Monday, December 29, 2014

Pumpkin Recipes for the New Year

Pumpkin Recipes for the New Year

Well, Thanksgiving is over and winter is officially here. It was time to dig into the pumpkin that has been gracing our front steps. What should I do with it? The seeds were the easy part- bake and eat. But what about the rest? Time to consult prior recipes and find new ones.

Pumpkin soup is one of my favorites and I make it each year. I like to try new things, however, so I looked online and came up with some possibilities that sound scrumptious. The good part of all of this is if I run out of pumpkin I can always use butternut squash, which the market seems to have all season.

Surely I’m not the only one who is eager to experiment so if you have a pumpkin recipe that you love and are willing to share, please send it along. Meanwhile, let’s try some of these. Happy eating.

And BTW Have a Happy and Healthy 2015!

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins:

Chef John’s Pumpkin Scones:

Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce from Circle B Kitchen:

100 Ways to cook a pumpkin from Endless Simmer:

Pumpkin Oat Pancakes from Cookie & Kate- it’s gluten free:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

This past week has been cold and often rainy so I decided to enjoy our backyard inside. We stacked firewood from a two-year-old cord (now nicely weathered) in the fireplace in our den then added branches that had fallen onto the lawn during the windy Fall days for kindling. The logs were lit and blazed with delicious warmth. The scene cozied up the den. We planted ourselves on the sofas and read books in the light and warmth of the flames. Ahhh.
            We tend to make fewer fires than most people who have fireplaces which means that the leftover wood in the cord is nice and dry for the next season/s. We discovered how wet wood can be really smoky so we appreciate letting the wood age.
            But what about the environmental cost of having a fireplace? Well, there is a cost but that impact depends on the type of fireplace, the kind of wood, even the kind of fuel. Whether a tree is burned or dies it oxidizes, just at a different rate. Trees are a renewable resource – we can replace them. Reputable wood harvesters know how to actively manage their wood lots.
            I admit I like my fireplace. I also confess that I am concerned about its consequences. Isn’t that like so much of life? We make choices and hope they aren’t harmful as they support us in how we choose to live.

What kind of wood is good for the fireplace?

Pros and cons of different kinds of fireplaces:

And what about the environment?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hawk in Suburbia

Hawk in Suburbia

I am used to seeing hawks off in the distance, wings spread, floating on the air currents beyond the height of our neighborhood trees. There is a grace to their flying, so smooth that it almost seems they aren’t flying at all.

Occasionally a hawk will come closer, just above our backyard trees. No doubt it is scoping out the movements on our bird feeders. Most of the time the birds are savvy and disappear when the hawk is around, though not always. I have found splashes of feathers on the lawn, usually from a mourning dove that didn’t move off fast enough. And we have enough squirrels and chipmunks to satisfy the hungriest hawk.

This week I was surprised, however, to find a hawk right in our backyard, sitting in the maple tree near our patio. It wasn’t the kind of place I would expect a hawk to be. It was high for people but not typical hawk height. And it was close to an inhabited site. The bird sat on a lower branch, another unusual activity. It seemed to be aware of every move we made near our back storm door but it wasn’t inclined to leave. Eventually, it took off across our yard to places unknown.

I admit I was shaken. It is one thing to see such a creature in the distance and quite another to have it within whistling distance, which I couldn’t help doing. Was it getting used to us? Not necessarily a good thing. Our living needs are obviously different. Can we live together in peace? As people take up more land space from the natural inhabitants the question becomes urgent. I hope we can do a better job of co-existing with the hawks than we often do with people who have divergent lifestyles.

A common bird in America:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

The woodpeckers found us again this year. It’s a treat to see them. We have a male and female munching on the black oil sunflower seeds. They are a nice size and lovely to look at.

I used to think that all woodpeckers only came in the Woody Woodpecker persona but that was incorrect; woodpeckers come in lots of variations. I believe our kind is a Northern Flicker. I know that dedicated birdwatchers need to identify what birds they see but I am not obsessed with identification. It’s the visual aspect of bird watching that gets me. I don’t have a life list of birds, either, documenting the birds I see in my travels though I have been privileged to see many different kinds. A birder likes to observe birds in their natural habitats. My backyard may not qualify as natural because when I put out seed for the birds, it automatically changes the environment. I say that the birds will find food wherever it is so why not in our backyard? I’m pretty accepting of whichever birds show up.

I’m sort of like that with people, too. I am always impressed with how much variety there is in humanity. It’s amazing to think that the category of person can come in so many sizes, colors, shapes, and individual details. Like the birds, each person has his or her own characteristics and personality. Pretty remarkable, I say, whether bird or person. And inspiring, too, that our world can support so much diversity, as long as we value it.

Lots of woodpeckers have red heads:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

For some reason, the squirrels like to sit on our patio chairs. Usually they sprawl flat out along the top or laze quite comfortably on the seat. They are aware of the people who live in the house but we don’t seem to bother them unless we open the door and chase them away.

This time a squirrel was upright on the back of the chair, facing the yard. He (or was it she?) knew we were watching but it did not bother him. He was relaxed and seemed to be taking in “his” property, observing the colors of the leaves, the birds as they flew on and off the feeders, the other squirrels zipping along the ground around him. He had the look of being master of all he surveys. We didn’t have the heart to shoo him off.

We have lots of squirrels in our backyard. They make nests in the trees, eat the seeds that drop from the feeders and sometimes find a way to get around the baffles and onto the feeders themselves. They chase each other during breeding season, run strangers away, or sometimes they scrabble just for fun. We complain that they share too many of our vegetables and use our patio for their own social gatherings. Occasionally, one will look in our kitchen window and stare at our table as we eat. We can almost hear the question, So, what’s for dinner?

This was different, however. The squirrel wasn’t looking for handouts. He wasn’t in breeding mode or protecting his turf. There was a peacefulness about him, unusual for a creature who seems constantly active. The squirrel’s tail stretched long and rested down the chair’s back, not twitching like I was used to seeing.

He/she stayed there for quite a while. I was transfixed with every turn of the creature’s head. There was something sacred about the scene. Did the squirrel feel connected with what he was seeing? Once, he turned and looked toward the glass door through which we were watching but did not register any fright or inclination to scoot away, then turned back and continued what now seemed like a vigil.

I couldn’t tell if the squirrel was owning what he/she saw or being embraced by it. It didn’t matter. As I watched, I felt a connection – to the squirrel, to what was being observed, to the larger sense of nature. Suddenly everything seemed new.  It was a broadening experience propelled from a very simple cause. It made me aware that the world is always different, depending upon one’s view. 

I turned away before the squirrel did. In the morning, the backyard was once again bustling with activity. I couldn’t tell which squirrel was the philosopher but I could appreciate the idea that everyone, whatever our size, has a personal perspective to offer.

An overview of the Eastern Gray Squirrel:


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Early Morning Clouds

Early Morning Clouds

I am not a morning person. It takes me a while to gather my energy so much of breakfast preparation takes place automatically. It’s a good thing oatmeal doesn’t need special attention.

Having said that, I am often startled out of my lethargy when I look out the kitchen window. Sometimes a new bird will surprise me or a flower that planted itself will suddenly appear. This time it was the sky that did it.

The trees were just awakening themselves, their leaves barely hanging on in mid-season. They seemed to be framing something that drew my eyes upward. Just above and beyond them was an exuberance of white clouds. It woke me up right away. I sensed myself being drawn upward into the vastness of the sky. How much larger I felt! 

Clouds often represent things depending on their form. The lighter ones tend to be associated with air and movement, higher thought, expansion and enlightenment. The darker ones are seen as more related grief or omens of change. But whatever the symbolism, there is always movement involved. Clouds are not indicative of the past; they exist in the present.

I wasn’t seeking the clouds’ meaning in the morning but I responded to their presence. They moved along at a slow pace, inviting me to dream along with them. And so I did for the rest of the day, making up my own symbolic definition of infinity, allowing myself to bask in their, and my connection with all of nature.

Chinese symbolism:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tomatoes on the Sill

Tomatoes on the Sill

It has been a good tomato season for us. I rarely bought any this summer. There is nothing better than picking something from your own garden, warm and juicy, and serving it right then. Yum.

But the season has changed and it was time to clean out the greenhouse. Our plants were just about done, though there were several green tomatoes that I couldn’t bear to let go. So I picked the remaining ones and put them on our windowsill, hoping that they would ripen. They wouldn’t be fresh-picked when we ate them but they wouldn’t have traveled for days (weeks?) to get to the market so they should still have a newness about the taste.

This weekend on my regular afternoon walk, I saw that someone else had culled a tomato garden. The wilted vines were laying at the curb – with tomatoes still on them! Some were even red. Why weren’t they picked before the plants were uprooted? Did they have bugs or fungus that prevented a late harvest? It was all I could do to not dive in and rescue the poor produce. It seemed like a gift rejected. When I returned home, I looked at the tomatoes on my sill. One already started to show a blush on its mostly green skin. I was glad I had saved it and the others.

I wouldn’t make a good farmer. I would not be happy if I had to destroy any crops because of blight or government mandate or lack of a living wage due to overabundance. I am grateful for the local, organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free produce offered in my area. I look forward to visiting the farmers’ markets that pop up in Spring, to buying and supporting sustainable agriculture. The little I grow on my own connects me with the earth and I am grateful for the taste it provides. 

There are so many little things that add to the joy in life. Why not tomatoes?

Some easy, practical tips to growing tomatoes:

More involved info:

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Trees are Showing Off

The Trees are Showing Off            

Here it comes – Autumn! It’s been Fall officially since September 22nd but it takes a while for Mother Nature to make the transition. Now the trees are showing off. Red and yellow leaves decorate the streets, both on the branches and on the ground. Some people around my neighborhood are already raking though it seems futile at this point; the trees have just begun their annual leaf-release.
I remember walking through the leaves that gathered on the sidewalk when I was growing up. I loved the crunchy sound of the drying maple leaves as I stomped through them. I still do. I make it a point to shuffle my feet in the colorful piles as I take my afternoon walk. Sometimes I kick the leaves into the air and watch as they fall back down; I stop at actually jumping into the raked mounds as I once did. I can’t help smiling, though. I am re-experiencing a pleasant childhood ritual.
As I grew older, I was the one in the family who did the raking. I never minded – even now it isn’t an onerous task. I don’t mind shoveling either, when Fall shifts into Winter and the snow falls. Yes, it’s work, but it is also a moment to reconnect with a younger me.
I know the leaves aren’t falling to amuse me. Trees are responding to the season. Daylight is shorter, temperatures are cooler, the air is dryer. The trees try to conserve their energy by using the nutrients stored in their roots and trunks. Photosynthesis is no longer available. The colors are there all the time but are masked by the chlorophyll during the warmer parts of the year. Now we can see their beauty.
I wonder if we do the same thing, mask our inner beauty, as we pass through our own sense of seasons. Do we succumb to peer pressure in our teen years? Do we hold back our creative spirit in the workplace? Are we reluctant to express our convictions to politicians, clergy, relatives, friends? Perhaps the trees can remind us that we, too, have a dazzling inner core. Our life seasons may be longer but they are just as compelling – if we allow ourselves to see who we really are.

Why do trees shed their leaves?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure

It was a beautiful Fall day. We were driving to a public park in a nearby town, about eight miles from our home. It was a small park, announced by a non-descript sign, but unless you knew where to look, you’d never see it. Wooden benches were scattered in a haphazard pattern along the grass on either side of a creek. There was a gravel path, mostly overgrown with weeds that led to a bridge that straddled the creek.
We had been here before but on this day we walked further inside the park. On one side of the water we discovered some fields for play, a few swings, and a small waterfall that splashed over the few rocks imbedded in the ground. On the other side were modestly rolling hills and some houses whose backyards led down to the water. The owners had decorated the bank with windmills and plastic flowers that added color and fun to the surroundings.
Further on, the water ran under a main road in town and appeared again under the crossing to resume its amble through the weed-grassy fields. It provided a reminder of the days when the town was mostly farms.
It wasn’t an impressive park but it was a delight all the same. I watched the water tumble onto the rocks and slowly go back to its calm meandering. I saw a young man taking photos – with a real camera – along the water’s edge. I smiled at the couple having a conversation on one of the benches and I let out a sigh as we approached our car for the drive home.
It was the kind of day that helps a person breathe deeper, to set aside whatever might be on your mind, if only for a brief time. But that respite is truly a treasure in our frenetic world. And all it took was a short ride and the willingness to look deeper into what seemed like nothing special. I’m glad we have parks.

Why are parks valuable?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hummingbird on the Feeder

Hummingbird on the Feeder

I had a hummingbird feeder sitting in my closet for a while, acquired with all good intentions of setting it out in the backyard but I didn’t get around to it last year. This summer I decided it was time. I filled the feeder with the sugar mixture hummingbirds like, put it outside my kitchen window and waited…and waited. I occasionally saw one eating from the butterfly bush but I thought they would enjoy the feeder more. Had the hummingbirds found other places to feed?

And then, there it was! There is something so exciting about seeing a hummingbird. It was tiny, only three to four-some inches, yet so beautiful.

I went on alert for sightings and discovered that they came around several times during the day. The bird uses so much energy flapping its wings that it has to eat often. And it is that flapping that gives it its name because its speed creates a hum.

I watched them all summer. I hadn’t realized that they were so territorial, chasing away other birds, even hummers, with their aggressiveness. These little beings were not easily intimidated.

Now it’s Fall. I know they will be migrating but I hope they will be back next year. I’ll make sure that I supply their food. I would hate to miss them. You never know when beauty will present itself.

Hummingbird facts:

More facts – listen to the sound clip:

Hummingbird migration:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Uh Oh, a Skunk!

Uh Oh, a Skunk!

I was looking out my kitchen window as I tend to do whenever I’m preparing a meal and saw this white blob under the bird feeders. It looked like a plastic bag had blown against the pole. I debated going out and removing it or letting the wind take it on its way. Then the “bag” moved and I saw it was a skunk! A rather large one, at that. Panic set in.

We frequently smell skunks in the neighborhood so I know that are around but I had hope they weren’t too near. This dispelled that hope. Knocking on the window to scare it off didn’t work. Opening the window (ever so slightly) and yelling “Shoo!” didn’t work either. The skunk looked up for a second, then continued munching on the seeds tossed down by the less than careful birds.

I didn’t know what to do so, other than looking outside several times as dusk turned to evening, I did nothing. The skunk eventually left and did not return the next day or the next. I wondered where it lived in this well-developed suburban neighborhood. I didn’t want to come upon it accidentally should it have a nest in back of our yard.

The thing is, skunks are actually cute. They are also mild-mannered except when threatened. They benefit farmers by eating agricultural and garden pests. And they are mostly nocturnal so they tend not (too often) to interact with people and animals.

Much as I am nervous about its reappearance, the skunk reminded me of the diversity of nature. There are helpful creatures, dangerous creatures, worrisome and delightful creatures. Sort of like us. All of nature has different aspects about it that make life interesting. Some we like, some not. It’s a matter of the good, the bad, and (in this case) the smelly.

Skunk info:

If you do get sprayed, try these de-skunking methods:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rose Hips and Acadia

Rose Hips and Acadia

I was walking along a path in Acadia National Park at Bar Harbor, Maine, enjoying being out in nature when I heard someone say, “Are those tomatoes?” I looked to where she was pointing and smiled.  

She was referring to the rose hips, which are the seeds of roses. They are red and have a slightly flattened roundness that could be mistaken for hefty cherry tomatoes. They are abundant at this time of the season, ripening as autumn approaches.

Rose hips have a long history of usage, from birds and animals to humans. They are edible, though we humans cannot comfortably digest the seeds; they can be easily removed. They are rich in Vitamin C and other vitamins and antioxidants. Fall is a particularly good time to harvest them as they become sweeter after the first frost. They can be used topically to heal skin problems.

But I didn’t let my focus on rose hips distract me from the splendor of Acadia. It is magnificent. The mountain views and seascapes are meditative. Many people, myself included, sat on the rocks just looking outward. Time seems irrelevant in such a setting. It is a place of renewal, something necessary in today’s frenetic world. If you can’t get to Acadia, take a few minutes in your day just to close your eyes and breathe deeply. It really makes a difference.

This is the official Acadia website but Google other sites as well for some additional great photos:

A brief review of rose hips with some recipes:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hibiscus Potential

Hibiscus Potential

The hibiscus flowers have been delighting us all summer. They are big, exuberant, brilliant red blossoms that cause comments by anyone who comes to our house. One plant greets visitors at our front door with a gracious floral welcome that is so prominent, it cannot be ignored.

There are seasons for everything, however, and even as buds are still developing, many have already flowered and gone leaving behind the empty leaves that held their glory. There are no more buds forming this season but they were prolific and the promise of each was extraordinary.

The last flower is about to bloom and I feel both sad and exhilarated. I know the plants will be back next year, probably expanded, as they tend to spread their beauty. But I am left with an awareness of how each tightly closed bud starts with potential and grows to be all it is meant to be. I cannot help but think of how it relates to children, how they start off with their potential contained and then blossom into the world, and how the process continues as we grow and mature into the beautiful creations we are all meant to be. 

Cultivation and maintenance instructions:

Monday, August 4, 2014

Coneflower/Echinacea – Nature’s Balance

Coneflower/Echinacea – Nature’s Balance

The purple coneflower seems to be everywhere this season, gracing gardens and fences, walkways and flowerpots. It adds lovely color wherever it grows and as a bonus, it is a native American plant.

But there is more to this plant than its pretty looks. It is also known as Echinacea purpura and has a long history of medicinal use. Like most things, though, Echinacea has its positive and negative sides. It can help with many things but can be problematic at other times. It has a general anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which helps boost a person’s natural immune system. On the other hand, it can cause reactions in people who are allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds and similar plants. It can kill germs and dry up mucous but it is strongly heating so it is not recommended for fever or night sweats.

It’s interesting how nature has a balance in everything. Careful attention helps keep us healthy. We can appreciate the beauty of the cornflower and not necessarily ingest it. Sometimes that works for our emotional health, as well, appreciating and observing to find out what supports us; a balance of beauty and practicality is nature’s way.

Some medical info about Echinacea:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blueberry Picking is Great!

Blueberry Picking is Great!

Ah, blueberries. One of my favorite foods. And this is great blueberry picking time in my area. We are near Hammonton, NJ, which is known for its blueberries. We went picking at an organic farm last week and came home with almost eight pounds of berries. What will we do with so many, you might wonder. Well, I’ve already made two batches of blueberry muffins and plan to bake a blueberry cobbler later this week. We munch on them daily and I’ll freeze some, if any are left in the next day or so. We may go back to the picking farm before the harvest time is over.

Blueberries have lots going for them besides good taste. They are native to North America. They are healthful, loaded with antioxidants. They’re rated as reasonably low on the glycemic index and calories.

I love picking blueberries. Seeing how they grow and choosing which berries to take is a privilege. It is almost a meditative experience, directing your focus berry-by-berry, on the wonder of nature. There is a practical side as well. There is no worry about perhaps getting squished ones in the supermarket container or how long the berries have traveled or been stored before you buy them – there is nothing fresher than pick-your-own berries. Plus, it’s a fun outing for the family. Depending on the farm you go to, you may get to ride on a hay wagon, an activity that never gets old. And to top it all off, the cost is less.

So, I wish you all happy blueberry picking. Perhaps we’ll see each other down a blueberry row. But hurry, the season lasts only a few weeks more!

Yay for blueberries!

Hints about working with blueberries and more:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lake Erie is a Great Lake

Lake Erie is a Great Lake

Here it is July already. I took a blogcation for a month, enjoying a little road trip, a family visit, and just allowing myself some off time, doing pretty much not much. Isn’t that what summer is for?

One of the things I saw on our road trip was Lake Erie, an incredibly sized body of fresh water. There are five Great Lakes- Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Huron – that impact Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, and Wisconsin. It was hard to believe that Lake Erie is the smallest of them in volume though the fourth in size. Quite impressive. Lots of people were enjoying the gentle waves and the warm water on this hot day; a serene respite from the usual hustle and bustle of everyday living.

But it wasn’t always this way. The Great Lakes have their problems. Lake Erie is a case in point. The native peoples revered the lake for its purity before the area was colonized. Then things changed with the new settlers. By the late 1960s it was polluted by industries spilling pollutants into it, sewer water being released there, and agricultural runoff. Algae flourished and the fish were all dying. Instead of Great Lake it was called Dead Lake. In 1969 the Cuyahoga River, which feeds into Lake Erie, caught fire. It was time to rethink our use of the lake.

In 1972, the United States and Canada signed The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to establish guidelines for a cleaner Great Lakes environment. The International Joint Commission (IJC), in a final report in 1999 on the Great Lakes, recommended wetlands restoration and water quality research and monitoring. There are still periodic quality warnings issued for beach use but at least Lake Erie has its watchdogs now.

I was saddened when I learned about Lake Erie’s history. I wish I could have seen it in its original state; if it is so impressive now, how incredible it must have once been. We need to think of consequences to nature before we plow ahead with our plans. We aren’t separate from nature – it is us.

Lake Erie – past, present, and future:

A look at the International Joint Commission’s findings:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blackberries and Raspberries – Delicious and Beneficial

Blackberries and Raspberries – Delicious and Beneficial

We planted two new bushes this season. One is a raspberry bush. It is leafing out nicely with flowers and thorns. The other is a blackberry bush, thornless and self-pollinating and also leafy and green. They both are growing nicely despite not being planted in ideal soil. They like sand and we have marl. We modified the soil as much as we could and hope they can adapt. They are in a sunny spot, which is favorable for their growth, and so far they seem to be doing well.

Berries are full of antioxidants, fiber, and Vitamin C, among other beneficial properties. While these particular berries are not on The Dirty Dozen list (those foods that are the most contaminated by pesticides), organic berries have been shown to have more of the health benefits than non-organic berries.

Dr. Andrew Weil partners with Environmental Working Group (EWG). He advocates eating organic produce but acknowledges that it is not always available and frequently is too expensive. He suggests that we choose as much as we can from the safer foods, or at least choose a mixture of the two.

Our berry bushes are organic because we planted them that way. We also shop at local organic farmstands when possible. I am glad to see that some of the larger supermarkets are including organic fruits and vegetables now as the demand increases. How we shop determines what we can buy. Let’s make our preferences for healthy food known. 

Nutrition facts for blackberries:
Nutrition facts for raspberries:

The Dirty Dozen:

Dr, Weil chats about EWG’s guide:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Weather on Parade

The Weather on Parade

It was almost time for the parade to begin this Memorial Day. The roads entering town were closed to traffic Children sat on the curb eager for the fun to start. Their parents lined the sidewalks in folding chairs, chatting with their neighbors. We were all staring down the main street in anticipation. But it was hard to wait, even for the dog who came along for the event. He sighed and finally laid down. We heard some preparatory notes from a trumpet. Then, at last, the parade started.

There was the town marching band, lots of fire trucks and rescue vehicles, girl scout and boy scout troops tossing candy to the kids at the curb. We clapped for the veterans, the local politicians, and the Farm Fair Queen. Mother Nature lent a hand for the parade with beautiful weather. It was warm and sunny, perfect conditions that added to the joy of the day. The dog seemed to sense the excitement, too. He walked back and forth, accepting petting from the viewers as if he were a prominent part of the festivities.

The weather was as important as the participants to the spirit of the parade. Weather conditions affect our attitudes and influence our mood. Fortunately, sunny weather tends to bring out the friendliness in us so it was no surprise that I could talk to the woman next to me even though I didn’t know who she was, and I was handed a red and white carnation from a young woman who was walking by. The crowd was upbeat, reflecting the energy of the weather.  

The display of vintage cars brought back eras of old, with their shiny tail fins and oo-gah horns. What fun it all was. Too soon the parade was over and the streets turned back into ordinary thoroughfares again. The dog, wagging his tail happily, came over for a goodbye pat before we all went on our way.

I was feeling wonderful as I walked back to our car. What a day. Not a cloud in the sky hinted of rain. Perhaps if we know how weather affects us, we can be prepared for the sway it has on us. And make the most of a sunny day. 

This link is technically for kids but it has so much weather information, I couldn’t resist sharing it:
How does a sunny day affect us?:
And what about other weather patterns?:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Happy Osprey Day!

Happy Osprey Day!

On Mother’s Day, we took a trip to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. This is the kind of gift I love, to be out in natural settings, observing animals and birds in their native habitats.

One particular thing I observed that day was the scattering of osprey nests through the refuge. In the wild, the male osprey gathers the makings of the outside of the nest - twigs, sticks and branches - and the female lines it with grass, sod, vines, and sometimes found materials. They like to build their nests in open spaces, usually near a water source as they tend to eat fish exclusively, leading to their description as fish hawks. The problem is that ospreys may build nests on man-made structures such as telephone poles, utility poles, buildings, and other open spaces, which can pose a hazard for the birds. This was not the only hazard. Ospreys became endangered as a result of DDT spraying, before the chemical was banned in 1972. They have recently been rebounding, partly due to the support of wildlife and conservation organizations. They often construct platforms for ospreys to nest on, in protected areas out of harm’s way.

This day, we saw lots of ospreys perching alongside the nests. I wondered if they were the males or females as both tend to the nestlings. On this special day, I chose to imagine they were the mother birds, watching over their babies. Mothers, regardless of category, have much in common. I sent them silent messages of appreciation and understanding; raising youngsters is an all-consuming job (Can you see the baby in the nest?). I was glad that the adults were being cared for, too, by the wildlife conservation community. We need to support each other. It is cause for celebration when we can say that a species is reclaiming its right to exist.

Happy Osprey Day!

Get a feeling about ospreys:

Lots of photos of ospreys at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge:


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Lilac Presence

The Lilac Presence

Purple is a color that cannot be ignored. At least not in nature. I see purple tulips in people’s yards, purple buds on flowering plum trees, purple outlining pansies. It is a dramatic color. And nothing is more dramatic in my Spring garden than the lilac bush. It insists I pay attention to it. It has an intense presence that calls me to come and admire it. And admire it I do, knowing that this will only last two to three weeks before the blossoms fall and all I will see will be green leaves.

But lilacs are just as famous for their scent as their color. The early buds are tight, withholding their smell until the flowers open. Then they release their heady fragrance, filling the air like the perfume sprayers at department stores. It is an imitated scent in perfumes, candles, oils.

Yet, as with most things, lilacs vary. The deep purple is only one of its shades. They can be lighter purple, pinkish, sky blue, sometimes yellow or white. And the scent varies depending upon the stage of blossoming, the time of day, and the kind of lilac; there are dozens of varieties that can smell sweet or spicy, cloying or calming. The lilac is a harbinger of Spring and also symbolizes first love.

It isn’t necessary to analyze the lilac to value it though. Each type can be appreciated for its own individuality. It kind of reminds me of babies; they all belong to a specific category, that of baby, but each one immediately exhibits its own personality, preferences, and energy, and every child has a presence from the moment of her/his birth. I find it refreshing that no two of anything is exactly alike – not people, not birds, not animals, not flowers, not even lilacs.

What to know if you want to plant lilacs:

And more about lilacs:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Our Tiny Farm

Our Tiny Farm 

We just put up a really basic greenhouse in our side yard. It came with a PVC covering, which we refuse to use because we are planning to plant edibles inside. So we spent way more time than we expected enclosing it with screening. It will permit the plants, when we get around to planting them, to have sun and rain and they can be easily watered when necessary. This is all being done to keep out the squirrels and rabbits who have plenty of greens to eat elsewhere in the backyard.

We will be planting tomatoes again. Last year I wrapped each tomato individually with mesh so we actually had some to eat. This should be easier. I’m thinking of peas and carrots and lettuce, maybe spinach, too. It’s all organic – the soil, seeds, plants, and feed. I don’t say it’s cheaper than buying it in the market but picking your own food is extremely satisfying and the just-picked taste is incredible. I won’t be putting any farmers out of business with the small scale of this garden but I do enjoy the idea of growing, at least some, of my own produce.

New Jersey is known as the Garden State. We used to have the most acres of productive land with two-thirds of the state being farmland. Now, we are the most densely populated state in the U.S. but the name remains.

But we should never forget that farms mean food. Industrial agriculture and biofuels work against that focus. Fortunately, there is a movement toward creating farmland trusts. My town is 90% built up but the township bought the last farm to keep the heritage alive. We lost a lot of farmland during the housing boom. Now we have a Green Acres program that helps to keep land undeveloped and agreements to keep farmland as working farms when sold. And there is a new understanding of what pesticides can do, to our food, our water, and our land. Small organic family farms are becoming more popular, as is the emphasis on local crops.

I don’t claim that my tiny patch of peas will make a difference in the larger farming picture but it does help me to appreciate those who are trying to keep our lands pure and our food healthy. And I will be sure that the wild strawberries, clover, and grass that the squirrels and rabbits eat are safe and healthy, too.

Here’s a history of New Jersey’s farm development:

Some states are having problems:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Garden as a Concept

Garden as a Concept

I went to a most unusual garden last week. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is not about botanical nature but more the nature of the spirit. It was created by mosaic mural artist Isaiah Zagar, in a couple of vacant lots on South Street adjacent to his studio. It is an incredible exhibit. Every space within the building is covered – floor, walls, and ceilings –  and so are the outside walls, stairs, arches, and pathways of the lots. Tiles, some of which are handmade, wheels, pottery, bottles, small ceramic statues, pieces of glass, and mirrors are integrated into patterns that draw a visitor along in a state of awe. One of the guides told me that the mirrors draw you in and make you part of the exhibit as you see yourself reflected in the art. 

But that is the nature of all gardens, I think, no matter the content. We are reflected in our creation of the space. Zagar didn’t use flowers but the garden is alive with color. He didn’t plant trees, yet his garden soars upward. It is a growing space for his art and inspiration.

Every garden has its own energy, embedded by those who create it. The plantings and the design reflect thought and character. They are a presence for ideas to develop and grow.

Sometimes the garden needs to be re-thought, re-planted, and re-imagined as we rethink, re-cultivate, and re-imagine ourselves. A garden takes planning. So does life. What works at one time may not at another. Things change as the garden matures. So do we. At each stage there are options to try and ways to beautify our garden.

This is the right time of year to plan a garden. Whether in a plot or a pot, through art or earth, let’s find what best reflects us – and then share it with the world.

This will help you plan your garden:

If you happen to be in Philly, be sure to stop by:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Golden Time of Year

A Golden Time of Year

The crocuses that greet us as we open our front door are soft yellow. The daffodils in the backyard and on the side of our house are deeper yellow. The goldfinches that find our feeders are brilliant yellow! More gold than not, they are aptly named. It is hard to sulk about the weather when there is so much to awaken to us of the vibrance of Spring.

The supermarkets in our area have pansies for sale – yellow (of course) and purple and pink flowers just invite me to think about gardening. The coreopsis and yarrow will be out soon and, not doubt, so will the dandelions. The sun, which plays hide-and-seek at this season, varies in color from a whitish-yellow to an intense gold.

Yellow is a heartening color. It is the color that resonates in our solar plexus. It energizes and inspires us, stimulates us for learning and ups our intelligence. It brightens the artist’s palette and adds light to the ordinary.

So amid the sporadic raindrops, despite the temperature shifts from cold to warm to cool to hot, even with the uncertainty about the future climate, this time of year is golden. It is filled with promise and hope. And goldfinches to remind us to appreciate nature.

If you like yellow flowers, you’ll love these:

Colors have meaning:   

Monday, March 31, 2014

Puddles of Daffodils

Puddles of Daffodils

It’s sunny today, a welcome change after a weekend of pouring rain. The ground remembers, however. It is wet, wet, wet. Mud puddles are everywhere. The grass is sopping, the bushes soaked. Between the recently melted snow and the consistent rain, the earth doesn’t seem able to absorb any more.

Although it is inconvenient, there is reason for this madness. April showers will bring May flowers - even if so much of the rain came in March. The water loosens the soil, making it easier for roots to dig in and gives plants nutrition for a good start. The daffodils seem to agree. They are already pushing up through the puddles, reaching for the sun. They are happy to greet another Spring; the crocuses have bloomed already.

So while we squish around on the saturated ground, putting corn gluten on the lawn to control weeds, cleaning the vegetable patch from last summer’s stalks, and digging new plots for anticipated plantings, it’s good to remember that each season has its own character. And why not? Nothing is static in our world, not even us. Some of us like the snow while others bask in the heat of summer. We don’t all plant the same flowers, if we plant at all, or the same veggies. We all like different foods, read a variety of books, have a diversity of jobs. Nature expresses itself in its own way, and so do we. If the weather isn’t our favorite, all we need is a little patience  - Nature will get around to a new season. Soon there will be puddles of daffodils.

The source, science, and philosophy of the rhyme:

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Peaceful Blue Jay

A Peaceful Blue Jay

It was early morning. The feeders, while usually covered with hungry birds, were empty except for one visitor – a Blue Jay. It was unusual to see a single jay without a mate. Jays mate for life and are particularly social creatures. But perhaps this bird was young and had not found its mate yet, though they mate early, usually when they are about one year old.

As I watched, I noticed there was something different about the bird. This jay wasn’t calling out or imitating other birds’ calls. It wasn’t jiggling around on the feeder as it generally does. Its crest was resting flat against its head instead of being up and spiky; the crest will extend upward when a jay is agitated or on alert for some reason. The bird seemed to be enjoying a rare moment of quiet. I stood at the window while it continued eating, half expecting a crop of other jays to join in. It didn’t happen. When the jay finished its meal, it took off, leaving the feeder swinging after its departure.

The funny thing was that although I was excited to see it, I could sense the bird’s peaceful state. And why not? We can tune into other people’s energy, know when they are happy or sad, angry or joyful, even when they aren’t doing anything specific. It’s etched on the face and radiates outward. We can feel a dog’s emotions, respond to our pet cat’s restlessness. Why shouldn’t we be receptive  to other creatures' energy as well?

Later in the morning, the feeders were crowded with finches and cardinals and yes, Blue Jays. Everything was aflutter then, not peaceful at all. I was glad that the Blue Jay had a calm start to its day and thankful that I was able to share it.

For a full description of Blue Jay life and behavior:

Mating behavior of the Blue Jay:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is It Spring Yet?

Is It Spring Yet?

The poor squirrel, huddled in the bush, no doubt confused by the latest weather. It’s confusing for all of us. We had about 3-4 inches of snow today while down in the D.C. area, there was 8 inches on the ground. Isn’t that south of New Jersey? New York, which is north of us, didn’t have any.

On March 20th it will officially be Spring. It may not feel like it to us yet but the flowers know. Daffodils are beginning to peek out of the ground.  Snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths, forsythia, snapdragons, camellias all welcome the early spring. Time to think about the garden.

As the snow melts, I venture into the backyard to see which plants have survived the winter. The pachysandra have defied the ice onslaught. Our dappled willows are starting to put out foliage and the azaleas have hints of green under the latest coating of white.

Mother Nature has her own timetable, taking in the amount of light as well as the temperature. We do, too. Some people have seasonal affective disorder, being particularly sensitive to the shortened light of winter. Many of us have said this year, “I’m ready for Spring!” The warmer weather and the brighter days tend to cheer us up. The brightly colored flowers help bring a lift to the spirit.

Ah, Spring. It’s almost here. Enjoy!

A list of flowers that grow all through Spring:

Seasons can affect how we feel:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winter Is Getting Warmer - Really

Winter Is Getting Warmer - Really

Even though we officially have to wait until March 20th there is evidence of Spring all over. New leaves are sprouting on my azaleas. The lilac bushes have impatient buds on all the branches. I see robins hopping around the neighborhood pecking at the saturated ground for worms. Clumps of ice are slowly melting, revealing things that have been hidden for months. Practically everyone I know says the same thing: I’m ready for winter to be over.

We aren’t the only ones yearning for Spring. Ducks have had it hard this year. They migrate to find food and nesting places, both of which become difficult to find when there is an excess of snow and ice. The robins that have returned, until this week, were pecking away at the snow, trying to get underneath to find food. Geese were spotted making nests on mounds of snow and skidding on the underlying ice. It has been some winter.

And yet, the earth has had a warm year. In some areas, it has been an unseasonably warm winter. The earth has been setting records in the past dozen years. As temperatures rise, ice melts.  Polar bears are losing their ice environment. Islands have flooded. The oceans have risen. It is a self-perpetuating cycle: as temperatures rise, carbon dioxide increases and as CO2 increases, temperatures rise. It’s a complicated situation to understand, especially after an extended period of snow. So I went to NASA’s website for kids to help make sense of it all:

I wonder if the definition of our seasons will be changing in the future and what is our part in that change? It’s not something to sluff off because it isn’t only the ducks and geese and polar bears that are affected, it’s us, too. 

Some late-season weather statistics:

Waterfowl react to seasonal changes, too:

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Beauty of the Unexpected

The Beauty of the Unexpected

I love to find joyful surprises during the day. This morning, one of them came in the form of a grackle on the feeders. The sun was shining on its feathers, bringing out the iridescence that is not always visible. It was as beautiful as it was unexpected.

Usually, grackles are not my favorite birds. They can be problematic around the normal backyard birds. They come in large flocks that scare off the smaller birds and they decimate the seeds in the feeders. I often shoo them off, watching them flutter into the trees where they wait for me to forget about them and then they return to continue feeding. And when they appear in vast numbers along their migration paths, they can pose health problems, damage crops, and create quite a mess.

In an ordinary backyard, however, there are ways to minimize their presence. Choosing feeders that discourage them is one way. A feeder with a cylinder wrapped inside a cage pretty much keeps them out. But it doesn’t mean that they won’t hang around for a while, munching on seeds thrown out by the other birds. They are also very observant, so if you don’t mind waving at them through the window several times they may eventually take off. And they do migrate so sooner or later they’ll be gone, leaving the feeders to the regulars.

Even though I often chase them away, I do appreciate these big black, yet colorful birds. They are native to North America, have a yearly presence, and shake me out of the winter doldrums with their beauty. They also remind me not to make judgments based solely on appearance, whether about birds or situations or people, because you never know when the unexpected can help you to see things differently and sometimes with joy.

If the grackles are getting piggy, try these techniques:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Foggy Day

Foggy Day

Some ground was finally beginning to show through the snow on Friday after being blanketed in white for days. But then irony took over. The ground was visible but the sky was not. Heavy fog was everywhere.

We could hear birds chirping but they didn’t seem to be flying anywhere. Birds can fly in fog but prefer not to as they can become disoriented. These geese landed within the confines of a local school, the flock choosing to hunker down and take a rest until the fog lifted.

Birds are not the only ones who can get disoriented; people, too, find fog confusing. Going across the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philadelphia was an experience in caution. Where was the car ahead of us? Where were the lanes? It was hard to think we still on the bridge because we couldn’t see the cables. 

It was beautiful, in its own, soft way. All things blended. There were no hard lines to anything. The road, the buildings along the way, the people on the streets, all were fairy-like. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see someone sprout wings and take off into the clouds. Sometimes it’s nice to have that sense of fantasy to gentle a day, especially after a snow-shoveling marathon.
What causes fog?

Be safe when driving in fog:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hidden and Revealed

Hidden and Revealed

I was driving down a neighboring street the other day and saw a couple of trees that made me stop the car and pull over to contemplate them. There were no leaves on their branches (rightfully so in this season) and it was too early for them to flower but there was a sense of life about them from nests that spoke of birds and eggs and life cycles that usually are hidden from ordinary sight. Such private things, now revealed. It felt like I was peeking at something sacred.

I didn’t know which birds had built them, if it was one species or a mixture; we have many different birds calling our area home. We have squirrels that make nests in our backyard maple and white pine trees, though these nests didn’t seem large enough for them. Will the birds come back to the same nests in Spring or will these start to fall apart, offering their twigs for new nests and new life?

So much of life is hidden; flowers within buds, plants concealed in seeds, babies inside bodies. Eventually the impetus of nature reveals them and the world gets to see the beauty that was harbored there. An idea is hidden until someone speaks it or acts upon it and allows others to see it. This duality has an energy that speaks of movement, of progression, of growth. In it, like with the change of seasons, is a sense of anticipation that animates life.

When we come upon something that we hadn’t seen before or understood or perhaps even considered, it opens us to a broader dimension of existence. It helps us to stop in our everyday tracks and pay attention. And it may even bring a feeling of gratitude for having been there at the right moment to discover something more of ourselves.

Which birds reuse their nests? Join the conversation:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Keeping Warm in Winter

Keeping Warm in Winter

How can a body keep warm on these frigid days? Birds fluff up their feathers. Rabbits puff up their fur. Squirrels, besides running around like crazy, find inventive ways to garner heat. This one found a bit of warmth atop our woodpile. He spread himself (herself?) over the dark-colored bark in the mid-afternoon sun when it would be the warmest. Whatever works…

Staying warm has been a challenge for people, too, this winter. I stuff myself into layers of clothing before venturing out the door. I wear mittens instead of gloves to keep the heat of my hands concentrated. Even indoors, a fleece is my friend.

There have been lots of communities, which translates into hundreds of thousands of people, that have been stranded without heat at various times this season, due to iced power lines. Ice increases the weight on the lines, which can cause them to break. It also strains tree branches that then can snap off onto power lines. This year Pennsylvania was hit particularly hard by ice storms and some households still do not have power.

So, how does one keep warm during freezing times?  Here are a few suggestions that might help.

How to keep warm outside:

How to keep your house warm:

How to survive a power shortage: