Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meltdown. Aaarrgghhhhh!!! In with the good air; out with the bad.

So, yesterday I had a complete meltdown.  The cause --- several hours’ worth of pointless conversations (and being on hold) with Centerpoint Energy.  I think there is a problem with my electric meter and Centerpoint doesn’t care – about the meter or about customer satisfaction.  They don’t care because in my area – they are the only game in town for servicing meters, lines, poles, etc.  And, it shows in how their customer service (a very loosely used term) people interact with unhappy customers (me).  By the end of the phone calls, I burst into tears, stomped around the house, and my blood pressure jumped up to a scary couple of numbers.  I resorted to my “drug of choice”.
Tension Tamer Tea and
Chocolate Chip Cookies!
Therefore, today, I am going to talk about growing things – pretty growing things – pretty and useful growing things.  In with the good air – out with the bad.

I have Althea’s growing in my yard.  I have two but one is hidden amongst the ginger, so really, I just have one.  Mine is not a pretty plant – it’s old, shrubby, about 6ft tall with woody branches that stick out from ground to top.  But it blooms and makes pretty flowers. 

Althea or Rose of Sharon, is a member of the hibiscus family.  It grows just about everywhere (zones 5-10) except maybe the most northern states where the snow is deeper than I am tall.

The name, Althea officinalis, originates from the Greek word, altho, meaning to heal.  The leaves and roots have been used for digestive problems, coughs, and inflammations.  The plant is also edible – cook the roots along with onions as a side dish.  Tender leaves can be included in a salad along with the flower.  Some Althea’s produce a round flat “fruit” called cheese (yes, weird – don’t know why), which is also edible.  But mostly today, this shrub is planted to attract hummingbirds and butterflies and generally add beauty to your yard.

It’s very easy to propagate from cuttings.  Just take a cutting from an existing shrub – a stem that will bend in your hand, crack and break.  Chose a stem with at least two sets of leaves.  Strip away the bottom leaves, dip the stem in a rooting hormone and put it in a pot filled with perlite or peat moss.  Keep it in a warm moist location (I put cuttings in a plastic ziplock bag) and wait until roots start forming.  Ta-da! new plant.

They like sunny locations best but are pretty good about growing anywhere and in any type of soil plus it’s drought tolerant.  It handles our heat and humidity well and I’m told also grows nicely in cooler climates.  While they can get as tall as 10ft, they can be easily pruned as required.  Hint – if you are going to prune your Althea, do it in late winter.  It produces flowers on new wood.

Oh – and something else – Althea has a very fibrous wood and can be used to make rope or twine.  It’s also been used in papermaking.  Plus, the flowers produce a blue dye.

Lets see – medicinal, culinary, fabric dying, cordage, and beauty uses – all from the Althea.  Good choice for any yard.

Take care.

Monday, January 29, 2018

“Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.” ― Julia Child

I like to cook and I have real cookbooks in addition to the antique ones.  Not too many though.  I have a good friend that has an impressive collection and I’d guarantee that she’s read each and every one.

While I have read through my real CBs, I seldom use any of their recipes.  This is what I use.

And, I’m sure every person alive that cooks has something similar.  A place they put all the recipes they’ve gotten from friends and family, cut out of a newspaper or magazine, or copied off the internet.  Originally that book was two of the same size – 50 years of collecting.  Last year I went through my 2 books and winnowed them down to just one. Then, I reorganized it and can actually find the recipes I’m looking for – yea!

The CB I use as a reference book the most?  The Freezing & Canning Cookbook by the Food Editors of Farm Journal.  It starts with Slick Freezing Tricks and ends with Curing Meat, Poultry, Fish and touches on everything you might want to do.  It covers a lot and has always been handy on my kitchen shelf.

The funniest CB I’ve ever read?  Oh, no question – The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner by Jill Conner Browne.  There are some v e r y appealing things in that book and I’ve been, oh so tempted many times, to make Pig Candy.  I mean, bacon and brown sugar – what more could you ask for.

The prettiest CB I have is The Spice Cookbook by Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey – A Complete Book of Spice and Herb Cookery - Containing 1400 Superb Recipes for Traditional American and Classic International Cuisine.  It has the prettiest artwork.  I’m not a fan of photos of food.  Just doesn’t do a thing for me.  First of all, my result doesn’t necessarily look like the professionally photographed item made by a professional chef in a professional kitchen that has all the toys you could ever want.  And I think cooked meals lose their appeal in a photo – no aroma, no dimension, -- just a flat photo.

As I said, I like to cook.  And, I’m a bit of an inventive cook.  So, the recipe calls for something I don’t have – well, what can I substitute???  Sometimes it works just fine.  Sometimes, not so much. 

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Take care.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Cook, Cooker, Cookery

So, I like cook books.  I’m fortunate enough to have a few that belonged to my great-grandmother, Margaret Laura Hudson Abbott.  And, then, I’ve collected several others from the late 1800’s.  They are fun, interesting, and often difficult to read.  I don’t recognize all the ingredients sometimes.

Just a small history lesson first –
Martha Dandridge married Daniel Parke Custis in 1750.  He died in 1757.  They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.  Martha Dandridge Custis then married George Washington in 1759.  You know who she is.

I have a reprint of the Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.  While the book itself is relatively new, 1980, the recipes are not.  The inside fly page says, “Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats; being a Family Manuscript, curiously copied by an unknown Hand sometime in the 17th century, which was in her Keeping from 1749 to 1799 at which time she gave it to Eleanor Parke Custis, her granddaughter, on the occasion of her Marriage to Lawrence Lewis.

To make Excellent Fritters the French Way
Take a pinte of flowre & add thereto some cheese curd broaken small, & 6 eggs beaten, & about ye biggness of an egg in marrow shread small, mix these well with halfe a pinte of white wine, & some sugar, & a little salt, & add to these some apples shread, & preservd leamon pill, & other suckets, then melt some fresh butter in a frying pan, & fry them in little lumps about ye biggness of a walnut or less, & strow on them when they are servd up some sugar, & cinnamon, If you please.

Interesting.  There are also recipes to Stew Lamparies, Boyle a Carpe in its Blood, and Make Strawberries come Earley. 

The Modern Cookbook, 1880, gives all sorts of recipes along with basic household instructions.  Carving – beef, veal, mutton, pork and venison.  To Make Soap.  A section Pertaining to Plants“To kill the green fly or plant louse smoke the plants with tobacco”. Tells how to make cement for a cracked stove using silicate of potash and ashes.  How about a hair tonic “Two ounces of tincture of cantharides (A poisonous, blistering preparation made from the powdered, dried bodies of the beetle Cantharis vesicatoria), half a pint of Jamaica rum and one pint of rain water.”

The New England Cookbook, 1900, offers recipes from Mock-turtle Soup to Butter Taffy.  It also gives directions on how to serve a meal properly – “Square end tables are now the proper style.  They should be sufficiently roomy to wholly avoid crowding.  A spotlessly white table-cloth should be spread, with padding under it to deaden sound and make a softer appearance …….

And, last for this posting, is the Jewel Cook Book, 1890.  “A Compendium of USEFUL INFORMATION Pertaining to Every Branch of Domestic Economy.  A Manual for Every Household, also A BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE and Guide to Rapid Wealth.”  Wow – what more could you ask for in a book.  It has just too much good stuff to include now but maybe later.

Take care

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Shoal .. Wake .. Coalition

I was reading a book earlier today and at one point the main character is trying to remember what a group of ravens is called.  It’s an Unkindness – An Unkindness of Ravens.  And so, my curious mind wondered that groups of other things are called. 

This all fits into the mental file labeled useless information I may need one day to astound and impress others I was surprised – just about everything has a “group” name other than litter, herd, bunch, or pack.  I picked out just the ones that tickled me …

A GROUP OF :                    IS CALLED A(N)
Alligators                              Congregation
Armadillos                            Roll

Bats                                     Colony or Cloud (Cloud – I like that)
Butterflies                            Flight or Flutter (Any question – Flutter)
Camels                                Caravan, Train, or Flock (Really?? Flock??)     
Cats                                     Clower, Clutter, Comfort  (kittens are a kindle)
Chickens                              Brood or Peep (From here on it’s a Peep of Chickens!)
Cockroaches                        Intrusion (Yep – absolutely!)
Elephants                              Memory
Flamingoes                           Stand or Flamboyance
Gulls                                     Colony or Screech (Lived in Galveston–definitely a Screech)
Hummingbirds                      Charm

Hyenas                                 Cackle
Opossum                              Grin
Mosquitoes                           Scourge (Yep, yep, yep)
Porcupines                           Prickle (hahahaha – had to include this)

Rattlesnakes                         Rhumba (somebody made that up)
Sand Dollars                         Purse (Gee – I’ve found a Purse of sand dollars before)
Toodlers                                Tumble

I am obviously easily amused!

Take care
A Cast

Friday, January 26, 2018

Whine, whine, whine

OK – so our weather now is really a pain in the patootie.  At least, it is for me.  Right now, we are having cold nights and early mornings and warmish afternoons. 

Honestly – this is perfect winter.  Lows = 40°'s at night and
Highs = 60°'s during the day.  Sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy but no 
freezes or ice or snow.  And, in all honestly, I hope it stays like this through
February and into the middle of March.  Then, we can have spring. 

 So, you ask, why are you whining?  Well, here’s the thing.

I’m a morning person.  Morning people get up early and get going early.  Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual for me to get to my office an hour early to play catch-up (no phones, no people with problems). 

Right now, the work-in-the-yard itch is so strong, I am ready to be outside by 8am. 

I’m full of energy. 

Ready to work, work, work.  Get rid of those weeds!  Move those plants!  Yahoo!

All the Elephant Ears froze.
However, I don’t like working in the cold particularly.  I have to wear layers AND a coat.  That’s just uncomfortable.  I tend to crawl around in my flower beds which usually are damp or wet, making my jeans damp or wet.  Ick – cold and wet. 

See all that lovely green?
And normally, I’m pretty much done working outside by noonish (gone are the days when I could and did work in the yard for 8 hours).  I’m ready to come in, do things around the house that don’t require me to heft bags of soil or mulch, make multiple trips to the green trash pile carrying armloads of dead stuff, pull up/dig out a multitude of weeds and other problem plants, dig up and move many plants, etc.

Problem is – it’s cold at 8am still.  Doesn’t really warm up until 1pm or so.  I’m not nearly as motivated to get started at 1pm. 


Whine, whine, whine.

Take care.

Althea or Rose of Sharon

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Heeellllpppp meeeeee …. Fiiiixxx thhhisssss

My yard and plants are talking to me every time I either look out the window or go outside.  I know what it is --- the “work in the yard” itch is starting to make itself known.  It always happens about this time of the year.  But, past winters have been much warmer so getting out and doing small things was ok.  Maybe not this year.

Of course, the gardener in me also knows that the labor force of one, needs to wait until warmer weather is more dependable before whacking dead looking stuff back to the ground.  Lord knows, we could have another freeze or two.  This is, after all, still January.   Personally, I think the magic day of temperatures starting to warm, is after Mardi Gras (laissez les bon temps rouler!) – this year Feb. 13. 

I’m having a similar problem with my potted plants.  They’ve been living in the garage since November and are thinking it just might be time to go back outside.  No no no – it was 37° at 6:30am today.  Still pretty chilly.  Frost on the pumpkin and all that.

My oldest grandson was out last weekend and cut back the ginger for me.  Yea!  I know that’s coming up from the root.  The freeze means no flowers this year.  Boo, Hiss.   I looked around my flower beds and was pleased to see that the oregano survived the ice.  So did the tansy and borage. 


Happier Bay Tree

My bay tree is looking happier.  Everything else pretty much looks – well, dead.  The valerian is just gone and the Mexican mint marigold is very sad.  Sage, savory - nope.  Still not sure about the lemon grass, mint and lemon balm – those are still brown and dead looking. The comfrey is hugging the ground but I'm pretty sure it will be fine.

I do plan on rearranging some of the “stuff” in my yard.  Getting rid of a few things and moving others around.  Hopefully that will quell the yard itch for a while. 


Take care.

Jasmine which looks
surprisingly good!
Again - Yea!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Fey, Were-wolves, Vampires, Sleuths, Inspectors, and such

I’ve read my share of “self-help” books.  You know, the “how to be a better (fill in the blank – mother, salesperson, investor, friend, neighbor, countryman) and make the writer a bazillion dollars”.  Never did enjoy those – don’t think I ever learned anything from them other than NOT READING THAT ANYMORE. 

As I have grown older, I find I don’t care too much for those books about struggle, hardship, depression, long-drawn out death, torture, pain, or “Ripped from the Headlines” types.  I’ve already read a bunch of books with those qualities.  Good books, yes but no more.  Please, just give me entertainment; something with laughter, a few tears, and a happy ending - good-guy-wins-bad-guy-loses.

  I like mysteries – not the dorky cozy type but not the torture-in-detail type either.  Something in the middle

Susan Wittig Albert
Kathy Reichs
Dan Brown
Margaret Maron
Donna Andrews
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Mariah Stewart
Charles Todd

And so forth.

I also like fantasy and scifi.  Give me books with were-creatures (wolves, lions, tigers, bears, oh my), vampires (not the twinkle in the sunshine type please), wizards, the fae, magic users, elves, dwarves, giants, and, of course, dragons.

Ilona Andrews
Patricia Briggs
Terry Brooks

Anne McCaffrey
JK Rowling (yes, of course I read all the Harry Potter books)

And many others.

I like to use my imagination to fill the words with pictures which is why I don’t do the doom and gloom types anymore. 

What do you like to read?

Take care.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dream, Dreams, Dreamer, Dreaming

Dreams affect us all – some we remember with total clarity and some that leave an uncomfortable, itchy feeling; some that are wonderful and some jerk you awake in a cold sweat. 

I was dog sitting last summer while my sister, et al, were vacationing.  At bedtime, Minnie will usually stay in the living room for a time and then get in bed with me.  This night she came to bed early but she settled down and, other than being a little furnace nestled up close, was not much noticed.

I dreamed a much younger version of myself was vacuuming the carpet in my mother’s formal living room in the house of my youth.  It was an old-fashioned tank vacuum – rather like a short fat cigar with a long hose off one end – we actually had one like that back in the day.  (and, weird right off because vacuuming is low on my list of fun things to do.)  There was a man in the room with me.  At this point, I was watching the dream as though on a TV, so I could see myself vacuuming but all I could see of the man was his back.  I could see that he was dressed in a manner that made me think of one of the earlier Dr. Who characters.  And, that’s how I thought of him – Dr. Who.

He told me if I ever needed help, all I had to do was ask for it.

As I continued to vacuum the carpet, an odd dog-like animal came in the room to watch.  And, although I couldn’t see it, another creature came in and crawled along the walls and ceiling.

Then, as dreams happen, things changed in an instant.  Now, I was back to my current self and in bed in a dark room.  I sat up in the dark bedroom and knew something was just outside the room – something bad, something dangerous.  I started shouting “Help me” over and over.  There were two or three doors into the bedroom and all opened and someone walked in one door, the odd animals in the others.  He wore something rather like a zoot suit.  His one eye I could see was just a black hole.  He had a sharply pointed nose.  And, very white skin.  He walked over to the bed to touch me and …..

Something did touch me.  I screamed so loudly my throat hurt. 

It was Minnie.  She was licking my face, trying as hard as she could to help me wake up.  Morgan, who had been asleep in her bed on the floor, was whining and whimpering right next to my bed.  I turned on the light.  Of course, no one was there but Morgan and Minnie.  Still, they had both offered help when it was needed.

Take care.

Friday, January 19, 2018

My sunflower grows tall and straight, by my garden gate.

We are still having winter here.  Yeah, yeah – January, I know.  Today though, it’s finally out of the 30°’s.  It’s raining.  Could be worse – could be sleeting again.  So, yesterday when it was still freezing and there was still ice on everything, I went to the store and took a slow trip through the garden section.  (Visions of flowers dancing in my head.) Mostly I saw hoses and path lights and some tools.  Then, I chanced on the just-out seed display.  New seeds packets – yea!  I bought three. 

This year I’d like to try my hand at planting sunflowers again.  Lord knows, I’ll have plenty of room in my flower beds.  So – if you’re thinking about green growing flowering things, here’s a little info on Sunflowers (yes, an herb!)

Helianthus or sunflower is a member of the Asteraceae family.  For the most part, sunflowers are native to North America and got their name from the round flower head with its yellow petals that looks like the sun.  They are pretty flowers and there are a variety of styles, sizes, and colors.  Did you know  Sunflowers are also an important food source and a major agricultural crop from North Dakota to Texas.

There is evidence that confirms that sunflowers were cultivated by Native Americans as early as 3000 BC.  They trained and grew this into the single headed plant with the large flower seed head we recognize today.

From then to now, Sunflower plants were and are an important source of food, medicine, fiber, seeds, and oil.  The seed can be ground or pounded into flour for cakes or bread or, cracked and eaten as a snack.  The oil from the seeds can be used in everything from high-heat applications or salad dressing.

This is a medicinal herb.  A poultice of leaves can be used for treatment of snakebite, spider bites, and arthritis.  A tincture prepared of the petals is thought to be effective in the case of a sore throat.  Leaves, in a tincture, are used as expectorant, diuretic and astringent. Additionally, sunflower leaf tea helps to reduce fever.
Another use, it produces a purple dye for textiles. The oil of the seed can be used on skin and hair.  And, the dried stalk can be used to make a trellis.

Due to its deep roots and ability to soak up water and harmful substances, sunflowers are often used for the drying of wetlands and cleaning of contaminated soil including waste waters, lead, and radioactive substances.

They make a good companion plant for roses and tomatoes, offer a strong stalk for cucumbers to climb on, offer shade for lettuce and spinach.  However, they don’t like to be close to potatoes or pole beans.

And, so as to cover all bases, sunflowers are seen as symbols of good luck. Planting them around your home and garden will bring fortune your way. It is also said that if you pick a sunflower at sunset, then wear it on your person, it will bring you good luck the following day.

Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun. They are remarkably tough and will grow in any kind of soil.  Once they get going, they are drought tolerate.  You can start the seeds in peat pots indoors, however they grow best seeded directly in the soil after all danger of frost is past.  Keep the seed watered until they sprout – 7 to 10 days.  They should mature within 80 to 120 days so depending on your area, you might want to plant several rows over several weeks.  Sunflowers don’t require fertilizing but for the tall plants, you might want to stake the stems because they can be vulnerable to wind and heavy rain.  They don’t have much in the way of disease problems – occasionally may develop fungal problems.  Those don’t usually hurt the plant – just make it less attractive. 

Let the flower head dry on the stalk for the birds.  Though, I'm sure in my case, it will be for the squirrels.

So, here’s something old that might be new for your yard!

Take care

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Cold outside - stay warm and try another book

More of the same - really good books.

Green Darkness by Anya Seton. 1972
The journey begins in 1968, with Celia, an American unhappily wed to English aristocrat Richard Marsdon. Soon she starts having strange visions and acting odd, deranged. She babbles about King Edward and dancing, then is frozen in an awkward and painful looking position. Fearing for her life and sanity, she is hospitalized. An Indian friend and doctor fears that she is subconsciously reliving a past life, 400 years ago, a life that needed closure.  We are taken back to 1552-1559 where we meet a young orphan named Celia living her life under the reign of Henry VIII, his son Edward and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.  During the next seven years, Celia lives through abandonment, love, marriage, and ultimately, a gruesome end. According to many believers, we interact with the same individuals, life to life, and this is the same here.  Many of Celia’s family, friends, neighbors and enemies in 1968 also play a similar role in 1552.  Then, back to the 20th century for the ending.  While the ending is predictable, the book is certainly worth the read.

Mila 18 by Leon Uris 1961

This novel is set in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland, before and during World War II. It is based on real events, covers the Nazi occupation of Poland and the atrocities of systematically dehumanizing and eliminating the Jewish people of Poland. The name "Mila 18" is taken from the headquarters bunker of Jewish resistance fighters underneath the building at ulica Miła 18 (18 Mila Street, - 18 Pleasant Street). The term “ghetto” takes on a clearer meaning as the courageous Jewish leaders fight a losing battle against not only the Nazis, but also profiteers and collaborators among themselves. Eventually, as the ghetto is reduced to rubble, a few courageous individuals with few weapons and no outside help assume command of ghetto defense, form a makeshift army and make a stand.

So, I had to include this one.  It’s not his scariest book (that would be The Shining) but I think it’s his best. 
The Stand by Stephen King 1978
The world ends not with a bang but with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory.  With a million casual contacts.  Then there is the new world; a world stripped of its safety and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides. A world in which good rides on the shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail -- and evil is embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers - Randall Flagg, the dark man.

This is another “have to include” book.  I read this in the early 1970’s and have been a huge Science Fiction/Fantasy fan since.
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
Everyone knows this trilogy but, if you haven’t actually read the books, are relying only on the movies, YOU NEED TO READ THE BOOKS!  While the movies are excellent and relatively close to the original story line, much is left out (as must be or the movies would each have been 5 hours long!).  And, did you know, Tolkein wrote this trilogy between 1937 – 1949.  He invented languages, drew maps, wrote songs.

So, these books today and earlier in the week might give you something new to read.  I have really struggled with these two lists of books - deciding between one or another.  I could certainly come up with more - and who knows, I just might one day.

Take care.