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September 24, 2005

Sick Time

I’ve been out sick most of this week with my annual September sinus infection, an occurrence that occurs with the same regularity as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano.

This infection knocks me out, leaving me as tired as a baby. I spent one morning sleeping and in the afternoon, made my way to the chaise lounge under the pergola. There I managed enough energy to turn the pages of my book.

I lounged for a couple of hours, warmed by the sun, surrounded by my beautiful fall blooms. As I sat there, it registered that I’ve been wanting to do nothing more than this all summer: just lay back, rest and enjoy the gardens.

I’m just sorry it took an illness to get me to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our labors. There’s got to be a message in there somewhere but my brain is too fuzzy to figure it out.

Happy Birthday, Pont!


This weekend marks the first birthday of Pont, our male whippet. While his reign of destruction while growing out of puppyhood has left a long laundry list of chewed up socks, books, toys, sofa pillows and coffee tables, we’re still glad to have brought him into our family. Graham picked out some presents for him including a new “Flying Squirrel” Frisbee and sang “Happy Birthday” to him when he woke up.

Listen to a First-hand Account of Surviving Katrina

Pop over to my husband Brian’s blog to listen to his interview with “The Pope”, the New Orleans Saints Fan of the Year who rode out the levee burst with his son on the roof of his house. Harrowing stuff. From his podcast page, simply click on the play button of the embedded sound player and choose Viking Underground Podcast Sixteen.

A Shameless Book Plug

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The next time you are at the book store, pick up my friend Amy Scheibe’s new book, “What Do You Do All Day?” that she began writing while on maternity leave with her son two years ago.

Publishers Weekly gave her the following review: “Scheibe's hilarious debut is rife with wry observations…With a light touch and a sparkling plot, Scheibe takes on the conundrums-and beauty-of motherhood for driven yet nurturing women.”

Amy is smart, funny and in touch with what working mothers are feeling today. Again, check it out.

Something New

My husband has been raising the bar for sports bloggers everywhere. He has been delving into podcasting, mobile blogging, and videocasting. I was getting jealous so he finally decided that I should start doing some of that as well.

We put our collective minds together and came up with the idea of having me do short videocasts each week. You will actually get to see and hear me in action as we discuss something new each week. This week, I let you know how to defend your gardens against slugs.

To view this videocast, the very first one for Through the Garden Gate, you just need to slide over to my Moblog site. You'll notice a hot link on the right side of this page near the top called "My Moblog Site: Video/Audio Supplements".

Once there, you will see the video and all you need to do is click on the play button. I hope you like them. Next week, I'll show you how to properly plant bulbs.

Why We Use a Tree Care Service

When we purchased our house 14 years ago, it came with five flowering crab trees along the north side of our property. Each spring they started out looking lovely with lush green foliage but by mid-summer, the leaves had turned bright orange-yellow and spotty and were dropping off.

The culprit was cedar-apple rust, a fungus (Gymnosporangium), which alternates between Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and mostly apple and crabapple trees. The rust is particularly bad during wet springs.

There are two things you can do prevent rust: remove the hosts or apply fungicides. Since removing all the cedars in the wide radius around our house is unrealistic, that leaves a chemical solution. Okay, I thought of a third thing: plant trees that are disease-resistant. But our trees were already in place so that wasn’t an option.

I remember trying to apply the fungicide by myself one year but shortly after that I became pregnant with Graham and avoided all garden chemicals, even for a few years after he was born.

Eventually we hit on the idea of hiring a tree service to spray for rust. Take a look at the difference between an untreated flowering crabtree from the neighborhood and then one of our treated trees.

In addition to the obvious aesthetics of a tree with healthy, glossy leaves, massive defoliation year after year will weaken a tree.

We’ve also used a tree service to provide deep root fertilization for trees stressed by the heavy construction equipment used during our remodeling project and to provide professional pruning.

There are some gardening maintenance projects that should just be done by professionals. The service may be expensive but for the health of your trees, it’s worth it.

Amaryllis Care

Each Christmas, I find myself purchasing an amaryllis bulb at Target. They offer a great deal – a big, healthy bulb for only $5. I have given them away for presents to Graham’s teachers, and they also make a great hostess gift.

I seem to have developed quite a collection of them through the years but have had little success in getting them to bloom again.

With care, amaryllis can provide years of holiday blooms but you need to follow a specific regimen to get them to bloom again. I’ve got the easy part down pat: bring them outside in the summer to give them as much sunlight as possible so they can gather energy back in the bulb. But after that, even though I’ve read article after article on how to do it, I’m just not doing something right.

I asked my friend and fellow gardener Susan for her proven methods of getting her amaryllis to bloom year after year:

One, take the bulb out of the pot, wash the roots and start the dormant stage by putting it in the basement for six to eight weeks. Then re-pot the bulb with fresh soil.

I prefer to leave them in a pot with fresh soil, in the cool, dim area of the basement, and keep them fairly dry. Let the leaves die down, then cut leaves off. Start the forcing period about six to eight weeks before you want bloom. When leaves appear, bring them up the light, water and watch them take off.

The real key is to re-pot them, in a deep but small pot, with about 2" of soil around the bulb. Keep the bulb raised in the pot, so soil does not touch the neck. If that does not work, put them out in the summer, feed and encourage new leaves. That feeds the bulb. Then try again!

I’ll keep you posted through the next couple months to see if I can reach my goal of amaryllis blooms for Christmas – without buying more bulbs at Target!

What’s That Buzz?

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Our prairie garden is attracting thousands of busy honey bees. If you stand still, the buzz of all those golden wings is not deafening, but certainly loud. Somewhere around here is a hive that is going to have some scrumptious honey this year, thanks to us!

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What I’m Reading

Just finished: “Confessions of a Slacker Wife” by Muffy Mead-Ferro. I highly recommend it.

In the middle of: “Snobs” by Julian Fellowes, who won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for “Gosford Park.”

Next in the queue: “Locked Rooms: A Mary Russell novel” by Laurie R. King. The latest in the series about Sherlock Holmes’ young mystery-solving wife.

Listening to: “Monty Python’s Spamalot” – the original Broadway cast recording. Hilarious musical retelling of one of the greatest films ever made, “Monty Python’s Holy Grail.”

Graham’s current favorite: “My Kindergarten” by Rosemary Wells. A lovely look at a kindergartner’s first year.

The Mystery Plant

Was that tricky? Last week’s plant was a canna seedhead. Can you guess the plant this week?

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Calendula
Sunflowers
“Sweet Autumn” clematis
“My Favorite” mum – lavender, red and coral
Rose
Scabiosa
Campanula “Blue Clips”
Comfrey
Ligularia “Othello”
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled “Cardinal Lobelia” when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium “Peach Melba” and others
Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”
Phlox “David”
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea “Annabelle”
Coreopsis “Moonbeam”
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too
Sedum
Indian blanket
Nepeta “Walker’s Low”

Garden Chores for the Week

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Start planting bulbs.

Make an appointment to get the lawn aerated?

Vegetable Garden

Lots of green tomatoes but not many reds. I had to purchase a tomato to make a BLT this week. Gasp!

Today’s Grahamisms

During the severe thunderstorm that the Twin Cities experienced this week, Graham gave me minute by minute update’s of the storm’s progress:

"Mom! Mom! The wind’s fellsity is up to 40 miles an hour!"

"Mom! Mom! It’s hailing!"

"Mom! Mom! The guy said the storm is heading toward Oakdale. Aunt Lori and Uncle Mike are in DANGER!!!"

On being presented with a chocolate doughnut covered in red, white and blue sprinkles, Graham asked, “Is this an American doughnut?”

Posted by maasx003 at 4:27 PM

September 18, 2005

Reading About Reading

There have been two constants in my 40 years of life: the love of my family and my love of books. I can’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t have at least one book started and others stacked somewhere, waiting for me.

Even as a tiny girl, I was enamored with books. I had my own library card at age five and would trek the few blocks uptown on the days when the monthly bookmobile would arrive from the neighboring town. The library and bus driver both knew my name and as the years would go on, they would set books aside that they knew I would enjoy.

I considered a career as a librarian until my school librarian informed me, “Just because you get to handle all the books, doesn’t mean you get to read them.” Well, that burst my bubble and helped to realign my career choices.

I know that there are others out there as passionate about books as me, but I’d never come across someone who wrote so concisely about Book Love until this summer. Somehow I stumbled upon a recommendation for Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life. Catchy title, I thought, and put it on my reserve list.

It arrived in time for our vacation, and although it is a slim volume of only 84 pages, including book lists at the end, it perfectly captured the way I feel about books. Reading through, I found myself placing post it notes in the margin and itching to make my own comments. I think I will have to purchase a copy for myself so I can return again and again to the bits that resonated within me.

Here are some of them…

“There was certainly no talk of comfort and joy, of the lively subculture of those who forever fall asleep with a book open on our bedside tables, whether bought or borrowed. Of those of who comprise the real clan of the book, who read not to judge the reading of others but to take the measure of ourselves. Of those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers.”

“As Alberto Manguel writes in his wonderful A History of Reading, ‘I could perhaps live without writing. I don’t think I could live without reading.’”

“Perhaps it is true that at base we readers are dissatisfied people, yeaning to be elsewhere, to live vicariously through words in a way we cannot live directly through life. Perhaps we are the world’s great nomads, if only in our minds…Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home. “

If you experience Book Love in all its forms, I encourage you to get a copy of How Reading Changed My Life. You will feel like you have come home.

Rediscovering a Long, Lost Love

With Graham taking the bus to school each day, my trips to and from St. Paul are again solo flights. For the first time in five years, I can listen to books on tape, something I used to do voraciously pre-baby. I figure if I can’t actually sit and read a book in my leisure time, I can at least drive and listen to one.

Hitting the Limit

I discovered something interesting the other day at the library – there is actually a limit of books you can check out. Graham and I were at the self-checkout counter, swiping barcodes across the reader when the screen flashed, “Limit Reached.”

Huh? Who knew?

Between Graham’s books and movies and my books, music CDs and books on tape, we had a grand total of 100 books checked out; with more we wanted but could not take home.

So we took action into our own hands and got Graham his very own library card. I admit I got a little lump in my throat to see how gingerly (tenderly?) he carried his card around the library, trying to decide if any books he saw were card-worthy.

And of course, he decided he would only check out those books that he chose, not the ones I thought he would like, so I’m not sure that having his own card will make a difference to our check out limit just yet.

Graham the Reader

Graham has become quite the reader, and we are tremendously proud of him. One of our favorite series right now is “We Both Read.” The books have a unique concept: parents read the left-hand page, and kids read the right-hand page. The children’s text is a condensed version of the parents’ and each highlights specific new vocabulary words.

Graham really likes nonfiction books about nature, so he is enjoying the books “About Bugs,” “About the Rain Forest,” and “About the Sea.” My internal fact-loving geekness rejoices in this, especially when he can make connections between something he has read and something he observes in his daily life.

What I’m Reading

Just finished: “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl. Loved it. If you are foodie, you will enjoy the descriptions of the meals she ate while she was a food critic with the New York Times.

In the middle of: “True Brits: A tour of Great Britain in all it’s bog-snorkeling, shin-kicking and cheese-rolling glory” by J. R. Daeschner. An American author tracks down eccentric British traditions and takes part in the activities. It’s not a great book but it feeds my love for all things British.

Next in the queue: “Confessions of a Slacker Wife” by Muffy Mead-Ferro. Loved her “Confessions of a Slacker Mom” and I can’t renew it any more.

Listening to: “A Year in the Merde” by Stephen Clarke. A funny fictional account of a Brit businessman working in Paris. Added bonus of being able to listen to both British and French accents.

Graham’s current favorite: “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems. A hoot!

The First Weeks of School

Graham loves riding the bus each morning and enjoys his days at school. He is learning how to weigh and measure, make comparisons and finger paint with chocolate pudding. The previously-mentioned lump in the throat returned this weekend when I heard him recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.” I imagined him standing in his classroom with his little hand over his heart, intoning “and to the Republic, for Richard Stands…” along with 21 other little kids.

The Mystery Plant

The scabiosa or pincushion plant was pretty easy to identify. Can you guess the plant this week?

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

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Calendula
Sunflowers
Goldenrod
Heart-leaved aster – Minnesota native plant
Jack in the Pulpit – seeds
Four o’clocks
“Sweet Autumn” clematis
“My Favorite” mum – lavender
Rose
Scabiosa
Campanula “Blue Clips”
Comfrey
Ligularia “Othello”
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled “Cardinal Lobelia” when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium “Peach Melba” and others
Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”
Phlox “David”
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea “Annabelle”
Coreopsis “Moonbeam”
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too
Sedum
Indian blanket
Nepeta “Walker’s Low”
Daylily

Garden Chores for the Week

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Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering. Deadheading, too. I’ve been avoiding it for too long.

Start gearing up for planting bulbs; hundreds should be arriving in the mail this week from White Flower Farm – tulips, daffodils and more. And I purchased allium from the City of Plymouth.

Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes are continuing to produce madly.

Today’s Grahamisms

“Rock and roll is awesome!” (Who is this child and where did he learn the word “awesome?”)

Posted by maasx003 at 1:24 PM

September 11, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Our vacation days were filled with walks in the woods, trips to the park, a visit to the State Fair, more Cold Stone ice cream than anyone cares to admit, as much reading as possible, nights by the fire and lots and lots of movies.

It was a good time to regroup as a family before Graham embarked on his next adventure.

The First Day of School

We made it through the first day. There were fewer tears (mine) than I reckoned. My biggest concern was getting him on the bus and having him find his friend Wyatt who lives up the street. Once I could see through the windows that Graham was seated with Wyatt, then the tears could come, if only briefly. Graham marched up onto the bus as though his life wasn't changing at all but I could feel every step as he walked away from us.

When he returned, he was full of smiles and chatter on the day, which he shared over a Bomb Pop. He said he wanted to go back the next day. We’re taking that as a good sign.

Noerenberg Gardens

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During our vacation, Graham and I visited Noerenberg Gardens, a gorgeous public garden on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. It is part of the Hennepin County Parks system.

I have volunteered at the gardens every spring for the past six years (I got rained out this year) to help get the new plants in. I like to visit it a few times during the summer to check on the progress of the little plugs I helped put in.

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Graham likes to visit the gardens so he can sit on the gazebo and watch the boats as they go by. This year, since we visited in the fall, we were surprised to find conkers, or horse chestnuts. Graham knows conkers from a British children’s video.

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The gardens contain an interesting mix of perennials, annuals, vines and edibles. Head Gardener Arla Carmichiel is nationally-known for her innovative designs. Plus she is probably one of the sweetest, most soft-spoken persons alive.

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We ran into her following our trip to the garden when we stopped at Kelley and Kelley Nursery, which is owned by her husband Steve. The nursery is worth the trip to Long Lake. I highly recommend both the gardens and the nursery for a grand day out.

The World is a Little Less Bright Today

Yesterday, my sister’s father-in-law, Dr. Clare Hocking, passed away. “Doc” was a dignified man who always had a smile and a gruff word to share. He will be missed.

What’s Happening in the Garden Now

The autumn garden is about ready to explode. The “Sweet Autumn” clematis has gone from just a few little blooms to a fragrant ribbon of sweet-smelling stars that goes on for nearly 30 feet.

The asters that I cut back to produce thicker, sturdier plants are poised to bloom next. They haven’t needed staking so far so maybe this technique was successful.

The prairie garden is dotted with purple asters and yellow goldenrod
, just perfect for the beginning of the Vikings season. Go Vikes!

I think I’ve identified by my brown mystery butterfly: a great spangled fritillary.

Seed Starting Revisited

Check out these lovely bronze-colored sunflowers! I’m glad something I started from seed last spring turned out.

The Mystery Plant

The previous plant was Tithonia or Mexican sunflower. I started it from seed this spring and I’ll start more next year. It’s between four and five feet tall – like a zinnia on steroids – and a great addition for the back of the border. Can you guess the plant this week?

Canning

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I also got some canning done over vacation. Our kitchen was filled with the aroma of cukes, brine, dill, and other smells that bring back memories for Brian of his grandmother's canning efforts when he was growing up.

He and I have canning down to a fine science, utilizing a turkey burner outside. I prepare the cannings and Brian boils them outside. The turkey burner was a great idea that Brian thought of last year....no more burned out stove tops!

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

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“Sweet Autumn” clematis
“My Favorite” mum – lavender
Rose
Scabiosa
Campanula “Blue Clips”
Comfrey
Ligularia “Othello”
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled “Cardinal Lobelia” when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium “Peach Melba” and others
Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”
Phlox “David”
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea “Annabelle”
Coreopsis “Moonbeam”
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too
Sedum
Indian blanket
Nepeta “Walker’s Low”

Garden Chores for the Week

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes are continuing to produce madly.

The Concorde grape vine had a few clusters of fruit a few weeks ago but the raccoons and birds must have gotten them.

Today’s Grahamisms

"Mom, why didn’t you hear me when I was calling for you? I think it’s because your curly hair covers your ears."

"Mama, when is your birthday? It’s in March, dear. Oh, yeah, and at your next birthday, you’ll be 21, right?" (Look out, ladies. He’s going to be a charmer!)

Posted by maasx003 at 7:29 PM