Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Reflections

I'm so glad it's the Christmas season, because otherwise I surely wouldn't have had an idea for this week's letter X. I hope that you all had a very merry Christmas, or as some people would say, Merry Xmas!

Somehow, though, a wish for a happy Xmas just doesn't have the same ring to it. To me, Xmas sounds like a generic version of Christmas--Brand X, if you will. When I was younger I was taught that we should never use this term, that it was taking "Christ" out of "Christmas." But later I learned that isn't necessarily true.

The labarum above (photo taken from Wikipedia) is a Christian symbol for Christ. Often called the Chi-Rho, it is formed from the Greek letters X and P, which were abbreviations for the Greek word for "Christ." So, the term "Xmas" is actually a Christian term, too. And yet, I much prefer using the word Christmas.

I try to avoid discussing religion and politics here, but I can't help making a comment today, and I hope that no one is offended by it. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, of course, and I respect other people's beliefs. However, I hope that we never get so concerned with being "PC" that Christmas trees are no longer allowed in public spaces nor that retailers are no longer allowed to wish their customers a "Merry Christmas." I hope that others will see these gestures not as an attempt to foist religious beliefs on others, but take them in the spirit in which they were intended--a wish for peace and good will among all people.

And now I'll get off my soapbox and share a few scenes from our Christmas celebrations this year.

My wish for a white Christmas came a day late, but that was fortunate because it didn't affect our plans for family get-togethers.

The four older grandchildren came over a few days before Christmas for a cookie-baking session. The table was covered with plastic, sugar cookie dough portioned out for each to roll and cut out, and plenty of frosting and sprinkles available for their masterpieces.

Oldest Grandson really got into the spirit. But at one point in the decorating, this became a contest to see just who could put the most frosting on one cookie.

I think he won:)

Younger Granddaughter takes such activities very seriously
and even brought her own chef's apron for the day.

She was so proud of her creations that she took most of her cookies home.

Sophie couldn't help with cookies, but oh, did she love having the grandkids here! Since this was her first Christmas with us, she wasn't sure what all the fuss was about, but soon got into the spirit of the season. Hmm, I wonder how those holes got in my brand new tree skirt . . .

Of course, there was a stocking just for her, and she enjoyed her new toys. Toby and Tarzan opened their presents a little early--the catnip mice in their stocking were just too tempting, and I caved in to their curious sniffings and pawings before Christmas Eve.

As is our custom, the immediate family gathers here after Christmas Eve services, and the cleaned and decorated house soon deteriorates into pure chaos as packages are ripped open. Youngest Grandson is now ready to do some serious farming. Notice Sophie to the left--she's always ready to play with Grandson and his neat toys. At one point we had to hastily retrieve the puck from his new hockey set from her before it turned into doggy fiber.

All the toys were inspected and tried out--hockey pucks went flying, and a new scooter raced through the basement family room. But the most fun of all? No, not a new, expensive toy--but empty wrapping paper rolls! A jousting contest with them provided the most entertainment of the evening. It just goes to show that you don't need to spend a lot of money on presents:)

The day after Christmas we gathered again at my parents' house, along with my brother and his family. Cousins got a chance to see each other again and play together.

My parents love nothing better than a house filled with the laughter of children. My Dad does his part by sharing one of his trademark "corny" jokes with Granddaughter.

After his health scare last winter, we were all happy to be able to have another Christmas with Mom and Dad.

Christmas has passed, but the memories will last forever. With the hectic pace of the holidays almost over, it's a good time to take a cue from Toby
and take a little catnap to recharge the batteries.

Since this will be my last post of 2009, I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you
a new year filled with health, happiness, and peace.

Happy New Year!

ABC Wednesday is hosted by Mrs. Nesbitt; I can't wait to see what other people have come up with for the letter X--their posts can be found here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belated Thank You's

Before this year draws to a close and we usher in 2010, I want to take care of some unfinished business. In the last two months I've received several gifts, and I'd like to thank those who were so kind to give them to me.

Some time ago I received a free copy of Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty from the publishers at National Geographic. Written by Catherine Herbert Howell in collaboration with the Missouri Botanical Garden Library, this is a beautifully illustrated book that would be perfect for any gardener's coffee table collection.

Several other bloggers have already posted reviews of this book, so I won't bore you by repeating the same information here. Besides, in all honesty, I haven't had time to read the whole book yet, just snippets here and there. But that is one of the great things about this book--you can choose a chapter or one of the mini-chapters about specific plants in any order you wish.

A few bits of trivia I found fascinating in the book:

  • One example is the olive, which appears in Greek mythology when Athena and Poseidon held a contest to see who would be the protector of Athens. Whoever produced the most valuable gift for the people of the city would win. Poseidon produced a saltwater spring (in the translation I had read before, it was a horse), and Athena offered an olive tree. She won the contest hands down, and the city adopted her name. In the familiar Biblical story of Noah, the olive appears again, as a dove released by Noah came back with an olive branch, a sign that the flood had receded. The olive branch is still a symbol of peace today.

  • European explorers are believed to have brought many diseases to the New World, including malaria. Several stories tell of people cured of malaria by the bark of a special tree in South America. This "Peruvian bark" was brought back to Europe, and eventually renamed Cinchona officinalis. This plant is still in use as a remedy today--known to us as quinine.

  • We all think of Holland when we think of tulips, but did you know just how popular this flower once was in this country? In the early 1600's tulipomania took over the country, and prices for the most desired bulbs shot skyward. "By 1610 a new tulip variety was perfectly acceptable as a dowry, and houses and businesses were often mortgaged to facilitate the purchase of a coveted flower." Not surprisingly, the market eventually crashed, nearly bankrupting the whole country.

  • One of my favorite plants is pictured above in one of the many excellent illustrations in the book. Theobroma cacao literally means "food of the gods"--certainly appropriate for this source of chocolate. In Mayan culture cocoa seeds were used as currency, and it wasn't until 1847 that a British company produced the first chocolate that could be eaten.

Flora Mirabilis, however, is not a book of trivia but rather an engaging history of the role plants have played in our lives. It is what its name means--"a wonderful book about flowers." If you would like to know more about this book, check out some of the reviews posted by other bloggers, including an excellent and thorough review by another Rose at Rambleonrose.

Please note other than the free copy of this book, I received no remuneration for mentioning this book, nor was I required in any way to review the book here.

My tiny garden library has also increased in volume recently after winning two giveaways. The first was a giveaway by gardening guru Carol at MayDreams Gardens, where I was the lucky winner of this book, What's Wrong With My Plant? Carol, as well as several other bloggers, have posted reviews of this book, so I'll refer you to them for details. But I have skimmed through the book and can say that this will definitely come in handy! No more wondering what is causing those little holes in the leaves of my roses or what's causing the sedum to flop over and die. Next year, with the help of this reference, I'll have all the answers! Thanks, Carol!

Apparently the stars were in alignment for me for a short time (too bad I didn't buy a lottery ticket!), because a few weeks later I also won a giveaway at Commonweeder. Nancy Ondra's The Perennial Care Manual is another excellent reference that I know I'll consult frequently. Filled with beautiful photographs, the book gives instructions for specific plants on everything from pruning to propagating.

Looks like it's time to buy that new bookcase I've been wanting for my office!

And one more gift . . . Along with Nan Ondra's book, Pat at Commonweeder also sent me two dozen "Cowpots." Now all I need are some packets of seeds, and I will be all set for spring seed sowing! Thanks, Pat!

Finally, two more belated thank-you's. Shady Gardener at Does Everything Grow Better in My Neighbor's Yard? gave me this blog award some time ago.

And Suburbia at Moments From Suburbia gave me this award a few months ago. Thank you to both of you! I know the rules are to pass these on, but there are so many blogs I read these days that I thoroughly enjoy that I would have trouble picking out just a few. So, I thank these two friends for the awards and extend my thanks to all of you who make each day a little brighter with your creative, inspiring, or often humorous views of the world around us.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and that you are able now to enjoy a little relaxation after the hubbub of decorating, baking, and shopping. All the presents have been opened here, and not one garden gift in the bunch! Oh well, my birthday is in June, so there is still hope. Meanwhile, we did have one more "gift"--the snow began to fall on Christmas Day, and by today my yard was a vision of white.

My camera was not out of focus--that is blowing snow you see in the background. Looks like I can finally join in on Nancy's "First Snowfall" project!
Wishing you all a great week and the beginning of a happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Wishes for You

While many parts of the U.S. have been hit by snowstorms the past few weeks, most of the snow has missed our little corner of the central Midwest. Finally, this weekend, a little of the White stuff fell, just in time for this week's ABC letter of W.

Although it has felt like Winter for several weeks, now it finally looks like Winter here as well. Christmas decorations look so much more festive with a little coat of snow, don't you think?

You can see what I mean by a "dusting" of snow. By midday yesterday, most of it had melted. The forecast for Christmas is for either freezing rain or snow. I'll take snow, if you please.

Little time is spent outdoors these days, other than to track down a wayward dog who finds the newly harvested cornfields fascinating. But it's hard to resist checking out the transformation a little snow can make in the garden. Coneflowers have donned their furry winter caps.

The "Snowy Sedum" mentioned in my last post has finally materialized.

And the "Hibernating Hydrangeas" now look quite "hyperborean." They add what every gardener wishes for this time of year--a little winter interest.

But this is a busy time of year, with little time for thoughts of gardening. Decorating, wrapping presents, and baking are done in the Warmth of the house. This year I am either more organized or have had more time, but most Christmas chores are done. The house has been decorated for several weeks, Christmas cards have been mailed, and presents are wrapped and under the tree. There is time to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas. Time to attend grandchildren's Christmas programs and even time just to gaze at the tree. Holiday ornaments bring back memories, like this beaded bell which reminds me of my grandmother lovingly creating gifts for each of her grandchildren.

Crocheted angels are a treasure made by my mother, who remains very active
yet always has time for her family.

Other ornaments made by little hands bring back thoughts of Christmases past . . .

. . . and of loved ones far and near. Everyone in the family has an ornament on the memory tree; some have been put up for many years . . .

. . . while others are new, adding to the tradition.

Warm Wishes to all of you. My wish for you is simple--

Peace, Love and Joy in this holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

ABC Wednesday is hosted each week by Mrs. Nesbitt; other posts can be found here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ABC Wednesday: The Vagaries of Winter

Note to Garden Bloggers visiting today: My Bloom Day post can be found by scrolling below this one. But I do hope you'll take a moment to read my silly little poem here, since it describes the way my garden looks in December.

One of the things I've come to enjoy about ABC Wednesdays is the chance to meet some other bloggers around the world who I probably wouldn't encounter from reading primarily garden blogs. Each Wednesday I visit a few familiar "faces" from this group, but I usually meet a few new people each week as well. One of the more familiar bloggers in this group, Brenda at Rinkly Rimes, commented on my post last week that my photo of "frozen fennel" suggested a poem to her. Those of you who read Rinkly Rimes' posts know that Brenda is a poet extraordinaire with clever verses on a wide variety of topics. If she does write a poem about frozen fennel, I would be very honored. But in the meantime, she inspired me with the idea for today's V post . . . a little light Verse about my garden:

December 2008

My Garden in Winter

Winter winds have swept the prairie
Cold, ice, and snow have left their mark.
The garden is still—
Zero Zinnias and No Nasturtiums
To brighten each day.
Only Frozen Fennel
and Dill Dusted with snow,
Alongside Pummeled Phlox,
Icy Iris, and Arctic Asters.

Crumpled Coleus and Prone Pansies
Sit by the door.
Dormant Daffodils and Daylilies
wait for warmer weather
Along with
the Tulips under the Tundra.
Slumbering Salvia stand next to
Snowy Sedum and Congealed Coneflowers.

Rain turns to ice,
creating Sleety Susans
And Glacial Gaillardias.
In the shade garden
Hyperborean Hellebores shiver
Next to Hibernating Heucheras,
Hostas, and Hydrangeas,
all on Hold till the end of the season.
Frigid Ferns, Polar Primrose, and Bleak Brunnera
Hide under a light coverlet of leaves.

Quivering Quince and Cowering Clematis
Suffer the onslaught.
Lilacs and Lavender Languish
while the Roses Rest
Under a blanket of white.
Verbena and “Victoria Blues” bear the Vicissitudes
Of Winter’s wrath.

My garden sleeps—
dreaming of spring.

Editor's Full Disclosure--Please note the photo above was taken a year ago. I've taken some poetic license in the poem as well, because we haven't had any snow other than a few flurries. But I know that the snow will come eventually--probably with a vengeance--and a brown, muddy garden just doesn't sound very poetic, does it?

Thanks to Mrs. Nesbitt for hosting us once again; for other varied V posts, check out the ABC Blog.

GBBD: Dreary December

Today is December 15, and you know what that means--well, yes, you do have only 10 more shopping days until Christmas. But in the gardening world it also means this is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, the day each month when garden bloggers all over the world show off what's blooming in their gardens. For Northern gardeners, it's also a time when we have to flex our creative muscles. Unless you have a collection of houseplants, there's not much to show in the garden after the temperatures have plummeted to below freezing and winter winds have ripped off any remaining blooms.

Unlike many other Midwesterners, I don't even have the benefit of snow to make dried blooms and wilted foliage look appealing. Instead, my garden is simply brown and muddy. Going outside in hopes of finding the one bloom remaining, I found that even the purple primrose that appeared last week had given up and gone South for the winter. At least its leaves are still a lively green, and, of course, the heucheras nearby add a little more foliage interest.

Apparently, though, there is a little more green in the garden than I thought. As I walked quickly back to the house and out of the cold, Sasha pointed out that the Nepeta "Walker's Low" still has some fresh growth--just enough for a little bit of cat heaven.

I am not a houseplant person anymore, so there's not much to see indoors. However, when Youngest Daughter moved out and I turned her room into a guest room, I had an epiphany. This room has lots of natural light and was perfect for overwintering plants! After my Thanksgiving guest, Arizona Daughter, left, I set up a table and moved in the geraniums and my rosemary plant from the garage. Arizona Daughter had politely asked about my little "tree," and when I suggested she sniff it, she recognized it immediately. She may not be a gardener, but she is a cook and was excited when I cut off a few sprigs to send home with her to use in her kitchen.

Also now residing in the guest room is the begonia I showed off several times this summer. This one was just too pretty to let die over the winter. It seems to prefer its new cooler home to the overheated office and has set a few new buds to show its appreciation. I have a feeling you're going to be seeing a lot of it as well as the rosemary and geraniums over the next few months of winter Bloom Days!

And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without at least one red poinsettia to make the house a little more festive. In the midst of this busy time, I hope you all have time to stop and smell the proverbial "roses" and enjoy the beauty and peace of this season.

Today is also the eve of ABC Wednesday, and GBBD has inspired me to write a silly little poem about the garden, which I will post later today. In the meantime, take a few moments to visit our Bloom Day hostess, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and see what is blooming all over the world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Not the Usual

As the ABC round winds down to the end of the alphabet, I find it harder each week to find a suitable word or words to highlight. Is there such a word as Un-Snow?? I think not, but that is pretty much what we've had here the past twenty-four hours. While blogging friends in Indiana and as far south as Mississippi and Texas have had snow, the big snowstorm forecast for us last night turned into a wet, cold, miserable rainstorm. So let's turn to the garden for a unique U . . .

. . . Umbel

Since beginning to garden, I have found that there is much more to a plant than just the stamens and sepals I learned about in junior high science class. Flowers like roses or lilies that produce one flower per stem are called solitary flowers. But other flowers produce an inflorescence, which refers to a cluster of flowers and how they are arranged on a single stem. One type of inflorescence is the Umbel, in which the clusters of florets are borne by small stems that arise from one point on the main stem of the plant. An example of an umbel inflorescence is the "Queen Anne's Lace," pictured above.

You can see more clearly in this budding "Queen Anne's" the shape of the umbel, which resembles an inverted umbrella, and, in fact, the two words come from the same root. This plant is also known as "wild carrot," but I much prefer the more regal name of "Queen Anne's Lace." Though it grows wild on the roadsides here, it's much too pretty to be called a weed, in my humble opinion.

Two other excellent examples of plants with Umbels are dill and fennel--I think the fennel is to the left, and the dill to the right.

To illustrate further how different inflorescences can be, you need only to look at other flowers in the garden. Notice the florets growing along the stem of this pineapple sage. I think this is a spike, but it is definitely not an umbel.

Neither are these--another salvia, "Black and Blue," and the rudbeckias, or Black-eyed Susans, illustrate other types of inflorescence as well.

Regular readers of this blog know that my knowledge of botany is very limited, so I had to do a little research to clarify this definition of umbel. I had planned to include this photo of a geranium, more appropriately known as a pelargonium, as another example of an umbel inflorescence. But when I looked it up to be sure, one source called this a pseudo-umbel. I think I'm getting in over my head . . .

And I certainly don't want to mislead anyone, in case you think all these flowers are now in bloom in my garden. Other than the geranium now residing in my garage, all these photos were taken in the summer.

No, this is what an Umbel looks like in my garden at the moment . . .

Frozen Fennel, anyone?


I had planned to end this post here, but this past weekend brought to mind another U for the Unusual harvest we have had this fall. The cornfields surrounding us were finally harvested on Monday, the latest I can ever recall. Usually the harvest is done by the end of October, but a late spring planting coupled with a very wet fall kept farmers out of the field until recently.

Once the soil was dry enough so that farmers could enter the fields with their heavy equipment, there was yet another problem. The corn itself had retained so much moisture that it had to be dried before it could be stored.

Grain elevators could dry only so much grain at a time, resulting in limited hours of operation while the corn was readied for storage. Semi-trucks loaded with grain found themselves sitting in line for hours at the local elevator or even having to wait until the next day to unload. This meant the harvest was extended even longer, as the farmer had to stop his combine and wait until he could unload the corn into an empty truck. In our fields, for example, what should have taken a day or day and a half to complete turned into a four-day task instead.

But all this doesn't matter much to a two-year-old who finds tractors, combines, and any kind of machinery totally fascinating. I picked up Youngest Grandson one morning so that he could get a firsthand look from the family room window. I think he was pointing out the combine to Sophie, who also finds all this activity very exciting.

Idle hours spent waiting for an empty semi also gave Grandson a chance to get a close-up look.

Looking out my window as I type, I can see corn still standing in some fields in the distance. After last night's downpour, I don't know when those fields will be harvested. Some farmers may find themselves working in the fields while Santa gets his sleigh ready.

Once again, thanks to Mrs. Nesbitt for hosting ABC Wednesday, and do check out the ABC blog for more interesting takes on the letter U.