same are somehow eager. The outer petals seem protective, almost reluctant to share the internal innocence. Still, it is nature’s imperative to reveal itself in its myriad forms. Each day the flower will open a bit more until nothing further is hidden. And when it has dazzled us with its brilliance, it will leave. It makes me appreciate a person’s progression from infancy onward. A budding flower is another’s journey but in each of us is that same push toward individual expression.

Note: Are you getting your daily dose of DailyOm? The May 17th posting talks about letting your life unfold like a flower. The daily thoughts are interesting to ponder and often profound.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Salvia Says...

We planted some salvia bushes last spring just to fill out a bare spot where the defunct astilbe had been. The bushes were chosen for three reasons: they were perennial, they were already blooming, and they were purple, which meant they would look nice near our lilac bush. As you can see, we are not accomplished gardeners though we appreciate the results of gardening. Over the winter the bushes died down and drawing on prior experience, it was quite possible that they would never return regardless of their perennial status. But they did and this spring they are glorious! I love the exuberance of the outstretched flower stems. I can almost hear them saying, “Isn’t this a lovely day?” And when I see them, whatever my mood or the weather or what the day may bring, I am tempted to answer, “Yes, it is. Thank you for reminding me.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Animal Rescue

There are lots of things happening in my backyard. This weekend Dr. Jesse Liebman sponsored an event for Lilo’s Promise Animal Rescue at his Wellness Center in Marlton, NJ. Lilo’s Rescue is a no-kill rescue service run by dedicated volunteers who rescue, foster, and train dogs so that they can be placed in loving, permanent homes. The dog shown here with Anita is Jasmine. She was rescued when her family’s house was foreclosed and there was no way to care for her. Someone was coming to meet Jasmine later in the day and those at Lilo’s Promise were hopeful that this would be just the right family to adopt her. Other wonderful, trained dogs are waiting for homes. To learn more about Lilo’s Promise check out Volunteers, foster homes, supplies and support are all welcome.

Note: Someone recently questioned what I mean by my backyard because I bring in photos and comments about a lot more than my immediate home turf. My backyard, to me, is the neighborhood I live in and the surrounding areas and more. I embrace the concept of community however small or large. In my book Missed Perceptions: Challenge Your Thoughts Change Your Thinking I discuss communities and how the larger our perception the greater our connection. Nature is nature and it is my pleasure to share my observations

Monday, May 3, 2010

They Hatched!

They hatched! Four tiny birds with large, demanding beaks are snuggled in the nest on my friend’s entryway. The parents used to fly away whenever someone would be near but since the eggs hatched, they stay close to the nest. These little ones are as demanding as any infants. Cheep, cheep! could almost be translated as Eat, eat! They seem to be able to eat all day. There are lots of baby birds out, now. Sprightly cardinals with their vibrant reds, gawky grackles overshooting the feeders, totally confused mourning doves. They will grow quickly through toddlerhood and adolescence as this spring’s generation. As I watch their progress, I think of my own children’s awkwardness in the beginning years. It isn’t easy learning to walk/fly or eat solid foods/seeds. I wonder if the fledglings’ ineptitude frazzles their various bird mommies and daddies. My nest is empty, now, but I remember the growing years and empathize.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Requiem for a Circle

There was something quaint about the circles that dotted the roads when I first moved to South Jersey. They slowed the traffic as cars merged around them and hinted of a time when farms and orchards were abundant in the area. Then suburbia spread and the circles became congested. Instead of a smooth flow of vehicles there were snarls and occasional accidents. But there was still a bit of the country feel while the circles remained; they were grassy patches that connected roads divided by medians which each spring blossomed with color from the flowers the township planted. Then the state decided that the circles had to go. One by one they have been disappearing, replaced by wide stretches of tar and lots of traffic lights. The latest circle to go is the Marlton Circle, to be replaced by an overpass. Residents from the local townships understood that the tremendous increase in traffic demanded a more efficient plan but preferred that the redevelopment be more low-key. They suggested a simple intersection with turning lanes and smart lights to monitor the traffic. The state didn’t listen. So now, when Mother Nature brings out her beautiful blooms, this is what we have to look at. I hope that when the project is finished there will be some sense of what once existed here, that someone thought to engineer in some green. It isn’t only hardscaping that eases the movement of a community. Isn’t the flow of a neighborhood just as important as that of machines?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dandelions Call

I know, I know, it is counterproductive to blow on the dandelion seeds. We spend a lot time digging up the plants to keep them from taking over the lawn so this is really not the smart thing to do. But they call to us. There is something compelling about those white puffballs. Maybe it brings us back to childhood when we had no thought of pristine lawns and manicured gardens. Perhaps we delight in the delicate explosion, watching the tiny helicopters take off to parts unknown, wishing that in an often difficult world we could do it, too. Possibly we think deeper, sensing the intelligence behind the dispersal of the seeds, how the plant finds ways through wind and passing creatures and, yes, us, to cultivate new territory and ensure survival. It could be for all those reasons or others. Then again perhaps we do it just because it’s fun.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nest Eggs

Mother Nature offers us delightful surprises if we are open to seeing them. My friend Claire found one literally on her doorstep. There, inside a planter at her front entrance is a nest. And in the nest are three eggs! The plant is artificial but it doesn’t seem to matter to the bird who made her nest in it. They may be house finch eggs but Claire can’t be sure. She says that the mother bird scoots away too fast to get a good look at her whenever anyone opens the door or approaches from another direction. She is eager to see the eggs hatch and can already imagine the hungry peeping of the baby birds. What a treat! Spring is full of surprises like this: a burst of daffodils in a barren city lot, pink petals snowing down from a budding cherry tree, a rabbit resting in a mid-lawn depression. They, and so many other delights, are there each spring for the finding like nest eggs for our spirit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rabbit Time

It’s spring and that means rabbits. I know that rabbits can be troublesome, especially in regard to the bulbs I get snuckered into planting each year. I say snuckered because bulbs have such beautiful flowers that I can’t resist them even though I know that I will rarely see the blossoms. I have planted hundreds of tulips and harvested nearly none. As the flowers start to bud the rabbits snip them off the stems. So my strategy is to buy fully blossomed plants at the nursery, enjoy them inside for a while, then plant them in the garden. If the rabbits come out for lunch at least I have the pleasure, for a brief time, of seeing their full radiance. And somewhere in my heart of hearts I nurture the hope that maybe this time some of the bulbs will survive to show up again the following spring.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Faux Dogs

I love spring but spring doesn’t always love me. It is the time when the flowers and my allergies awaken. Most of my sneezing and itching tends to come at the end of the season with the explosion of ragweed but I become more sensitive to other irritants like dust and animals as soon as the pollen develops. It isn’t too bad unless I actually pet an animal, which is almost impossible for me not to do. Even hamsters and guinea pigs will get the itches going but I can tolerate them. Dogs and cats, oh boy. If I pet and then touch my eyes I am in trouble. I might be able to pet if I wash right after, depending upon how much the animal sheds. If I ignore the warning signs and get too close for too long, labored breathing kicks in – not fun. So, depending on how susceptible I’m feeling, I may have to settle for faux dogs, those metal creatures that are supposed to scare away geese and ducks but don’t seem to be very effective. I can appreciate their cuteness without the consequences of the allergy. It isn’t a good substitute but we all make compromises in life. At any rate, I don’t know of any faux cats around so when my son and his family, including his hairy, shedding cat, visit I won’t have to phone anyone to announce their arrival – my sneezing will do it for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Le Deluge

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. I think March is confused. Here is mid-month and we did have some fierce winds but we also had rain, rain, rain. Isn’t that April’s job? How much rain have we had in the past week? The ground tells the tale. It is saturated, more puddles than dry earth. Of course, the marl that underlies the topsoil here does not allow the water to drain. Dig down about six inches and wham, the shovel hits rock-hard clay. Even so, the rain has been excessive, with each storm racking up inches in the rain gauge and causing flooding across the state. And the weather people are predicting more. Putting things in perspective, this is no big deal, what with the incredibly intense earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Yet it is atypical, and coming on the heels of record snows this winter, I wonder what April has in store after this deluge...

Monday, March 8, 2010

What to Do?

The snow, at last, is mostly gone though there are still clumps of it on lawn edges and plowed parking lots. As it pulled back from the side of my house, I noticed a trail going between my house and our neighbor’s. What is this? I wondered. It is the first time in thirty years that I have seen this kind of trail. What animal could have made it? Moles are too big to make that inch-or-two wide furrow. Squirrels depress the grass but they don’t dig a line into the ground. Chipmunks sprint across the grass from one hole to another. So when in doubt, check it out – on the web. What I found was this: I think we have voles. These are small, mice-like animals that make trails from one spot to another. It’s a mystery why they suddenly appeared. The vegetation hasn’t changed. What would attract them? The question now is, what to do? If they don’t proliferate I may not have to do anything but if they do…I will investigate non-harmful, to them and to us, ways of removing them. If anyone has experience with voles, please let me know.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Icicles Have Melted

The icicles have finally melted. For a while, there, I was wondering if we might be destined for a perpetual white world, though that would have its own beauty and charm. As the snow melted off the rooftops, it dripped into long fingers of ice creating a North Pole ambience. Very impressive and hard not to feel uplifted by the shimmering clarity that expanded with each drop. But the temperature has reached into the forties for the last several days so the icicles are gone. They have left an indelible image in my mind, however, to gleam in the sunlight and glisten at sunset and to provide a crystalline respite from less elevating thoughts.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Spring Anyone?

I was working in my office when I heard a determined chip-chip-chip coming from the tree outside the window. There was a daddy cardinal calling for his mate. Later, on the bar above the bird feeders, a male titmouse was calling, too. The finches that flew in didn't interest him. His call was plaintive. When it didn't get the desired response, he flew off to find a more enticing venue. Several of my friends have spotted robins. Something is definitely in the air. The calendar says February but nature seems to be sensing spring's imminent arrival. It warms the spirit though the temperature hovers around freezing. The daffodils are working their way up through the snow. Lovely, this display of anticipation and hope. I expect the squirrels to be zipping about the yard any day now, in a boys chase the girls ritual. The buds are beginning to pop up on the trees, a crocus or two comes out of hibernation, and the wind is letting out its breath. What a time to be alive! Spring, anyone?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter Wonder-land

This winter is teaching me about the hidden aspect of things. The snow covers so much of the familiar world that I find myself looking deeper and wondering about nature’s nuances. What kind of bush is under that mound of frigid white? Where are the squirrels when there are no footprints leading to the feeders? What is happening internally to the shrub that allows it to survive and return in the spring? The snow-covered hedges in my yard look lifeless and yet there are thriving communities within them. Sparrows flit in and out and back in again. But even though I know they are inside, I still can’t spot them. The forsythia on the side is packed with finches but until they take off, the bush seems uninhabited. This hidden quality keeps me alert to what I see and helps me stay open to what there is yet to discover – about nature, about others, about myself.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Can Be Hard

Winter can be hard for those who live outdoors. Ice and snow coat the feeders and limit the birds’ access to the goodies inside. The storms that walloped the east coast these past couple of weeks have made it even harder for the ground feeders. The squirrels have taken to diving into the snow trying to get at snow-buried seeds. Sometimes all that is visible is a tail – and then the squirrel will pop up, triumphant, with the coveted sunflower seed between its paws. I braved the last foot of snow, which came up to my knees, to toss out some extra food. Every creature should have enough to eat whatever the season. I wish that every person on earth did. I am grateful that I do.

Monday, February 8, 2010

BBQ in the Snow

There’ll be no barbecueing for a while it seems. We had over 27 inches of snow this last storm and more is promised from another one gathering up speed for mid-week. This is a blow for a few of my friends who BBQ all year round. But I have to say that this past weekend was a very welcome respite from my usual frenetic activity. Most of Saturday was spent watching the snow accumulate while sipping tea in a cozy den. Even shoveling out was a break from the ordinary. Sunday I took a walk through the neighborhood, shifting in and out of the streets depending on the state of the sidewalks, and discovered some wonderful sights. The sky was incredibly blue with wisps of clouds that look like feathers. One tree had blobs of snow in its branches so that it looked as if it was getting ready for a snowball fight. The snow was so pristine that even the squirrels respected it and the backyard remained trackless for most of the day. Despite the work and the inconvenience, the storm felt like a gift.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ducks on Ice

These ducks have mastered the art of walking on water – at least when it is solid. This year they have had lots of practice on the ice. We are having an unusually cold winter with an abundance of snow. I know that the planet is experiencing the effects of global warming with ice caps shrinking and oceans rising but it is hard to think of now. Even Istanbul in Turkey had snow! Perhaps global changing would better describe what is happening with the weather.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seagulls in Suburbia

I have been pondering a minor mystery: Why are there seagulls in the middle of a suburb more than an hour away from the sea? I have seen them gathering at the local ShopRite and in the mall parking lot. They hang out at McDonald’s, scattering when cars pull up to the drive-in window. They sit atop lampposts as they do at the shore and strut near Dunkin’ Donuts right by a busy street. Are they turning into mallgulls? What intrigues them about this non-ocean community? They fly in, their distinctive wing shape signaling their arrival. I admit that I enjoy seeing them. They bring a touch of summer to whatever season it is. But why are they here?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Poe Moment

I was driving down my street the other day and came upon a bunch of crows smack in the middle between my house and my across-the-street neighbor’s. I have seen lots of different kinds of birds around here but this was the first time I saw crows. It was a Poe moment. They looked at me as I inched forward but took their sweet time getting out of the way. One of them perched on my neighbor’s roof and aww-awwed at me. It was pretty persistent before it flew to a nearby tree and was joined by more crows, all aww-ing in the branches. Then they took off, leaving me to wonder where they came from, where they were headed, and would I ever see them here again. It was an unusual occurence so perhaps nevermore.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Question of Geese

There is a love/hate relationship going on with geese in these parts. We are on a flyway so we get to see a lot of them. One road has a Geese Crossing sign to help drivers be aware of their presence and be careful, while another has a Do Not Feed the Geese sign to encourage people to dissuade them from staying. Geese are beautiful birds with a heft and dignity to them but then they are also rather messy in their bathroom habits. They are incredible to see migrating in their V formation but pretty noisy when they gather on ponds, in parks, and occasionally at a housing development. They are family oriented but not for human families; it is risky to get too close, as they will charge. So do we nurture, ignore, or discourage geese? I guess it depends on how much face-to-face contact with nature a community desires.

Monday, January 4, 2010

More Snow Coming

We had a winter storm two weeks ago. Twenty-three inches of pristine, sparkling snow blanketed everything. Now the weather gurus are predicting more snow. So far we have been lucky and snow only seems to fall on the weekends. Very considerate of Mother Nature. Even so, there is a downside to all this beauty. Snow must be shoveled. It gets piled up in lumpy mounds, cars get blocked in by township snowplows, and eventually it all turns dirty as it slowly melts. Would I prefer not to have any? Not for anything. How would my neighbor’s children make snow angels without it? How else would time stop to be replaced by the briefest feeling of wonder?