Colorful Memories

Colorful Memories

We all have a mental storage cabinet that holds memory files full of various events from our lives.  Some good, some bad, some meh.  And the older we get, the more stuffed those cranial cubicles become, often making it difficult to retrieve specific bits of information just exactly when we want them, sort of like that junk drawer or closet where you shove odds and ends that you don’t know where else to put.  (Admit it, we’ve all got one!)

But memories are odd, in that they can be triggered to float to the top of the heap in many ways:  an unusual odor, a specific sound, the sight of a certain place or thing or even a particular shade of color.  This season of the year brings the changing wardrobe of the trees, and I’ve witnessed a multitude of beautiful hues over the last few weeks.  The fact that we had decent rainfall this year had to have helped this process, as well as the rather temperate summer.  Regardless of the cause, though, I’m awed by the beauty and think–yet again–what an artist is our Creator.

Yesterday, my friend Karen and I were traveling the short distance from her house to a local restaurant for supper, and stopped along the way to take photos of the trees in the cemetery.  The sun was sinking into the western horizon just enough to make the orange leaves of one specimen absolutely glow.  Another tree had lost most of its splendor into a 30′ diameter carpet of color, which reminded me of the walks I took with my Sweetheart, not long after we began to date back in 1983.  We were still young enough then to enjoy running over to a raked-up pile of freshly-fallen leaves and jumping into them.  It’s a sweet memory, and it makes me smile.

We stood by the stone that bears his name and the date that he left us: three years ago today.  I told Karen about that time ‘way back then, and how I think of it every Fall. We talked about how many things have changed in those three years, and how it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long since he was here with us.  We rehashed several other memories, over dinner, of Larry, of her parents, and many other things.  I’m fortunate to have such a friend.

If summer is the time to “stop and smell the roses” as they say, then maybe Autumn ought to be the season of recollection.  Open up that vault of memories, pull out a few favorites and enjoy them once more.  I’ll close this with a quote from our daughter.

“Don’t take for granted what you have when you have it, for one day you may not.  Let stress go, let love sink in, and hold good memories forever.”  –Jennifer Martinez 

IMG_1416

Got Hips?

Got Hips?

First of all, my apologies for being on hiatus so long without arranging for a sub or working up some posts in advance.  The reason was a worthy one, though:  the Trip of a Lifetime!  After more than two years of planning and saving and anticipation, my particular friend Peggy and I were super-fortunate to be able to take a 17-day vacation in historical, scenic Scotland.  It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, and each day was such a discovery.  Still floating!

The temperate weather and abundant rain lend their efforts to what must be a national devotion to gardening.  The flowers (like the castles and the churches, and the mountains and the lakes–er, lochs), were plentiful and amazing.  Along with a plethora of stone walls, there were more hedges than I ever imagined could grow in such a relatively small country, and many of those hedges were comprised of old-fashioned rose bushes.

If you’re not familiar with an old-fashioned rose, they’re similar to a multi-flora rose bush, with several blossoms grouped closely together on the stem.  The blooms open out a bit flat, since they don’t typically have a lot of petals, but the fragrance is rich and pleasing.  And if the flowers aren’t clipped for display, or pruned before this time of year, they produce their seeds in a round or oval-shaped pod called a “hip”.  The hips start out green, then turn yellow, then sometimes progress to a deep red or even burgundy or almost black, depending on the breed of plant.  Deer, rabbits, and squirrels have the common sense (or God-given instinct) to eat these morsels, which are full of Vitamins C and A, antioxidants and all sorts of other good stuff.

Provided that no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides were used on the plant, we can enjoy the benefits of rose hips as well.  For centuries, they’ve been harvested for use in tea, jams and jellies, and even soup.  Rose hip oil is used in cosmetics and in ointments for treating burns and acne or scars.  They may be helpful in preventing cancer and treating arthritis.  The more I read about their various uses, the more I start to think I should plant a rose hedge of my own!

The pity is, that I didn’t harvest a sackful of the little things myself, when they were right in front of me, since 24 hours after our return, Peggy and I both turned out to have contracted a cold somewhere along the way.  All that Vitamin C from a good dose of rose hip tea might have helped.

Have you used rose hips?  Were they good, and did they accomplish what you hoped?  Let me know!

Roses in Scotland!

Surprise!

Surprise!

One of the first signs that Spring is on its way–sometimes even before I see the crocus buds peeking out of the dried leaves and mulch in the flower bed–is when the thin blades of the leaves of the Surprise Lily plant knife their way up through the brown of winter. An inch or so wide, and very thin, they stretch up a rich green, droop over, turn yellow, then brown, then disappear from sight. Just about the time that we’ve forgotten that they were ever there at all: Surprise!  The buds of the Lycoris Squamigera raise their heads.  The hollow round stems shoot up two-to-three feet into the air within just a couple of days, and the flowers open out to release their sweet, heady fragrance, which perfumes the air all around them.  It’s an annual event of which I never grow tired, and which never ceases to amaze me.

The Surprise Lily is known by many names:  Miracle Lily, Hurricane Lily, Resurrection Lily, Magic Lily, Pink Flamingo Flower, and even Naked Ladies, referring to the fact that the leaves are long gone before the flowers show.  One online site I read spelled it “Nekkid Ladies”, but I tend to agree with Jeff Foxworthy on that.  “Naked means you got no clothes on; Nekkid means you got no clothes on AND you up to something!”  And while these flowers are surely “up to” something spectacular, I don’t think that’s what Mr. Foxworthy meant.

Whatever you call them, though, they are a delight to see; in my own yard, in yards about town, and sometimes, just along the side of a road, where they truly are a surprise.  My sister was visiting from Texas one summer, and as Mother Nature would have it, she was just in time to see the yearly eruption of Surprise Lilies all over Missouri.

“We don’t have those in Texas,” she lamented.

“Why not?”  I asked  “They won’t grow there, or they just haven’t caught on?”  She didn’t know.

The next December I called a local garden center to ask if they sold the bulbs.  Indeed they did, saving me the trouble of digging around to locate and divide mine in the cold.  Eight of them, individually wrapped in paper towels, then tissue paper, made an interesting Christmas present to ship to Texas.  Sis and I were on the phone together when she removed the bow and the gift wrap and opened the box.  There was a long pause as she disrobed what must’ve looked like an oversized owl pellet. . . then a loud squeal . . . “SURPRISE!  Oh, you sent me SURPRISES!”  I’m not sure I’ve ever had so much fun out of one simple present.

Well, she planted the bulbs, and each spring she gets the leaves, but it’s been about four years now, and not a bloom to be seen.  So maybe they don’t thrive in Texas.  But maybe . . . just maybe . . . one of these summers I’ll get a call from my sister, or a text, or a photo, and it’ll begin:  “SURPRISE!”

IMG_0934

Curse of the Sphinx

Curse of the Sphinx

Sure, we’ve all heard of the Curse of the Mummy, but who ever knew there is also, right here, real-life-as-I-type-this, a Curse of the Sphinx?! The Sphinx Moth, that is, which looks benign enough as it hovers around the honeysuckle vine that twines over and through the wrought iron railing by my front porch steps. In fact, it acts quite a bit like a hummingbird, flitting from blossom to blossom, siphoning out the sweet nectar in much the same fashion. But then the blasted thing lays eggs on the underside of a leaf somewhere, and those eggs hatch into larvae, which immediately look for the food on which they grow the largest and the fastest. Today, that food source happened to be my tomato plants, of which I have only two, but those two growing in five-gallon buckets placed on the concrete front steps just mere feet away from (you guessed it) the honeysuckle vine.

What looked like a reasonably healthy tomato plant just yesterday, complete with little green fruits promising a delicious treat in the near future, had become–before noon today–a spindly, spiky, collection of stems, at least on the north half of the thing. And there, blending in discreetly on the undersides of the few remaining leaves, the larvae of the Sphinx moth. FOUR of them! Never having seen these before, I snapped a quick photo with my trusty phone, and showed it to my good friends Peggy and Bert at lunchtime. “Tomato worms!” they exclaimed. “Mash ’em flat, or they’ll strip the entire plant to nothing!” I told the girls that the little stinkers had already made a good start of that job.

When I arrived home from town I wasted no time in plucking the worms off my poor unfortunate tomato vine, but put them in a plastic container with some of the already-damaged leaves and fruit, to save for a few hours. After work, I did a quick internet search to learn more about them. As it turns out, these particular specimens are most likely tobacco hornworms (manduca sexta) as opposed to tomato hornworms (manduca quinquemaculata – easy for them to say!). The diagonal stripes on their sides are slightly different, and the pointy “horn” on their back ends is reddish colored on this type, rather than black as on the other. But they both devour the leaves of the tomato or tobacco plant indiscriminately, and with a rapid pace that will amaze, leaving dozens of little green and black caterpillar turds in their wake. I know for a fact that those weren’t scattered all over the edge of my porch yesterday!

So, if anyone knows of an organic remedy to discourage the blighters (also called goliath worms, for obvious reasons), let me know, and I’ll keep it in my files for future reference. For now, however, I’m not going to stomp these jolly green giants. I’m going to cradle their little plastic temporary domicile in my hands, and walk it carefully up the hill past the orchard, where I’ll ever-so-gently open the lid . . . and introduce the contents to my chickens.

Pluperfect Peaches

Pluperfect Peaches

Here’s the honest truth: I wasn’t sure that “pluperfect” is an actual word. Now and then over the years I’ve heard it used, as in “Ed Earl, you’re a Pluperfect Fool!” (bonus points if you can name the movie that line is from!). But this afternoon I had to look it up to be certain, and sure ’nuff, there it is: pluperfect: utterly perfect or complete; more than perfect; supremely accomplished; ideal. The dictionary also had something about perfective verb tense, but that went right over my head. Besides, I digress. What I’m really writing about here is Peaches!

Two weeks ago I bought a box of five peaches at the local produce market.  They were reportedly grown in Georgia, and they were pretty good, but small, and the ones I didn’t eat immediately began to shrivel rather quickly.  Last week I stopped at a roadside stand about 60 miles away, and paid more money for the same number of peaches, but the sign said “Missouri Grown”.  That made me think they were probably allowed to ripen on the tree longer, since they didn’t have to be shipped so far before selling.  Well, the color of that fruit was pretty inside and out, but the taste was more tart than I’d expected.  Three of them are still in my kitchen, not looking so great.

This morning, however, after the dogs had their first run, then their breakfast, then their second run, I went up the hill to the barn and let the birds out for a good long day of foraging.  On my way back toward the house I checked the two peach trees in my tiny orchard.  Jackpot!  The taller “standard” tree has quite a bit of fruit on, but they aren’t exactly ready yet.  Next week, maybe, or the week after.  But the “dwarf” tree–the one that had so much deadwood pruned out last November that I was afraid it might need to be replaced–the peaches on that tree were ripe.  Whether it was the super cold winter or the winds this spring or a combination thereof, there were only a baker’s dozen of pickable peaches on that poor little tree, but they were each about the size of a softball.  One of the branches had been hanging so close to the ground that the sphere of fruit hidden behind its leaves had been chicken-tested.  But don’t worry; I got the other half.

So here I sit, with a bowl next to my keyboard.  The peach wedges in that bowl are bright orange-yellow, the skin a rich blush, the juice that bursts out with each bite tasting of pure sun-ripened sweetness.  (sigh)  Pluperfect!

Keep On Growing

Keep On Growing

Yes, that’s more than just the title of a song by Eric Clapton.  Bonus points if you can tell me what album that’s from without looking it up online . . . (!)

Summer is exciting in so many ways, not the least of which is all the growing going on.  My friend Michelle brought over two heirloom tomato plants from the dozens she had started from seed.  One should produce low-acid yellow fruit–yes, a tomato is technically a fruit–and the other is supposed to be orange.  Because I wasn’t putting in a big garden this year, she repurposed a couple of heavy white plastic buckets, drilling a few holes in the bottom of them for drainage.  With a few rocks in the base for ballast and to help facilitate the drainage, then layers of potting soil, compost, peat moss, and old chicken litter, the tomatoes are going to town, figuratively speaking.  Last weekend I saw the first few blossoms, and now there are little baby tomatoes hanging around.  It’s so neat!!

Up the hill in the orchard between my house and the barn there are pears and peaches.  Not as many peaches this time as there have been before, but this does vary a lot from year to year, and the folks in Georgia are still trucking some very decent fruit up this way for us Midwesterners to enjoy.  One morning this week after an overnight rain, though, I caught a glimpse of the half-grown apples on one of those trees out by the dog kennel.  The raindrops hadn’t yet been evaporated by the heat of the sun, and it made for such a pretty sight.  There’s more than one reason the supermarkets install that misting equipment in their produce departments.

Wheat harvest around here is over, the corn has mostly tasseled out, and the soybean fields are starting to show some definition.  Farm country is a great place to live if you like to watch things grow, especially when Mother Nature cooperates with sufficient rain on a timely basis.  So far, the drought conditions suffered during the few years previous haven’t been a problem, and crops are looking good.  To all my farming friends and neighbors:  Good Job, and Keep On Growing!

IMG_0765

Trumpet Vine:  Terror or Treasure?

Trumpet Vine: Terror or Treasure?

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting at my sister’s home near Dallas.  She and my brother-in-law treated me like royalty (as always), spoiling me rotten and ensuring that the weekend passed much faster than I would’ve liked.  The back yard of their home is surrounded by a wooden privacy fence inside which they’re creating an oasis of peace and tranquility:  a corner patio with an umbrella-covered table and comfortable rocking chairs, a new wooden planter for a kitchen herb garden, and the gentle sound of a container fountain.  And on the back fence, the almost fluorescent glow of the blossoms of an orange trumpet vine lured me over with my camera at the ready.

These blooms have two-to-four inch tubes which unfurl at the wider end into a five-petal delight that attracts various bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  The yellow and peach undersides contrast with the salmon-pink and sunset-orange showiness of the opened flower, all of which is beautifully displayed against the glossy green of the thick foliage.  It always reminds me of our grandparents’ yard, where this lovely enchanter twined it way around the fence on the north side of the long narrow backyard, along with an elderly grapevine, all the way back to the huge old mulberry tree.  Oh, the summer hours my cousins and I whiled away in that idyllic spot!

So today I read more about the Trumpet Vine.  In addition to the praises sung in the paragraph above, I learned that it can also be used to prevent or stop erosion, and that it tolerates heat and poor soil conditions very well, and that it often provides shady havens for lizards, chameleons and toads, among other small critters.  However, not all gardeners or homeowners are fond of this plant.  On at least one forum, I read descriptors such as “invasive” and “monster”, along with “terror, garden thug, and downright evil”.  Sometimes also called “Cow Itch Vine”, contact with the woody base stems can result in a skin irritation to some folks that is reminiscent of a poison ivy reaction.  The flowers are followed by pods that drop a multitude of seeds, and even if these are clipped and removed before ripening, the root system of the mature plant sends out shoots or runners that expand the vine’s territory, sometimes as much as 20 or 30 feet away from the source!  It climbs not only fences, but light poles, trees (sometimes with smothering effects) and buildings, and can cause damage to siding, gutters, roofs, foundations, sidewalks, driveways, sidewalks and even concrete swimming pools.  Yikes!  Oh, and once the vine has a firm hold, it’s apparently very difficult to eradicate.

Sis gave me a few starts from the spearmint she was going to plant, and I’m fully aware that it tends to spread, too.  At least I can make tea out of it, though.  Or Mint Juleps.  But all things considered, maybe I’m glad she didn’t dig up a start of the Trumpet Vine to send back home with me.  Perhaps I’ll just enjoy it when I visit and leave it at that.  What do you think?  Leave a comment and tell us about the worst Garden Grabber you’ve ever experienced!

Things are Humming Right Along Here

Things are Humming Right Along Here

Each year about this time, I listen for the telltale “buzz” around my flower garden that signifies the annual arrival of one of the most fascinating creatures:  the hummingbird.  Yesterday afternoon, while pulling a few weeds (yes, I do try to guilt myself into a little manual labor now and then), I heard it.  Not quite a “buzz”, actually, maybe more of a “whir”.  It’s the sound made by the wings of a hummingbird as it zooms in and then hovers, looking for an acceptable source of food to fuel its rapid flight.  Well, that sound gave me an instant excuse to stop the weed-pulling, which my allergies fail to appreciate anyway.  In the kitchen, I put one cup of white sugar into a small pan, added 4 cups of water, and set the stove burner under the pan to medium low just long enough to melt the sugar into the water for a syrup.  Then I retrieved one of the hummingbird feeders from the mudroom where I’d hung it up last Fall, after washing it out.  As soon as the syrup was cool enough, I filled the feeder and hung it at the edge of the porch roof overhang, just a couple of feet above the not-yet-blooming honeysuckle vine.  A quick glance at the clock:  3pm.

Fast forward to 6:42pm.  The son-of-my-house is mowing my lawn (bless him!), my daughter and grandchildren are on the front lawn, practicing volleyball serves and spikes, and in between joining the fun and retrieving a drink of water from inside, I saw it:  the First Hummingbird of the Year!  At least, the first one to show up at my place, that is, and that I actually saw.  Wary of the fact that I was standing just seven feet away, the tiny bird jetted in from the Bald Cypress tree to the feeder, grabbed a quick sip, then sped away.  “Aha!” I told the kids.  “Not even four hours after the feeder is up, that hummingbird has already found it!”  They took a break from their game long enough to sit on the porch swing and the box that houses the cat triplex to watch for the bird’s return.  Ice cream bars all around helped mark the celebration of the hummers’ return.  From as near as I could stand without scaring it away, I focused in as close as my camera would allow and waited to click the shutter.  We were not disappointed, and the hummingbird seemed to enjoy his treat as much as we liked our own.  It was difficult to discern in the shadow of early evening, but we think it was a female.  No glint of the ruby throat of the male that summers in this part of the country was visible, anyway.

Today, the mini-blinds on the front windows of the house are all open, and I find myself stealing hasty glances out toward the feeder.  Two hummingbirds are busy zooming back and forth, so maybe it’s a mated pair.  The honeysuckle is setting on some buds, and when it goes into full bloom, they’ll be busy for sure.  But just in case, I’m going to find that other feeder from winter storage.

Got a hummingbird story?  What’s the highest number of hummers you’ve counted at one place?  Share a comment!

 

Wordless Wednesday #7

Wordless Wednesday #7

(actually, it’s still Tuesday, but give it a couple of hours . . .)

Lilac Time

Lilac Time

My Bradford Pear trees have finished blooming. In town today I saw several Redbuds in full color (it’s actually more of an orchid pink/purple color, but it would sound silly to say Orchid Pink/PurpleBuds, wouldn’t it?).  My apple trees have blossoms all over them, but the wind over these past two days has littered the ground with tiny white petals to the point that I wonder if they’ll get pollinated.  Another of my favorite things, however (see last week’s post for My Favorite Teacher!) is to step out the back door and smell the purple lilacs in bloom.  Ohhhhhh, my!  There’s no other scent in the world quite like it.

I have always wanted a lilac bush.  In spite of the extensive time and effort my folks have put into their very nice lawn, and the wide variety of flowers, shrubs and trees Mother has selected over the almost 59-years they’ve lived at their present location, I don’t recall them ever having a lilac.  Some people tell me they’re hard to get started, and that even after you plant a starter bush, it’s sometimes seven years before it’ll bloom.  I don’t know if this is true . . . somebody leave a comment, please, if you know for sure!  Anyway, you can imagine my delight in April of 1993 when it became apparent we’d purchased a property with not one, but two lilac bushes, one with lavender blossoms and one with white.

The white one is near the driveway, and it spreads by sending up little shoots from the root system in a two-to-three foot area next to the bush.  A honeysuckle vine snuck its way over into the branches and suffocated some of them, so the deadwood had to be pruned out, but it’s still going strong.

The purple-bloomer is on the northeast corner of the house, at the edge of a flowerbed.  A small hosta plant is leafing out under the shade of the shrub now, and later in the season I’ll put out some impatiens.  My hope is to get some starts of the fern and Lily-of-the-Valley from the area on the north side of my parents’ house, and transplant them into this bed next to the lilac.  If memory serves, Mother obtained the starts from her grandma, making them somehow more special than those I could easily get from the store.

My great-grandmother Peirrie Belle May went gradually blind from glaucoma.  But great-grandpa Stanley knew how much she loved her flowers.  The story I was told was that they’d brought starts of all their favorites from the farm when they retired and moved into town, and that during the season, Grandpa Stanley would pick a different flower each day.  He’d take it inside to grandma, take her hand and carefully close her fingers around the stem, then help her raise it to her face to smell.  “OK, Peirrie”, he’d ask, “which one is this?”  She’d inhale the scent and feel the stem, the leaves, the petals, and make her pronouncement.  What a beautiful way for him to help her keep those senses alive.  I’ve always thought it was one of the most tender tales ever.

And when–in my mind’s eye–I picture my great-grandpa coming through their door with a sprig of lilac, something tells me his sweetheart didn’t even need to touch it to decide.  The nose knows!