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April 23, 2006

Mother Love

Each night before I turn in for bed, I check in on Graham, pulling covers up over his out sprawled arms and legs, smoothing back a lock of hair and allowing the caress of a tender cheek to wipe away the day’s frustrations and cares – both his and mine.

Graham sleeping. (Click image for larger)

As I lean in to give him a good night kiss, I sniff deeply of that heady aroma of sleeping child – sweat and sunshine, shampoo and joy. And I know in the very marrow of my bones that This Child is Mine.

I’ve read that smell is the most potent of the senses, attaching itself to events so powerfully that even a faint whiff of a scent can bring back long-forgotten memories.

It also acts as a recognition device, a reinforcement of maternal process. Even the day after Graham was born, I could have chosen him from an array of other babies, just from his individual scent.

I think it’s an ancient response for women, going back to when we were simple primates. Have you ever noticed that when a baby is presented to a gaggle of women, almost the first thing each one of them will do when handed the child is to hold the baby close and take a deep sniff? We all laugh that we “just love the smell of new baby? but what we’re really doing is testing for recognition. We sniff and think, “Yep, this smells good but it’s not mine.?

That imprint of aroma is like olfactory DNA, something so unique and singular that it cannot be replicated. Every animal mother can tell her child from the all others in a herd, even when there are hundreds of them.

So at night, when mothers everywhere tuck their little ones in to bed, we can sleep in peace, too, because we know This Child is Mine.

A mother’s nose knows, and it’s never wrong.

Deep Purple

With all the chartreuse leaves popping out on trees and cheery yellow daffodils in bloom, a garden’s deeper purple flowers and foliage can make a welcome change.

This spring my gardens contain wild prairie crocus...

Wild prairie crocus. (Click image for larger)

...snake’s head fritillary...

Snake’s head fritillary. (Click image for larger)

...and grape hyacinth.

Grape hyacinth. (Click image for larger)

From emerging hosta shoots...

Hosta shoots. (Click image for larger) the ruffled edges of “Plum Pudding? heuchera...

“Plum Pudding? heuchera. (Click image for larger)

...and the stalks of “Husker Red? pensetemon,

“Husker Red? pensetemon. (Click image for larger)

...purplish leaves also add color and form.

And don’t forget the punch provided by the bright fuschia of Turkish tulips...

Turkish tulips. (Click image for larger)

...and waxy-leaved bergenia.

Bergenia. (Click image for larger)

What I’m Reading

Browsing through: “Foliage: Dramatic and Subtle Leaves for the Garden? by David Joyce.

Listening to: “Dragonfly in Amber – Part 1? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish time travel.

Graham’s current favorite: “Owen & Mzee: the True Story of a Remarkable Friendship? by Isabella Hatkoff and “What Do Illustrators Do?? by Eileen Christelow.

Today’s Grahamisms

Graham and I were out running errands one night last week when it began to rain quite hard. We rushed from a store to the van, trying not to get wet. As I buckled him into his booster seat, most of my body still outside the van, Graham said, “Oh, the water makes everything sparkle, even your butt.?

While walking down to Big Park on Medicine Lake, Graham said, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World is wrong. Howler monkeys should be on that list because when they howl it can be heard for seven miles.? Then he demonstrated by hooting at the top of his lungs, startling a nearby walker.

Graham’s class has been studying art for the past two weeks, and every day he brings home artwork that he has done in the style of Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt and others. One day, he announced, “My favorite artist today is Andy Warthog.?

Posted by maasx003 at 12:44 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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April 16, 2006

Spring Ephemerals

There is something rather bittersweet about the spring ephemerals. You wait all year for them and are delighted when they appear, knowing full well that they won’t last long.

I’m sure there are very specific guidelines on categorizing plants as ephemerals but I’m using my own loose interpretations here.

I would start out with the crocus, a cheerful spring bulb guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face. They come in a variety of colors....

Purple crocus. (Click image for larger)

....and build dense clusters as they multiply.

Siberian squill also form cheerful clumps, creating a wash of blue color like a river or stream.

Siberian squill. (Click image for larger)

The woods are the perfect place to look for native spring ephemerals. The other day I took the dogs for a walk in nearby French Park. On our way back from the woods, I glanced into the brush edging the walking path and was astonished to see not one, but two clusters of bloodroot in bloom.

Bloodroot. (Click image for larger)

I must have been truly distracted on my way to the woods because I completely missed them, which was a pretty incredible feat considering how white the flowers are and how evident they are against their surroundings.

Bloodroot remind me of strange alien life forms whose bat-like wings surround them when it’s cold and open up with the warmth of the sun. Very cool.

Budding Bloodroot. (Click image for larger)

My astonishment continued the next morning when I stood with Graham in our driveway, waiting for the school bus. I glanced up into our woodland/dry streambed garden, and there was a single bloodroot in bloom.

I don’t remember planting it, even though I know I’ve wanted to add bloodroot to that bed for years. Obviously I did so last year!

I would even add trees to my list of spring ephemerals, in this case the magnolia species.

I’ve too much Dakota prairie in me to ever want to transform myself into a Southern belle, but if it would mean being able to enjoy the sights and scents of magnolia trees for more than just a few days, I would certainly consider it.

Our “Merrill? magnolia trees are seven years old now and have truly come into their own. Last week’s unseasonably early warm weather made the buds pop, and every day I came home from work to be greeted by even more blossoms.

The two magnolia. (Click image for larger)

The threat of rain concerned me because a hard rainfall can wipe out an entire tree’s blooms in an instant. But luckily, the rain never arrived, and we’ve been graced with glorious blooms for almost a week.

And the fragrance! Just step out of the house onto the deck, and you are instantly enveloped in a cloud of sweet smells, which travel all the way to the front yard. Working in the yard is certainly enhanced by this kind of aromatherapy.

The trees are uplit with landscape lights and are eerily beautiful at night, their delicate white blossoms glowing in the dark.

All these spring flowers are lovely but don’t last long, so you really have to stop to enjoy them while you can.

More Spring Photos

The hellebores continue to please me with their greenish, waxy-looking flowers. I planted three more last year.

Hellebores. (Click image for larger)

Since they are in Pont’s main flight path through the garden, it remains to be seen if they’ve survived.

Last fall I planted 96 “Czar Peter? tulips in the middle bed of the back gardens. They are coming up nicely, with an unusual purple stripe along their leaves.

Czar Peter leaf. (Click image for larger)

Taking Care of Business

In spring, my list of things to do grows longer by the minute, and Brian has to talk me down when I start to get that frantic look in my eyes. I could be outside every spare minute and still not get it all done. That really puts me in a panic when I let it get to me.

I’m still clearing out perennial beds, but I’m almost finished with that chore. I was able to cut back most of the clematis this weekend and got a start on pruning the shrub roses. But when I look around, I see the prairie garden to be weeded, the early vegetables to get planted, the wisteria to be pruned and on and on. Yikes!

Sometimes I feel smug that I’ve gotten so much done already, and it’s only mid-April. (Is it just me or did Spring come early this year?) And at other times, I’m just overwhelmed.

Today, I had to tell myself just to give it up and stay indoors to tend to mundane household chores (Lord, do I hate ironing). I could feel my internal gardening pressure rising as the sun came out. It was supposed to rain, dang it! When it’s pouring out, I can work indoors without any guilt.

There should be gardening therapy for people like me. Not a therapy where sick people do gardening to feel better. I’m talking about therapy for “people who garden too much? or wish they could garden more, something to help them feel better when they can’t.

Maybe I’ll add that to my list of things to do.

What I’m Reading

Browsing through: “Architectural Plants: What to grow and how to grow it? by Christine Shaw. Too bad most of the plants won’t survive in Zone 4.

Still listening to: “Outlander – Part 2? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish time travel. Two disks left!

Graham’s current favorite: “The Borrowers? by Mary Norton. Another children’s classic. And “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late? by Mo Willems.

Today’s Grahamisms

While watching a silly cartoon in which Baby Bugs Bunny and Baby Daffy were building a “huge? castle, Graham said, “That's not the biggest castle I've ever seen. Actually I've never seen one but I know I will some day.? Too right, boyo.

“City Gardener,? Mom’s current favorite BBC gardening show was on. Graham watched for a while and then said, “You know, to make everything look really great, we need to paint the house green and add bricks all around the gardens. So get going.? Just what I need, a six-year-old design critic.

Posted by maasx003 at 3:59 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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April 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Graham!

Monday, April 10, our son Graham Kiloran turned six. He was born on a Monday, and it’s hard to believe that enough years have passed for that same day to come around again.

And it’s hard to believe that our tiny baby....

Graham at one day old. (Click image for larger)

....has grown into a big boy of six.

Graham with his BD cakes. (Click image for larger)

We held a small party this weekend for a mixture of old friends and new. The theme was superheroes and the eight boys (and one little sister) made their own capes, wrist bands and goggles. (Many thanks to my friend Wendy who shared her professional ideas and supplies.)

Flash greets everyone in the entry. (Click image for larger)

Making super hero wristbands. (Click image for larger)

Making super hero capes. (Click image for larger)

Games included Bad Guy Bowling and a race to save Superman’s life by gathering all the kryptonite that had fallen into our yard the night before when a meteorite whizzed overhead.

Super heroes hunt down kryptonite. (Click image for larger)

Our heroes located all the kryptonite. (Click image for larger)

Then there was a piñata, Spiderman cakes and opening presents – all in two hours. Whew!

At the Batman piñata. (Click image for larger)

Piñata opened! (Click image for larger)

Even time for gifts! (Click image for larger)

Dad & Graham play some chess. (Click image for larger)

And soon another year will zoom by and we’ll find ourselves at party number seven, wondering where the time went.

So here’s to you, my sweet babaloo. Happy, happy birthday.

We’re Back in the Garden, Baby!

The Maas family spent some time doing garden clean up this week, lifting leaves from the front perennial beds so the bulbs could come through.

Graham was my helper guy, gently pulling the matted leaves back to reveal yellow daffodil and crocus shoots. Each time he found one, he would shout, “Mom! Look! More garden treasure!? He was especially enamored with the tulip shoots declaring that they looked like candy with stripes of white, yellow and red.

At one point he told me, “We make a good team. You know how to garden and I know how to have fun.? Indeed. I thought they were one and the same.

Today Brian removed the bags of leaves that protected tender plants during the winter, and Graham helped with box elder bug extermination, his trusty squirt gun filled with soapy water. Any time he saw a box elder bug, he would shout, “Do you want to go to heaven??

He was quite proud of his efforts saying, “We are saving the gardens. Dad and me are shooting the box elders and you can get the slugs.?

More Signs of Spring

The goldfinches have ditched their drab gray winter coats for shades of yellow –from the softest cream to bright lemon.

The dogs no longer need their coats when we go for walks.

A bunch of asparagus was only 98 cents at Cub this week. As I was cooking it, Graham said, “I smell something stinky.?

I made my first chive omelet of the season.

Brian uncovered the willow furniture under the pergola.

What I’m Reading

Still reading: “John William Waterhouse? by Aubrey Noakes. A look at the Pre-Raphaelite painter and his work.

Listening to: “Outlander – Part 2? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish time travel.

Graham’s current favorite: “The Borrowers? by Mary Norton. Another children’s classic.

Today’s Grahamisms

"When Pont dies and is a dog angel, will he still be in the house but we just can’t see him? What if I walk through the house and trip over him?"

"When superheroes crash their cars, they get zero dollars back."

Posted by maasx003 at 4:08 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 26, 2006

Are You Worthy?

I recently completed a long-overdue project: transferring all the names from my address book into a new one. The one old was papered with a mosaic of yellow Post-it notes – new names to add but there was no room and updates on current place holders. I couldn’t open it without a little paper fluttering out like a wounded butterfly.

I started at the very beginning and made my way from A to Z, meticulously copying names, addresses and telephone numbers. Technology crept in with the addition cell phone numbers and email addresses, when available.

I noted all the changes that had happened to my friends and family through the years. There were a lot of physical shifts as people moved up and on from apartment dwellers to homeowners. I must have worn an eraser clear through with some of the more transient folks who have moved from state to state. Some people’s addresses I transferred even though I knew they will have another new one in the next couple of months.

The life changes were more bittersweet with the inevitable deaths. I’ve lost several aunts and uncles in the past few years, and it was sad to have to eliminate an entire couple from my permanent record. Even though my grandfather has been dead since 1985 or 86, I kept his address. For some reason it’s important to me to remember the street number in the tiny town where he lived.

There were heartbreaking divorces to note, proud transitions from children to young adults with addresses of their own, and lots of joyful additions as friend added babies to their families.

My biggest concern was that, with all the Post-it note updates, I wouldn’t have enough room in the new address book. I somehow have lots of friends with last names beginning with M and N and who had to spill over into P in the old book.

So I tried to be ruthless. If someone wasn’t on my Christmas mailing list or I hadn’t been in contact in at least five years, he or she was gone. It was surprisingly easy. It made my mindful of the old Seinfeld episode when Elaine only had a small supply of contraceptive sponges, and each new man she met was judged “sponge-worthy? or not.

Was the woman I knew from community summer theatre back when I was a teenager address-book worthy? No. Was the acquaintance with whom I had lunch once or twice eight years ago worthy? No. And so on and so on.

When I was finished, my address book held only the names of the people with whom I want to remain in touch. It may not be frequently but if I want to call or drop a note, I can.

So if you receive my 2006 Christmas card or I call you out of the blue in a few weeks, consider yourself worthy.

I do.

More Signs of Spring

The redwing blackbirds are calling in the marshy places.

Pussy willows have appeared again along the path by the stream where I walk the dogs.

So has the goose poop. Bleh!

Easy Appetizers

I attended a gardening lunch this weekend – a great idea by the way and thanks for the invite, Rebecca – to which I brought the easiest of appetizers. The recipe came from the Desperation Dinners section of the Strib:

Just microwave 4 oz of cream cheese for 7 to 10 seconds and then stir in something to give it some taste. Serve with crackers or French bread slices. For savory spreads use two tablespoons of pesto, salsa, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or blue cheese. For a sweet spread for fruit or graham crackers, add ¼ cup crushed pineapple, fruit preserves or whole cranberry sauce. I used pesto and dried tomato pesto for two savory spreads and chutney for a sweet spread.

They tasted great and were incredibly easy to mix up. Give them a try. I recommend using whipped cream cheese over the brick, if possible.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “John William Waterhouse? by Aubrey Noakes. A look at the Pre-Raphaelite painter and his work.

Listening to: “Outlander – Part 2? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish current favorite: “The Box Car Children? by Gertrude Chandler Warner. A children’s classic.

Today’s Grahamisms

“Mom, you need hearing lessons. I never have to tell Dad something."

“I know how you hate slugs, Mom. When summer comes, you should spray them with soapy water. Dad and me, we hate boxelder bugs. They always come in the house. So this spring and fall, we’re going to spray them with soapy water and kill them. That’ll teach them a lesson.?

“Today we had a real weatherman from Channel 4 talk to us about weather and tornados. He said that we should think about being a weatherman some day but I’m going to be just like my father.?

“I know what to do when there’s a tornado. You go into the basement or the bathroom and you always stay away from the windows. The best place to go is the bathroom because there are pipes under the bathtubs that go way underground so if a tornado comes your house could blow away but the bathroom will stay.?

Posted by maasx003 at 5:11 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 18, 2006

Winter Wonderland? Enough Already!

Such are the vagaries of gardening in the Upper Midwest: last Sunday morning, March 12, I spent a delightful time in the early spring garden.

I counted the blooming snowdrops under the front maple. They had arrived a week earlier than usual.


I lifted bags of leaves from the hellebores and took a peak. Imagine my surprise to find so many blossoms here as well. I keep forgetting that in warmer climes they bloom in December.


And I took a quick inventory of all the other bulbs that were starting to poke their way through the soil, including these early crocus and daffodils.


That was about 10 a.m. By 4:30 p.m. when I could finally get back in the garden and do some work, in this case cutting back some shaggy-looking grasses, the first little snowflakes appeared. And then there were more snowflakes and more snowflakes and more and more.

Monday morning brought our first and only true winter storm of the season. Then we had another big dump on Thursday. All my pretty little blooms and bulbs are now covered by two feet of snow.

The good news is that these early emergers are tough, and the snow will keep them well-insulated. Actually, the snow is starting to melt already.

We may receive more snow in March than in any other month, but at least you know that it won’t last. Soon these same plants will be uncovered again and they’ll be here to stay.

At last!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure? by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation. And “Julie and Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living? by Julie Powell. It’s a hoot!

Listening to: “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation? by Lauren Willig. The tales of a female spy in the vein of the Scarlet Pimpernell.

Graham’s current favorite: “No Flying in the House? by Betty Brock.

Today’s Grahamisms

After his St. Patrick’s Day Irish dance performance, Graham said, “When I was dancing, I felt like I had to scratch my hair but I knew I couldn’t do it on stage so I just kept on dancing.?

“I miss Sister Olivia (our dear, departed Dalamatian). I wonder where she is in heaven. Maybe if we threw water up in the air, we could see her.?

“Maybe I can get married when I’m 17.? (Mom says, Maybe not!)

Posted by maasx003 at 5:01 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 15, 2006

All Irish Dance, All the Time

There is an amazing feeling when you watch your child perform on stage in front of hundreds of people, with apparently no fear in his or her body, just the joy of movement to music.

You look at that child and think, “Where did you get that poise, that comfort in your own self?? and hope that it will last through the inevitable gawky and uncomfortable years ahead.

We’ve had that pleasure twice in the past week and will have it a third time when Graham performs again with Rince na Chroi, his Irish dance school, as part of St. Patrick’s Day activities in St. Paul.

GK small dance.jpg

This is Graham’s second year of Irish dance, and he has performed in two major recitals and an Irish Fair. He has improved tremendously in the past year at this school. The teaching staff is excellent, and he is surrounded by young women who watch out for him during performances.

And these girls also know how to have fun.

He hasn’t quite figured out that he is only one of two boys in the entire school, and I hope he never does. On Sunday a boy of about 10 or 12 years performed with another school, and he was fantastic.

Together we watched the boy dance, and I told Graham that he could dance that well some day if he stuck with it. I think he was just relieved that he didn’t have to wear a kilt like a boy from a third school.

2006 Concordia Perf 007 small.jpg

On Sunday, several of the girls from Graham’s school were honored for having spent more than 10 years in Irish dance class. Dance doesn’t have a specific season like soccer or basketball. These girls are committed every week, practicing and performing year-round.

I hope Graham will continue to enjoy Irish dance so he can be that committed 10 years down the road.

Audio and Video Recaps of Recent Performances

March 13, 2006
March 12, 2005 Landmark Performance

Video Description: A video taken from the March 12, 2005 performance at the Landmark in St.Paul

Duration: 35 seconds

Date Last Updated: Feb 27, 2006

File Size: 1.62KB

Embedded Player: Use the player below to view!

Audio Description: The Rince na Chroi Irish Dancers rehearse for their March 5 performance at EM Pearson Theater, Concordia University, St. Paul. Music by Five Mile Chase & the Minnesota Police Pipe Band.

Duration: 10 minutes, 52 seconds

Date Last Updated: Friday 03 Mar 2006 09:29:44 PM CST

File Size: 2.55 MB

Embedded Player: Use the player below to listen in!

Daffodil Addendum

When I wrote about daffodils last week, I forgot to mention that you should keep daffodils separate in bouquets, not mixing them with any other kind of bloom, unless you give them special treatment.

Daffodils are toxic to deer, rabbits and squirrels. But they are also toxic to other cut flowers without special treatment. Place your cut daffodils in a separate water container for several hours or overnight. Recut their stems and add to your mixed floral vase using clean water.

I didn’t know about this special treatment until I took a gander at the website of the Daffodil Society of Minnesota. Check it out.

Bd 2006 002.jpg

The Little Pumpkin that Could

Somehow Graham’s little pumpkin plant that he potted up last Halloween is still hanging in, even setting blooms. Who knew?

2006 March 12 Landmark 002.jpg

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Success Planting for Year-Round Pleasure? by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation. And “Julie and Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living? by Julie Powell. It’s a hoot!

Listening to: “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation? by Lauren Willig. The tales of a female spy in the vein of the Scarlet Pimpernell.

Graham’s current favorite: “No Flying in the House? by Betty Brock.

Today’s Grahamisms

Brian and Graham had a snow day on Monday, courtesy of this season’s only blizzard. By the afternoon the weather had settled down enough for them to run errands. They stopped at Caribou Coffee for refreshments. While Graham was sipping his hot chocolate, he said, “This is what I call a relaxing day.? Indeed.

Graham is learning about the rainforest in school. “There are two kinds of snakes: stricting ones and poisonous ones. The stricting ones squeeze you ‘til you’re dead.?

Posted by maasx003 at 5:59 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 5, 2006

Signs of Spring

In the Upper Midwest, there’s something about making it to March that makes you feel like you’ve turned a corner to Spring. The days are longer and warmer, and if the air feels moist, there’s as much a chance of rain as snow.

In the last few days I’ve noticed a number of signs of Spring:


• For me, the most welcome and reliable sign of Spring is the seeing the first robin of the season. I first heard him, then saw him, in a flowering crab tree next to the garage, feasting on last year’s fruit. I usually see the first robin around my birthday, March 15, so this guy is almost two weeks early. A good omen?

• The trees are budding. Our “Merrill? magnolias have enormous furry buds, like a pussy willow on steroids, and the lilacs are plumping out as well.

• When I was delivering Meals on Wheels in St. Paul last week, the tulips in front of one client’s home were already peeking two inches out of the ground.

• One of the neighborhood kids was out on his bicycle yesterday, his winter cap tucked underneath his safety helmet.


• The cardinals and other birds are putting on dramatic choral performances every morning, the avian version of “Hey, baby,? as they try to impress their womenfolk.

• As I took the pups for a walk yesterday, we were accompanied by the sounds of melting water rushing into the drains.


• There is an unmistakable whiff of thawing earth in the air, rich and moist and delicious. The flip of that is the unmistakable whiff of thawing dog poop that irresponsible dog owners left behind on their walks.

• The thyme that grows in the chinks of our stone garden walls has greened up. Crushing a few sprigs between my fingers brings the promise of summer.


• During my walk yesterday, I was struck with an unexpected craving for radishes, one of the first spring vegetables. Bite into one and your mouth explodes with hot and peppery flavor. What a change from heavy winter food.

• The pumpkin soup I had planned to serve as a first course for a few girlfriends next weekend suddenly seems wrong. Wrong taste, wrong season, wrong, wrong, wrong. I might have to rethink that soup or find a way to brighten it up for spring.

These are simple little observations and totally subjective but for me they add up to the impending arrival of Spring. And not a moment too soon.

More Floral Value for Your Money

If any of you have been reading the blog for a while, you know I’m mad for daffodils. I love March because you can purchase inexpensive bunches of these cheery flowers to brighten up your world.

But even I was surprised at the deals this week at our local Cub grocery store. Five stems of daffodils were being sold at 10 for $10. Amazing! I purchased five bunches earlier in the week and went back on Saturday for 10 more.

Now I have a bouquet of 50 daffodils in one earthen jug on my dining room table – for only $10!

I’m not sure how long this offer will go on, but check it out!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Success Planting for Year-Round Pleasure? by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation.

Listening to: “Outlander? by Diana Gabaldon. Romantic time travel in Scotland. What a combo!

Graham’s current favorite: “The Cricket in Times Square? by George Selden.

Posted by maasx003 at 8:04 AM | Books | Gardens

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February 1, 2006

Weather Thou Goest…

The day after Christmas, I started my first gardening book of the winter reading season. I’ll discuss my epiphanies from Sir Roy Strong’s The Laskett at another time but from that book on, my waking thoughts have been filled with the garden – what worked last year, what didn’t; what should I be starting from seed this year; what new things should I try; and on and on.

This urge to get back outdoors and start plunging my hands into the dirt came to a screaming crescendo this week when the Minneapolis area experienced record-breaking temperatures. And I mean warm ones, not the typical 60 degrees below freezing stuff we usually get this time of year

On Friday, I went for a walk over lunch and it was 46 degrees out. In the positive. On January 27! What the heck!

It was so warm and wonderful out that I could smell the ground thawing. I swear my neighbor’s lawn is growing and soon he will have to mow. My bergenia are standing to attention, and I’ve seen several green plants in the garden beds.

Apparently we’re not the only ones experiencing unseasonable weather. Or maybe it’s going to become the “new? seasonable weather.

In the February 2006 issue of the BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, British gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh addresses the fact that in England, gardeners are now growing more and more tropical plants – and leaving them outdoors without any need for winter protection. The Brits are experiencing wetter winters and longer, hotter, drier summers. He wrote:

Our gardens aren't what they were 25-years ago, and that's a fact. Don't worry, I'm not about to moan about falling standards and offer dire predictions about global warming, but there's no denying the seasons have shifted over the years, and gardeners have to adjust their cultivations to match them.

Now, I'm not one of those who believes Armageddon is on the way. It may be something to do with my innate optimism, but I don't think I have my head in the sand. Of course, we must do our bit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and control the number of gases we pump out into the atmosphere, but our planet has warmed up before. There were warm tropical periods between the Earth's many ice ages and mini-ice ages, and they happened quite quickly. This is due, in part, to the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis, and when it wobbles nearer the sun we get warmer, when it wobbles away we get cooler. In short, climate change is natural. The real news would be if our climatic conditions remained static, but that wouldn't sell newspapers.

While I’m not about to start planting tropical plants as perennials, Brian and I have begun discussing pushing our zones. Which Zone 5 plants have we always wanted to plant but haven’t because they weren’t hardy here?

Maybe this is the year to include more hellebores and other borderline Zone 4 beauties. Whether (or weather) they survive or not, time will tell.

Garden Clean Up of a Different Sort

For Christmas this year, my wish list was very short: a teapot to replace a favorite one I had broken and a facial.

How does this relate to gardening? Considering that I garden from April to November in all kinds of sun and weather and dirt and grit, I know that by the time the gardening season is over, my face is a mess. It needs a tune up and a proper cleaning.

Brian presented me with a gift card for the “Ultimate Facial? at the Sanctuary SalonSpa in Eden Prairie, and I experienced the full luxurious treatment this weekend. From my head (scalp massage) to the tips of my toes (foot massage) and areas in between - a seaweed exfoliant on my back and shoulders (great for repairing the summer’s sun damage) and multiple facial masks and treatments, I felt pampered and prepared for the next gardening season.

If you live in the metro area, check out this spa. It’s a lovely way to treat yourself right. Go to Sanctuary Spa. Ask for Korynn for your treatments. She was very good.

Shameless Plug

I'm eagerly awaiting the release of a new CD by Edinburgh-born chanteuse/guitarist KT Tunstall. Her debut album Eye To The Telescope will released on February 7, 2006. The first simgle, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, has been getting a lot of air play in the Twin Cities. Give her a listen!


Another Shameless Plug

After my spa morning, Brian, Graham and I met our friends Hadi Anbar, his wife Soodi and their daughter Jaanon for lunch at Kabobi, the latest in Hadi’s stable of great restaurants. His other restaurants include Mission (the former Aquavit) and Atlas, both in downtown Minneapolis.

Kabobi serves food from their native Persia in a fast food setting but with real silverware and cloth napkins, an elegant touch. The food – kebabs and pita sandwiches – is very flavorful and a great value. It’s even kid-friendly, our biggest litmus test.

If you are ever in the Eden Prairie area, check it out.

Virtual Shopping Maas-Style

Brian and I have mastered a new kind of virtual shopping. When he is out and about with his cell phone, he will snap a picture of an item with the camera function and email it me.

For example, this fall I wanted to purchase a new camel hair winter coat. Brian went to the mall over his lunch hour, tracked down a couple of models and sent photos of them to me to choose from. We then had a brief phone conversation, and he purchased the one I wanted. Bada-bing, shopping over.

On Friday, Graham had a school release day. Brian stayed home with him, and they spent some time at a book store. Brian sent me an email message to me at work, asking if there were any books I wanted. I replied that I would love anything by Sir Roy Strong.

He sent me the following image for my approval, and it was waiting for me when I got home from work.


Technology can be very, very good. And very, very efficient.

What I’m Reading

Just finished: The Laskett by Sir Roy Strong, an account of the efforts that he and his wife took to create the first new large formal garden in England since 1945. And A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me by Jon Katz, a loving tribute to the author’s two Labradors and the Welsh Border Collies that he adopted.

In the middle of: Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes by Amanda Hesser, a charming account of a food writer’s courtship of her future husband.

Listening to: Just finished The Grave Maurice by Martha Grimes. Now on Heart of the Sea by Nora Roberts. It’s fluff but I get to listen to Irish accents while driving to and from work. Very nice.

Graham’s current favorite: Together, we are reading The Littles by John Peterson, one of my childhood favorites. Independently, he is burning through the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne. At his school, students are in a month-long reading challenge. Kindergarteners are to read 240 minutes over the next four weeks. Graham has already racked up more than 300 minutes in the first week. That’s my boy!

There has also been some recognition for Graham at his school recently. He also got this award of merit this past week.


Remaining Garden Chores

Start reading through those garden catalogs that are piling up and make some decisions!

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

Pack the canna, four o’clock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that won’t be too hot or too cold.

Today’s Grahamism

“I know what you call people who can’t see and people who can’t hear. But what do you call people who can’t smell??

Posted by maasx003 at 1:23 AM | Books | Family | Gardens

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December 18, 2005

A Tale of Two Christmas Trees

When we did our house remodel a few years ago, we gained a bank of windows in our great room that just begged for a big Christmas tree.

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This nine-foot artificial tree is pre-lit and covered with family mementoes and keepsakes from our travels including an ornament from our honeymoon at Glacier National Park, a metal building from Brian’s visit to Brussels and a Russian birch heart.

There are also plant and garden-related ornaments, some purchased at a garden store outside of London during our last visit. Blown glass carrots, peaches, hummingbirds and cardinals mingle with tiny pitchforks and spades. It may be winter but the garden is never far from my mind! Click here for a videocast of my favorite Xmas ornaments.

This tree is beautiful but Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the scents of a real tree. So each year we purchase a tree just for Graham’s ornaments. These range from 101 Dalmatians and Bob the Builder to Scooby Doo and the Flash, a chronicle of his childhood toy progression. This year’s cool ornaments are a Star Wars storm trooper and R2D2 & C3PO. Not to mention this cool rocket ship which screams "we have a boy":

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His tree is the one we gather around on Christmas even to open presents, which makes it even more special.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Winter Wonderland

Our recent snowfalls have lent a holiday spirit to the gardens.

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Christmas Cookies

It is a well-known fact in my household that while I can do many things, baking cookies is just not one of them.

I never seem to trust the amount of time that the directions tell me to leave the cookies in the oven, so my cookies are always well done. Okay, over done.

When I told Brian that I wanted to bake Christmas cookies with Graham this weekend, he just laughed.

I want Graham to have “typical? childhood memories of baking home made Christmas cookies. So I cheat a little. I buy a tube of pre-made sugar cookie dough, roll it out and call it home made. Graham doesn’t know the difference. He just likes to spread LOTS of flour onto the granite island and cut out his favorite shapes.

His cookie cutters of choice do not have Christmas motifs. He likes to use an old, old set with the images of cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry, Droopy dog and a duck. They must be from when my brother and sister were kids.

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We may or may not get around decorating the cookies. It doesn’t matter. The point is that we did a traditional Christmas activity together. And I’ve got pictures to prove it.

Afterwards, when Brian asked Graham how the cookies tasted, he said, “Crunchy.?

Some Christmas traditions never change.

Feeding my Inner Geek

Readers who love arcane information should look no further than the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Books series. With more than 130 titles on everything from “Africa? and “Amphibians? to “Weather? and “World War II,? these books provide a comprehensive, in-depth look at a single topic. The books are quality products, made with gorgeous photographs and high production values.

Graham and I both enjoy them. Between the two of us, we had a huge stack of them checked out from the library last week.

Sometimes a novel or autobiography just won’t fit my mood because I want to learn something new. The other night I finished “Watercolor? and on my bedside still await “Rocks and Minerals?, “Medieval Life? and “Crystal and Gem? for when that mood strikes again.

For younger readers, there’s a spin-off series called Eye Wonder – same great photos and production values – just a simpler focus.

And they’ve even made a few of the titles into videos and DVDs. As I type, Graham is watching “Oceans?. His other favorites are “Shark? and “Planet.? He’s even going to give “Shark? the book to his school buddy for Christmas.

Check them out at

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: What do You Do All Day?? by Amy Scheibe, a childhood friend. It’s a funny and frank story of a stay home mom in Manhattan. Run out and buy a copy now! (Okay, so that was a shameless plug!)

Also: “Chewing the Cud? by Dick King-Smith, the autobiography of the author of “Babe: The Gallant Pig?which was made into the classic film by the same name.

Listening to: “The Blue Last? by Martha Grimes. Only about 10 minutes left!

Graham’s current favorite: “Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman" by Dav Pilkey. I couldn’t have made that up myself if I had tried.

Remaining Garden Chores

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

Pack the canna, four o’clock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that won’t be too hot or too cold.

Today’s Grahamism

“What if the chickadee only said, ‘Dee-dee-dee-dee?’ Could it keep its old name??

“I want an easy job when I grow up. I’m going to take pictures of dinosaurs in museums.?

“I don’t need to write a letter to Santa. The elves have already made want I want.? How do you know that? “Oh, Mom, it’s a long story.?

When Graham and I came home from running errands one evening, we discovered that Glynis had eaten the remaining 10 squares in Graham’s chocolate calendar. I told him that dogs that eat chocolate can get really sick and even die. He walked over to where Glynis was lying on the couch, gave her a pat and a kiss and said, “Good bye, Glynis.? And then walked away.

Posted by maasx003 at 4:40 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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December 10, 2005

Countdown to Christmas

In a household with a five-year-old, counting the days down to Christmas takes on the meaning of ritual.

When I was a kid, we used the Advent calendar that my Aunt Betty gave us. It was kind of like a flannel board - a green Christmas tree appliquéd onto a red background. Everyday from Dec. 1 to 25, we would pin a tiny ornament onto the tree with the big yellow star saved until Christmas day.

A few years ago, my sister Juanita made copies of this cherished holiday keepsake and gave them to my brother and me. Juanita updated it by putting little pieces of Velcro on the ornaments.

This year it hangs in Graham’s room, and when he wakes up in the morning, he begins his daily calendar countdown.

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After the flannel calendar, he moves to the paper Advent calendar with a wildlife scene. Each day, he opens a little flap to reveal a tiny bird or woodland animal.

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Then he goes to the traditional green and red paper chain that he made at the beginning of the month to tear off a link.

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Finally, in the evening after dinner, he can eat the chocolate treat in the last calendar.

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What a sweet way to count down to Christmas!

Xmas Trees

In addition to counting down to Christmas, we celebrate with two, count 'em two, Christmas trees. I'll talk more about the trees and special ornaments in my next blog entry.

Christmas Tree One

Christmas Tree Two

The Seed Doesn't Fall Far From the Vine

During Graham's harvest party at school, he painted a jack o'lantern garden pot. A few weeks ago, he brought it home, planted with three pumpkin seeds. They have grown quickly, and he and Daddy measure them daily to chart their growth in an Excel spreadsheet.

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This weekend with the temperatures in the mid-30s, I finally finished my outdoor gardening chores. I put 55 bags of leaves down on clematis vines, hellebores and hybrid tea roses.

I had been waiting for the ground to freeze, which took some time considering our warm November. There had been a few inches of snowfall so I might have missed some hellebores. I guess that will just have to be an experiment – did they really need winter cover or not?

Then I loosely wrapped the two dwarf Alberta spruce in lengths of burlap. This will prevent severe winter burn from the reflection of the sun off the snow.

The garden looks a little goofy now, with the burlapped trees and black bags of leaves all over, but I know that the tender stuff is snugly tucked in for the winter.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “What do You Do All Day?? by Amy Scheibe, a childhood friend. It’s a funny and frank story of a stay home mom in Manhattan. Run out and buy a copy now! (Okay, so that was a shameless plug!)

Listening to: “The Blue Last? by Martha Grimes. It’s been a while since I’ve either read or listened to one of the Richard Jury detective novels. It’s good to be back.

Graham’s current favorite: “Henry Huggins? by Beverly Cleary. A classic tale of an All-American boy and his dog.

Remaining Garden Chores

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

Pack the canna, four o’clock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that won’t be too hot or too cold.

Today’s Grahamism

When told that his cousin Elise’s picture was in my college alumni magazine, Graham asked, “Why? Is she famous or something??

“What do you call people who live in Antarctica? Snowmen! I made that joke up by myself.?

Daddy, “I was the fastest kid at dodgeball.? Graham, “But remember, Dad, that was when you were young!?

When Graham noticed that our Christmas stockings were hung along the stair railing, he said, "But that’s not how stockings look in the cartoons.?

On our dog history, “Sister Olivia was Sister Glynis’ mommy so Sister Glynis is Pont’s mommy. And he thinks I’m his daddy.?

Posted by maasx003 at 6:00 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

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November 26, 2005

Too Much Information

To paraphrase the incomparable Sting and The Police, Ive got too much gardening information running through my brain.

Now that the outdoor gardening season is almost officially over, its time for the indoor one. For me, that means catching up on a backlog of gardening magazines, checking out books from the library and setting down my thoughts and ideas for the next year.

Im envious of gardeners who can gather all this information in a cohesive and efficient manner. I have friends with gardening databases who can produce print outs of all the plants put into a particular bed, where they were purchased and the success of each.

Other friends have gardening journals filled with little sketches and notes detailing changes to their gardens through the years.

Me? I have lovely journals that were given as gifts that only have one or two pages filled. I have stacks of magazines with little sticky notes attached, marking particularly interesting articles or suggestions for my own beds. Nearby are half-filled legal pads with lists of plants to try for 2001 and 2002, drawings of where to place the liatris that need to be divided, names of books to request from the library and on and on.

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Last month as we drove to the Wisconsin Dells for our fall vacation, I started a new system for my BBC Gardeners World magazines. When I found an interesting article, I put a tape flag on top of the page and I wrote the page number of the article and a brief description onto a lined post it note which I put on the front inside page of the magazine. I then wrote down that same information on a legal pad which I will eventually type into the computer.

This way, when I pick up the magazine again, I can just look at the post it note to see what I found interesting in it. Well see if this Great Idea works any better than any of the other information gathering systems Ive come up with.

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But how to combine all these notes, drawings and lists collected through the years? At this point, my only idea is to start some documents in the computer compiling similar data and then put the print outs in a three-ring binder.

Wait, did I mention my collection of three-ring binders? I have binders containing all my old Master Gardening resources, landscape plans of completed projects, receipts, plant tags organized by year and garden area and articles Ive clipped from newspapers and other sources.

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Ive got too much information, running through my brain


Okay, not really.

Every year I try to ripen the last tomatoes of the season indoors. I read accounts of people who tear up the entire tomato plant and hang it upside down in the greenhouse or cold cellar. Or wrap each tomato individually in newspaper to enjoy a tasty homegrown tomato in their BLTs months after everyone else has been purchasing the red cardboard versions in the grocery store.

Maybe its my technique. I just picked the last tomatoes which seemed to have a chance of ripening and put them on a plate in a sunny part of the kitchen.

Some of the tomatoes ripened while others have acquired a white fuzzy beard of mold. Others seem to have stalled out and are doing nothing.

But just because the tomato looks red doesnt mean it tastes good. The one red cherry tomato I popped into my mouth today held but a shadow of the rich flavor that occurs in high summer when it feels like you are eating a little piece of the sun.

So Im going to toss the entire plate of tomatoes and cancel my experiment in spite of my limited success.

And start dreaming about next seasons tomatoes rich and juicy and warm from the sun


After our first real snowfall this week, its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

At least Pont liked running in it. And the dogs do have winter coats they wear when walked outside. Whippets have little body fat so winter coats are essential in The Tundra. Here is Pont sporting his:

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And Glynis with hers. Yes, she also sports booties as her feet do not take the snow well.

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And least you think the dogs are wimps, they enjoy running on the frozen lake nearby. One can often see Glynis race the occasional snowmobile. You then see an astonished snowmobiler slow to take a look at what kind of animal can run alongside his sled at 40 mph. Usually looking like a snow shark as the photos below indicate:



Turkey Chili

What to do with all that left-over turkey? This year Im going to adapt my favorite chili recipe by substituting turkey for part of the meat. Give it a try!

Daves Chili (from the StarTribune, Nov. 8, 2001) my version

1 lb bulk hot Italian sausage
lb ground beef (or left over turkey)
lb ground pork (or left over turkey)
2 jalapenos one red, one green seeded and chopped
1-14 oz can dized tomatoes in juice, undrained
1-6 oz can tomato paste
1-3/4 cup water
1 TBS chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
tsp ground coriander
tsp ground white pepper
tsp cayenne pepper
1 -15oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 tsp salt

Garnishes such as tortilla chips, diced tomatoes, avocados, onion, cilantro and shredded cheese.

Cook meats in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned, about 10 minutes; drain fat. Stir in chiles and cook 3 minutes longer.

Stir in tomatoes and liquid, tomato paste, water and spices. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered 15 minutes. Stir in beans and season to taste with salt. Ladle into bowls and serve with garnishes.

What Im Reading

In the middle of: Sahara by Michael Palin, the former Monty Python member. Its a warm way to get through our recent snowfall.

Listening to: Blue Shoe by Anne LaMott

Grahams current favorite: Bears by Dagmar Fertl, Michelle Reddy & Erik D. Stoops

Remaining Garden Chores

Throw the cordyline in the compost bin.

Cut back the last roses and verbena bonarienses.

When the ground finally freezes, throw bags of leaves onto the tender stuff.

Wrap burlap around the dwarf Alberta Spruce and wisteria trees.

Pack the canna, four oclock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that wont be too hot or too cold.

Todays Grahamism

"How you make money is just look on the floor."

At the Thanksgiving table, Graham stated, "Mommy, your job is to serve the pie."

When told that Charlie Brown's Christmas special was 40 years old, just like Mommy, Graham asked, "What is this? The ancient movie of God?"

Click to see Graham in action at a indoor playground.

Posted by maasx003 at 1:05 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

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November 11, 2005

The Minnesota Tip versus the North Dakota Shuffle

When I was growing up in North Dakota, my mother was renown across LaMoure county for her rose garden. During late June and early August, we got used to people driving slowly past our house for a look at the two beds with formed a sort of ying-yang shape on either side of the front sidewalk.


These beds held nearly 30 hybrid tea rose bushes from shades of softest yellow to rich wine red. The most fragrant were a pink variety, probably Peace. My favorites were the yellow roses and still are today.

Mom was generous with her roses, and brides-to-be often came by the day before their weddings to pick up petals to throw down the church aisle. If someone actually stopped her car to take a closer look at the roses, she most likely left with a bouquet in hand, the rose stems resting in wet paper towels wrapped up in tin foil. When we visited our grandparents in west-central North Dakota and north-central South Dakota in the summer, arrangements held in quart jars always came along.


Mom was kind of a fanatic about caring for her bushes. Although she often bemoaned her lack of time to sprinkle this systemic bug killer or apply that fertilizer, she always dug her banana peels and eggshells into the ground underneath the bushes, her method of direct composting.

When fall came, we kids hated those rose bushes.

To keep roses alive through frigid North Dakota winters, they had to be covered. Not just any special covering would do, it had to be done Moms way. I have vivid recollections of raking leaves and leaves and leaves. I cant remember if we bagged them or left them loose but we would mound the leaves up around the roses until they were two to three feet high.

Then Mom would throw black plastic tarps over the enormous leaf piles, would string of web of twine across them and tie them down onto wooden stakes. In spring the whole shebang would have to be untied, rolled up and disposed of leaves.

When I first started gardening, I wanted to include roses in my beds but I didnt want to do it Moms way in the fall. If a rose didnt make it through the winter, I would just replace it.

I read about the Minnesota tip method for covering roses for the winter, but the idea of digging up all the rose bushes and burying them in a trench seemed way too complicated for me. Who wants to work that hard?

I went for the other method of winter care: cutting the canes back to about 10 inches and covering them with soil and leaves. At first I used the soil left over from my pots, but that didnt work so well as that soil was compacted and held together by roots.

Then I tried digging up soil from around the bushes but worried about damaging roots late in the season. Next I dug soil from the vegetable garden but that just seemed counterproductive.

One year Brian suggested using some leftover bags of topsoil and Eureka! it all made sense. Topsoil is cheap, easy to transport in a 40-pound bag and helps regenerate tired soil.

And then Eurkea! another brainstorm. One summer I had a long chat with a woman who had her own landscaping business. She directed me to mulch my rose bushes only with well-rotted manure. Roses are heavy feeders, and they thrive on the manure.

I never actually got around to doing that but the light bulb clicked on that fall when it came time to cover the roses. Wait a minute, I thought. Why not cover them with manure? That way the roses are ready to go in the spring when I never remember to fertilize them?

Ive been doing it that way ever since. I revised the leaves portion of the process as well. Now I take a bag of leaves that my neighbors have willingly donated and divide it into two bags. I fluff the leaves out to all the corners of the bag so it forms a big blanket. I throw it over the roses when the ground finally freezes.

This method would probably not get endorsed by the American Horticultural Society, but its fast and easy, and I have never lost a rose bush.

So to those proponents of the Minnesota Tip, I give you the North Dakota Shuffle:

1. Push all the mulch away from the base of the rose bush.
2. Cut all canes back to about 10 inches and dispose of the canes. Good sanitation is very important if you have black spot so try to pick up and throw away any diseased leaves. You dont want the spores to remain on the ground, ready to wreak havoc next year.

Note: Cutting the canes back can hard to do if they are still producing buds that seem like they will bloom soon. You can cut the buds to see if they will bloom indoors. This year, I left the canes with buds intact but still covered their lower stems with soil. If they can make it to full bloom, great. If not, Ill just cut them back to the soil line.

3. Mound well-rotted manure or compost up over the canes. I purchase manure at Home Depot for around a buck a bag.
4. Cover the manure with an inch or two of topsoil. This is not really necessary but it will help keep the manure in place if it rains. Again, I purchase topsoil at Home Depot for around a buck a bag.
5. When the ground finally freezes, throw a half-filled bag of leaves over the mound.

And thats it.

I use this method with my hybrid tea roses and miniature roses. I also cover my Nearly Wild and William Baffin roses, even though they are hardy to Zone 4. The Carefree Wonders I leave to their own devices.

With an organized plan of attack, it should only take me about an hour to cover a little over 15 rose bushes.

Click on Jackie to to see how she does it.

The Other Potato Harvest

Remember the Yukon Gold potatoes that I harvested from my compost bin? Well, I found these big beauties in some of my containers when I was dumping them out. The sweet potato vines set tubers, some of them enormous. Does anyone have any experience overwintering sweet potato tubers to use in next years pots? Let me know by leaving a Comment at the end of this entry.

The biggest of the sweet potatoes came from a pot that was nearly two feet tall. Im almost tempted to try to grow an eating variety in a big pot to see if it would produce anything fit for the table. Ill have to ponder that over the winter....

Canna Harvest

These canna tubers came from a single tuber that had been grown in that same two-foot pot. I have five more cannas to dig up yet. Id like to overwinter these tubers for next year as well. Ill have to do some research on how to do this. I dont have a cold cellar, would the refrigerator work?

Magnolia Magic

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Our Merriill magnolia trees are five years old now, and they have begun to produce a lavish display in early spring. The tips of this tree outside our back door are plump with buds for next spring.

Phormium Provide Fall Container Interest

I have been very pleased with the phormium that I put in the copper pots in front of the pergola. They added color, structure and height to the containers. The added bonus has been how well theyve stood up in the fall. They have maintained their structure even as the days have gotten colder, and weve had one cold snap. Ill bet if we lived in Zone 5, I could leave them out all winter. Id even consider bringing them for the winter to try as houseplants, but I really am not interested in caring for plants during the cold months. I need a break!

Timing is Everything

Some of my plants are a little confused.

Last March I was given a bulb garden as a birthday gift. After it finished blooming, I stuck it outside next to the house and promptly forgot about it.

As I was clearing out the gardens last weekend, I noticed that one of the hyacinths was attempting to bloom. Im going to bring it in and start watering. Who knows what could happen?

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Christmas Cactus

I have never had much success with Christmas cactus. Brian gave me one more than 10 years ago, and it has struggled along, never doing very well. The past two years, however, somehow I figured out the right care regime, and it has grown tremendously. I had noticed lots of buds on it in September, and by mid-October, it had hit full bloom.

The plant is looking a bit sad now and Im concerned about the color and texture of its stems. I hope this wasnt its last hurrah!

What Im Reading

In the middle of: Funny in Farsi: Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, a humorous tale of a young girls Americanization.

Still in the queue: Sahara by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales.

Listening to: A variety of Christmas CDs, from big band and bluegrass to B.B. King and Celtic.

Grahams current favorite: Hungry, Hungry Sharks by Joanna Cole.

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Not much since we finally had a killing frost. Here are the hardy gang who still remain:

Toad Lily
Lavender Hidcote
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Finish cutting back the dead stuff.

Power wash all the containers before putting them away.

Harvest any runner bean seed that may still be clinging on the teepee.

Dig canna tubers, wash and store them.

Divide bags of leaves into two in preparation for putting them over roses and tender perennials when the ground freezes.

Water all gardens with newly planted bulbs if we dont get rain this week. The ground is very dry.

Todays Grahamism

"Were there spiders back long ago when only the presidents were alive?"

"Did you know that some people think that the Chinese and the Japanese are the same because they both end in ese?"

Posted by maasx003 at 6:32 PM | Books | Gardens | Videocast

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November 6, 2005

Keeping a Clean Garden

During the past few weeks, one of my volunteers and I have been emailing back and forth about my gardens he asking if I had all my bulbs in or had cut back my perennials yet and me providing a litany of excuses for why not: we went out of town over MEA weekend, then we were preparing for a Halloween party the weekend after, I got sick, and with daylight savings time, its pitch black by the time I get home from work.and on and on.

I admit that part of my delay tactics has been simple laziness. The weather has been unseasonably gorgeous, and the gardens still look lovely. Why should I mess with success?

And its true the gardens are truly lovely this time of year. The green leaves have changed to a riot of colors.

Some colors have been unexpected, like the hot colors of this creeping sedum.

The bergenia are also providing a vivid edging display.

Even the green maidenhair fern has shown her fall colors.

But the cooler tones mixed with burgundy also look great in fall, especially with a mix of textures.

Finally, the volunteer wrote, Why dont you just forget about cutting everything back and leave it over the winter?

Ahh, there lies the rub. The eternal question of Should I cut everything back in the fall or just leave it until spring?

There are many reasons supporting either platform. If you leave everything up in the fall, you provide winter interest to an otherwise dreary landscape. I have wonderful memories of snow falling on Autumn Joy sedum, leaving little pillow shapes floating above the ground. Seed heads from grasses and native plants such as purple coneflower provide food sources for birds and animals. Leaving perennials in place also helps with winter protection. The structural stems capture snow and provide another insulating blanket over tender crowns.

I do leave some plants up each year, including upright grasses such as Karl Forester feather reed grass, which doesnt flop over the minute a heavy snowfall occurs. And I will leave up the grass bed because it does provide interest in an otherwise arctic-looking front yard.

But for the most part, I cut everything back. I like a tidy garden at the end of fall. I like knowing that I wont have piles of half-rotting leaves to paw through when the first tender bulbs appear. I like the warm feeling inside knowing that I will enter the holiday season and the dark months of winter with all my garden ducks in a row, with no niggling thoughts of unfinished business.

I definitely cut back the beds along the driveway because all too soon they will be covered in drifts from the snow blower. There arent any upright grasses that can remain standing amid several feet of snow.

My first bulbs appear in these beds, sometimes even as early as mid-March if the feisty snowdrops can push their way through the layer of ice and snow that remains. I want to give them the best possible odds to be seen in all their glory, foretelling winters doom.

So this afternoon I will pull on the Hunter wellies that I bought in Wales and head back outdoors for another round of chopping back, putting my gardens into their tidy beds for winter.

Prairie Garden

This week, Brian mowed the prairie garden down, the suburban version of a burn. We have a few lily bulbs to naturalize in there and then I will spread a few bags of topsoil and manure over the seeds that have dropped. The soil in this bed is terrible, just a light dusting of topsoil over heavily compacted clay. Im trying to build it up a little each year. I dont want it too rich, as prairie plants often thrive in poor soils, but I do want it better than it is now.




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And Brian developed a sure fire method to planting hundreds of bulbs in record time. He come up with this after we found our soil to be compacted into concrete due to heavy machinery during a home remodel phase. This method works great. Watch Brian plant some bulbs in the video below.

Click on Brian to watch him plant two bulbs in 15-seconds...

Lost and Found

One of the last perennials to bloom late in the season is the toad lily. Several years ago, Arla Carmichial, the head gardener at Noerenberg Gardens, gave me a clump. I was pleased with how nicely it spread throughout my shade gardens. Toad lilies can be disappointing because they are very frost-intolerant. You can have a huge patch of them, dripping with bursting buds, and blooms and the next day they are all gone, victim of a hard frost.

With last years funny winter, I lost a number of perennials in my shade garden, including, I thought, my toad lily patch.

But yesterday, as I was cutting back the hosta, I found one survivor. Whew!

What Im Reading

Just finished: One Shot by Lee Child. Another satisfying read in the Jack Reacher series.

Next in the queue: Sahara by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales.

Listening to: Seldom Disappointed by Tony Hillerman. After listening to his memoirs, Id like to return to his books.

Grahams current favorite: 1001 Things to Spot in the Sea by Katie Daynes.

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Toad Lily
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Finish cutting back the dead stuff.

Cover the roses.

Vegetable Garden

I finally ripped up the tomatoes. The dogs would pick them off the vine and play with them in the yard. And eat them. I covered that bed with a few inches of compost so I can be ready to plant peas early in the spring.

There are still some purply lettuces growing amid the calendula.

If I would have been smart, and had more room, I would have put in some lettuces in August. They love the cool weather.

And I finally harvested the Yukon Gold potatoes that were growing in the compost bin. Look at these beauties! They will make a tasty salad or maybe a savory baked omelet or frittata. I may have to bury some potatoes in my compost bin every year!

Todays Grahamism

"When does the teacher go to the bathroom?"

"Did you know that biggest whale in the world is the blue whale? Its 99 inches long. Or is that 99 pounds?"

"Im going to be a doctor when I grow up, just like my dad. I dont want to be a movie maker any more. All they do is make movies and more movies and no one brings them presents."

Posted by maasx003 at 1:26 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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October 15, 2005

The Greatest Generation

In my work as the volunteer coordinator at the Minnesota Historical Society, I help to plan a recognition event for our volunteers each year. This year we chose the theme of Minnesotas Greatest Generation as a kick off for the Societys new project by the same name.

My coworkers and I like to dress up for the party to add a bit of fun for the volunteers. Last year we were lumberjacks; this year we dressed for the occasion by borrowing our fathers World War II uniforms and coming as Rosie the Riveter.

Dad was drafted in April 1945 at age 18 and spent a year in Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima. He was discharged in December 1946. Hes the guy in the bottom left hand portion of this photo.

As I wore his jacket during the event, everyone asked me about the different medals and patches along the sleeves and front. I knew that the rifle pin was for completing artillery training and that he had held the rank of staff sergeant in the Corps of Engineers.

Some of the volunteers who had also served during the war filled me in on the other patches, including a brief but heated debate over whether my dad deserved to wear two particular stripes down by the left wrist since he had not actually served for four years. That argument was cleared up when someone recognized that the patches were each for six months spent overseas. I can tell you I was pretty angry that someone was insinuating that my dad was a liar!

The whole thrust of the Societys Greatest Generations project is to gather the stories of those who were born during the Depression, came of age during WWII and went on to prosper during the boom afterward.

For me that night came the recognition that while I had some information about my parents lives during that time, I had better get going to gather more. This particularly came home for my supervisor as well.

Jeans father was in the Navy, which he chose over the Army because he didnt want to sleep in a tent! Jean knew that he had served in the South Pacific but had little other information. At some point in recent weeks, she told him about an exhibit of Pulitzer Prinze-wining photographs that was going to be on view at the History Center, including the famous image of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

I saw that happen, you know, he told her. Actually, she didnt know it and it floored her. Her father had never thought it worth mentioning that he had been aboard a supply ship off the shore of Iwo Jima and that he had cheered when he saw the flag go up.

So get out there and start asking your elderly family members questions about their lives. Write it all down or videotape it so future generations can know about the great events that shaped their lives.

You will be glad you did. Who knows what you could learn?

If you need help to get started, visit the Societys website for helpful tips at

A Few of My Favorite Tools

While Julie Andrews had long woolen mittens, snowflakes on eyelashes and schnitzel with noodles, I have my favorite spade, secateurs and gloves. View the videocast below as I dramatize my favorite tools for you!

A Through the Garden Gate Web Cam Moment:
:: Tools, Tools, Tools! :: View the videocast below as I dramatize my favorite tools for you.
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Click photo or HERE to view the video

You can also view me in the following videocast as I walk you through my prairie garden:

Get Off your Asters

I tried something new this year by cutting back my asters in two successive efforts. At the end of June, I cut some of them back by a half to a third. Two weeks later, I cut back the others. This was to prevent them from getting so leggy, produce a fuller shape and get more blooms.

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While the plants were certainly less leggy, I dont think the blooms were increased, particularly not on the hot pink Alma Pottschke asters to the left of this photo.

mid october 001_small.jpg

While the results are mixed, I will probably do this again next year, if only to avoid staking the plants.

What Im Reading

In the middle of: A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond, a teen novel set in Wales.

Next in the queue: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest in the Maisie Dobbs series about a young female British detective following WWI.

Listening to: The Serpents Tale by Sue Henry about a middle aged woman solving her friends murder.

Grahams current favorite: Any Calvin and Hobbes cartoon book. Graham has found his new anti-hero!

Heres Whats Blooming Now

My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Start cutting back the dead stuff.

Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes are still trying to ripen on the vine.

Todays Grahamism

Do you think I will ever die? What makes you ask that, Graham? Well, what if a bad man shot me in the arm? Then wed take you to the doctor.

Which was immediately followed by, Do you know what my favorite number is? Its 15 because if you take away the 1, you have 5 and Im 5.

All leaves are green because they have chlorophyll, you know.

I had a bad dream last night. A meteor landed on earth and it was filled with dinosaurs. They came into our house and wanted to sleep in our beds. George Washington came and he was really mad at them. All of a sudden, the dinosaurs did something that made them go back into the meteor, and they returned to the asteroid belt. What did you dream about last night?

Posted by maasx003 at 6:29 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast | Work-Related

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

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October 9, 2005

Busy, Busy, Busy

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We have been running like crazy the last few weeks, and theres been no time to write. Any free time has been spent in the garden planting bulbs.

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Saturday evening, however, we enjoyed one of our last bonfires of the season. We toasted some marshmallows, listened to tunes and watched for the first stars of the evening. When Graham had had his fill of outside time, the two guys went inside to watch a Transformer movie while I stayed out to watch the fire die down.


I grabbed a book and curled up on the willow couch in front of the fire, relishing a bit of time to myself. It was a lovely night brisk with the hint of the cold to come. Finally, around 9 p.m., I went in myself, knowing that Graham would be ready for bed soon.

I fell asleep on Grahams bed and woke up around 5:30 a.m., still in my jeans and fleece pull over and still smelling like smoke. If it didnt bother him, it didnt bother me either, and I went back to sleep.

It was a quiet evening, but just what we all needed. Somehow, amidst our busy schedules of work, obligations, play dates and lessons, quiet moments can happen, if we let them.

Big on Bulbs

Between this weekend and last, I have dug in nearly 500 bulbs, and I have more than 100 left. When we look at the bulb catalogs each summer, we are bedazzled by what we see and forget how much work it is to put the bulbs in.

We think, Oh, lets put 200 daffodils in that bed to add spring color, forgetting that means digging 200 holes to put each bulbs into. But come spring well have forgotten the repetitive stress injuries in our wrists, the sore spots in the palms of our hands from the pressure of the trowel and the cold and tired knees as we behold a sea of cheerful yellow faces.

And it will all be worth it.

Videocast Two: Watch My Tips on Planting Bulbs

Other Tips to Consider When Planting/Purchasing Bulbs

Plant in masses. Make a statement by planting at least 100 or 200 bulbs in a bed.

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If you are planting daffodils, clump them in groups of 3, 5, 7 or 9 randomly around your bed to make them look natural. Tulips are more formal so they can be planted out in rows.

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Buy bulbs from a reputable firm. We purchase most of our bulbs from White Flower Farm.

Daffodils give you more for your money as they come back year after year and form large clumps. And deer leave them alone. Tulips make a lovely show the first year or two and then they peter out. That works, too, if youre willing to consider them as annuals and dig them up and replace them every year.

Dont forget less common bulbs such as snowdrops, fritallaria, allium or even smaller, species tulips which naturalize. My snowdrops typically begin blooming in mid-March, long before anything else is blooming.

Say it Aint So

This weekend I received my first seed catalog from Thompson & Morgan. This is like receiving a Christmas catalog in mid-July. I havent even put this garden put to bed yet, and somebody wants me to plan my garden for next year? Sheesh!

Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!

A few weeks ago, I attended the wedding of my friend Dvora. She had started as a student volunteer with the Minnesota Historical Society when she was 14, went off to study in England after high school graduation and stayed in touch as she pursued her college education.

This summer, a matchmaker found her a partner in a young man named Mendel from Brooklyn, and the wedding was set for a few months following.

This was my first Jewish wedding, let alone a Hasidic one, and I was fascinated by the ceremony and celebrations that are so different from a traditional Christian one.

When my co-worker Wendy and I arrived at Landmark Center in St. Paul, we paid our respects to Dvora and her mother Chana. The bridal couple is treated as a king and queen on their wedding day, and Dvora was, indeed, seated on dais above everyone who approached her. She looked so lovely and happy.

Only the women were in attendance but soon Mendel and the men arrived. The women were asked to move to the left side of the room as the men took over the right-hand side. Mendel veiled Dvora, and then everyone left her and her parents alone for some time together.

The guests trickled down to Rice Park where the chuppa was waiting. Eventually, Dvora was led to the area by her parents, and she circled Mendel seven times underneath the chuppa. Then began the ceremony with blessings from many rabbis.

Following the service, Dvora and Mendel went off to have their first meal together as a married couple and to break the fast they had maintained all day. Wendy and I returned to Landmark Center to find our dinner table, seated with the other women. The tables for the men and women were separated by a large fabric wall.

Soon after we finished our salads, Mendel and Dvora appeared, and Mendel was spirited to his side of the room. The dancing began, lead by an amazing pianist on an electric keyboard who kept the room rocking.

Dvora was quickly encircled by concentric rings of women of all ages. As she would choose someone to dance with individually, the rings would break and reform with the movement never stopping. I thought, This is how women have been dancing and celebrating for thousands of years.

Because of the dividing curtain, we couldnt see how the men were dancing, but at one point, the curtain parted somehow. I saw men on each others shoulders, dancing as we were.

Eventually the dancing stopped, and dinner was served. Our table was filled with interesting women who provided me with explanations for some of the rituals I didnt understand.

And then the dancing began again and seemed determined to go on all night. Wendy and I managed another dance with Dvora before we made our good byes and headed home. It was well past 10 p.m. on a Monday night, and we had to go to work the next morning.

Attending this wedding was an event I am unlikely to experience again. It gave me insight into Dvoras world and allowed me to experience her values and beliefs in way I hadnt imagined.

The overall feeling I came away with was the joy that was felt by everyone dancing, and the modesty and dignity of those around me. Ive been to some wedding receptions that have left me feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed by the behavior of the wedding party and guests.

At Dvoras reception, there was no silly chicken dance, no raunchy garter fling or demeaning groping of the bride and her attendants by a blind folded groom. And there certainly wasnt the impending feeling of doom in wondering who the drunken bridesmaid would go home with that night.

There was none of that icky stuff that night just dignity and joy.

May Dvora and Mendel have a long and joyful life together.

Mazel Tov!

What Im Reading

Just finished: Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King. The long-awaited sequel in the Mary Russell series. A pleasure, as always.

In the middle of: a shlocky romance Im too embarrassed to even mention. Everybody needs a little brain candy now and then, right?

Next in the queue: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest in the Maisie Dobbs series about a young female British detective following WWI.

Listening to: Cuba, an anthology of spicy Latin music.

Grahams current favorite: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems. If you are lucky, some day maybe you can hear him read it to you, acting out all the parts. Its a stitch.

The Mystery Plant

Last weeks plant was an Alaska Nasturtium blossom. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

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My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral

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Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Finish planting bulbs.

Repot the amaryllis.

Vegetable Garden

We missed the big frost so even though I brought in any reddish tomatoes, there are still more on the vine.

Todays Grahamism

Following Ponts return home from the vet following his snip snip, Im going to give Pont a kiss to help him feel better.

Sunday Dance Practice

Each Sunday my husband (when he is free) transports Graham to St. Paul for dance practice. This gives me a bit of peace and time to work in the garden. Here is what it looks like at Graham's practice:

Note: You can see all my videocasts at my Moblog site.

Posted by maasx003 at 1:42 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

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Category "Family"

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September 24, 2005

Sick Time

Ive 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 Ive been wanting to do nothing more than this all summer: just lay back, rest and enjoy the gardens.

Im just sorry it took an illness to get me to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Theres 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, were 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 Brians 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


The next time you are at the book store, pick up my friend Amy Scheibes 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 observationsWith 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 wasnt 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.

Weve 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, its 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 Grahams 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. Ive 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 Ive read article after article on how to do it, Im 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!

Ill 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!

Whats 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 Im 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 Pythons Spamalot the original Broadway cast recording. Hilarious musical retelling of one of the greatest films ever made, Monty Pythons Holy Grail.

Grahams current favorite: My Kindergarten by Rosemary Wells. A lovely look at a kindergartners first year.

The Mystery Plant

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

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Sweet Autumn clematis
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Campanula Blue Clips
Ligularia Othello
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
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Indian blanket
Nepeta Walkers 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!

Todays Grahamisms

During the severe thunderstorm that the Twin Cities experienced this week, Graham gave me minute by minute updates of the storms progress:

"Mom! Mom! The winds fellsity is up to 40 miles an hour!"

"Mom! Mom! Its 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 | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

Category "Books"

Category "Gardens"

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 cant recall a time in my life when I didnt 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, doesnt 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 Id never come across someone who wrote so concisely about Book Love until this summer. Somehow I stumbled upon a recommendation for Anna Quindlens 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 dont 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 worlds great nomads, if only in our mindsBooks 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 cant 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 Grahams 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 Im 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 childrens 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 Im 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 its 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. Its 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 cant 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.

Grahams current favorite: Dont 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?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

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Heart-leaved aster Minnesota native plant
Jack in the Pulpit seeds
Four oclocks
Sweet Autumn clematis
My Favorite mum lavender
Campanula Blue Clips
Ligularia Othello
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
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Indian blanket
Nepeta Walkers Low

Garden Chores for the Week

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

Todays 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 | Books | Gardens

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

June 30, 2005

My Summer Reading List

I have been trying to read Simon Schamas book Landscape and Memory since the beginning of the year. I have checked out the book and renewed it so many times that it could practically drive home by itself.

A few weeks ago I finally gave up. I really do want to read it and I have every intention of doing so just after summer.

I have officially switched over to summer fun reading. My shelf of books from the library are filled with goofy titles such as Funny in Farsi, Confessions of a Shopaholic, True Brits, Cooking for Mr. Latte, Wacky Chicks, and Confessions of a Window Dresser.

In other words, light, silly and just what I need to veg out. There are other books on the shelf including travel lit (always good for a summer with no major travel plans), books on writing and the requisite gardening tomes, even a biography or two.

But the books Im really excited about are all the next installments in the mystery series I read. Im on the waiting list for all of the below. In italics is the main character.

Elizabeth Peters The Serpent in the Crow (Amelia Peabody) [have it in hand]
Nevada Barr Hard Truth (Anna Pigeon) [ditto]
Jasper Fforde The Big Over Easy (Thursday Next) [62 of 69]
Laurie R. King The Locked Room (Mary Russell) [129 of 137]
Lee Child One Shot (Jack Reacher) [193 of 230]
P.J. Tracey Monkeywrench Gang [177 of 563]

Ive been hooked on serial mystery novels since second grade when I cracked open my first Nancy Drew, The Clue of the Black Keys. From there I moved on to the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters (I am still kicking myself for not grabbing a free complete set at a thrift store in Butte, Montana, in the late 1980s), the Secret Seven and Trixie Belden - and like Trixie, I was also secretly in love with Jim Frayne.

Later favorites have included Tony Hillermans Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series and Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael set. I also enjoyed Sue Graftons Kinsey Milhone and Patricia Cornwalls Kay Scarpetta, but they got to be too cloying or annoying, and I dropped them.

I think its important to support local authors as well. I used to read John Sandford but since Ive had a child, his books are too gruesome for me. I love P.J. Tracys Monkeewrench, etc., and Erin Harts Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows.

So for now The Lexus and the Olive Tree and other more serious fare are just going to have to be returned to the library until the snow flies again. Its summer, and I need chocolates for the brain!

Sweetness and Light or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bees

The only nonfiction book Ive stuck with lately is Sweetness and Light by Hattie Ellis. This book is all about bees - their history, culture, cultivation, etc.

I wanted to read this book in order to learn how to attract more bees to my gardens. Im concerned about the decrease in pollinators that has been occurring due to overuse of chemicals. While I know it wouldnt be realistic to have a bee hive in the backyard, Id like at least to have an ornamental skep, if only for show.

With all the flowers and plants in our backyard, you can imagine that its a magnet for all critters winged or crawly. And our son Graham is afraid of them all. He will screech if he sees a bee, ant or any other sort of flying thing. Box elder bugs, in particular, put him over the edge.

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The other night he wanted me to carry him the 20 feet from the sliding glass door to the willow furniture under the pergola, so he wouldnt have to step over any ants. He doesnt like to be out in the yard or garden much because of his fears, which can really limit our outside family time.

For all that weve tried reasoning with him (Theyre more afraid of you than you are of them), flattery (But youre so big and theyre so small!) and bribery (Just stay out by the fire a little longer and you can have another marshmallow), nothing seems to change his mind.

Then last night, in one of his Power Rangers/Transformer moments, he decided that he could transform into both a spider and a scorpion at the same time (See? This half of my body is a spider and this other half is a scorpion.) and that I could transform into both a bee and a butterfly. (I got to choose my animals.) We talked about the powers and abilities that each of these animals has and how they werent scary at all, but really cool.

So maybe, just maybe, through the amazing healing powers of the Power Rangers, we can bring Graham around to the joys and wonders of bugs. And he can spend more time outside chasing his best friend, Pont.

Graham - June 2005 091.jpg

Posted by maasx003 at 9:50 PM | Books | Family