Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Quest for a Clean and Simple Home

What is about helping someone move or clean their house that inspires you to purge and reorganize your own home? My brother recently moved and my mother and I trekked to Minneapolis to help him downsize. Choosing the items to sell and what could and should be kept was not pleasant nor easy for him. We do become attached to our possessions, they can become a part of identity and give us a sense of security.

On the long road back to Chicago I began going through my home mentally. Several years ago I downsized on living square footage to opt for a single family dwelling and the holy grail, my own garden. When I made the move I stuffed my oversized furniture into my little house and my basement, determined to figure out how to fit it all in. Well, it’s 4 years later and I came home to finally rearrange my living and dining room in a manner that suits the house and me. It has resulted in two pieces that will not fit anywhere (never did, no matter how hard I tried) nor will they fit into my basement …narrow hallways and lots of corners in this little abode.

One of the pieces is an overstuffed, yet unbelievably comfortable chaise made by Mitchell Gold. The other is a contemporary neoclassical entry table made of burled mahogany and stainless steel that I adore. I am quite distressed to say goodbye to it. Alas, I have no plans to ever move so it’s time to make the hard decisions. Craig’s List was a successful venture in Minneapolis, we will have to see how they do in Chicago. It will sad to say good-bye to these pieces but I am sure there is a home that will welcome them and I certainly can use a little more breathing room. It is time to begin living more simply. They are just possessions after all…

Have you had any pieces of furniture you’ve had to let go of that were a bittersweet good-bye?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

PrairieGarden- 2010 Calendar

Okay folks, we are hitting the holiday season and while I try not “push my products” on this blog…if there was ever a time to do it, it’s the holiday season.

So! I hope you will forgive me but over the next weeks I will promo an item from my Etsy store(s) now and then. Just want you to be aware of your shopping options :-). So here it goes…

Come and get it!
Your very own personalized 2010 Calendar. Send me a list of your family’s birthdays/events and I will incorporate them into the calendar. Now, you can get the calendar without any personal dates should you prefer….no pressure…just options. Each month is a different photo from my collection. It’s a great way to have a bit of garden on your refrigerator all year round.

Okay…that’s end of this public service announcement…this week anyway…

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Couch Cinema: A Simple Curve

One on my favorite things to do is rent movies. I actually prefer to rent them and watch them on my little 17 inch screen than actually go to the movies. I am addicted to “replaying” a scene and The Bonus Features. Love them! There are movies where I like listening to the director talk through the film as much as the movie itself (such as Bridget Jones Diary… I laughed more during this adventure than the actual movie).

Well, with budget cut backs in the business arena it has lead to budget cut backs in my own home, I’m betting your home as well. Renting movies had made it on the list of things that are unnecessary and can be enjoyed in more lucrative times. Recently I found a loophole to this decision…the library. I loved the library as a kid and could not wait to go and check out new books. If you saw how many books I have in my home now (I quickly took this very un-glamourous shot of ONE of my bookshelves) you would realize that I replaced that childhood habit of borrowing books with purchasing books. Alas, that pleasure has also been curtailed in the last year or so. But again, the library is my loop hole to that decision too.

Since I moved into my home, I admit several years ago, I have been meaning to get my library card. I am only 4 or 5 blocks from the library but I kept putting it off. Well, last week I got on my bike and zoom – a-zoomed over to the library and got my long awaited library card. Let me tell you, my 9 year old self reemerged and I walked up and down the isles with resurrected glee. Something new, that was not there as a 9 year old, were DVD’s. Who knew? Well, okay, perhaps I’m the last to know.

I picked up A Simple Curve which is a Toronto Film Festival winner. While I’m not person that longs to watch the latest blockbuster I’m also not the standard film festival follower either. When I rent these I know there is a good chance I will try reading a magazine (also something I’ve cut from the budget by the way) or doing a project while watching the flick. Let’s just say I know the highly acclaimed movie may not hold my attention. This movie was a pleasant surprise. It’s about almost 30 year old Caleb, raised by draft dodging hippies in rural Canada. It’s a sweet film that still makes me laugh out loud thinking about it. One of my favorite scenes is when he talks with his father about wishing he could just be one of those guys that has no idea how to make yogurt from scratch. I won’t tell you what else he wishes he didn’t know…I have to leave something for you!

Oh, and PS…the library is also a loophole to my magazine budget cut backs. I’m telling you, you have to go to your local library. Now if they just supplied me with a good bottle of wine and chocolate…I’d never leave.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Summers End

The crisp autumn air. Summer is really over.

I came back from a weekend in Minneapolis, helping my brother move, to see frost had hit my garden with full force. Had I better prepared I would have made bouquets of cherry red zinnias before I had left. My poor zinnias, they hardly had a chance this year. With the cool summer and trying a new location in the garden that turned out to be part shade they had only just started blooming in full force.

Now it's time for fall clean up and I am melancholy. Years ago I had wished hot summers would end quickly...that was before I discovered gardening. What I would give to get them back now....

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunflowers & Grasshoppers

I’m thrilled to say grasshoppers seem to enjoy my garden. Luckily not so much they are a pest, but instead a curious visitor. Last year they liked the Butterfly Bush, this year it seems the sunflowers are the preferred destination.
This is the first year I have tried sunflowers in my garden, for some reason I had scoffed at sunflowers in the past. But I’ve decided they are a welcome and exciting bloom late in the season. This year it is the Moulin Rouge and Goldy Honey Bear (above). Both are keepers. I tried “directly sowing” these in my garden but the birds apparently made a nice dinner of the seeds. Thankfully and ironically one of each variety survived. Next year these seeds will be started in the basement along with my tomatoes and Chinese Forget Me Nots.

I'm not positive the image to the left is a grasshopper...what do crickets look like? All I know it popped by for a welcome visit at my home office window. Click on the photo to see it better and it's...interesting expression. Hmm...perhaps it was saying it was time to clean windows?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


This snapdragon has been reseeding itself in my garden for the last few years. Often it lands in the middle of a stone path and it fills me with satisfaction that it found a home that I leave it to flourish. This year it landed in a crevice between my patio and the house. I’m not sure how I feel about there being enough dirt to grow a plant but I do love this color of snapdragon. Bright, festive and rich. A perfect color for the end of the summer season (sigh!). Where will it makes it’s home next year I wonder?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

BUTTERFLIES - flowers with wings

Who doesn’t want herds of butterflies floating and darting in their garden? For most gardeners they are the cherry on the sundae. I’ve noticed that each year we do have more and more varieties stopping by for the pollen buffet. Personally, just as in our human society, the more types of people / butterflies in our environment, the better off we are.

This seems to be the most prolific time for these beauties. We are lucky to witness their precious, if fleeting, lives. Many butterflies live for only a few days, some a few weeks or months, very few for longer. Below are some tips I’ve found to be successful.

Water – have locations in your garden where there are shallow, still puddles of water. Even better are mud puddles as butterflies obtain nutrients and salts from the mud.

Basking Points – have stones in the sun where the butterfly can warm itself and dry the dew off its wings.

Mass Planting – butterflies are nearsighted, plant in groupings of 3 or more so they create a stronger impact for your butterflies to notice. It also happens to look better for garden aesthetics!

Staggered Blooming- - Ensure you have butterfly inviting flowers blooming all season long and in areas that get five to six hours of sun a day. If the plants can be sheltered from the wind it’s that much better for our delicate friends.

Have fun watching the show!

Note- these are excerpts from my garden guide found in my Etsy store

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Harvest: Ratatouille

There is something mysterious about this dish. I think I must have had an amazing ratatouille at some point in developmental years because I have been on the search for a good recipe in my adult years. Nothing has met my expectations.

This year I am trying again. I am basing this effort off of a recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables by chef and restaurateur Alice Waters. As ratatouille really is just sautéed vegetables I have decided not to procrastinate in cooking and am making the dish the same day I picked up ingredients at the farmers market. Alice Waters reccamends, for optimal visual appeal, to sauté the vegetables separately and combine at the end. If Alice reccamends it, I’m doing it. As would be expected leftovers are better than the first day, so I wonder if the clarity colors of the vegetables degrade over time?

I did add some thyme to the sautéing of the onions and I did not do a bouquet garni but just added the basil as a garnish. Cheated on the fresh theme and am using canned diced tomatoes. I am growing 7 different types of tomatoes this year but not one is considered a good cooking tomato. Unfortunate planning on my part and something to add to the growing list for next year. One of the cans is from an Italian purveyor called Rienzi and labeled hot and spicy Italian cherry tomatoes. I didn’t find them especially spicy and added the chili flakes that are optional in this recipe.

I served it with parmesan because let’s face it, everything is better with cheese, and some toasted crusty fruit and nut bread from the Red Hen stand at the market (this is my favorite of their loaves). As I scooped the first, then second, then third spoonful of ratatouille in my mouth I had to smile….at long last we have a winner! Thanks so much Alice! If leftovers are even better, I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse: Trellis & Nylons

Just repurpose those nylons destined for the garbage (or sitting in the corner of your closet looking for a good use) by cutting them strips and use them as ties. Vines can be delicate, especially once fruit begins to form. Heavy cucumbers and tomatoes can truly weigh down a vine and I’ve found the standard options of string, plastic coated wire or tape can occasionally cut into the vine, especially in a good wind. Nylons are a perfect option. They are strong, flexible and soft enough to cradle the vine.

I must admit, in this business casual world I don’t find many opportunities to wear hose (ah, poor me...). However my mother is old school and has a plethora of abandoned hose looking for useful purpose. She has given me enough to last my garden for several years to come!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

THE HARVEST: Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato

So looking forward to a BLT…. However the weather has been too cool and the tomatoes too slow to ripen. I grabbed a few hopefuls (Italian Costoluto Genovese Heirlooms) but they were not quite ready. So on the windowsill they have gone.

But I could hold out no longer. I grabbed some cherry tomatoes, fried some bacon and layered them onto fresh greens, mayo and toasted slices of multigrain baguette I picked up at the farmers market yesterday. Yum! So worth waiting for…well almost waiting for that is.

Friday, August 14, 2009

PlanTrivia: Thistles

I had a thistle plant growing along my sidewalk and loved the large rhubarb like leaves that grew. They stood out and appeared Jurassic. Loved it. I also had great plans to use the leaves as a mold to create handmade stepping stones. This project will have to wait until next year because once the spikes began regularly grabbing at me as I walked by I decided it had to come down. I expect some pain in the art of gardening (mainly back pain) but when a plant draws blood; it’s time to make hard decisions.

One of my favorite books is in Door County’s Wildflowers, A Field Guide For The Curious by Frances M. Burton and Aurelia M. Stampp. It’s full of wonderful information and I adore the tidbits of historical data. It makes me feel connected to the past and nature. Here is what I learned;

Thistle is an Old Saxon word meaning “to stab”. The thorns are a defensive mechanism as it's nectar is especially sweet, insects and wildlife flock to it. Only flying insects can safely take a taste. Thistles are a favorite of birds too. Goldfinches love the seeds and all birds use the fluffy down that is attached to the seeds to build their nests.

In herbal medicine thistles have been used to treat convulsions and rheumatic joints. Apparently once striped of it's spines the young leaves are edible in salads or cooked. The roots can taste like Jerusalem artichokes. *

Historically American colonists used down from thistle seeds to stuff quilts and woodsmen used it as tinder to start campfires. Fiber obtained from the inner bark of the stem can be used to make paper.

This can be a very useful plant….a plant located much deeper in the garden bed than along the sidewalk that is!

*PLEASE NOTE: this is not a post advocating it’s consumption. Never pick roadside plants for eating and the only plants you should consume are plants you have carefully chosen, are known to be edible and you have personally cared for so you are aware of any chemicals that made have been used in its growth.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tourist for a Day: Door County Wisconsin - Bailey's Harbor

Well, I’ve been planning to put together an entry on DoorCounty Wisconsin. It’s one of my favorite places to go. My family has been going to Door County Wisconsin every since I was about 7 years old. When we began going to Sister Bay (one of the many villages along the peninsula) there was just one, may-be two restaurants. When they put in the first tennis court it was a very big deal. The atmosphere has certainly changed over the years.

For anyone going I wanted to put together a list of my favorite places I’d love for you to seek out. Turns out, that list is quite long and I’ve decided I had better give you the information piece mail, perhaps by town. And it’s also too much for me to bring to you in one entry. So…over the next few weeks I’ll drop in an entry here and there for you. Fall is one of the most popular times to visit “The Door”…hint, hint…

Nita’s Garden Gate
Nita has a wonderful garden. For her, digging and setting up a pond and waterfall seems to be a quick afternoon project. She also has nesting birds every time we come up, by the photos you can see it was spring (see photo at the top of this entry).

I have some Robin’s nesting at the entrance to my garage. Nita clued me in that with robins I can come and go freely without danger to them or me. What a relief as they apparently have two broods every summer and she advises they will be there until October.

I purchased an ancient looking (but new) bird bath. Perfect for my tiny garden and it only took a few days for the birds to place it on their regular daily route. I just rearranged my home office so I can look out at it and see the birds sipping the water and taking turns having a bath. I wonder if they are really as patient as they seem with each other. They appear to line up and as one leaves another takes it's place. One day I even saw a robin and a sparrow in the tiny bath at the same time. Neither seemed to mind. I was amazed, perhaps it's not so uncommon?

Be sure to check out Nita’s garden art, fountains, bird feeders and more.

Espresso Lane
Truly some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. They get their beans from Alterra, which is a Milwaukee Beanery. If you haven’t tried Alterra Coffee yet, you’re missing out.

Espresso Lane has great homemade egg sandwiches. One afternoon I picked up a delicious tuna gouda sandwich on the way to meeting my brother and nephew at the Whitefish Bay State Park.

On a nice day, sit on their porch and Wi-Fi in to catch up on your emails. Great view of Lake Michigan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE HARVEST: Quinte Apples

Tart, tangy and small. This early apple is a cross between the Red Melba and Crimson Beauty apples. It was developed in Ontario, Canada in 1964. So firm and crisp it actually snaps when I bite into it.

This is the first freshly picked apple I have had midsummer. Call me naive but I had regulated apple eating to the fall only. So glad my horizons are expanding!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

TOURIST FOR A DAY: The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe

While most of us want to live with pieces of art, my question to you is could you live in a piece of art?

This is a question that I have to believe Dr. Edith Farnsworth may have been asking herself between 1946- 1951 when Mies van der Rohe designed and built her weekend retreat. I recently joined a tour of the Farnsworth House and grounds and discovered the beauty, tranquility and potential folly of living a truly minimalistic life.

Edith and Mies’s endeavor began at a dinner party in 1946. Edith mentioned the several acres of land, along the Fox River, she had recently purchased. She asked Mies, a highly celebrated modern commercial architect, if he could recommend an architect that could design a weekend home on the site. When Mies suggested himself I am sure Edith thought she had just struck gold. Her possibly predictable and solitary life had just gotten a jolt of excitement. Well, her life certainly changed from that night on and only Edit can tell us if it was for the better.

Reportedly they developed a very close relationship (to put it delicately). The designing of the home brought major publicity and they worked well together....for a time. Then Edith began to realize there were no closets for her clothes. Mies advised that she was there for weekends only, a suitcase should suffice. If pushed he could put a hook on the bathroom door for her. Edith was not about to have only one hook for her clothes. Simply adding a wardrobe created a bitter battle, which she won.

Inflating costs to build the home drove the deteriorating personal relationship into the ground. Regardless, the home was finally built in 1951 and is touted as Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece and monument to his visionary designs. When you walk up to the house, through heavily wooded fields, the structure suddenly reveals itself. It appears like a modern Greek temple and holds your attention.
When you enter the home you can’t help but be mesmerized. This structure was so precisely designed and constructed that when you stand in the home you honestly feel as though you are floating. This effect is created by there being no solid walls, only glass, and as you look out of the home you purposefully cannot see any steps leading up to the home. It’s a wonderful and peaceful sensation. The grounds are amazingly beautiful and you truly feel as though you are at one with nature. This is coming from the viewpoint of a visitor.

But what about Edith? You may admire the structure; personally yearn for its simplicity and quiet. But what is it like to actually live in monument to minimalism? What do you do with the magazine or book you were reading? To simply lay it about would be a blemish on smooth surface of peace. Mies definitely did not plan for Edith to be a muli-tasker. Actually living in a piece of art is illustrated by a rather famous story of what occurred when Edit woke and sat up in her bed on one of her first mornings in the glass structure. She threw back her covers to beautiful day streaming through the windows and also found herself feet away from two Japanese tourists taking photos of her and her famous home.

Well, curtains were certainly purchased soon after....And how did Mies feel about her drapery choice in his precise design? ..... Mies was not pleased ....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

RECIPE: Balsamic Glazed Carrots

I tried the burgundy colored carrots from the farmers market last weekend and love them. They are a little stronger in flavor than the traditional orange carrots, or may-be the orange carrots I purchased are milder…who knows.

Truthfully there is not much of a difference in flavor to warrant purchasing one over the other. But in appearance they are vastly different. I really like the red rim surrounding the carrot, it’s different and…I like different. When I boiled them I half expected them to stain (as a beet would) the other carrots in the pot, but they didn’t. When I drained the carrots the water was red so perhaps had I boiled them longer, say in a stew, they may have stained the others. But the below recipe is very quick and they don’t have a lengthy opportunity to taint the others aesthetically.

This recipe is easy, quick and the carrots taste fresh. The secret is not to overcook the carrots or over indulge in the ingredients. I honestly don’t know the exact quantities to use so below are estimates, adjust as you like. The sweeter the carrots, the less brown sugar you should use and vice versa.

4 large carrots, thinly and evenly sliced
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste

Place sliced carrots in a sauté pan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and gently boil for 3-5 minutes until carrots can be pierced with a fork but are still quite crisp. Drain the carrots and return them to the pan. Add the butter and brown sugar, stir. Once both are melted into the carrots add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Season with salt.

Serves 4

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Tip: Coneflowers are for the Birds

I love coneflowers, especially in the Midwest. They are indigenous and as a result are extremely hardy, reliable and require little water and care once established. Over the years they have come out with so many hybrids it could be easy to let them take over.

These prairie flowers also encourage a wildlife habitat to flourish in your garden. These great bloomers will attract the major pollinators, bees and butterflies. Once they go to seed the birds love them as well. Encouraging birds into your garden is great for insect control and they are also fun to watch.

My parents take allot of joy in feeding and nurturing the neighborhood birds. My dad loves trying new seed combinations that may attract more birds to their garden. Over the years I admit I have come to appreciate the joy of watching the birds, but buying bird seed and having bird feeders is a commitment and expense I am not ready for…my preference is allowing flowers to go to seed for them.

Coneflower seed pods are a favorite for the birds but let’s face it, you’re also growing the flowers for the blooms. If you are interested in letting these blooms go to seed you may want to deadhead normally in the beginning. This will allow the stems branch off and create even more flowers …AND as a result even more seed heads for the birds in the fall. This way both you and the birds will be happy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

THE HARVEST - the markets

Finally made it to my first Farmers Market of the year. Every summer I put this off for as long as I possibly can. Why deny myself wonderful organic vegetables? Because I lose all control when I walk up to the farm stands. As I see all of the freshly dug and picked vegetables I immediately have grandiose ideas of the risottos I will make and dinners I will steam and sauté, each and every night. And every week I over buy. It can quickly turn into a money pit. Last weekend I had finally decided I could wait no longer. …. 6:30 am sharp I waddled up to my detached garage with my shopping basket, camera, camera tripod, shopping bag and garbage to toss out. I balanced everything perfectly, well almost, and I pressed the button of the garage door opener and…..nothing....It would not open. I’d sprung a spring!

I was stranded at home on one of days I look forward to most in summer. Not ready to give up, I fiddled with it for an hour or so and finally then threw in the screwdriver. I hung out by the window and in my garden waiting for neighbors to emerge from their homes so I could get recommendations of good repair people that wouldn’t try to sell me an entire new door. It was the oddest of days as all my regulars were apparently in hiding. Mid afternoon I finally discovered Jerry, my neighbor across the alley, and he reliably gave me a name and number to call. Left them a message and made mental preparations that I would be under house arrest for the weekend. Around 5pm my neighbors Mary Anne and Clinton arrived, I shared my woes with Mary Anne. All she said was, let’s talk to Clinton. Not 15 minutes later he had a replacement spring attached and it was as good as new…relatively speaking. I do have wonderful neighbors! But I had missed my long awaited day at the market.

So yesterday I got my chance to try again. And yes, I held my breath when I hit the garage door opener to head out. Garage door opened smoothly… now, which one to go to? I have a several favorites and as I was going to Hyde Park, to volunteer at LaRabida Children’s Hospital, directly after so I decided to go to Oak Park’s Market. It was a bit chilly (record low temperatures Friday night) and arrived to the smell of deep fried donuts, a tradition at this market. it almost felt like fall. All I had to do was look at the blueberries and Rainier Cherries and I immediately recalled it was July. Somehow I didn’t get either of these, which I must admit I now regret. I circled the stands, as is typical of me, to see what everyone has before choosing vendors.

I ended up at Nichol’s Farm and Orchard’s booth. They always seem to have fantastic gourmet varieties and often something I’ve never seen before. This day was no exception. They had these unbelievable looking carrots in deep purple, another in rusty orange burgundy and also the classic carrot. I believe one may be Cosmic Purple and the other perhaps Purple Haze… I’m still researching. I couldn’t resist trying each. By the way, they don’t taste much different from the standard carrot, but they sure are fun. I decided Clinton and Mary Anne had more than earned a sampling from the market and I picked them up a little of everything I was buying for myself which included English Shelling Peas and a handpicked blend of new potatoes. I wish I could tell you what exotic sounding potatoes I chose, there were about 12-15 to choose from, but alas I can’t remember and as you can image from the description of what I seem to need to bring to each market….I could not write them down and shop at the same time.

I also stopped at the Red Hen Bakery stand and picked up a Multigrain Boules. And just for me I picked up an individual cherry tart that I inhaled with a cup of tea. I also bought a cinnamon scone which I am proud to say I saved for my Sunday morning breakfast.

Hmmm….where should I go next weekend I wonder…

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Clean is Your House?

I’m not asking this philosophically or metaphysically I am asking this literally….

Don’t know about you but I long to live in a clean, organized and minimalistic space. It’s nice to have goals and 99% of the time this one that is beyond my grasp. I actually don’t mind the cleaning so much, there is something calming in the polishing table tops and creating a gleaming expanse on floors and counters. It’s the picking up all the clutter around my house that’s the pill I’m choking on. Found amongst a simple stone statue or Italian hand painted bowl, each meant to stand serenely alone, are items I sell on Etsy that are in various stages of production.

These items create a disruption in clean house zen. All of these things wouldn’t be so cluttersome (is that word?) if the other areas of my house were clutter free. However, just at my kitchen counter I still have the china stacked up (luckily clean) and ready to go back to the basement from the luncheon over a week ago, plastic bottles are lined up (and I use the term “lined up” loosely) to be saved for the eco friendly drip irrigation system I have planned for the garden. Then there is the Costco mega sized dishwashing liquid container I bought this thinking I could decant it slowly for the next year into my previous normal sized bottle. Apparently the dish soap manufacturer I purchased from last knew my plans and is laughing at my grimaced efforts to unscrew the white plastic lid. I also have the used tea bags that I plan to ecologically and stragetically place in my garden to add nutrients to the soil … unfortunately I could go on and on…

To be frank, I did down size to this house by about 50% in order to get a garden and declare independence from a home owner associations run by vigilanty dilatants…and that is an entirely different subject. With this little house I just don’t know where to put everything. I am sad to say I am a compulsive saver and purger at the same time. I go through spells where everything I am not habitually using has to go, or the phase I am in right now; “I think I should really hang onto this as I may find a use for it someday” (note the plastic bottle brigade). What reinforces the compulsive saving is the memory of that one item, an art fair clock from the early 90’s comes to mind, that I purged a few years ago. I do miss that clock…

So the question is, how do the minimalists of the world really do it? Are they simply not multi-taskers? Do they do only one thing at a time and successfully put away all evidence of the completed project before beginning a new one? Or do they not do projects and simply support our local economy by purchasing their irrigation systems? Do they hire professional cleaners? Or do they spend their free time cleaning instead of creating or dreaming? Which are you, a successful minimalist, compulsive cleaner, hopeless collector, wistful want-a-be …?

To clean I have tried the method of just spend 10-15 minutes a day picking up and cleaning. I fear this method has only been successful when starting with a clean house. All it takes is one art show or new project to push me off the clean house wagon and I am then lost in clutter for months. I am currently trying the “just start with one corner and work your way through your home” method…the success of this is yet to be determined. I know I need help to find a way out of this clutter jungle. However help does not seem to be coming soon. Each evening I come home from my day job and ask my cat which room she has cleaned…I’m still waiting for an answer….

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What are your Favorite Things?

One of the sections in my garden journals is a place to put photographs or lists of favorite things. Perhaps it’s a plant combination that worked perfectly. Like the oriental lilies that grew up between the coreopsis just as I had hoped, looking like they are triumphantly emerging from a golden forest. It could the blooms on your tomato or cucumber vine that hold the hope and promise of fruit yet to come. May-be it’s the one perfect bloom you discovered on a lazy Sunday morning. Or it could be the way the used tea bags you incorporated into the soil around your variegated sage turned the white edges a fresh lime green.

There are countless achievements to be made in the garden. Gardens bring joy, tranquility and even back breaking exhaustion that somehow makes you smile at the end of the day. I know I’m a better person because of my garden. I share more with others, admire others achievements and have an unending appreciation of what a miracle the soil is. My Favorite Things section of my journal is tangible evidence of what I adore about gardening. I love looking through those pages and rediscovering memories and hopes of what may occur again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sneak peek of my garden....

Gardening is a kind of disease.
It infects you,
you cannot escape it.
When you go visiting,
your eyes rove about the garden;
you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse
to get up and pull a weed.
- Lewis Gannit

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Garden Tip: Are your tomato plants in bloom?

As your tomato plants begin to bloom side dressing your plant with a fertilizer may increase your plants health and fruiting ability. Drizzle about an ounce of 5-10-10 fertilizer in a ring around the plant. Just be sure not to get any on the leaves, rinse off if you do. You can also try manure tea by mixing 1 part manure to 2 parts water and water the plant every few weeks.

That being said, be careful. Over fertilizing, as much as under fertilizing, can cause damage to your plants. Too much of one fertilizer will make your plant produce great leaves but no fruit, too much of another can cause fruiting but a weak plant that is susceptible to disease. General rule of thumb when fertilizing, do it with a weak concentration of fertilizer. This leaves you with the option of being able to fertilize again at another’s hard to take away an overdose of fertilizer.

Looking forward to a great tomato crop this year!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

All Creatures, Great and Small

This weekend I spent some time at the Brookfield Zoo. I haven’t been to a zoo in years, too many childhood memories of caged animals making me extremely distressed. I finally broke down and went because the zoo has an exhibit in the summer of live butterflies. As butterflies naturally live for 1 day to a few weeks, the exhibit is there for just a short time.

(click on the photos for a larger view)

Here are some highlights of a few of the butterflies, an Alaskan brown bear, two polar bears and an African elephant. The exhibits are certainly larger than the cell blocks of my youth and more the habitat appropriate for the animals.

There is only one elephant which is not optimal. Elephants are social creatures and do not do well on their own. This elephant’s friend passed away rather recently and Brookfield Zoo is working diligently to find another. I hope they find one soon because you can almost feel this elephants loneliness.

I intend to make more trips to the zoo. I prefer to see animals be in their natural habitats, with limitless space, but as man encroaches on their territory (often purposely harming them and bringing many close to extinction) it seems zoos are becoming one of the few safe homes for them.

Let’s hope we can find a way live harmoniously with the wild. What's unique about Brookfield Zoo is throughout paths there is signage helping us understand what each of us can do to make a difference to help save each of the animals habitats. Makes us realize we are not helpless to evoke change in the world.

Be sure to visit Brookfield Zoo the next time you are in the area, I think you'll enjoy it. I certainly did!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mayberry USA

There a days I feel as though I live in Mayberry USA, today is one of those days. The 4th of July parade is passing right in front of my little Chicago bungalow this year and it was quite the spectacle. Everyone poured out their homes, family picnics on their front lawn, festively blasting John Mellencamps “Ain’t that America….little pink houses for you and me” and every dog in the 5 block radius was lining the streets.

All week I had been hearing the little girl next door practicing The Star Spangled Banner on her flute, much to my amusement (not so sure about her parents). A few minutes before the parade came down our street she anxiously went up to the curb, her sister holding the sheet music boldly in front her and she played for the crowd resulting in applause from the neighborhood.

Happy 4th of July everyone!