Friday, August 28, 2009

I Need a Vacation!

After being away from home for nine days, I need a vacation! While going to Oregon was an adventure and full of lots of quality time with Youngest Daughter, it wasn't exactly a time of rest and relaxation. To explain, let me give you a brief synopsis of my trip . . .

Day 1: Several hours after leaving home, we crossed the Mississippi River--good thing YD was asleep so she didn't panic at seeing me taking photos while driving across the bridge:)--into . . .

. . . Iowa. Traveling with Coconut meant only necessary stops for food and gas and, of course, rest areas. Fortunately for him, "Grandma" needs frequent pit stops, so he got a chance for lots of interesting walks. Continuing on into the night into Nebraska (too dark for photos) . . .

Day 2: Traveling I-80 across Nebraska, there were lots of interesting places to see, including some historic stops along the Oregon Trail, like this one at Fort Kearney. But we had a schedule to stick to, so no sightseeing this trip. (Which accounts for most of the lousy pictures here--most taken from the car window while driving.)

Still Day 2: Into Wyoming. About the only wildlife we saw in this part of the state were cows!

Day 3: Still in Wyoming. No offense to any Wyoming residents, but the southern part of Wyoming along I-80 is quite frankly. . . desolate. Towns were so few and far between that I wasn't sure anyone even lived here other than the cattle. Of course, it didn't help that we had been on the road for hours.

Still Day 3: Finally we made it into Utah and hooked up with I-84. A few hours of some beautiful mountain scenery and a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake made this part of the journey go more quickly.

Still more of Day 3: Into Idaho, which . . . um, looks a lot like Wyoming:) Again, apologies to Idaho readers . . . I know other parts of Idaho are much more scenic. And, to be honest, eventually the landscape turned into farmland.

Day 4: Leaving Boise, Idaho and entering . . .

. . . Oregon! Daughter and both cheered when we saw this sign!

The last few hours of our trip took us along the Columbia River in northern Oregon, with so much beautiful scenery that we almost forgot to think how long we had until reaching Portland. A faint image of Mount Hood can--perhaps--be seen in the background in the photo above; it was much more visible to us as we drove along the highway.

Huge fir trees along the slopes of hills to our left and the blue waters of the river to our right gave us a taste of the beauty of the Northwest. Too bad I didn't roll down the window to take this picture to avoid the reflection of the map on my lap:)

Over two thousand miles and four days later, we finally arrived in Portland and found Daughter's new apartment complex. After touring her apartment and finding it just what she had hoped, we decided to save hotel expenses and "rough it" for one night, even though her furniture was not due to arrive until the next day.

Day 5--8: After a night's sleep on the floor--and I use the term "sleep" very loosely here--I had to get up at the crack of dawn to loosen up the kinks in my joints before the hard work began. The movers came, and the unpacking process began. Somehow I envisioned my role on this trip as being the alternate driver and as setting up the kitchen and making the beds, all pleasurable tasks for me. What I didn't think about was the other part: this mechanically-challenged mom found herself wielding hammers, screwdrivers, and even wrenches to help re-assemble the bed, the kitchen table, and a futon. Then Daughter decided she needed to buy a new TV stand and a computer desk.

The TV stand was fairly easy, but the computer desk was another story. It took three salesmen from the office supply store to load this in the back of her car, and one of them--bless his heart--looked at us in concern and asked, "Are you sure you ladies are going to be okay?" Daughter, ever-confident, assured him we would be, and we rode off into the night--two women cruising the streets of Portland's suburbs in a classy convertible with the top down. As you picture this scene and think how cool I must have looked, add this to the image--it was freezing cold by this time, and I had to keep my arm back, holding onto the box so it didn't topple over and crush us to death. Then the hardest part . . . how did we get this 100-pound+ box up to her second story apartment?? While I panicked and suggested knocking on apartment doors looking for burly men, Daughter, the analytical math whiz, suggested we take apart the box and carry it up, piece by piece. And that is what we did . . .

Voila! The finished project. I was so impressed with Daughter's capability, especially since she never understood how to work a laundry hamper at home. She followed instructions carefully--all 40 steps!--and other than a little help from me in balancing boards while she nailed, she did it all herself.

I, on the other hand, was chosen, as the taller of us, to hang a mirror on the wall. You can see my efforts above--would you believe I even used a level?:) Not to worry, I did manage to improve upon this before I left, although I did warn Daughter not to do any aerobics in the living room, lest the mirror come crashing down.

Having spent most of our time working or shopping for necessities, Daughter agreed when I said I wanted to see something of the area before I had to leave for home. Did you know that Portland is often called "the City of Roses"? We traveled by train to downtown Portland, visiting Washington Park, the site of several interesting places. Although we saw only the outside area of the International Rose Test Garden, we did spend some time in a fantastic Japanese garden--more on that in a later post.

After humoring me by walking past waterfalls, koi-filled ponds, and an amazing Zen garden, Daughter wanted to go further into the city to find where she would be attending classes. At the next train stop we found ourselves at Pioneer Square, which was alive with activity and the sounds of a swing band. Nordstrom's and other shops are nearby; this will be on my must-see list next time.

Portland is a beautiful city, with gorgeous scenery surrounding it. I've already informed my daughter the next time I come to visit, I plan to relax and enjoy the sights!

Day 9: Time to fly home. I must say that the four-day drive out to Oregon really made me appreciate the four-hour flight home. I can only imagine after seeing the terrain on the drive in an air-conditioned car going 75 mph what such a trip must have been like for the original pioneers of the Oregon Trail. It's amazing how many of them survived such an arduous trip.

A big thank you to dear friend Beckie. I had planned to take a shuttle bus home after my late-night flight. But Beckie volunteered to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Midway to pick me up. It gave us a chance to catch up on the latest, even though our chatting almost took us north to Wisconsin instead of south to home:)

Thank you, too, to all of you for your kind comments and concern on my last post. I really didn't mean to sound sad, but I think I was suffering a little empty-nest blues my first day back. Not to worry, though, I have plenty of plans to fill up my time. I'm already scoping out Daughter's bedroom and making plans to redecorate for a guest bedroom. Tai Chi starts next week, there are grandchildren's activities to attend, and still more blog reading to catch up on. And, of course, the garden . . .

While I didn't get to taste a ripe tomato before leaving for Oregon, a bounty awaited me. Tomatoes are simmering on the stove as I write, waiting to be pureed into juice and put into the freezer.

Oh yes, I'll find plenty to do . . . Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bittersweet ABC Wednesday

It is ABC Wednesday once again, and since I have been AWOL for the past two weeks, I hope you'll indulge me in catching up with the letters I've missed.

This week's letter F is for Flying. Yesterday I flew home from Portland, Oregon after spending 8 days with my youngest daughter, helping her move cross country to begin graduate school. If you enlarge the photo you--possibly--can see Mount Hood to the left of the center plane rudder and Mount St. Helen's behind it.

It's an exciting time for my Daughter as she begins a new adventure in her life, but a very bittersweet time for me. I am happy for her, but it will be the first time in 39 years that my husband and I will truly have an Empty nest here at home. It will take some time to adjust . . .

Leaving yesterday was very hard for me, not only saying goodbye to Daughter, but to her Dog, Coconut, who will be living with his mom in Portland from now on. Doesn't he look sad? I promised him I would pay for his plane ticket home to visit us any time.

But it is always good to come back home, especially when you are greeted by lots of Doggie kisses and hugs. Sophie was soooo glad to see me; she will have some adjusting to do, too, no doubt wondering where her best friend Coconut has gone. Maybe she'll have to go with me on my next trip to Portland?

More about my trip in a few days; for now, I am going to totally relax today and catch up on some blog reading. Meanwhile, do check out other posts from around the world at the ABC Wednesday blog, hosted by Mrs. Nesbitt.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August Veggie Garden Update

Unlike last year's weed-ridden and pest-stricken garden, the vegetable garden this summer has been a success.

The main headliner for the past month has been the green beans . . . and more green beans. This colander picked one morning hardly shows the amount of beans I have picked--all from less than one package of seed. I had intended to plant a smaller, later planting with the rest of the seeds but never got around to it. Besides, we have had enough for fresh green beans nearly every night of the week plus some for sharing and some for freezing. The green bell pepper plants, "California Wonder," I think, didn't get very big, but they have been producing enough peppers for our needs in spite of their size.

The one zucchini plant I have is still looking healthy--keep your fingers crossed that no squash beetles appear. So far I have managed to pick several zucchini while still small, so we have eaten them sauteed or chopped in a salad. I don't expect the "zucchini explosion" of 2006 from one plant, but if we do, we'll soon be having zucchini bread, zucchini cake, etc., etc.

Some of the vegetables were not intended for harvest, but for other purposes, like the dill weed from seeds given to me by Tina. If I had planted cucumbers, I might have used some dill in making pickles or I might add a little dill to dips or dressings. But I just like the looks and the fragrance of dill, which actually is planted in a corner of the Butterfly & Friends Garden.

The fennel and parsley could be used as well in recipes, but I planted them primarily as food for the butterflies. My efforts were rewarded one day when I spied this caterpillar on a fennel plant. The next day when I wanted to show my granddaughter the caterpillar, we discovered it had moved to my carrots instead; not only that, but there were now three of them that we could see! Littlest grandson not only looked, but poked at the caterpillars:) If they prefer the carrots, that's fine; I neglected to thin them out earlier this summer, so I may have pencil-thin carrots anyway.

August here at the Prairie also means it's finally time for tomatoes! I've been drooling over all the ripe tomatoes pictured on your blogs for the past few weeks, and finally I can join in the excitement. For our family, this is the main reason for a vegetable garden--fresh tomatoes. The first ripe one, other than a few small red Romas, was picked on Friday, August 14. I couldn't prepare the elaborate presentation that Carol always does for the ritual of the first ripe tomato: as I predicted, my husband sliced it and ate the whole thing before I could even whip out my camera.

By the time you read this post, I will be--hopefully--somewhere in Oregon, helping Youngest Daughter move across the country to attend graduate school. I wrote this post before I left, so I'm hoping that by the time I get back the garden hasn't wilted from lack of water. Husband may forget to water the flowers and may overlook the zucchini growing to monstrous size, but I won't have to worry about the tomatoes--he will pick every single red one he sees! I just hope there are a few ripe ones left by the time I get home:) See you next week!

Check out Tina at In the Garden for other veggie garden updates the 20th of each month.

I almost forgot . . . a very Happy Birthday to my Dad, who turns 84 today! I had hoped to showcase his vegetable garden this month, but ran out of time for taking pictures. Maybe next month--his huge vegetable garden makes mine look like that of an amateur:)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August GBBD: Hellos and Goodbyes

Here we are already at the mid-point of August--where did the summer go?? For years, this was panic time for me, knowing that the freedom of lazy summer days was almost over, and soon I would be back in the daily busy routine of the classroom. While that stress is behind me, I do have a few mixed emotions on this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

I'm sad that it's almost time to say goodbye to my favorites, the purple coneflowers. Fortunately, the butterflies who have recently arrived are content to rest upon the thistled cones, no matter how tattered the leaves have become.

Besides the Painted Lady above, this little fellow enjoyed a brief moment on a late bloomer. Can anyone identify this butterfly for me? After looking at image after image of butterflies on an identification website, I thought this might be some type of comma, but I'm not sure.

A few late blooms are looking young and sprightly, far outshining the delicate pink threadleaf coreopsis or the sweet alyssum.

But most of the coneflowers are looking more like an aged beauty queen, dull, wrinkled, and droopy. I'm not sure what these black leaves are, but they can't be good.

On the other hand, it's time to say hello to the zinnias that are finally beginning to bloom.

And hello to my first blooms of the "Limelight" hydrangea planted late last fall.

Time to give a little press to the roadside galliardias "Oranges and Lemons" and to the white Profusion zinnias that are spreading . . . profusely.

Time to turn the spotlight on the new Butterfly & Friends garden where many annuals started from seed have finally matured, like these old-fashioned nasturtiums.

Did I ever mention that blue is my favorite color? Another bit of serendipity in this chaotic garden--a salvia, "Black and Blue" planted next to the blue, blue Bachelor's Buttons.

And for all of you who have been showing your beautiful, faithful Rudbeckias, I have my first Susans ever! They may be hiding out amongst the cosmos, butterfly weeds, and cleomes, but they're there!

They refuse to be outdone by even the Black and Blue Salvia.

It's hard to command someone's complete attention, though, when the cosmos are taking center stage. Besides the beautiful orange ones from Tina I showed on my last post, I planted some "Seashell Pinks." They're growing almost as tall as the orange ones, blooming in all shades from this pink-tinged white to a dark fuschia.

It's time, too, to notice the coreopsis "Moonbeam" and the "Homestead" verbena that has finally come into its own. Time to appreciate the long-awaited arrival of the butterflies, as well, like one of the black swallowtails that has made itself at home here.

And perhaps it isn't quite time to bid adieu to the coneflowers--they are still providing a feast for all kinds of winged creatures.

For more views of what is in bloom today all over the world, do visit the originator of GBBD, Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Just a note: I will be out of town all next week and may not have internet access. I've planned a post for Aug. 20, a "Veggie Garden Update," but otherwise I will catch up on visiting all of you when I return!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Christening the Garden . . .

Throughout the summer I have mentioned in posts and comments about my new wild/butterfly garden. Now that it's finally full of blooms, I wanted to share it with you and to ask your help in choosing the right name for this new area. But first a little history . . .

Last summer I got the bright idea to turn an ugly area of the back yard into a "wild" garden where extra plants could spread at will. This is the area I often call the "back forty," which isn't forty acres at all, obviously. It's a circular patch of lawn between the house and main yards and the outbuildings of the farm. Forty years ago, the old farmhouse sat in the lower front area of this picture.

Not to mislead you in any way, this garden is a small area, perhaps 10 feet square--except it's not square, of course, more of a hexagonal shape, if anything. It is bordered on the left by the well pit (very convenient for watering), on the right by the old cistern, and on the back side by a concrete pad leading to the ugly, but necessary, fuel tanks needed for the large tractors working the nearby fields. In the summer, hollyhocks grow all around this area and weeds grow behind it:) You can barely see a spot in front of the fuel tanks where newspapers were laid down in an attempt--later aborted--at lasagna gardening. Mr. Procrastinator kindly tilled up part of the area on Mother's Day for me, but he didn't realize I meant a larger area than it first appeared. Later I tilled up more, but the size of the actual garden became smaller than intended as the end of May approached, and the gardener's arms grew weary from the jarring motion of the tiller.

I was determined not to have any kind of formal planting plan, just to plant whatever struck my fancy wherever there was room. Last spring I transplanted coneflower seedlings and yarrow here, as well as some pass-along false sunflower from Beckie, who warned me these yellow pretties might take over. These three plants eventually could take over this whole area, but of course, I am too impatient to wait for that, so other plants were purchased to fill in the bare spots.
Should I call this my Wild Garden?

Beckie and I attended a plant sale in the spring sponsored by the local herb society and the Prairie Plant Society, where I made several purchases which went into the new garden. The Obedient Plant pictured above was beginning to bud on Sunday, but by Wednesday it lay on the ground, its stem broken near the soil line. Perhaps it was a victim of the strong winds on Tuesday, but another possibility might be a certain errant Golden Retriever lunging through the garden on one of her butterfly-chasing expeditions. Another native, the Blazing Star, fizzled out soon after planting.

The two Joe-Pye weeds, however, survived and are finally putting out some buds. But they have been disappointingly short, not the tall plants expected when placed at the back of the garden. Oh well, perhaps they'll take a growth spurt next year . . .

Another native, Rudbeckia "Goldsturm" is also a survivor. The lack of any formal plan can be seen here as this Susan is completely overshadowed by the much taller orange cosmos in front of it.

Could this be the beginnings of a Native Garden?

After the natives were planted, various seeds were sown, each area carefully marked with a neatly lettered plant marker. However, many seeds failed to germinate, and weeds began to encroach upon all bare spots. Several times throughout the summer, in fact, I thought the most appropriate name for this area would be my Weed Garden:)

Eventually I gave up on the no-shows and weeded the area ruthlessly, planting other seedlings in their place. Cleome, purchased as a small four-pack, have done extremely well this year, better than the larger plants purchased last year.

A new perennial pink Salvia, "Eveline, " needed a home and found an empty spot in the garden, as did a new "Black and Blue" salvia.

The quirky pink Gomphrena didn't fit in anywhere else, but found a niche in this anything-goes garden. Later, empty spots in the garden provided temporary homes for a few of the new daylily purchases.

Looking at the garden today, perhaps I should call it a Hodge-Podge Garden?

Seed sowing was not a complete failure, however. Remember the cast iron pot I bought earlier this summer? It was planted with nasturtium seeds and placed atop a stump I found.

Bright orange and yellow blooms were meant to draw the eye upward, away from the weeds:)

The only problem is that I didn't take into account how tall the Bachelor's Buttons would grow. I love these bright blue blooms even though they hide the potted nasturtiums. Oh well, this is a garden where surprises abound.

Many of the seeds started indoors last spring either didn't germinate or didn't survive transplanting. Those sown directly in the garden like this pink cosmos seemed to fare better.

Many of my seeds came from some dear blogging friends, like the orange cosmos pictured above and in the very first photo which came from Tina . They have amazed me with their height and prolific blooms and are the first plant to draw your eye to this area.

These delicate little blooms are Nigella, or "Love in a Mist," sent from the UK by Cheryl. I should have had more blooms from other friends, including some Tennessee Coneflowers from Gail, "Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate" from Monica, and Verbena Bonosenarius from Cheryl. But I think the Tennessee Coneflowers didn't like Illinois soil, and I have a suspicion that the other two may have been mistaken for weeds when they first emerged and fell victim to a ruthless hoe one day. Maybe next year I'll do a little better . . .

Besides the gift of seeds from friends, I also have passalong plants from Beckie--the false sunflower and goat's beard. Then my father gave me these small annual phlox he had grown from seed.

Maybe I should call this my Friendship Garden?

Kneeling in the garden the other day while weeding, I caught the distinct fragrance of lemon and sage from the lemon verbena and the pineapple sage plants. A hint of lavender nearby also reached my nose. Besides the smells and the visual and tactile effects, the garden is full of the pleasant sounds of birds in the nearby apple trees and the buzzing of the ever-present bees.

Another choice . . . the Sensory Garden?

One day I heard a steady hum and looked up startled to see a hummingbird no more than 3 feet from my face. Of course, by the time I had the presence of mind to grab my camera he had flown to a nearby tree. You can barely make him out in the photo above, but I keep trying--he's become a frequent visitor to the garden lately.

Although there was no real plan to this garden, I did try to plant many species that would attract the hummingbirds and butterflies. Several Bee balm and butterfly weeds are two of those not pictured here. Attracting the hummingbirds has been a success, but the butterflies have been conspicuously absent for the most part. Until yesterday, that is . . . While watering the nasturtiums, a beautiful Monarch butterfly swooped down and rested on the cosmos. Of course, no camera was at hand! I rushed back into the house for the camera, but she had moved on to other areas.

She paused just long enough on this zinnia in the main garden for me to get proof of her existence here, although she refused to open her wings.
I'm hoping this is just the first of more to come---could I dare to call this my Butterfly Garden?

So there you have it--this is what this little garden looks like today. Not a very flattering photo, especially in the bright sunlight. But if you were here, we could explore it together, finding all the little hidden surprises tucked in every nook and cranny and behind the taller flowers. For example, just today I was surprised that a "weed" I had left in place turned out to be . . .

. . . a blooming Poppy! Thank you, Cheryl!

All I need is a name for this wild/native/weed/hodge-podge/friendship/sensory/butterfly garden . . . What do you suggest?