Category "Family"

December 18, 2006

A Tale of Two Xmas 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.

Early December 011 small.jpg

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.

Xmas Trees 005.jpg

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":

Early December 006 small.jpg

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

Xmas Trees 001.jpg

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.

Mid-late December 007 small.jpg

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 www.dk.com.

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 4:07 PM | Family

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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)

...to 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.

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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.

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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.

crocdaf.jpg

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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February 15, 2006

Going for Gold

I read this morning that the USA received its first gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Gardeners don’t have such opportunities to win medals, but there are opportunities for competition.

We have done all our major landscaping projects with Dundee nursery, working with landscape architect Jay Siedschlaw. Last year Jay’s photos of our gardens were used as Dundees’ ads in Mpls.St.Paul magazine, which was rather fun to see.

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At the end of the season last year, Jay asked if we would work with him to enter our gardens in the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association’s annual Landscape Design competition.

Frankly, we didn’t feel our gardens were ready at that time, but this year we will gather photos and write text so we can enter. Any awards given go to the landscape firm which did the design, but we would feel like winners, too.

Check out this site to see which gardens/designers have won in previously years.

You make the call. Will we take home the gold?

A Royal Double-Take

I’m reading a book which features photos of the British royal family taken through the years by photographer Cecil Beaton.

One photograph from 1942, which shows the King, Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, made me look twice.

In the lower right-hand corner of the photo, seated on the edge of an armchair is a sixteen-year Princess Elizabeth. Is it just me or could she be my sister? I even showed the photo to Graham and asked, “Who does this lady look like?? and he said, “You, Mom!?

I’ve often thought the now-Queen Elizabeth looks like my aunt LaVerna. It must be the German ancestry that we share with the Queen.

Good genes and true breeding always tell!

A Second Flush

I always try to keep something blooming in the house during the dreary winter months. This year I’ve had tremendous success with a simple primrose I purchased from Cub Foods in January.

It has produced gorgeous coral flowers like the Eveready Bunny – it just keeps going and going and going. It bloomed solidly for almost a month, took a breather and has produced another set of flowers.

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I bought two pots of primroses for $4.00. The other plant, which had yellow flowers, petered out pretty quickly, but this little plant has proved to be a great value for the money.

Posted by maasx003 at 1:02 AM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

February 11, 2006

Let the Garden Games Begin!

Reading about all the extreme sports in the Olympics reminded me of a piece I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few years ago.

Gardeners may not have luge or skeleton or snowboarding but we still have some serious fun.

So for your enjoyment, a Musings column from April 12, 2001…

Garden This!

The recent appearance of the XFL, the latest entrant in the X-treme sports arena, gave me an idea for the Home and Garden channel: X-treme gardening shows.

For me, gardening is a blood sport. A weeding session is not complete unless I’m bleeding from some cut or gash incurred in a tussle with an errant shrub or vine. The measure of a truly successful day is the number of Band-Aids I display at the end of it.

It took only a little imagination to dream up a perfect lineup for an evening’s viewing.

Starting at 7 p.m. with “Run for the Roses.? Two teams of lean, mean gardening machines compete in a series of physical challenges. In one event, team members would run an obstacle-course relay. Contestants carry a bag of cow manure up a steep slope, dodging small children and hurdling clay pots of different sizes on the way. As each competitor completed a leg, he or she would pass the 40-pound bovine baton to the next competitor. The winner would be the first team to cross the finish line.

Another event would be a test of speed, skill and manual dexterity. As the competitors race to be the first to plant 1,000 daffodil bulbs, viewers would grimace sympathetically as the repetitive-stress injuries accumulate. In the final event, a prune-off, two competitors wrestle a wild apple tree back into fine bearing form – using only a left-handed shears and a dull pruning saw! See the suckers fly as they hack, saw and snip the tree into submission! The winning team would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Chelsea Garden Show.

The 8 p.m. offering would feature gladiator-style hand-to-hand combat in a show called “Garden This!? At the bell, two warriors would enter a garden center from opposite ends with identical shopping lists of planting materials. They would dash around furiously to fill their carts and fend off their opponent. (Each, of course, wearing protective kneeling guards, wide-brimmed hats and thick leather gloves.)

Just imagine the commentary: “Here comes Diane from aisle seven. She’s closing in on Lucinda like a heat-seeking missile. There’s a hip check, a cart-ram, and yes! Diane has the Verbena bonarienses and she’s moving on. But look, Chet, Lucinda has drawn her Good Grips trowel and is lunging at Diane. Watch as Diane fends off that blow with her dibble. What pluck! Oooh, that had to smart. She should have just handed over the Purple Wave petunias quietly.?

This stylized Battle at Bachman’s would be prime-time pleasure for sure, but it wouldn’t be for the squeamish.

The final show would be the reality-based “Survivor: The Back Yard.? A motley crew would be thrown together to design and plant gorgeous perennial borders in that most hostile of environments: a Zone 4 suburban back yard with deep shade and clay soil. As passions and tempers fester among the hosta and heuchera, members of the Plumbago tribe would be voted off the island bed until only one survivor remained. The winner would get either $1 million or Smith & Hawken deck furniture, whichever is cheaper.

OK, OK, maybe this is a little extreme. But with such a short growing season, we scarred and battle-eager X-treme gardeners will do just about anything to get our fix.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Cecil Beaton: The Royal Portraits? by Sir Roy Strong. Photos of the British royal family from the 1930s on.

Listening to: “Jewels of the Sun? by Nora Roberts. It’s fluff but I get to listen to Irish accents while driving to and from work.

Graham’s current favorite: He has moved on another series of chapter books – the “Horrible Harry? series by Suzy Kline.

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

While watching a commercial that ran during the Super Bowl in which a man walked obliviously down the street while NASCAR racers whizzed by, a baseball was hit toward the screen, and other sports activities occurred, Graham said, “Well, you sure don’t see that every day.?

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

Category "Family"

February 8, 2006

Clothing Size Does Matter

The other day I read in the Star Tribune that “The French fashion industry found that the average French woman today is just over 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 137.6 pounds. In comparison, the average American woman is 5 feet 4 and weights 164.3 pounds.?

I seem to recall reading a long time ago that at the end of the 19th century, the average American woman was 5 feet 4 and weighed 136 pounds.

So what happened, ladies?

We are not a large family but certainly close to average. I stand at 5 foot 4, Brian at 5 foot 8 and Graham has yet to reach four feet at nearly six years of age. My weight falls below the French average and Graham has consistently been at the 40th percentile all his life. When Brian was training for triathlons, his weight was comparable to mine.

He and I have observed some disturbing trends when we shop for clothes. During certain trips to menswear stores filled with sizes reaching proportions of XXXXL, Brian has not been able to find a single item in the size “Small.? None. Nada. Zilch.

This winter, he was in the market for a new wool topcoat and found one he liked at Jos. A Banks. Of the nearly 300-stores nationwide, only two of the topcoats were in the size 38 that Brian required. Luckily, one of the coats was tracked down and shipped to Brian.

Women’s clothing designers have taken a different tack. To boost the egos of the women purchasing their clothes, the designer have shifted the sizing scale so that previously larger sizes are now marked as smaller. So a size 10 five years ago is now an 8.

While quality designers have always been generous with clothing sizes, is it really necessary to have a size 0? Is the woman wearing it actually two dimensional, like a piece of paper? Maybe when she turns away from you, she disappears.

And how does this affect our kids?

The alarm has already been called to the spread of obesity in our nation’s children. One of my student volunteers told me that in his “food tech? class (our old home ec?), the students watched the documentary “Super Size Me.? When I was in high school, we watched scary sex ed films about herpes, not Big Macs.

Kids need to learn that you are what you eat. If you fill your body with junk food, what comes out will be junk – decreased energy, increased sickness and lack of respect for yourself. But if you eat a reasonable amount of a variety “growing foods? such as fruits, vegetables, multi-grained cereal products and meat and dairy, your body will thrive.

How do we combat this growing trend toward an ever-larger citizenry? The solution is pretty simple: eat less, move more. A person doesn’t have to go on a starvation diet or live at gym to make progress. Eat well and sensibly. If you have a big meal at lunch, eat a smaller one at dinner. If your work building has many floors, skip the elevator and take the stairs. Take a quick walk around the building twice a day to clear your head and get your heart pumping.

These are simple choices to make but they can help build a healthier lifestyle.

Maybe some day the new average can return to the old one.

Shamless Plug

For those dog lovers that want to keep tabs on our two whippets, head over our Dog Blog (The Dogs of Our Lives) as Brian has begun posting a photo almost every day. Sort of like a doggie picture of the day.


Posted by maasx003 at 1:13 AM | Family

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

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!

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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.

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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.

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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

Category "Family"

January 29, 2006

On to St. Petersburg

Continuing on our Russian journey in 1995, after four days in Moscow we traveled overnight by the famous Red Arrow to St. Petersburg.




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We each had a personal berth on the very comfortable train. To protect us on our journey since there had reports of robberies on the train, our group had its own bodyguard, a young named Yevgeny (Eugene) who spoke good English. I’m not sure how much a slightly built 20-year old boy who slept in the hallway could offer but who knew what really was inside that battered briefcase he carried?

One of the retired seniors in our tour group recounted the time he had traveled the same route in the 1950's. At that time, the window shutters were locked during certain parts of the route to St. Petersburg so no one was allowed to look out.

After a restful trip, we arrived in St. Petersburg the next morning ready to begin exploring Russia's “window on Europe.? One of the first places we visited was the famed Peterhof palace on the Gulf of Finland. Founded in the very beginning of the eighteenth century by Emperor Peter the Great, not far from his new northern capital St Petersburg, Peterhof was intended to become the most splendid official royal summer residence. It has over 170 fountains, the most famous of which is the Great Cascade:

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We arrived on a perfect autumn day with a cobalt blue sky and vivid autumn leaves on the trees. I highly recommend traveling in September! Our bus was met by a performing band, dressed in vintage military costumes, which played some American tunes for our entertainment, including “Blue Moon.?

Our tour of Peterhof included its numerous gilded statues of ancient gods and heroes, remarkable collections of sculpture, painting and works of the minor arts.

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The palace interiors were spectacular as well, but the weather was just too nice to spend a great deal of time indoors...

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especially when we discovered the outdoor gardens. We did a thorough study of the gardens and brought back ideas for our own, including building a pergola similar to this one.

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On our way back from Peterhof, we stopped at several WWII memorials placed just a short distance away from the city of St. Petersburg. We learned these were memorials to show how far the German army had advanced in the war. Brian wrote down the story of one of the memorials:

The Germans reached the outskirts of what was then Leningrad but they weren't able to conquer it, beginning a siege that lasted for 900 days, from September 8, 1941 till January 27, 1944. The city (whose population then totaled nearly three million people) was completely cut off from the rest of the country, and it was Hitler’s intention to literally starve the city into submission.

Food and fuel stocks were very limited (1-2 months only). All the public transport stopped. By the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942, in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the lowest food rations in the city were only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per day. In just two months, January and February, 1942, 200 thousand people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. But some of the war industry still worked and the city did not surrender.



Harrison Salisbury, in his book 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, wrote:

This was the greatest and longest siege ever endured by a modern city, a time of trial, suffering and heroism that reached the peaks of tragedy and bravery almost beyond our power to comprehend...Hitler’s attempt to wipe Leningrad off the map resulted in an almost unequaled example of courage, strength and determination from the city’s populace.

In the midst of this misery, Dmitri Shostakovich was composing the Seventh "Leningrad" Symphony, a work of music that bore the stamp of genius, from a man who himself had suffered Stalin’s scorn.

When he finally finished the symphony, there were only 16 members still alive of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra, which had previously numbered over 100. And the symphony was scored for a large orchestra. Signs were put up all over Leningrad, asking any musicians who were still alive and could play an instrument, and could get to the symphony hall to assemble. Word got around and musicians came from all over the city and from combat units, and assembled to rehearse this Seventh Symphony. For an entire week this ragged group of tired, sick, emancipated but incredibly dedicated musicians rehearsed the symphony.

On the day of the performance, the commander-in-chief of the city’s armed forces ordered his heavy artillery to knock out as many German guns as possible so that there would be no interruptions in the performance. As the bombardment subsided the first note of the symphony sounded. The performance was not only the most emotion-laden presentation of the work imaginable, but was surely one of the most electrifying concerts ever given. Whatever the technical shortcomings the performance might have had counted for nothing; the impact on the audience was truly extraordinary.

In January 1943 the Siege was broken and a year later, on January 27, 1944, it was fully lifted. At least 641 thousand people had died in Leningrad during the Siege (some estimates put this figure at 800 thousand). Leningrad still remains a symbol of Nazi brutality and aggression on the Eastern Front.



Stories of such bravery and oppression stay with you for a long time.

Back in St. Petersburg, we also visited the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. This marvelous Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries who threw a bomb at his royal carriage. As you can see, it is magnificent.

I could write pages on the wonders held in the Hermitage. I could go on and on about the malcachite and lapis lazuli walls of the beautiful St Isaac's Cathedral (as seen here at dawn) from our hotel window, just across the street. But you can look Google these places on your own.

One palace that we fell in love with was Tsarskoe Seloe, also known the Catherine Palace. Catherine the Great transformed St. Petersburg into a truly European city of Imperial pretension. She patronized the arts, music and education and purchased the paintings that became the Hermitage collection. No other Russian monarch appreciated beauty as much as Catherine; she set the stage for the emergence of a national Russian culture that would emerge as something unique and wonderful in the 19th century.

The facade and interior of the Catherine Palace is very European, typical of what you’d expect to find in Vienna or at Versailles. The only Russian addition is the gilded domes.

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Again, the weather on the day that we visited was exceptional. We strolled in the outdoor gardens and wandered the palace rooms, the highlight of which was the Grand Ballroom.

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Posted by maasx003 at 1:34 AM | Family

Category "Family"

January 27, 2006

More on Russia

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Last week I had written about visiting the local Museum of Russian Art. It reminded me of when Brian and I visited Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1995.

The art we viewed at the Museum of Russian Art brought back memories of purchasing art from street artists, which was very good.

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While walking the streets of Moscow, we had to pet every dog we saw since we missed our dogs back in Minnesota. For some reason, I was surprised that people even had pet dogs in Russia.

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In the evenings our tour group was entertained by folk dancers, visits to the ballet or performances at the Moscow Circus.

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The Moscow Circus with its live animal acts and tremendous talent, such as this little girl, was a highlight.

Another amazing experience was getting inside the walls of the Kremlin. Guards were stationed all around.

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But inside the walls was a rich history of the Russian people, including their military history as well.

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The day we spent inside the Kremlin walls was picture postcard perfect with a deep blue sky. The sun glistened off the onion shaped domes of the various buildings and churches.

On our last day in Moscow, our hotel waiter informed us that he had something "very special" to help us celebrate.

We wondered if we would receive some fabulous caviar or perhaps some vintage champagne. The waiter returned a short time later with a covered silver tray. With a proud look in his eye he removed the cover and we found ourselves looking at.....hot dogs. "Oscar Meyer for you," announced the waiter. "Very difficult to obtain."

How very kind he was.

Next, St. Petersburg.

Posted by maasx003 at 8:30 PM | Family

Category "Family"

January 21, 2006

Без перевода

Weekend Outing: Recommendations for the Locals

This weekend, we threw all our compulsory chores aside and had some enjoyable family time. On Saturday, we started out by having breakfast at a new Minneapolis diner that Brian had read about in the STrib. Of course because of the great review this meant that we had to wait 30-minutes to be seated.

It was worth it. Hot Plate is a diner like the kind you imagined you visited as a kid, kitschy 70s decorations and all. The staff was harried but attentive, the food was wonderful and the prices very affordable. It felt like an NYC diner but with a Minnesota flare.

I had pumpkin-buckwheat waffles and Brian opted for the lower carb breakfast burrito. Graham had a banana-pecan muffin and silver dollar pancakes. The parents both ended up skipping lunch that day, to be sure! If you live in the metro area, you should definitely check this diner out.

I suppose you are wondering about the title of this entry. It is Russian for "good morning" and I’ve included it because after breakfast, we went to the Museum of Russian Art. We were all very impressed. Even Graham found many interesting things to search for in the paintings. And I was pleased because I’ve wanted to see this new museum for quite some time.

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Stunning in its re-use design, this former church is now a museum that offers many styles of 20th Century Russian painting, including classical realism, Russian impressionism, socialist realism, the severe style and modernism, among others. The collection on view is impressive with works by such important Russian artists as Aleksandr Mikhailovich Gerasimov.

Gerasimov was one of leading Realist artists from 1925-1932. As the first president of the USSR Academy of Arts, he presided from 1947-57, until compelled to resign by Nikita Khrushchev. Gerasimov was awarded Stalin Prizes in 1941, 1943, 1945 and 1948. He is the artist most closely associated with the Party line in Soviet art of the Stalin period. In 1958 he received a Gold Medal at the World Exhibition in Brussels. His works hang in many Russian museums, and he exhibited in Paris, Tokyo, Cologne, Pittsburgh, Damascus, Moscow and at the World Exhibition in New York in 1947. Two of his paintings are on display, one of which is Trees In Bloom which is shown below:

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The other is Still Life with Flowers from 1935. You'll have to visit the museum and see that one for yourself. If you are looking for different art experience in the Twin Cities, head to the Museum of Russian Art. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

My interest in Russian art started in 1995 when Brian and I traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg for eight glorious days. I was working at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts at the time, and I helped lead a members’ tour of 65 senior citizens to see the “Hidden Treasures Revealed? exhibit at the Hermitage. Brian came along as an additional “sheep herder?.

Our group was filled with some truly great people who had incredible stories to tell, including many a tale of World War II heroics and life in America under the Cold War. Hearing the stories while walking Red Square one evening was something I’ll never forget.

Brian was influenced by Lenin’s van Dyke beard on the trip and decided to grow one for himself. Not that he was making a political statement! He just saw the beard on so many faces and in so many museums that he had to try it. He wore that style of beard for about eight years.
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I’ll probably post a few more photos from that Russian trip during this week. We visited a ton of places and got behind the sealed doors of the Kremlin. A trip of a lifetime, indeed. And I hope to get back again some day.

Paint by Number for Adults

The décor at Hot Plate included many, many paint by number artworks, which made me think about the 2006 calendar I purchased.

I’ve always wanted to learn to paint with watercolors. I even took a class on how to do it. The most important thing I learned was that you need to know how to draw before you can paint. Oh, well…

This little daily calendar offers me the best of both worlds – individual watercolor paintings that have already been sketched in. I just have to paint them, sort of like paint by number for adults. Could it be any easier? Or more fun?

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Next week – the gardening bug has returned. Stay tuned!

Posted by maasx003 at 4:59 PM | Family

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

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 www.dk.com.

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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Finished!

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

Tomato-rific

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

Snow

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:

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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 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.

Before

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After

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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
Nepeta
Calendula
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Rose
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Asters
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum

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 http://www.mnhs.org/people/mngg/stories/index.htm

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.

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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

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

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

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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.

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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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Calendula
Sunflowers
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Rose

2005_Garden_010 007_small.jpg

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

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

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

Category "Videocast"

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

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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!

2005_Garden_009_late 003 small.jpg

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

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

Category "Gardens"

August 14, 2005

Mommy Weirdest

In less than a month, Graham starts kindergarten, and he is quite excited. Each day he asks, How many days left at my old school? followed by I start my new school on the first Wednesday in September, right?

Im excited for him but Im surprised at how emotional Ive become as we gear up for this big change. (Okay, Im not really surprised.) The other day was I was reading through a skills assessment that Mrs. Block, Grahams new teacher, sent home for all her students to complete. I began to weep when I discovered that I was sending my baby off in the world and he didnt even know how to button. How will he manage? (It turns out he can button but Ive never seen him do it since he refuses to wear any clothes with buttons.)

Then there was the night when all the district kindergarteners and their families learned about bus safety. One minute I was bursting with pride as I watched him march up to the front of the gym with all the other kindergartners, and the next I was struck cold when I listened to the bus driver tell the kids, The most important rule is If your backpack drops underneath the bus, leave it. Last year a five-year-old in St. Paul was run over by a bus driver who thought the bump he made was a backpack, so she backed over him again to take a better look. God help me.

And this weekend we were at our favorite Frisbee Park where a group of young men, probably 16 or 17 years old, play a wild game of wiffleball. As I watched them, I tried to project out 10 to 12 years when Graham would be hanging out with his buds. Would they be the kind of good kids to engage in such an innocent and free-spirited game? (My thoughts about the kids playing changed later when I heard one young man use the old Effenheimer in front of small kids louder and more frequently than the Irish dancers tapped with their steel-toed shoes earlier in the day.)

I heard a great term the other day: helicopter parents. These are the wigged-out parents who relive their own childhoods by hovering over their children. You know, the parents who chart and manage their childrens careers from tiny totdom on and eventually follow them off to college and have to be asked to leave by the Dean.

For five years, weve been able to keep a bubble around Graham, keeping him safe. Weve known whos been around him, scheduled his play dates and controlled who he came in contact with. In September, that bubble will burst the minute he steps on the school bus for the first time and drives off to school.

I keep thinking back to the evening of his bus training and how I watched him walk away from me, his head held high, master of his own destiny. As he marches away from us into an environment over which we have no control with only the hope that we have instilled some sense of good judgment in him, how do we begin to let him go and not hover? How do we let him live his own adventure and not live it for him?

Hang on, folks, its going to be a bumpy (helicopter) ride!

Irish Fair

Irish Fair Photo One:
:: Grahams Class ::
Graham stands with his class shortly before they go on stage
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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

We had such a great time during Irish Fair, Im almost sorry Im not Irish. We spent most of Saturday and a big chunk of Sunday afternoon cheering on Graham and his fellow dancers from the Rince na Chroi Irish dance school. The older dancers are phenomenal and the wee ones in Grahams class all made their parents proud.

Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 029 small.jpg

With live music all around, Graham couldnt stop dancing, and we could barely keep him in his seat to enjoy fish and chips with Uncle Mike and Aunt Lori who came to watch him.

Irish Fair Video:
:: Graham Dances::
Graham practices his steps before he goes on stage
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Click photo or HERE to view the video

Here are some other photos. If you'd like to see all the photos, please visit our Irish Fair album (you may need to register first, which is free).

Irish Fair Photo Two:
:: Graham and Mommy ::
Graham and Jackie enjoy a moment before the show.
Irsh Fair - Day One 2005 019 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Three:
:: Dance Routine ::
Some of the older girls wow the crowd.
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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Four:

:: Graham On Stage ::

Graham joins his group on stage.

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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Five:

:: Graham and Daddy ::

Daddy wishes Graham luck before his performance.

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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Six:
:: Day Two Treats ::
Graham enjoys some ice cream before his second day performance.
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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Seven:
:: On Stage ::
Graham performs a little jig with his class on stage.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 015 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Eight:
:: On Stage ::
Graham was very comfortable and smiling on stage.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 021 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Nine:
:: Refreshments ::
Graham drinks some water in between performances. He had two on the second day.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 085 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image


Irish Fair Photo Ten:

:: All Over ::

Graham takes a well deserved bow after his performance.

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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

From sheepdog demonstrations and cold stout to a hurling game and a marching piper band, Irish culture was on display. Now if I could just nabbed a sticker that said, Kiss me, Im a Kelly

The Top Ten Characteristics of Real Gardeners

10. ...have gardens that are never finished.
9. ...actually spend money on a sack of poop.
8. ...give advice to other customers at garden centers.
7. ...stop on the way home from buying plants to buy more plants.
6. ...will, within 5 minutes of entering someone else's garden, start pulling weeds.
5. ...find seeds falling off plants and into their hands when they visit other gardens.
4. ...can be recognized from May to September by a telltale hint of dirt under their nails.
3. ...know what Taraxacum officinale is.
2. ...squish "bad" bugs with their bare hands.
1. ...keep an "emergency gardening kit" in the trunk of their car.
+...can always find room for just one more!

So which ones describe you? Post a comment and let me know.

(Printed with kind permission from my friend Rebecca)

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The morning glories have hit their stride. I always plant two or three different varieties along the chain link fence for some late-season color. Some have even managed to set seed and start growing on their own.

The Mystery Plant

Several of you guessed correctly that the plant with the lime green flowers was a nicotiana. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Wisteria
Verbena bonariensis
Cardinal Lobelia
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Sedum
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Plant the lilies and butterfly weed that Brian brought purchased.
Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Vegetable Garden

So many cherry tomatoes, so many ways to eat them.

Todays Grahamisms

"Tell me again what six creatures suck human blood? I know there are vampires, lampreys, mosquitoes and those things in the lake water but what else?"

While playing Wile Coyote and Road Runner and showing off his stockpile of weapons: "And here is the Acme Dental Floss of Doom. You open it and sniff and oh, how refreshing."

"Daddy says he was the fastest boy in all of Jamestown so he must have been the fastest man in the world."

"I am the Pumpkin Man and my powers are that I have a box of taxes. Taxes are those things that make car tires go flat, right?" He meant to say tacks.

"While listening to a radio announcer: That guy said electrical response but that cant be right. Theres no electrical response! He must have meant mythical.

"Do germs and bacteria see our owies as big, red playgrounds where they can run around like a maniac like Pont? Do they have really big ears so they can hear the minute we get an owie?"

Posted by maasx003 at 9:43 AM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

August 12, 2005

Beta Testing

Please excuse my husband as he conducts some beta testing of some new html codes on my blog. Some of this looks fun!


Video Tests:

:: Graham at 16 months ::
A quick clip shows GK running at the playground

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Click photo or HERE to view file


Video Tests:

:: Graham Eats Some Cheerios ::

A quick clip shows GK eating some Cheerios at 8 months old

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Click photo or HERE to view file


Video Tests:

:: Graham Takes First Steps ::

A quick clip shows GK taking his first steps at 5 months old

GKM_Sept.jpg

Click photo or HERE to view file

Picture Tests:
:: Puppy Pont ::
Picture of Pont suitable for 4x6 photo print
pont thumbnail.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Picture Tests:
:: Puppy Pont ::
Picture of Pont suitable for 8x10 photo print
pont thumbnail.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

If you liked seeing video or the thumbnail photos with your option of resolution size, just leave us a Comment below.


Posted by maasx003 at 12:44 PM | Family

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

July 28, 2005

Gardening for a Good Cause

People garden for lots of good reasons, such as exercise; tasty, homegrown vegetables; a creative outlet, etc., but this was the first time Ive gardened for a good cause.

Our gardens were part of the Bright Beginnings Garden Tour, sponsored by the City of Plymouth with proceeds benefiting both the citys Millennium Garden and a mentoring program for teen mothers at North Memorial Hospital. Since Graham was born at North, this was especially meaningful.

The tour organizers must have done some tremendous promotional work because they reached the tour capacity of 150 people and even had 25 to 30 people on the waiting list!

Five bus loads with 162 gardening enthusiasts made a round robin circuit of six different gardens in Plymouth with lunch and a presentation by local gardening personality Bobby Jensen following at the Plymouth Creek Center.

Tour - July 2005 010 small.jpg

I have a feeling we were probably the smallest garden on the tour, but we pulled out all our tricks to make the gardens look great. We even placed Graham's fire truck and wagon over dead spots in the lawn. Brian and I answered lots of different questions about plants, butterflies and wisteria. And people were literally lined up to get in.

Tour - July 2005 001 small.jpg

The most frequently asked question came as a big surprise to me. On each tour, several people asked about the bergenia that edges both our window wells at the back of the house. While I love its big leaves and interesting texture, its always just been a nondescript background plant to me. Who knew it would cause such curiosity?

Other questions focused on the source of some of our garden supplies, such as Where did you get your lavender incense sticks? Smith and Hawken. Where did you purchase your copper fountain? Smith and Hawken. Where did you purchase your copper pots? Smith and Hawken. You get the idea.

The people were fun to watch. Some were definitely serious plantspeople while others were just there to spend a pleasant morning. I think everyone had a good time, and hopefully picked up a new few ideas for their own gardens. Plus it was a beautiful day, and the tiger swallowtail butterflies were abundant.

I admit it was rather fun to play the garden expert again, especially when talking about such an overwhelming passion of ours. And if you were to stop at any point of the garden and take a 360 degree panoramic sweep of the yard, Id have to say it was looking its best. Here are a series of panoramic photos Brian took earlier this week.

Panoramic One

Panoramic Two

Panoramic Three

Panoramic Four

Panoramic Five

Panoramic Six

Panoramic Seven

Panoramic Eight

Brian stayed back to hang out with Graham so I was able to attend the lunch with my cousin Karen who drove all the way from South St. Paul to attend. Before the speaker began, each of the gardeners who hosted the tour was presented with this very attractive stepping stone, which will be a welcome addition to the gardens.

Tour 003.jpg

Special thanks go to our landscape designer Jay Siedshlaw of Dundee Nursery for being present to answer questions as well that morning.

Cut Flowers

This week a few coworkers and I had lunch at the home of our former division head and his wife. They moved into a new home about a year ago and had a new remodeling project to show off. And some gorgeous gardens. They have both been busy.

Before we left, I visited their bathroom and was stopped dead in my tracks by the most delicious fragrance. I looked around to see what special scented soap or lotions were on the vanity counter and then realized that the aroma was coming from an arrangement of cut flowers from Dianas garden.

When I commented on them, she said she always has cut flowers in her house either from the garden or purchased. What a lovely thing to do.

But for some reason, I just cant seem to cut my flowers to make a bouquet each week. Occasionally Ill cut a stem or two of something to brighten up my office at work but I rarely have a vase with blooms from the garden inside the house.

Maybe I feel I dont have enough to cut and still have enough to look good in the garden, maybe Id just rather see them outdoors. It could also be that any vase in our house has a pretty good probability of getting knocked over by one kid or another.

Ill have to work on this one. Both the purple phlox and white David smell especially nice right now

A Week of Joy and Sorrow

In the midst of all the pre-tour panic attacks, there was joy. I had a long chat with my childhood friend Amy in NYC to congratulate her on the birth of her new baby girl, Hedda Marie. Both mom and babe are doing well.

There was also sorrow: I learned that Tim Fiske, the former assistant director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the man who gave me my start there, passed away last Sunday. He will be greatly missed.

As I still miss my friend Tony Pezalla who died of cancer nearly three years ago. After the garden tour lunch, I visited his memorial bench at the City of Plymouths Millennium Garden. Tony and I were in the same Master Gardener class, and he was my native plant mentor. I hope he has been enjoying my prairie patch.

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The butterflies continue to flutter about. The tiger swallowtails have been joined by pretty little white butterflies that are probably damaging cabbage moths. Ah, well.

Gardens July 2005 020.jpg

Some plants will be hitting their second wind soon. The wisteria has put out a few buds, as have the roses, Walkers Low nepeta and others. Ive also noticed another flush of grown on the Hidcote lavender but I dont expect more blooms from them.

The Mystery Plant

As many people figured out, the mystery plant last week was cardinal lobelia. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Ligurlaria The Rocket
Cardinal Lobelia
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Sedum
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

With the tour over, my desire to work hard in the garden has suddenly vanished. Ive reached the point in my summer when I long to lounge around on the willow furniture with a good book and a cool drink and be lazy.

So Ill do the minimum required to keep the plants living and take a break for a while. (Yeah, right!)

Vegetable Garden

To keep the runner beans producing fruit, I should be harvesting daily.

The Roma tomatoes are starting to ripen.

Todays Grahamisms

GK and I.jpg

"Glynis and Pont are just not using their manners. For Christmas we should get them the Big Book of Doggy Manners, and thats all."

"I wonder what dogs dream about? I know! Ill bet they dream that Santa will tell them that for Christmas, they can go poop and potty inside the house, just like people."

These next gems were all uttered during a 20-minute commute home this week.

Grahams solution to a traffic jam:

"Whenever you see a car that is colorful, follow it."

"So if atoms are inside our bodies, are they friends with germs?"

"Oh, I just felt a germ run inside my leg right now!"

"Only cheetahs can run as fast as infinity!"

"If you get shocked by lightning, it wont be any fun."

"On sunny days, I like to go to the pool with my dad, and on rainy days, I like to go to the stores."

"I think that we should go to the store that says Holiday on it for our next stay-home stays because thats where you have a holiday."

Graham also got his soccer report from his summer program. As you can see, he is doing well and his father is very proud to see him excelling in sports, as Brian once did himself.

soccer.jpg

Posted by maasx003 at 6:14 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

July 16, 2005

The Best Laid Plans

Gardens July 2005 013.jpg

This one comes from the files of What was I thinking?

Last Friday, we had the day off and were going to Valley Fair as a family. It was going to be hot, humid and ripe for a good thunderstorm. That evening we were going to go to Home Depot to purchase more cypress mulch and spread it Saturday and Sunday.

In anticipation of a good rain, I got up early Friday morning and lightly spread a bag of 7-8-7 fertilizer across most of the garden beds. What a great thing I am doing for my gardens, I thought. Fertilizer, a good rain and then mulch. Wont my plants be ever so happy?

Idiot!

Well, there was no rain on Friday, just wretched heat and humidity. The Maas family was so wiped out from a day in the sun that we were all in bed by 8:30 p.m. that evening. Any idea of spreading mulch was vetoed for the weekend.

By the time I got to checking out the plants on Saturday, the damage was done. Several plants had scorched leaves from where the fertilizer sat on top of them and cooked in the sun. There were no plant fatalities, but there will be some loss of leaves as the weeks go on.

I was most surprised by which plants were greatly affected and which were not. Rudbeckia, for example, is a plant I think pretty indestructible. But they must be more sensitive than I thought because they burned much more than any other variety.

Gardens July 2005 009a.jpg

I tried to think back to the spring when I laid fertilizer but with no damage. What was different? Ahh, yes, now I remember. It was thundering and lightning as I was laying it down, and I was starting to get drenched from the first drops of rain. Mother Nature was doing clean up after me.

Would I apply fertilizer again? Yes, but I would definitely schedule enough time to water it in.

To Stake or Not to Stake

This is the fourth year for our Annabelle hydrangeas, and they have completely taken off. They have produced enormous, fragrant blooms the size of basketballs.

Size is not always better in this case. The blooms have gotten so heavy that any soaking from rain or sprinkler brings the stems crashing to the ground.

So I have staked this stand of bushes up after the fact. Next year Ill have to remember to stake them up earlier to prevent their horizontal habit.

To Prune or Not to Prune

Brian had found a wonderful plant combination for clay soils in one of our British gardening magazines: train a bright pink clematis up a Black Beauty elderberry.

It took some doing but we tracked down Black Beauty at Gertens in Cottage Grove and purchased two of them plus two Hagley Hybrid clematis. We would plant one on the south side of the house where a white cedar had formerly resided and another by the pergola.

The first year the shrubs grew a few feet high, and I threw a bag of leaves over each bush to protect it in the winter. Each shrub seemed to have died back to the ground, sending up all new growth in the spring.

So the second fall I did an experiment. I cut the shrub by the pergola back hard and covered with a bag of leaves like the year before. The shrub at the front of the house, I left alone but still covered it with leaves.

Turns out that elderberry send growth off old wood. This season, the one in front that I did not cut back is about three feet high with the clematis growing all over it.

The shrub in the back has taken months for it to finally send up enough shoots to convince us I did not kill it off. It certainly will thrive, but it just has taken forever to get going.

So this fall, no cutting back, just leaves like before.

Oh, the things you can learn in the garden by doing.

The Mystery Plant

The mystery plant last week was indeed snowdrops. We could all use a few snowy thoughts right about now, what with this heat. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Gardens July 2005 003.jpg

Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Corpeopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Lily
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock Nigra
Lavender Hidcote
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Daylily
Salvia May Night
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Rose Carefree Wonder, William Baffin, Graham Thomas and more
Clematis
Dead Nettle
Grapes

Garden Chores for the Week

Mulch, mulch, mulch since we didnt do it last weekend.

I still havent sowed a second planting of radishes but I did get around to pulling out the plants that had gone to seed.

Gardens July 2005 013a.jpg

Change the beer in the slug traps. This should be done at least weekly. The hummingbird feeders should be changed weekly as well.

Its probably time to spray the roses again.

Keep watering the new arborvitae.

Check the ever-growing wisteria vines.

Move a blue oat grass.

Vegetable Garden

The cherry tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

The bush beans are flowering.

Cakes

I've been decorating character cakes since Graham was born. This week we had two dinner parties, which called for two cakes. For some of Brian's sports blogging friends, I did this special baseball cake with an ice cream filling.

For Graham's special movie night to introduce his friends to our new 80 x 45 inch movie screen, we did this Marvin the Martian cake in honor of Graham's movie of choice - Looney Tunes: The Movie.

Gardens July 2005 003a.jpg

Adults sipped wine and enjoyed a specially-prepared seafood curry prepared by Brian. The wine glasses had Looney Tunes wine tags on them. Fun!

Todays Grahamisms

Hey, Dad! This Kipper movie box says it has 60 minutes of fun!

"I'm as hungry as an ostrich, and they'll eat anything, you know.

It's Getting to be Fair Time!

The Maas family is busy preparing our entries for the Hennepin County Fair and Minnesota State Fair, including this potato "art" hedgehogs created by Master Graham. I am a previous blue ribbon winner at the Minnesota State Fair and hoping to pick up some more awards this year. Stay tuned!

Posted by maasx003 at 2:20 PM | Family | 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.

Graham - June 2005 014.jpg

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

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

June 20, 2005

The Other P Envy

Graham - June 2005 008.jpg (One of my prized Graham Thomas Roses)

Graham and I took the puppers for a walk earlier this week, and we decided to stop by the house of our friend Becky. She is a current Master Gardener and an avid native plant grower. And a big thinker.

Becky eliminated all the turf on her large suburban lot by laying down newspapers and scads of wood chips. She started this process before I got to know her, and I remember thinking, What is going on at THAT house? as I would drive by.

Becky wasnt home that evening, but Graham and I invited ourselves into her garden for a look-see anyway. (Sorry, Becky, if you are reading this. I promise we didnt harm anything!)

Her front yard is a mass of native plants in full bloom. It was designed by a landscape architecture student who grouped large clusters of native plants together, rather than mix them all up as in a prairie.

Becky had received a grant from the City of Plymouth to purchase native plants as part of a watershed education program. The plants used were hundreds of teeny, tiny seedlings, most acquired from Landscape Alternatives or through the City. I know because I helped plant some of them one Sunday afternoon.

Her front yard overlooks French Park and receives full sun. Her plants love that. They have grown tremendously and are very healthy. The thing that amazed me most about her yard was the vast scale of her plantings. She had ajuga growing in a patch that seemed to be 10 by 10 feet, and it was gorgeous!

Her gardens are huge massive plantings of variegated lysimachia, expansive areas of prairie smoke, and enormous sections of such wonderful stuff that I cant remember it all. I have seen less plant stock in certain garden centers than what she has in a single patch.

While Graham ran ahead to count the number of ornamented bowling balls Becky has placed strategically for garden art, I walked with the dogs along the paths and started my mental ooh, I want some of that list. I couldnt wait to come on by with a shovel! I had a serious case of plant envy.

But this weekend while I was working in my own garden, it struck me that the plants are always greener, more exciting and healthier in someone elses yard than my own. True, Becky does have some plants that I have always hoped to add to my gardens, but the only way that will happen is if I get rid of some of my own.

My garden spaces are brimming with lovely stuff now, thank you very much, and unless I make room for new things, I can hardly add anything else.

So maybe my p envy will have to remain subliminal just like the other kind!

Note: If you are planning to attend the Bright Beginnings Garden Tour (see the side bar) on Saturday, July 30, you will be able to my garden and Beckys. And four more gardens to boot!

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad - I have finally planted those bloody cannas and all the other plants that have been awaiting my attentions. The little seedlings I started in April had grown to a respectable size, or at least big enough for them to thrive and for me not to be embarrassed to say I had started them.

I even added a flat of Profusion zinnias in Orange and Fire along the front of the beds for some summer-long color.

I like orange in the garden. I think it looks great against all the purple blooms of salvia, campanula glomerata and geraniums; the purple foliage of Vera Jameson sedum and Husker Red penstemon; and the silvery blues of Elijah Blue fescue and blue oat grass.

These zinnias are garden workhorses because they keep their blooms forever. I even use them in pots with coleus and lime green sweet potato vines. Now thats a vivid combination!

This Thing Called Summer

Graham - June 2005 025.jpg

We finally had a wonderful summer weekend with temps in the mid 80s, lots of sun and relatively pleasant humidity. On Saturday afternoon, Brian took Graham to the Maple Grove pool so I could garden. (Thanks, dear).

Graham - June 2005 054.jpg

Graham loves this pool. It is completely family-oriented with the water never getting more than 36 deep. It has a gentle slide and a lazy river. Its perfect for families with lots of little ones or even just one little one.

Graham - June 2005 029.jpg

That evening we had our first bonfire in more than a month. While Brian took a well-deserved snooze by the fire, Graham and I buried our feet in the sandbox, delighting in the weight and warmth of the sand. He had never gone barefoot before and was a bit hesitant about it. I told him that as a little girl, I never wore shoes in the summer. He couldnt quite figure that one out.

On Sunday we all slept in. Since it was Fathers Day, Brian chose the days activities: a return to the pool as a family later that morning with lunch at The Claddagh pub afterward.

It was a wonderful weekend with a nice mixture of summertime fun. At last!

The Mystery Plant

Congrats to Mia the Nature Nut who correctly answered Cimicifuga. She guessed Brunette for the variety since that is what she has, but mine is Black Beauty. Way to go!

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This is the plant I spent a small fortune for, only to have Olivia, our Dalmatian, run it into the ground an hour after I had planted it. Now that Olivia is gone, its Ponts turn to run it into the ground. Some things never change, I guess.

Can you guess what this weeks mystery plant is?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Graham - June 2005 013.jpg

Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock Nigra
Wisteria Blue Moon
Lavender Hidcote
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Penstemon Husker Red
Daylily
Salvia May Night
Indian blanket
Lupine
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Honeysuckle
Rose Carefree Wonder, William Baffin, Graham Thomas and more
Geranium
Columbine
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Work on the vines peas, clematis, wisteria and Concord grape. All have gotten out of hand with lack of attention and need some tying in.

Vegetable Garden

The climbing peas are almost four feet high and pods have started to set on the bush-type peas. The beans are up to about six inches now. The radishes have started to flower. Its time to pull them out and do another sowing.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:03 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

June 8, 2005

The Joys of Summer

(Note: For Internet novices, the bright orange text signifies a link to a photo. Just click on those with your mouse to see a photo!)

Summer in Minnesota is short so you have to make the most of it. We have a tendency to try to cram as much as possible into our free time - resulting in a weekend full of chores, projects and social obligations.

Last Sunday Graham woke up and asked, Can we go on a picnic today? Brian and I looked at each other and said, Why not?

I packed up a basket of sandwiches, chips, pickles and bottled water, and we drove to our favorite local park. Graham picked out a good-looking tree that had some shade, and we spread a blanket underneath it. Boom - instant picnic.

It was a perfect day, not too hot with just enough wind to keep the bugs off, and surprisingly quiet. After eating, Graham played on the climbers, discovered his prowess on the rings and went down the slide many times.

Our whole outing lasted little more than an hour but it changed the way we looked at the day. We still got a few chores and projects accomplished later but the focus was on working together to achieve them.

We slowed down to enjoy being together and being outdoors.

Isnt that what summer should be all about?

Willow Furniture

One of Brians weekend chores was to seal all the willow furniture with a mixture of linseed oil and spirit of turpentine. This will help the furniture last longer amid the elements. All but two of these pieces were custom made for us by Shirley Schultz in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Shirley does amazing work for very reasonable prices. The only kicker is you have to drive to her home in the woods to get it, more than 90 minutes from the metro area. Let me know if youd like her contact information. We recommend her highly.

Wildlife Watch

We placed a thistle feeder for goldfinches outside of Grahams bedroom window so he could have a front row seat to their antics. He enjoys watching them flit about and has been known to shriek at the top of his lungs, COME HERE NOW!

2005_Garden_006 050.jpg

Which causes both Brian and me drop everything to run to him at breakneck speed, only to discover that now there are TWO yellow birds at the feeder when before there was only ONE.

Were pleased that he has enjoyed learning about all the different birds in our back yard, from mallards to "car-din-als" and hummingbirds to Mama Robin. Hes our little Nature Boy.

Tasty Summertime Treats

Weve been trying to get more fruits and vegetables into Grahams diet and have found smoothies to be the trick. The other night I included a ripe mango, frozen bananas, strawberries and both honeydew and cantaloupe melon in the mix along with vanilla yogurt. I whizzed it all up in the blender, poured a glass for Graham, and then threw a handful of fresh mint from the garden and whizzed it again for an adult version. It was sweet and refreshing and cool. The mint really added intensity to the flavor.

The great thing about smoothies is if you have more than you can drink, just pour the mixture into home made popsicle containers for delicious frozen snacks. My favorite so far is banana-mango.

Another thing I tried the other day was adding a sprinkle of chive blossoms to my lettuce salad. They give salad greens a bite and are pretty to boot.

Garden Chores This Week

- Fertilize and spray the roses
- Turn the compost bin and empty the contents of the cooked bin onto the perennial beds
- Plant green beans and calendulas
- Plant cannas and the mystery tubers
- Plant the final annuals I started from seed
- Cut back the remaining asters to create bushier, less floppy, plants
- Harvest rhubarb and make chutney?
- Attack the clover that is invading the prairie bed

Posted by maasx003 at 9:48 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

June 5, 2005

Rites of Passage

(Note: For Internet novices, the bright orange text signifies a link to a photo. Just click on those with your mouse to see a photo!)

Some of the younger members of our family have recently achieved major milestones in their lives.

Last month, our nephew Aden graduated from basic training in the Navy. He has already begun his intelligence training in Pensacola where he will learn to be a cryptographer. We are very proud of him.

aden.jpg

Last weekend, our niece Elise graduated as one of a handful of valedictorians from a class of over 400 students. She has received a four-year, full tuition Wilson Scholarship, one of only six given to incoming freshman at Jamestown College, my alma mater. We are very proud of her.

Finally, at our home, our five-year-old son Graham moved up to an up-down bed, his description of a bunk bed. Why did it take so long? He still liked his old toddler bed and he still fit in it, so why make waves?

Graham - May 2005 002.jpg

Plus we were hesitant about a bunk bed, knowing how much of a fearless climber he is. We figured hed be swan diving from the top onto his head every day. This bed has a futon couch for the lower sleeping unit so he can have a comfy seat for reading also. He made the transition very well and has followed our mandate that he cant sleep on the top bunk until next year when he turns six. We are very proud of him as well.

Whats Happening in the Garden Now
Do you ever have those dreams where something is chasing you and no matter how hard you run, you know that eventually something will reach out and grab you? Thats exactly how I feel about the garden right now.

With all the moisture weve had, plus a long, cool growing season, the plant life in the gardens has exploded exponentially. The gardens look green and lush and full of weeds, overgrown perennials and thug plants that are gradually encroaching on everything around them.

Any time I get into the garden for some clean up, for every single task I accomplish, I see 10 to 12 other things that need to get done.

And so Im feeling panicked and frustrated and like something is chasing me. Its hard to find time to garden with our busy lives and schedules. Ive even taken a few days off work to spend among my plants.

This weekend Brian offered to take Graham to Camp Snoopy so I could have a large chunk of Saturday to garden. I made the most of it. I was up and out in the yard before7 a.m. and was able to dig out all the yarrow that has been taunting me every time I looked out the window.

Then it was indoors for Graham-time and Saturday morning chores. I was out again as soon Brian and Graham were backing down the driveway. Five minutes later, it started to sprinkle.

No big deal, I thought, I dont melt. So I started gardening in earnest, trying to wrestle some control back from the invading campanula, field daisies, violets, anemones, and other pushy plants in the garden. I was slightly shielded by the neighbors trees over head and was making good progress.

Then the rain got a little bit harder and then harder again until I was completely soaked and had water pouring out of my gardening clogs. Its easier to weed when the soil is wet, I rationalized, as I continued to work. None of the neighbors will try to chat with you. The flowers colors are so much more vivid in the gloom.

But I was cold and wet and frankly, a little miserable. My big epiphany came when I realized that I could go inside, dry off, have some lunch and then bitch about how I never have any time to garden, or I could just garden. Problem solved.

Then it became a matter of pride. I had been given a chunk of time in which to spend doing my favorite thing, and by golly, garden I would!

When the skies finally cleared, I went inside, peeled off the wet clothes, pulled on some dry ones, hopped into my Wellies and went out for another hour.

By the time I finally called it quits, I had accomplished a great deal and no longer feel so pressured. There is still much to be done but Im feeling a little easier about it. For now!

Some Great Tips

I added lots of containers with annuals this year for more color in our garden living areas. I stink at container design so I chose the age-old process of stealing someone elses ideas.

2005_Garden_006 001.jpg

This container combo comes from the front cover of the June 2005 edition of Garden Gate magazine. My friend Susan gave me a gift subscription, and it has already proved very helpful.

I picked up another great tip for container gardening from the BBC Gardeners World magazine. Instead of using packing peanuts to fill up a big pot so you dont have to use as much soil and it doesnt get so heavy, use old potting containers. I have a huge collection of four-inch plastic pots and I turned them upside down in a graduated fashion to fill the bigger pots about halfway full and then added potting soil. Very slick and a great way to recycle your pots.

2005_Garden_006 016.jpg

Some of the container combos I did used plants that were freebies from other volunteer gardening projects. See last weeks blog on being a plant ho!

2005_Garden_006 019.jpg

Wildlife Sightings

Last night we were visited by a ruby throated humming bird which was feeding from the "Walkers Low" nepeta.

A robin has made her nest over the security light attached to our back wall. This morning we found the first broken eggshell.

2005_Garden_006 042.jpg

Prairie Question

When we planted our prairie garden with pre-packaged seed, I didnt know much about prairie plants. Now that the garden is becoming established, Im more than a little surprised to find that seed included Sweet William (definitely NOT a prairie plant) and lupine, which is more suited to the North Shore of Minnesota than the plains! Either way, Im excited to have their blooms.

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Iris both Siberian and bearded
Allium
Johnny Jump Ups
Nepeta
Honeysuckle
Thyme
Rose
Perennial cornflower

2005_Garden_006 020.jpg

Wild Geranium

2005_Garden_006 018.jpg

Columbine

2005_Garden_006 013.jpg

Japanese anemone
Jacobs ladder
Forget-me-nots
Geranium
Clematis
Tulips
Rue anemone
Flax
Prairie smoke
Violets
Bergenia
Creeping phlox
Strawberries

Garden Chores for the Week

Continue to weed.

Tie up the climbing clematis. Move one to the middle trellis to replace one that didnt come back.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

Pot up plants for friends.

Vegetable Garden
I had a great salad the other day with fresh lettuces, radishes and chives from the garden, finished off with a single strawberry.

Graham - June 2005 005.jpg

Helping Hands

These dirty hands belong to my husband and son who worked together this past week to reseed the bare spots in the lawn.

Graham - June 2005 001.jpg

Can You Identify This Plant?

A new feature to this blog will be a photo of a plant that I will ask you to identify. Just leave a Comment below if you know this plant!

Posted by maasx003 at 11:09 AM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

April 10, 2005

Hatching Day

Five years ago today, Master Graham Kiloran Maas was hatched. Thats right, hatched. In our family, all baby creatures are hatched, whether they be mammal, amphibian or dinosaur.

This preferred method of being born came about a few years ago when Graham got it in his head that he needed to be hatched each morning. A very elaborate process was developed which began with placing his four blankets, named Red, Blue, Green and White, in a different order over his tiny, tucked up body each day.

Then I had to drape myself over him and squeeze tightly while the egg began to shake and flex until it popped open. Who are you today, Baby Egg? I would ask.

A baby kitten, Graham would answer.

Oh, a baby kitten, I would reply, just what I always wanted. Then we would snuggle a bit and call each other Baby Kitten and Mama Kitten, and I would hope that this sweet, cuddly boy would never grow up.

Some days Graham was a baby kitten, others a baby duck or a baby puppy, but the routine was always the same: layering blankets followed by hatching and then snuggling.

His animal repertoire expanded as he grew older and learned new creatures, and recently, hes been accessing other resources, such as My Giant Book of The Animal Kingdom. He has already mined the two pages of ocean animals, which included a squid, a dolphin and a humpback whale. Humpbacked whales are hatched. Who knew?

Lately, hes been in the bird section of the book and Im pleased to announce that I have already hatched a toucan, a hornbill and a crane this week. On Friday, Graham was a baby pheasant and I was able to find an old pheasant feather given to me in high school. He immediately stuck it into his shirt and told me his feathers were coming in.

When my folks arrived that afternoon, we all went out for dinner. Driving along in the minivan, we discussed his pheasant-hood. If he was Baby Pheasant, and I was Mama Pheasant and Daddy was Daddy Pheasant, did that mean my parents were Grandpa and Grandma Pheasant? That set him off into gales of laughter and me into the odd thought that we were a modern-day version of the Partridge Family and I began looking around for Shirley Jones, David Cassidy and Susan Dey to break into the chorus of Come On, Get Happy.

Today, on his fifth birthday, Graham woke up, marched into our bedroom and demanded that I come to his room to snuggle with him. As we curled up together, he asked, Am I five today?

Yes, you are, I said.

Am I taller already? he demanded.

Why, yes, you are, I assured him.

He continued, And what about my shadow? Is it taller, too?

Yes, even your shadow is bigger, I told him. Today, you are a big five-year-old boy, just what I always wanted.

Whats happening in the garden now

mag_closeup.jpg

The two Magnolia Merrill trees have begun to bloom, with huge, fragrant, shell pinky blossoms adorning a completely bare tree. Both trees have more blossoms than last year. With rain projected for the evening and tomorrow, their show could be very short-lived. There are bees already buzzing around the blooms!

purple_crocus.jpg

Both the yellow spring crocus and purple wild prairie crocus are in bloom. I have very fond memories of picking ice cream buckets full of wild prairie crocus as a small girl in North Dakota. My mother and I would comb the hills surrounding St. Ansgars Lutheran church on a Saturday morning, sidestepping the cow pies while we picked.

Graham spotted the first yellow goldfinch of the season this afternoon. I placed a small bag of yarn clippings in the flowering crab tree outside his window for the neighborhood birds to use for their nests. It would be fun to see a nest with stripes of blue, green and white in it.

With temperatures in the low 70s this week, the perennials are popping up everywhere. The Walkers Low nepeta around the fountain bed has come back very nicely, and the snakes head fritallaria have appeared underneath the flowering crabs. Lots of daffodils are appearing, so we should have quite a display in about a month.

The emerging Turkish tulips are blanketing the dry stream bed area. Each year they multiply to form ever-larger clumps. Soon we should see their cheerful yellow, red and orange faces.

Garden Chores for the Week

Still havent cut back the Jackmanii or Sweet Autumn clematis
Plant peas around the teepee and lettuce in a bowl and in the ground
Start fertilizing the azaleas and yews with MirAcid
Start fertilizing the emerging bulbs
Weed the prairie bed. Any grasses appearing now are turf plants trying to reestablish themselves, not prairie grasses which emerge later in the season.
Identify which perennials to move or dig up
Begin planning which annuals to put in containers. We purchased a gorgeous pair of copper pots at Smith & Hawken last weekend for the entrance to the pergola. For those pots, Im thinking of using variegated cannas or purple miscanthus for the tall bits, and either an orangey begonia or coleus and some purply foliage plants. Ive been combing the latest White Flower Farm catalog for ideas.
Begin digging dandelions

Seed Starting Update

April 5 Two more celosia have germinated. I thought one of the Freckles violas had germinated but it was just a piece of perlite that had gone green with algae or something. I think it was a way for the seed tray to say, Psych! to me.

April 10 The scabiosa seedlings have developed their second set of leaves and need to be potted up. One plant is pushing up against the plastic cover over its head. It definitely needs to get moved.

The other seedlings? Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Big sigh.

Posted by maasx003 at 4:35 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

March 14, 2005

Happy Birthday, Big Sister

I know Ive been yammering on and on and on about my 40th birthday but this blog is about my big sister, Juanita.

We have a bond thats pretty unique because I have the very great honor of being born on March 15, 1965, Juanitas 10th birthday. You could even say I was her 10th birthday present. I like to think she was pleased about it but she probably would have preferred another Barbie instead. Family lore is that she named me and I think she made a good choice. It suits me.

For birthdays in our household, our mother would elaborately decorate cut-out cakes in the shapes of fish, rabbits or castles, but my favorite was the year Juanita and I had matching star-shaped cakes topped by a Barbie. It made me feel very important to share a cake with her.

Our father has special nicknames for us. In German families, daughters are often called Sissy. Its not an insult, but an endearment. Juanita is Big Sissy and I, of course, am Little Sissy. And damn proud of it.

Through the years Juanita has always gone out of her way to make my birthday special. I particularly remember one year during elementary school when she stayed up late into the night making me a Holly Hobby doll. She presented it in the midst of my slumber party, to the delight of my friends.

Juanita has always made me feel special, too. She attended countless musical and choir performances, offered support and counsel, and probably bit her tongue more times than she could count. Her home was a place of refuge for me during my college years and thats where our family gathers when we are together. She is our familys lodestar.

Nita, you are my big sister, confidante, role model and friend. I wish you the very best on our birthday and throughout the coming year.

Posted by maasx003 at 6:01 PM | Family

Category "Family"

March 13, 2005

Its All About Me

I have one steadfast rule in my life I never work on my birthday. If it happens to fall on a weekend, Ill take a take a day off either before or after the date.

I cant remember when I started doing this but I know I was adamant about it the year after Graham was born. That day is clearly etched on my mind; I can even remember what I wore.

I dropped Graham off at school and then had breakfast at Zanders Caf on Selby Avenue, back when they still served their killer Eggs Benedict. While sopping up the delicious lemony sauce, I read a book about gardening with ornamental grasses. When I told her it was my special day, the waitress brought me a sweet roll the size of my head.

Then I went to the Como Conservatory fern room and read from The Code of Love, a book about a British couple who were separated in World War II while he was interned in a Japanese concentration camp. I remember how quietly I sat, just soaking in the words, the scents and sights of the ferns and the easy feeling of not having to do anything, be anywhere or care for anyone.

And the day just got better when I went for a massage with Barbara Glommen, an amazing healer. My emotional wellspring was dry and I needed someone to focus only on making me feel better. And she did. Then I ended the day by sharing an English high tea with my friend Sherri before picking Graham up again and heading home.

In short, it was a day all about me. And it was just what I needed, after nearly a year of nurturing our small son and spending my time at work nurturing potential volunteers, who sometimes seem as helpless as small children.

Each year since I have followed a similar pattern a special meal, a massage and the opportunity to do something Ive always been meaning to but just couldnt justify. One year I gave myself $20 to spend on whatever I wanted at the Bibelot, the ultimate shopping destination for pretty but not particularly practical items. I purchased a set of three tiny vases Id been eying for a long time and three green frogs for Grahams bathtub, all for only $19.96!

I think the only time I didnt follow this routine was the year we finished our addition/remodeling project. Then I took off an entire week and spent it unwrapping, washing and finding homes for all the china, dishes and kitchenware that had been in storage for over six months. With BBC America shows on the television and a hot latte on the new granite island, I was content.

And now Im facing another birthday hooky day and Im trying to decide what to do with that precious time. Its a little stressful because I know it will be full year before I have another day all to myself. I do know I will be spending it alone.

I guess its the MeyersBriggs Introvert or I coming out in me. While other friends would cram their special days with appointments, excursions or outings with girlfriends, I, on the other hand, just want to be alone. I need time to regroup, unwind and find my energy again and I do that best by myself.

I dont have an overwhelming need for a massage this year, which I see as a good thing. I must be regaining balance in my life, because Im not feeling so needy right now.

My list of other potential activities is endless starting a tray of seeds, reading a good book, going through my closet, reading a trashy book, organizing my office, reading a gardening book, writing without any distractions, or even (dare I say it?) taking a nap. Or reading a book.

No matter what, I will spend the day at home. I love our new house - watching how the sun lights up each room differently depending on the time of day and season, knowing how comfortable we all are with our bigger space and reveling in the peaceful colors and textures - but working full time, that enjoyment is limited to weekends and holidays.

So Tuesday, its a pretty good bet that at some point during the day, Ill be sacked out on a couch with a dog or two across my lap, reading a good book and quite probably falling asleep. In short, doing nothing but things I want to do.

On my birthday, it really is all about me.

(Wheres Brian in all this?, you may be wondering. Well, Im actually taking two days off this year one just for us and one for me. But finding couple time is a topic for another blog and another day so Ill leave that for then.)

Posted by maasx003 at 6:03 PM | Family

Category "Family"

March 7, 2005

Victorias Secret for the Pre-School Set

Much has been written about the millions of dollars spent each year on advertising campaigns aimed towards very young children. If they are typical kids who watch a couple hours of TV a day, by the end of the week they may see hundreds of images whose seductive pitches attempt to woo them to their products.

We take an active role in monitoring the programs that Graham watches, the violence of classic Tom and Jerry cartoons notwithstanding, so we hear very few pleas for this certain sugary breakfast cereal or that spectacular new toy.

I can explain to Graham why eating SuperSugarChocoPops is not good for his body, but how I am supposed to react when he responds to an advertising campaign aimed at a more adult audience?

Heres what happened: one night last week when Brian was working, I was washing dishes while watching Monty Python on the BBC America television station, trying to get my weekly hit of dry British humor.

Graham was racing round and round the house with Pont, the new puppy, when suddenly both of us stopped what we were doing, mesmerized by a whirling vision on the screen.

A beautiful young woman was posing her voluptuous body on a fashion runway. As she arched her back and spread her long, lean legs, the camera zoomed in and around her black bra and panties, highlighting Victoria Secrets latest technological marvel in the science of breasticular engineering.

While she contorted this way and that, I was doing a mental inventory of the models assets. Lets see, about 23 years old. Hmm, that taut tummy has never carried a baby. And those have definitely never been working breasts, comparing them to my own kangaroo pouch of a tummy stretched by the 50 pounds I gained with Graham and my sagging, post-nursing mommy glands.

When the commercial was finished, Graham turned to me and said, Wow, Mommy! We should get one of those for you!

In between snorts of laughter, I was able to choke out, Gee, what a great idea, Graham.

The feminist in me should probably have had a long, serious talk about the objectification of women in the media (in terms that a four year old could understand, of course) and how we need to respect women for all their skills and contributions, not just their ability to defy gravity north of the equator.

But my vain, inner girly-girl was popping with pride, basking in the knowledge that her son thought she was pretty, too.

Either that or hes already been brainwashed by the media.

I prefer the former.

Note: Graham did recently perform at his first Irish Dance recital. You can see a few pictures at my husbands blog....but realize you are also going to a sports blog. You've had fair warning.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:58 PM | Family

Category "Family"

February 22, 2005

Alien Nation

Lately, our son Graham has been experiencing a language explosion. He is beginning to read words that he sees in billboards, advertisements and new books. His handwriting is improving and he likes to write us notes, giving directions such has how to discover who made the mysterious footprints in the snow outside his window.

For Valentines Day, he made me a poster with the words Happy Valentines Day, Moo Moo Mom. He wrote all the words by himself except Valentines and he got that by asking for each letter individually, followed by a frantic run up and down the stairs to add it to his poster. (What the Moo Moo Mom mean, I dont know. He only laughed when I asked him.)

Graham has even started to tell us what certain words mean in Spanish, a sign that something must be clicking in his weekly class at school.

But the biggest surprise has been to learn that he is completely fluent in another foreign language - Alien. Thats right; Graham can conduct entire conversations and sing songs with multiple lyrics and a repetitive chorus, all in Alien. Who knew?

When I try to speak Alien with him, my attempts are rebuffed with a snort and a No, Mommy, thats not right. Apparently the only one who also is fluent in Alien is his buddy Quinn.

At school their teacher has limited their Alien conversations to the playground and other play times. During learning periods or lunchtime, they are directed to use human talk so others can understand them. Other than that, shes cool with their new language and so are we.

Graham can even translate Spanish phrases into Alien. How many people can say their four-year-olds are trilingual? It makes me think of the classic line from the movie Airplane when Beaver Cleavers mom offers her translating skills with, Excuse me. I speak jive.

His translation ability could come in handy some day if and when we are ever invaded by interplanetary forces. Come to think of it, Graham made a correct football prediction last fall by saying that aliens had told him in a dream that the Vikings would score 24 points against the Packers in the play off game. Okay, so he was close but not completely accurate. Maybe part of the alien transmission bounced off our TV dish.

When we completed his kindergarten application forms last month, we were asked what was the primary language spoken at home and which language did he choose to speak. Funny, the language choices covered everything from Inuit to Swahili but no Alien.

Guess Ill be calling the principal on that one. Im sure it will be the first of many interesting conversations that we have about our son in human talk.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:20 PM | Family