Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sitting in the Garden

I have several sitting areas in my yard and I thought I would share a couple.  There was a promise of somewhat cooler temperatures and lower humidity for the weekend, lows in the mid sixties and highs in the 80's -- but, alas, that seemed not to materialize.  The low maybe hit 70 degrees, and it was close to 80 by midmorning.  Now it's in the low 90's and it just feels hot.  But it's not too bad in the shade.  If you slather yourself with bug repellant to keep the skeeter hordes at bay you might be able to sit out a while with a cold glass of something.  Above is by the front door, a stone (Lowe's "portage") terrace layed by my husband several years ago.  It is just outside the window to our front room (aka living room that functions as office and catch-all room).  The terrace connects to a stone walkway that circles around the small frog pond and connects to the front walk.  In the early spring it is sunny and warmer than the rest of the yard from the eastern sun.  In the autumn it makes a nice place to sit and watch the happenings on the street when the vegetation dies back.

Had to throw in some pictures of the spectacular compass or cup plant that grows in the bed between that front terrace and stone path around the pond, and the sidewalk.  Drought and heat tolerant, comes back every year, needs absolutely zero watering through our hot summers.  And look who is living high between its stalks!  Argiope -- a huge writing spider.  When I was looking at her a wasp flew into her web and she was on it and had it wrapped up in less than 30 seconds!  We have several other writing spiders in other spots in the yard, but this one is the biggest -- no doubt because she has the prime real estate.  The cup plant attracts butterflies and other insects to its flowers and the water pooled where the leaves attach to the stem.

And below is our patio area.  When we moved here it was a dreary concreted area that connected our back door (just inside the screen porch) to the driveway on the southern side of our house.  Our driveway runs along side of our neighbor's driveway so we had a lovely view of the two driveways and the neighbor's air conditioning unit.  A huge concrete pipe runs in between the drives, so no tall plantings can be done there and basically there was no shade at all for that side of our house.  We now have an adjustable awning on our kitchen window (which has helped our cooling bill a lot!).  And we put an outdoor rug down on the concrete, moved a picnic table there and have an umbrella, which not only helps keep it a bit cooler in the summer, but also gives some relief from the bright sun even when it's not so hot.
Since the chickens took over the backyard, this is where I sit and have tea, weather permitting, and where we picnic for lunch or dinner.  The girls and their friends like to hang out there a lot.  Last fall we moved our fire pit over to the back of driveway, near this area, and kept it there through most of the winter, which meant it got used way more frequently than when it was in the backyard.  Maybe in a couple of weeks we'll get a real cold front through that will make having a fire outside a pleasant prospect!  I'll have to see about moving the fire pit back over soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011


elderberry grove
When I was an anthropology undergraduate student one of my professors always liked to point out to us that this part of the country (the southeast, and most particularly the midsouth) had/has the most biodiversity in both plants and animals of the land of the United States.  The indigenous culture here (Mississippian Culture mound builders) built temple mounds second only to those in Mexico in height, and the temple complex/cities, including Chuckalissa here in the Memphis area and Pinson in the Jackson, TN area, and of course Cahokia further north on the Mississippi, were home to populations larger than most European cities at the time.  The Mound Building people farmed extensively, had trade routes extending to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and population centers in the southwest, and harvested the bounty that our woods and fields here continue to offer:  nuts, blackberries, muscadines, passion fruit, pawpaws, jerusalem artichokes, acorns, persimmons, elderberries, and more.  I grew up picking these free offerings in the woods and along the roads around here and in the "mother earth"days of the 1970's while I was in college, learned to can and make fruit leathers to preserve the free harvest (adding in crabapples, which a lot of subdivision home owners planted as ornamental trees).

elderberry flower head

Those woods and fields and country roads with dirt paths along side are pretty much gone now from my suburban town, but I try to maintain a bit of the feeling in my own yard.  These are pictures from my back of the driveway elderberry grove.  It's thriving, with plants towering above the back fence.  In June and July there were huge heads of almost hydrangia like blooms.

setting fruit

In August the bloom give way to 8 inch in diameter umbrellas of ripening berries.  Usually the ripe berries only stay on the bush a moment before being eaten up by birds, but this year I have been able to harvest a lot myself.  I don't know if it's because there is more fruit set than the wildlife can eat this year or if the wildlife is feasting better elsewhere (like on my figs and tomatoes, which I find pecked, picked, and littered around the back yard!).
the ripened fruit
Thank goodness for being able to plunk berries into freezer bags and into the freezer, to wait for cooler days to transform them into jam or syrup.  A mere 50-60 years ago women would have been sweating over enormous kettles of boiling fruits and vegetables, steaming cauldrons of water to immerse the jars containing the garden harvest, without the relief of the air conditioning that we now retreat to recover from a trip to the mailbox!

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


It appears that I have received my very first blogger award from Ann at Moonbeams & Fireflies.  Of course this happened as my 5 yr old little white macbook was experiencing difficulties bringing to mind Alice in Wonderland -- it was having panic attacks because of Logic Wars happening on board the Mother Ship, or Motherboard I guess.  Anyway, now I have a new apple, which they call "silver", but I like to think of as the color of dewy spider webs in the autumn.  And the touchpad is very very very slippery.  But, with no further ado, here are the rules:

After accepting the Versatile Blogger Award, the blogger must:

1.  Thank the person who gave the award and link back to them in your post.
2.  Share seven things about yourself
3.  Pass this award along to 10 recently discovered blogs

So here goes:

1. Thank you, Ann (you have allowed me to stretch my computer skills of copy and cut and paste, as the slippery mousepad was causing things to end up in all kinds of strange places and this has been a good exercise to get familiar with the new 'pooter). See the link to her very beautiful blog above.

2.  Seven things about me:

1.  I actually don't like taking pictures or dealing with technology much, so I decided to blog to kind of "get with the program" so to speak.  A corollary:  I have personally taken more pictures of my plants than of my four children (I do have pictures of them, but mostly taken by other people).

2.  I watch the news every night and read the newspaper every morning and have since I was around 11 years old, as that is what my parents always did so I figured that's just what you do as a grown up.  I've since learned this is fairly unusual.

3.  I have an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a law degree.

4.  I've always liked digging in the dirt.  I thought that meant I should be an archaeologist, but in reality it meant I should be a gardener.

5.  I swore I wouldn't have another dog for at least a couple of years following our most recent dog's death (old age) in December, but yet one yr old little Trixie Lou Muttsley is now living with us.

6.  I have a habit of getting interested in something, buying and reading dozens of books about whatever obsession, and then not actually "doing" much.

7.  I have a hard time getting rid of branches and good sticks, because I have intentions of making structures and trellises and wands, but really just end up with a big stick pile.

3.  Now, passing on to 10 blogs (this feels a bit like a chain letter thing, or those "forward to 10 friends" emails that one is always getting, which I never ever ever participate in -- but this is an AWARD, so that makes it ok, right? -- and the recipients can CHOOSE whether to accept . . . and everyone likes folks to look at their blogs, because that IS the point, isn't it? --hiding under the covers and hitting "publish"--):

A Southern Belle Dishes on Decor
Debbie's Potager
Green Bean Chronicles
Love Sown
Marlee's Mississippi Mojo
Meadowsweet Cottage
My Garden of Herbs and Things
Prairie Cottage Rose
Rindy Mae
Art Mojo

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spinach and Feta Omelet

From the back yard to the table.  Let's head to the chicken coop and get some fresh eggs.

And now over to the fence by the garden where the malabar spinach, not a true spinach, but a climbing  "green" whose succulent leaves can handle the heat and humidity of the summer.  It will even seed itself if you leave its dark purple berries to mature.

Some cherry and grape tomatoes, some from the back yard and some from my quarter CSA share of Mammaw Melton's Heirloom Vegetable farm,

Can't forget some chai to sip on in my favorite cup while I fix dinner (you know they drink hot chai in India, right?  Where it's really hot!  I see no reason to forgo my favorite drink just because it's 100 degrees).  That malabar spinach has some thick center stems that need to come out.  I'll set those in another bowl to give to the chickens.

Into the pan for a quick saute.

That really cooked down!  But that's fine, you don't need much for an omelet filling -- four omelets actually.

There it is, Spinach, Tomato, and Feta Omelet.  Fill each omelet with wilted spinach, crumbled feta, and sauteed chopped tomatoes (I sauteed the tomatoes with some chopped onion and a little bit of balsamic vinegar and put some on top of the omelet also).  I made a remoulade sauce to serve with it.

linked to Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August is Pink and Yellow

Swamp Mallow
The August flower garden is filled with pink and yellow in my yard, with lots of mallow type blooms. The Swamp Mallow is a native perennial that dies back to the ground each winter, but shoots up in the spring, with graceful open 6 foot stems and delicate pink blossoms that open in August here in west Tennessee.  It spreads, but not aggressively, and tolerates drowning in poor drainage, as well as the dried cracked concrete that passes for soil here when we don't have rains.

And here is my friend Okra (from the bag garden bed by the sidewalk I spoke of here
more swamp mallow
More of the swamp mallow -- I just love her!  Like a dainty hollyhock.  When we first moved here 14 years ago, the only plantings in the yard were some Norway Maples and hugely overgrown hollies.  The yard was grass existing on hard clay (hardpan I think!), which wouldn't even drain when we got rain.  It was either hard as concrete or so swampy I had to wear rubber boots in the yard for a full week after a rain.  So my first gardening step in this yard was to find native plants that could exist in both swamp conditions and extreme drought conditions, which typifies this area.  Swamp Mallow, perennial sunflowers, rudbeckia, purple cone flowers, compass plant -- all can take the heat and drought, and their extensive roots help to absorb the water when it rains, so now I don't have standing water problems.  Now "experts" (whoever they are) call it a "Rain Garden", and the local government encourage this kind of planting as part of much needed storm water management.
Gulf Frittilary
The Gulf Frittilary lays its eggs on passion vine, another native.  What milkweed is for Monarch Butterflies, passion vine is for the Gulf Frittilary.  Butterflies need the right host plants to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to eat, as well as nectar plants to feed from.

Cup/Compass Plant

Tall Compass Plant, also known as Cup Plant because its leaves make a cup where they attach to the stem, creating a water source for birds, insects, and people if need be.  The flowers turn and follow the sun, much like sunflowers, and at 8 or 9 feet in height they are like a drought and flood tolerant sunflower.
And Althea, Rose of Sharon -- not a native, but a trooper in our heat, humidity and alternating drought and heavy rains.
I'm linking to Cielo's Show Off Your Cottage Monday and An Oregon Cottage Tuesday Garden Party

Friday, August 12, 2011

It all started with the screen door

It all started with the screen door to our screen porch.  We keep it propped open so that our two garden cats, Ophelia and Belle, can come in out of the hot sun and get a drink of water from the bowl we have in the screen porch.  The porch encompasses the breezeway between the garage and the house and then wraps around the back of the house, where there is another screen door leading to the backyard, so the only way to get to our back door is through the screen porch.

Upon occasion at night we have surprised a racoon peering into the screen porch, and once I found a box turtle strolling through, and we knew a possum had been making rounds.

I noticed when I took Trixie Lou out the back door during the day she was showing a lot of interest in a small chest of drawers in the porch.  So the other day I pulled open a drawer, expecting to see mouse or rat droppings amongst the peat pots and cloth strips for the May Pole that I keep there.  I briefly saw a snarling mouth of razor sharp teeth before I slammed the drawer shut and ran into the house!  Later that night when my husband came home we ventured forth to flush out the vicious creature, carefully opening the drawer.

Amongst cries of "It's so adorable!" from the girls, and "Don't hurt it!" we tried to get it to leave.  It wouldn't budge.

 Finally a friend came over with her daughter, an airsoft gun, and two intrepid dogs (Trixie Lou, being only a little over a year, was not likely to fair well in a fight with that possum's sharp teeth.  The airsoft gun did not seem to disturb it at all.  Finally some prodding with a hoe handle and the presence of the two dogs motivated it to jump out of the drawer.  After a period of slapstick running and chasing on the part of all the people and dogs (one of which was a huge Anatolian Shepherd), the possum decided to play possum.  Rolling over, with mouth open in a snarling grimace displaying the wicked teeth.  A possum, hissing and snarling, with teeth and claws ready for fight resembles a Tasmanian Devil in some respects -- this is no cute docile small mammal!  Husband then shoveled it up and deposited it in a corner of the yard, from which it later fled.  Hopefully the screen porch has enough dog scent now to  discourage taking up residence, if not visits.
it was dark by now
Of course now the porch is in even greater disarray than it has been, with every drawer pulled out of the chest, all furniture pulled away from the walls, shoes, pots, garden tools strewn every which way from our trying to flush out and stay away from the possum!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Back to School Part 2: the plan

A History of US: 11-Volume SetMy youngest chickadee in the nest will be starting 8th grade this year and for her I have mostly tried and true materials.  Her literature will be the 8th grade Lightning Literature program, which is a nice introduction to reading and writing about literature and poems.  The way it is organized allows us to easily skip around doing only the units that seem useful, as each unit stands alone.  We will continue with Sequential Spelling .  She is not a natural spelling and this program is short, taking only about 10 minutes a day and the way words are covered seem to give her a little bit more sense of spelling patterns, which is about all one can ask for IMO with someone who just is not a speller.  She will also run through a diagramming workbook just to review some grammar, and we usually work in some roots or a bit of Latin here and there.

We will be doing American History at half pace, covering about half the books in A History of US: 11-Volume Set, completing the second half for her 9th grade year and her American History high school credit.  I've used this for all of my girls and just last year replaced volume 10 with the newest version, bringing it up to the election of President Obama.  This will be supplemented by loads of historical novels and additional related books both from the library and my home library, as well as netflix and pbs videos.  As we go through the books I usually add them to "family reading" on the sidebar.  I guess I should retire the old list and start anew (did it)!  I have our long used Cooking Up U.S. History: Recipes and Research to Share with Children and I have Interactive 3-D Maps: American History to add in also.

Mysteries and Marvels of Science: Internet LinkedThe Usborne Science EncyclopediaFor science she will be learning Physical Science, also with a variety of resources.  Our base will be The Usborne Science EncyclopediaMysteries and Marvels of Science: Internet Linked, along with activities from Gizmos & Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) , and also some biographies and videos.  Hopefully we will get to the activities each week or 2, and I've invited a couple of her friends to join us for them, thus making sure we actually get to them!

For math she will be doing Key to Algebra - Books 1 thru 10.  She completed the first workbook of it last May.  This program is somewhat more than a pre-algebra course, but less than Algebra 1, which will serve very well for this year.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Back to School Part 1: the plan

Public schools start tomorrow, and although as homeschoolers we do not have to follow any particular school schedule, with the girls' neighborhood and school friends resuming their school schedules we usually try to get started also.  With 2 already graduated and grown, I have quite an accumulation of materials and resources for the remaining two, but I still have to spend some time over the summer planning out what we are doing, gathering the resources from the various corners of our house and looking for new resources to update our collection or meet our new needs.

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar ThingsThis is Hannah's last year of high school and she has all the credits she needs to graduate except one English credit, however she has to do 4 "classes" according to the umbrella school we use.  She will be prepping for one last go at the ACT, in hopes of inching up just a couple of points which would put her in a higher scholarship category.  Aside from that she will be doing readings in Shakespeare and British Literature through the year, Chemistry using an eclectic set of books, including The ElementsThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things; and Exploring the World of Chemistry: From Ancient Metals to High-Speed Computers. She does not really need any additional science, so my goal is just some familiarity with the area and keeping interest piqued, not scientific "rigor" necessarily.

Exploring the World of Chemistry: From Ancient Metals to High-Speed Computers
Hannah also expressed a desire to learn about Philosophy, so she will be reading Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (FSG Classics), along with Philosophy Made Simple and 50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need To Know

She will also continue making art and jewelry, as well as training and competing in epee and foil (fencing) and learning saber technique.  This weekend she participated in a fashion show event as a model at Macy's and will likely be doing some more modeling.  Back to School Part 2 will feature the educational plan for my 8th grader this year.