Category Archives: Blessings

Lemon balm

Another winter survivor: The lemon balm I planted next to the deck last spring had died back, but with the warm temperatures lately, it’s putting out new growth.

Not much else going on in the yard today. I put some birdseed in my feeder today, and I heard birds singing in the neighborhood, but I guess they didn’t find the food, because they didn’t come and eat it. They’ll figure it out eventually, I suppose.

I found some good articles and Web sites about various environmental issues today, though. Today’s Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about solar-powered LED lamps that are being used to illuminate homes in rural India. According to the article, 100,000 remote villages do not have electricity, so the lamps — which run on free power from the sun — are a good alternative to kerosene lamps, which are a constant expense.

My mom was reading the Southern Illinoisan when she ran across this article about how the local Sierra Club chapter spent New Year’s Day. Every year, they go hiking in Giant City State Park and then cap the outing with a big batch of stone soup. Sounds like a good way to start the year.

While I was piddling around on the Monitor site, I found another story about the Tofte Project, a 50-year-old summer cabin on Lake Superior that was remodeled to be a highly energy-efficient, full-time residence.

I’m not sure I like the Tofte cabin as much as I like the Earthship that Ron and I visited in August 2001, but it’s still a cool project.

I’m pretty excited about our long-term plans for the house we live in now. We purposely bought something small (950 square feet) and energy-efficient so we could adapt it for solar power in the future. We use compact fluorescent lightbulbs in all our fixtures, which saves us a bundle on power bills, and we are going to get some more power strips to help eliminate phantom loads.

We had a boxelder tree removed from our back yard this fall to allow more solar gain on the south side of the house and to let more sun hit the roof, where we intend to put solar collectors (hopefully Sunballs) at some point in the future. This spring, we’re going to add some insulation and a radiant barrier to the attic and install a solar attic fan up there. We upgraded our refrigerator a few months ago, and our old dishwasher decided to retire recently, forcing us to buy a replacement model that is MUCH more efficient. We plan to swap our old electric water heater for a more efficient gas model this year as well, and we’re definitely going to replace a couple of windows that tend to be drafty.

I’m also going to get some plastic and a strip door and use it to enclose our front porch to help keep out the cold air when we open the door. It will look pretty trashy, but hey — this is Red Fork. Besides, this is just an experiment. If it makes a big difference in our power consumption, I will take it down and replace it with big windows and a storm door before next winter. If it doesn’t make a big difference, I won’t have spent a bunch of money and time on a home-improvement project that didn’t perform well enough to be cost-effective.

We’ll plant sunflowers in front of the south-facing windows this summer to reduce heat gain, and I’m hoping to find time to build myself an earthen oven and a solar oven so I can do some cooking outdoors when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen.

We’re not quite where I’d like to be yet in terms of reducing our environmental footprint, but we’re getting closer.

Emily

2006

On the way to church, I saw a squirrel scurrying around the side of a tree a couple of blocks from my house, and I noticed yet another seagull (that’s three inside of a week!) — this one gliding across I-44 near the Arkansas River.

My favorite book by Richard Bach and my favorite album by Neil Diamond are the reasons I pay so much attention to gulls. I highly recommend both. The book is very short, but it contains much wisdom. Bach is one of my favorite living authors. (I won’t say he is my top favorite, because that would put him ahead of this guy and this guy, who are not only great writers but also great friends of mine. But they are nonfiction writers, while Bach is more of a novelist/philosopher … so you can’t really compare them.)

I wish I’d had a camera in my car this morning, because when I came out of church, I noticed a big planter full of light bluish-purple and bright yellow pansies, blooming for all they were worth, with a big head of ornamental kale right in the middle. There was also a gorgeous holly nearby, absolutely covered in bright red berries. It was a different variety than the one I took a picture of yesterday in my yard, which hasn’t set fruit at all this year.

When I got home, I stepped out of the car to hear HUNDREDS of birds chirping and calling to each other all over the neighborhood. I don’t know what kind they were, but there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them all over the place — roosting in all the trees, circling in the air, perching on wires, and just generally occupying any available space.

The neighbor kids across the street were also out, enjoying the pretty weather.

What a great morning … a perfect day to go Mother Roading, which is exactly what we’re going to do this afternoon and evening. I need to go to the Apple store in OKC and pick up the OS X Tiger upgrade for my computer, and we’re going to eat at the Rock Cafe on Route 66 in Stroud.

Pretty weather, a day on Route 66, and a big plate of fried pickles washed down with sweet tea … what more could a girl want?

Hope you’re enjoying your Sunday as much as I am.

Emily

Signs of life

WOW … there is SO much going on in the yard today!

I went out to see what was happening after Ron put the dogs out and announced that there was a dandelion blooming in the back yard. It wasn’t just blooming — it had already gone to seed!

I got dressed and went out to see what else was happening in my yard. Here is what I found:

1. The dandelion
Dandelion

2. Some kind of groundcover behind the back fence
Ground cover

3. Two kinds of garlic coming up
Garlic

More garlic

4. Purple deadnettle blooming
Purple deadnettle

5. Holly
Holly

6. An old wasp’s nest and a spider web with egg sacs in it next to the front door
Wasp nest

7. Some kind of plant coming up in the flower bed (I don’t know what it is; probably a weed)
Whatsit

8. Wild carrot
Wild carrot

9. A sapling (I don’t know what kind) putting out buds. Funny … I never even noticed this thing growing next to the house, and it’s already taller than I am!
Bud

10. Those berries I was talking about the other day. Upon inspecting the leaves more closely, I realized it’s definitely not holly — the leaves are too thin and not glossy and rigid like holly — but I still have no idea what it is. Pretty, anyway.

Berries

Oh, and I heard the rooster this morning, too. We think he’s probably a little guy, because he isn’t very loud.

It’s a beautiful day, and I’m going to go spend part of it with my friend Beverly and her dog. Maybe we can go for a walk and soak up some of this gorgeous sunshine.

I’d better get offline here. I need to take a shower, figure out where I put my clicker and Scout’s old training leash, and pick up a jar of bacon bits.

If I have time this weekend, I’m going to walk along the river trail and take some pictures. A guy at work told me a trick to make my camera turn sunlight into diamonds sparkling on the water, and I want to see if I can do it. I’ll post it here if I figure it out.

Have a good day, and go play outside for a few minutes. See what there is in your yard to make you smile.

Emily

Spring dreams

It is 51 days until the Chicago Cubs’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

The temperature was so warm out today that I took off my coat while I helped Ron change a tire on the Insight. While I was getting breakfast this morning at Sonic, I watched a trio of sparrows play under the building’s canopy. We have something coming up in the front flower beds that looks like periwinkle but probably isn’t. We’ve never had periwinkle out there before, anyway.

There were only two signs of life in the garden:

1. Honeybees

Honeybees

The girls were working today, feeding on the sugar water Ron left next to their hive. There aren’t many clustered outside the hive in this picture, because I shot it just at sunset, when the bees were coming in for the evening. Earlier in the day, you would see a lot more activity.

2. A promise

Okra pods

I gathered some dried okra pods. The stalks in the garden are taller than I am, and the pods are completely dry. Baby okra (which we harvested this summer and stashed in bags in the freezer for winter gumbo) tastes wonderful, but once it gets bigger than your thumb, it’s practically inedible. If you miss a pod and it gets big, you just ignore it until it goes to seed. I have had extremely good luck growing okra from seed. I don’t even remember where I bought the seed I planted three years ago. Probably either Seedsavers Exchange or Eisler Bros.

Anyway, okra grew really well in the St. Louis area, and it grows really well here, just half a planting zone south. This variety is Clemson spineless, which produces dozens of gorgeous ruby-throated, pale yellow blossoms every day. The blossoms turn into pods in a matter of hours, and if you don’t check the plants twice a day, you’re sure to come out the next morning and find pods that you overlooked that have already gotten too big to eat.

Just one forgotten pod will produce more seed than I could ever hope to have space to plant in my garden. There are many pods out there right now, so if you want to plant okra next year, e-mail me at sundayjohn66 at mac dot com. 🙂

I love warm winter afternoons. They’re a nice reminder that spring really will get here some day. While I wait, I am dreaming of spring and working on some plans for next year’s garden, which I will unveil in the near future.

Emily

Rainmakers

I got to my parents’ house around 10:30 last night after a nice drive home that included a stop in Belleville, IL to visit old friends at the paper.

We spent this morning on the Boardwalk in Makanda, where I picked up a copy of the 2006 Waterman and Hill-Traveler’s Companion, along with a new skirt, a calendar that includes a listing of natural events, and a cool butterfly ring made by Dave Dardis of Rainmaker Art. Dave free-flows metal to make beautiful hair barrettes and bracelets and things in his cavelike little shop on the Boardwalk. Behind the shop is a stunning and elaborate garden (scroll down to the July 5, 2004, entry to see a picture and description). We wandered around back there for a while and discovered the following:

Two kinds of ivy (English and something I couldn’t identify);

Lots of rocks covered in moss and lichens;

Frost-killed hostas with dried seed pods that had burst open and were scattering their bounty to the ground around them; and

A friendly tabby cat.

Dave named his shop Rainmaker because he used to go to a lot of medieval fairs and things to sell his work. Every time he would go to a festival, it would rain.

I mention this because, in an interesting coincidence, while I was puttering around in Makanda, Ron was e-mailing me to take credit for being Tulsa’s own Rainmaker: We have not had any significant amount of rain in Tulsa in weeks and weeks, so with weather forecasts calling for warm temperatures this weekend, Ron decided to wash his car yesterday. There was supposed to be only about a 20 percent chance of rain, so he figured it was a good time to wash his car.

He came out of the office last night to find the streets wet, and this morning, he awoke to find it had been raining steadily. So he’s the Rainmaker today. 🙂

Gotta run. My little brother and his wife just got here, and I don’t want to miss the fun.

Emily

Purple deadnettle

I had a long day today and didn’t get home from work until almost 1 a.m., but the dogs and I went outside a few minutes ago to look for signs of life. I suspect their sensitive noses and sharp ears found more than I did, but I discovered three survivors in my back yard:

The false strawberry growing in the flower bed on the north side of the garage — which choked out my watercress and stifled my pineapple mint last spring but looked too pretty to rip out — is still hanging in there.

The sage I planted in my herb bed is still thriving.

And next to the house, I found an old friend: A small patch of purple deadnettle is growing right next to the foundation.

Deadnettle always makes me smile. It grows in the winter, little fuzzy green leaves with tiny, pale purple flowers. It’s one of the few plants with the audacity to stand up to the cold and bloom in the watered-down light of December and January.

I like it because it makes me think of my maternal grandmother. One winter afternoon when I was maybe 9 or 10, Grandma and I were out on the back stoop at her house for some reason, and Grandma called me over to look at something amazing: Flowers blooming in the dead of winter.

She had discovered a patch of purple deadnettle blooming next to her house, up against the foundation. She let me pick a fistful to take home so my mom could see those crazy flowers that bloomed in the cold.

Purple deadnettle is a member of the mint family that looks similar to henbit, except its leaves aren’t as frilly, and its flowers aren’t as bright.

When I count my blessings tonight, I will have to count purple deadnettle … and memories of a grandma who loved me enough to take me outside to pick flowers in the middle of winter.

Emily