Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Folderol or Frivolous Friday*

"Mishmash Monday"* was the brainchild of Monica the Garden Faerie some time ago, and thanks to her again, we have some alternatives for those of us who don't "do" Mondays very well. Her suggestion for similar Friday posts was "Frivolous Friday," but I didn't think I was feeling particularly frivolous today. So I brainstormed some ideas for other alliterative adjectives or nouns, considering "Friday Flotsam," but the definition of flotsam is "rubbish." Hmm, I don't think that quite fits my thoughts today. But what about folderol, also spelled falderal? According to, synonyms for folderol are nonsense, trifles . . . or codswallop. Now while I try to figure out the meaning of codswallop, let's look at a few trivial odds and ends left over in the photo files.

Yesterday's sunrise showed a glimmer of promise as the sun tried to peek through, and glory be, we finally had a sunny day! According to the local weatherperson, this was the first sunny day we've had in two and a half weeks. No wonder I've been feeling lethargic. But with the sun, we've also had some snow and Arctic temperatures once again.


On my last post, Wendy commented that she kept looking for a photo of a slug, then realized that the slug I was referring to was yours truly:) But her comment reminded me that I had missed the boat--I had this photo of a slug taken last summer I should have used! This slug incidentally was not in my garden, but in some garden I visited this past summer, perhaps the Idea Garden. Feel free to enlarge the photo if you would like to admire its slimy beauty. I'm ashamed to say I didn't remove the slug and send it to its just reward; all I could think of at the time was getting a good photo.


Before the snow and cold returned, we had a thaw last week which revealed some messes around the yard, including these leaves that were never raked up. I guess I never got around to finishing this job because a.) my garden helpers never returned with rakes in hand; b.) I got involved with preparations for Thanksgiving; and c.) I came down with a case of GADS. For those unfamiliar with this acronym by Carol, GADS refers to the distractions that often afflict gardeners.

In this case, I was busy raking leaves and trying to decide whether to dump them all on the shade garden when I was distracted by the pine trees nearby. As I looked at them, I realized I had the perfect mulch available free of charge right in my own front yard. We have many pine trees bordering our lawn, which means plenty of pine straw. So instead of raking the leaves matting the ground under the maple tree, I began to rake up barrels of pine straw instead.

All the hydrangeas, usually left to fend for themselves over the winter, got a thick blanket of pine needles. Although they did well last summer, I'm hoping they appreciate this extra protection and will bloom even more this year. And before I go buying too many bags of mulch this spring, I'm going to recycle this free material, especially in the shade garden where the pine straw will be perfect for the mostly acid-loving plants.

Seeing the leaves on the ground also reminds me of a post from this past November. If you missed this classic by Monica about "curbside shopping," do take the time to go back to read it. It will give you a good laugh on these dreary winter days.


The temporary thaw last weekend also gave me a chance to finally bring in all the outdoor Christmas decorations. Can you tell what these alien-looking creatures are? They're animated lighted deer--a buck and a doe whose heads move slightly up and down or side to side. I'm not big on gaudy outdoor decorations, but I had admired the illuminated deer or angels I had seen in other yards and was so happy when I found them marked down 75% after Christmas a few years ago. But the idyllic display I envisioned hasn't always been quite so pretty. Here's a little history of these deer:

1st Christmas: The deer are placed in front of the house, clearly visible as you drive up our long lane. The grandchildren are mesmerized as the buck scans the horizon while the doe grazes.

2nd Christmas: A few of the lights go out so that the buck appears to be standing on two legs, and the does' ears are missing. After some careful thought, I begin to suspect the cause might be Older Daughter's pug, Odie, who "christened" each of the deer every time he went outside.

3rd Christmas: After an early December trip to Arizona, the deer are hastily placed outside before Christmas without checking their condition. More lights have gone out, so that now one sees only strange bodies and antlers floating above the ground. Much time is spent after Christmas checking for dead bulbs and deciding the best course of action is to string brand new clear lights all over each deer body part.

4th Christmas (this year): The rejuvenated deer are placed outside in early December with small stakes to keep them upright, clearly looking like deer once again as they are lit up. Two days later, 50 mph winds blow across the fields, and the deer topple over. When the wind finally subsides, I prop them up once again, but the stakes have bent and become frozen in the ground. Without the stakes, the deer are prey for any winter wind that blows through. The process of picking them up and placing them upright occurs several times during the Christmas season. Finally I give up, and when the grandchildren ask about them, I say, "They're sleeping." To add insult to injury, the first snowfall came on Christmas, burying them under a mound of snow and ice. Not until it reached45 degrees last Sunday could I detach them from the ground. Maybe I should consider a new outdoor decoration next Christmas . . .


It's been a very busy week here, and I'm looking forward to having a more relaxing weekend and catching up on all the blog-reading I've missed. I hope you all have a good weekend--and stay warm!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Slug and Other Critters

Somewhere skies are blue and the sun is shining. . . but not here. Here in my part of Illinois, the temperatures have warmed up from the frigid cold of a few weeks ago, and the snow is slowly melting away. But in its place an endless gray cloud seems to have descended along with either rain or fog. These non-stop gloomy skies have zapped what little energy I had and have turned me into a couch potato. I understand completely how people with S.A.D. must feel at this time of year, but my problem is not depression so much as a lack of motivation. I have been substitute teaching for several days, which is probably a good thing because otherwise I would have never left the house this past week.

There are many projects in the house I would like to get done before spring, and I have accomplished a little . . . very little. After a few hours of sorting papers and getting rid of some of the clutter in my office, I'm bored. When the post-lunch slump hits, I'm likely to "rest my eyes" for an hour or two on the couch. By late afternoon I'd much rather visit awhile with my friends Oprah and Ellen than get back to work. And then it's time to fix dinner . . .

Even my amaryllis is drooping . . .

Since I've been such a slug, let's see what other members of the household have been up to.

We had an unusual visitor a few nights ago. This opossum came up to the patio doors and peeked in, perhaps looking for a late-night snack. When Sophie spied him, she went crazy, as you might expect, and didn't let up barking until the possum had checked out every inch of the patio and finally disappeared. I wasn't about to let Sophie outside at that point, not knowing what would happen if a possum tangled with a dog. Apparently, this guy has taken up residence here, because last night when I let Sophie out for a final "business trip" before bedtime, I spied him out in the far back yard. Again I worried what would happen when Sophie saw him, but it was sleeting and the driveway was so slippery, I wasn't about to venture from the safety of the garage.

I knew Sophie saw him--her ears perked up, and she soon broke into a full gallop to reach him. Apparently, opossums are much smarter than I've ever given them credit for--this critter was unfazed by Sophie's appearance and meandered past her in his slow gait till he disappeared into the nearby shed. Sophie wasn't expecting this--no game of chase?? Well, that's no fun! After watching him go by and sniffing the strange scent he left behind, she finally returned to the house, disappointed.

The birds are much more fun. Mr. Procrastinator trimmed some limbs and cleaned up brush into a big pile shortly before the cold set in. The sparrows love this brush pile and gather here several times a day. Part of Sophie's early morning routine is to check out the birds and then chase them as soon as they fly off.

On warmer days, Tarzan likes to join in the fun. "See, Sophie, if you want to catch a bird, you have to be able to climb trees like me and sneak up on them quietly."

Please note: No animals--four-legged or two-legged--were harmed during the filming of this post.

I prefer to do my bird-watching from indoors. During the cold spell two weeks ago, juncos, cardinals, bluejays, and woodpeckers could all be seen from the comfort of the living room.

A pair of downy woodpeckers were regular visitors at the suet feeder. (I took about 40 pictures one day, only to discover I should have adjusted the settings on my camera to adapt to the shadows. As bad as this one is, it was the best of the bunch.) Now that much of the snow has left, so have the downys and the juncos. I hope this means that they're finding natural food sources and not that they have left for the winter--I just stocked up on suet cakes!

Toby is disappointed, too, that the front-yard birds have disappeared. Still he sits patiently every day hoping for his afternoon entertainment--in between naps.

Speaking of naps, Tarzan discovered that the bed left behind by Coconut (Youngest Daughter's Pomeranian now residing in Oregon) suits him just fine. He, along with Sasha and Marmalade, have always been primarily outdoor cats, but when the cold weather hit, I let them stay in the garage. That was fine with Marmalade, who was too shy to have her photo taken here, but it wasn't good enough for Tarzan or Sasha.

While Tarzan has taken over the doggy bed, Sasha finds the top of the dryer and the recycle bags are quite comfy. Toby doesn't bother her here--he has grudgingly accepted the fact that these two are now living indoors, though he is still king of the roost--and Sophie can't reach her.

Speaking of Sophie, someone once asked how the cats got along with Sophie. She still likes to indulge in a game of chase with them at times and gets very jealous if Toby crawls onto my lap, much like a young sibling. But otherwise, they tolerate her. Toby has been known to box Sophie's ears if she gets too rambunctious . . .

. . . but Tarzan is the master of dog manipulation. "I have as much right to this bed as you, Dog, so don't expect me to move."

It's hard to argue with that . . . besides, Tarzan's purring is quite hypnotic.

Hmmm, that bed does look inviting . . . maybe I'll just "rest my eyes" for a few minutes again . . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ABC Wednesday . . . Again!

I know, I know . . . last week I said I wouldn't be able to participate in ABC Wednesdays this round, but with such a beautiful A in front of me each day, I couldn't resist . . .

Amaryllis, aptly named "Appleblossom"
(thanks dear readers for identifying it)

The sunny but frigid days of last week have turned warmer but grayer and gloomier. My thoughts are naturally turning toward spring and . . .

. . . planting Annuals.

Some seeds were collected last fall from various plants with hopes of having another year of blooms from some of the favorites from last year's garden, including the electric blue Bachelor Buttons pictured above. The new Butterfly & Friends garden was a riot of color last summer, thanks in part to seeds sent from fellow garden blogging friends. I am excited about getting more seeds again in a few weeks from friends through Monica's seed swap.

One way I get through the long winter is to spend hours looking through seed catalogs. Although some seeds were collected from the pink cosmos above, an order has been placed for more, a "Double Click" mix, to ensure I have enough of these lovelies. Many other varieties will soon be ordered, too, including some Agastache and Alyssum.

Cold winter days make me long to visit Arizona where it is sunny and warm--although not this week, according to the Weather Channel. I had hoped to travel there in February to visit my daughter, but Husband's schedule won't allow us to leave until March.

But that's all right, too: the Cubs will be in town for spring training, and the cacti should be in bloom. I hope to visit one of my favorite places again, the Desert Botanic Gardens, where I will see some magnificent Agaves.

No doubt everyone has seen this familiar logo countless times in the past week. If you are like me, you have watched the scenes of the devastation in Haiti and the tragic aftermath and have felt helpless. The one thing that all of us can do is to donate to the relief efforts sponsored by organizations across the world. The American Red Cross has made it very easy for Americans to donate by phone, online, texting, or mail--check out their website for details. There are other organizations helping in the relief effort as well, but before you donate to a charity you are not familiar with, it would be wise to check them out on a site such as this. It will take the efforts of many to restore some kind of normalcy to the people of Haiti.

For more contributions on the letter A, check out other ABC posts here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January GBBD--At Last!

This is the time of year when we Northern gardeners read with envy the Bloom Day posts of our neighbors in the South. Perhaps not this year. The extreme weather may have turned some of those beautiful gardens into something that resembles my frozen garden. Why not check out the links at May Dreams Gardens, to see what, if anything, is blooming on this January Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Instead of gardening clogs, one must wear tall boots to tromp through the snowdrifts to see if anything picturesque not already shown here is worth photographing. The shade garden provides a few new scenes. Heuchera blooms still wave in the brisk winter winds even if the rest of the plant is submerged.

With its feet frozen in place, "Let's Dance in the Moonlight" can't even manage a two-step.

There is a little color on my patio, however. Not to be outdone by the beautiful poinsettias Donna found growing outdoors on a recent trip to San Diego, these red beauties are undaunted by the cold. Of course, mine are the type that never stop "blooming":)

To find a few real blooms at my home, we have to go indoors. Geraniums, a begonia, and Miss Rosemary are still hanging on in the sunny spare bedroom. Next door, a single pot of tulips I planted on January 3 are beginning to show some signs of life. Maybe they will be ready for the next Bloom Day?

But what has really excited me this past week is this gangly-looking plant. Some of you may remember that last year I attempted growing my first amaryllis bulb. The plant grew and grew with leaves extending at least two feet, but it never put out a blossom. I stuck it outside, pot and all, over the summer, watering it only as an occasional afterthought. After the weather turned cold this fall, I finally remembered to bring it in, not expecting it to survive. Imagine my surprise last week when a stalk emerged with what looked like a bud on it.

I watched it carefully on Monday . . .

. . . and on Tuesday . . .

. . . looking good on Wednesday . . .

Voila! Thursday afternoon--perfect timing for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

Yes! This may just get me through a few more weeks of winter.

To see other blooms from all over the world, visit our charming hostess and the keeper of the secrets to gardening happiness, Carol.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ABC Wednesday: Snow Day at Grandma's

The main topic of conversation these past few weeks, whether on the news or on blogs, has been the weather. Areas like the southern United States and parts of the UK unaccustomed to snow have been hit with unusually cold temperatures. I have such sympathy for people in these areas; it must be hard to watch gardens full of tender plants shrivel in the freezing temperatures, and traveling in places without a stockpile of tons of salt, not to mention snowplows, has to be dangerous.

Here in the heart of the Midwest, we are used to severe winters, but still it's not pleasant when the temperature drops to Zero or below, as it has for the past two weeks.**

Not only is it cold, but last Thursday six inches of snow fell here, and the winds picked up, creating hazardous road conditions and closing most of the schools for two days. When the weather is like this, I prefer to hibernate inside and don't venture out unless absolutely necessary. But what are working parents to do when they have to get to work, and the schools and daycares are closed? That's when Grandma comes to the rescue!

Youngest Grandson and Granddaughter came to stay on Thursday while Mom and Dad fought their way through snowdrifts. Of course, I'm always happy to have them here, and they find plenty of activities to entertain themselves. Early morning found them spending some time with "friends" Mickey, Winnie, and Handy Manny while Grandma fortified herself with her first cup of coffee and Sophie caught a few Zzzz's. Sophie doesn't leave Youngest Grandson's side very often:)

After playing in the basement playroom for awhile while Grandma finally took down her Christmas tree there, Granddaughter insisted we build a snowman. I had forgotten that it takes 30 minutes to put on snowsuits, hats, and mittens and another 30 to take them off, all for 15 minutes of play time outside.

We tried our best to build a snowman, but this snow was the light, fluffy kind that doesn't stick together. The snowman project was soon abandoned in favor of creating trails through the snow and a short-lived snowball fight.

"O Mother dear,
we sadly fear
that we have lost our mittens . . ."

Those darned mittens wouldn't stay on no matter what Grandma did, so it wasn't long before we had to go back inside.

Back in the cozy warmth of the living room, Grandson enjoyed sharing one of Sophie's favorite activities--bird-watching. We were in luck--the usual assorment of juncos, sparrows, and the downy-headed woodpeckers were busy at the feeders, despite the eyes at the window.

While they kept watch, Granddaughter and I hurried for the bird book to identify this new visitor--a red-bellied woodpecker. He was rather wary about coming too close, which is why this photo is not very clear. I rarely see one of these woodpeckers here, and I'm happy to say he's been visiting the feeders every day since then.

This inspired Granddaughter and I to try a new project--creating some simple birdfeeders out of pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed. ShadyGardener posted instructions some time ago on how to create these, or you can find instructions here. This is a great activity and very easy to do with children. Granddaughter barely had time to make one before her parents arrived earlier than expected, but I finished a few more after she left.

The cardinals, especially, like these simple treats, as do the juncos or the sparrow pictured here. Apparently, it's time to make some more as this one has been picked clean already. Pinecones are in abundant supply here, so there shouldn't be any problem in keeping the birds happy with treats all winter long.

We have reached the Zenith, if you will, the end of the alphabet for round 5. ABC Wednesdays have been hosted for three years by Mrs. Nesbitt, but Denise is stepping down due to time constraints. Thank you, Denise, for sponsoring this for so long! While ABC Wednesday will probably continue under the sponsorship of someone else, I, too, am going to take a little break from this meme. While I may post some ABC's occasionally, I have plans for the next few months that will make posting and visiting on Tuesdays and Wednesdays rather difficult. I have met some wonderful people around the world through this meme, and I do plan to continue to visit you on Wednesdays as often as I can.

I leave you with one parting shot--what would one of my Z posts be like without a photo of my favorite Z---the Zinnia! This is what gets me through the winter!

"O Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
--Percy Shelley

More creative ideas for the letter Z from all over the world can be found here.

**The forecast for tomorrow and the next several days is for temperatures above freezing. Hooray! I might get out those summer clothes that I still haven't packed away:)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Secret to Happiness? Book Review: "The Geography of Bliss"

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@Barrie Summy

Are you happy?? It's hard to pick up a magazine these days without an article titled something like "10 Secrets to Happiness" or "Finding Your Inner Joy." Bookstore shelves are filled with books promoting ways to becoming a happier person. Even before the bad economy caused society's spirits to plummet, Americans have been obsessed with finding happiness in our lives. Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World takes a somewhat different approach. Rather than focusing on the individual and helping him or her change his outlook on life, Weiner, a journalist, sets out to find what factors help to create a positive environment for happiness.

Weiner, a self-confessed curmudgeon, points out his name is--appropriately enough--pronounced Whin-er and that as a child his favorite character in Winnie-the-Pooh was Eeyore. He decides to spend a year traveling the globe in search of places where people are considered happy to find out the secret to this elusive feeling.

He visits places like Bhutan, very similar in appearance to the mythical Shangri-La, where the government places more importance on its policy of Gross National Happiness than on the GNP. The Netherlands, Switzerland, Thailand, Great Britain, and India are other stops in his quest. In each country Weiner finds some clues to that nation's general feeling of happiness, but no definitive answers and often contradictory ideas.

For example, in tiny Qatar, perhaps the wealthiest nation in the world, Weiner finds that money does not guarantee happiness. The oil-rich Qataris have everything they could possibly want--and then some--but their lives are filled with family squabbles and insecurity. When Weiner returns home to the U.S., he finds a similar situation. Despite the fact that we are the "wealthiest nation ever," the U.S. ranks, according to one study, as the 23rd happiest nation in the world.

On the other hand, poverty-stricken nations rank low on the happiness scale, as one might expect. Weiner visits one such nation purposely to contrast with happier states. The small nation of Moldova, once part of the Soviet Union, is a poor country with what appears to be a very depressed population. Yet, it isn't just the lack of money that causes this unhappiness, Weiner finds, but also the fact that Moldova seems to have no cultural identity.

One of the happiest nations surprisingly is the country of Iceland, which Weiner visits during the eternal darkness of winter. Here he finds some of the most novel ideas of his trip. Icelanders are proud of their language and their culture, two important factors in a nation's happiness, but they also demonstrate a lack of envy and have no fear of failure, both of which seem to promote contentment.

I enjoyed Weiner's humorous touches and his skepticism about many of the theories he found. He is a good sport, willing to try anything to experience local customs whether it is smoking Moroccan hash in a Dutch "coffee shop" or tasting the Icelandic delicacy of rotten shark. While he dives into the local culture, he doesn't necessarily embrace it. In India, for example, his experience in an ashram is disappointing; he feels no spiritual enlightenment, but is more concerned that he has to give up coffee for three days. As a fellow caffeine addict, I can empathize.

The Geography of Bliss is a book of substance, not pop psychology. Weiner includes quotes from philosophers and a great deal of evidence from various research studies on happiness to support or contradict the theories he encounters. One of my favorite excerpts is near the end of the book, when he realizes that there is no such thing as paradise on earth.

One man's paradise can be another's hell, and the converse holds true as
well. When European missionaries first landed in Greenland several centuries
ago, intent on converting the pagan natives to Christianity, they offered the
usual carrot-and stick approach: Convert and you get a shot at heaven; don't ,
and you will be condemned to an eternity in hell.

"What is this hell like?" asked the curious Greenlanders.

"Oh it is very, very hot," replied the missionaries. "It is hot all of
the time."

The Greenlanders surveyed the frozen Arctic tundra that was their home
and replied, "We'll take hell, thank you."

In the end, Weiner finds no definitive answers to the secret of happiness--though he does share some hypotheses--and isn't necessarily any happier than he was before he began his quest. Yet he does find that his attitude towards many things in life have changed for the better. In the same way, as I read his book I found myself contemplating my own life and whether I was happy. I have always thought of myself as a "glass half-empty" sort of person and once thought that only a big, new 3 1/2-bathroom house was necessary for my personal happiness. But I see things differently now than before: I will probably never live in that beautiful new house, but you know what? I don't care. I realize it is the simple things that bring me joy and make me happy. A good book, a fresh cup of strong coffee, and a little chocolate bring me pleasure. Beyond that there are the most important things in life:



A group of my high school classmates met for dinner last week, the first time many of us had seen each other in nearly 20 years. What fun to reminisce and catch up on each others' lives!

New Year's Eve was also special, as we ushered in the new year in our traditional way with a toast along with two dear friends.

Friends with four legs and unconditional love and devotion.

And, of course, my Garden!

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

All book reviews posted here are solely at the whim of this blogger. No remuneration of any kind was given for this review.