Monday, June 30, 2014


Ruellia is another wildflower favorite that I've loved from childhood.  It would spring up here and there around the oak trees at Mom's.  I just happen to have some in my yard.  I think it came in with the dirt around the black haw tree that my older brother gave me.  Whenever I weed around the haw tree, I make sure to leave this enchanting little purple flower undisturbed.
It is in bloom now.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday thoughts: running the race

This morning at church our Royal Rangers shared with the congregation some of their accomplishments and activities.  One thing they had done was made carboard cars which they raced around a track.  The verse that their leader shared was from I Corinthians 9:24
    Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

It is a challenge to us that all we do or say or think will help us be more suited for successfully completing our race.

Bluegrass Band Highway 56

Here's a link to the band's Facebook page.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A night on the town

Yesterday, I worked hard pulling up some poison ivy, cutting down some briars, picking off stink bugs (134 off 6 tomato plants in 9 days), and mowing part of the yard.
By evening I was ready to go to the local coffee shop, get a root beer float, and listen to Caleb do some mean mandolin picking with Hwy 56.!/photo.php?v=688579814512193&set=vb.173809865989193&type=3&theater

Friday, June 27, 2014

Non ethanol gas

Mowing the yard is not a task I mind doing as long as I have a mower in good repair and gas in the gas can.  And that can be harder than you might imagine.
We took our mower to the shop last year, and the guy adjusted the carburetor for us.  He suggested we buy non ethanol gas for the mower.  Usually we mow into October or November, and then I usually try to start up the mower when we have a mild day in December or January.  We usually are mowing again by March.  With the non ethanol gas in the mower, the mower started this spring on the first pull.  I hate paying such a high price for gas, but I'm pleased that the mower is running smoothly.

Have you had problems with ethanol gas in small engines?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

I can count on my purple coneflower to be blooming by Father's Day.  I have learned to love this wonderfully reliable and sturdy flower.  Many years ago I took a shovel and laborious broke up a rectangular section on the edge of the lawn.  I spread the seeds of a wildflower packet.  There were all sorts of flowers in the mix, and quite a few came up.  Some self-seeded and came back in other areas, some did not come back at all.  Now the only two things left from the original mix are the horsemint (which galloped to another area) and the coneflower which has established itself in the original bed.  Year after year it brings me pleasure.  Some day I may try making a tea out of the roots.  It is supposed to boost one's immune system.
I was afraid they were getting shaded out, and so I moved some to a sunny area beside a yellow daylily.  However, since we had the 3 pine trees removed, the original bed is getting plenty of sun now.
Here are some pictures Caleb took today.  Then there are a couple of a bumblebee on the flower which he took a few years ago.  Enjoy. (Click on images to enlarge.)



Wednesday, June 25, 2014


This past winter was a little colder than normal for our area.  It was rather rough on the electric bill, the fig, gardenias, and rosemary.  I wondered if the fig had been completely killed, but it did leaf out later in the season.  Here you can see where Caleb cut out a lot of the dead branches, and there are still quite a few dead branches on the tree.
The gardenia was set back some and the rosemary died.  The rosemary had been declining some anyway, so I'm not completely sure it was the cold that killed it.  The rosemary had been in my garden for several years.  It originally came from some cuttings I had obtained (and obtained just might be a euphemism right there)  from a rosemary plant outside an Italian restaurant.  It was easy to root.  I think I will need to get a replacement for the rosemary.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Solar clothes dryer

Like my forebears, I dry my clothes on a clothesline.  We were "green" before "green" was cool.  My son has a part-time job at the YMCA working with little kids.  His uniform is a blue YMCA T-shirt.  I will be busy keeping those three shirts washed.  Also hanging on the line is a church league softball shirt.  Go #21!!
My dear husband put up the clothesline.  As the saying goes, "FAIL" just means "first attempt in learning."  We bought the flimsy metal posts which were called clothesline posts at the home improvement store, but those eventually buckled under the strain.  We have had good success with the posts we have up now which are actually metal plumbing pipes.  If I remember correctly, my husband had the guys at the home improvement store cut them to the length we needed.  (The morning glories and honeysuckle have given the post their seal of approval.)

Now the YELLOW LAUNDRY BASKET has a story all its own.  (It is just posing in the above picture; I do NOT leave it out while the clothes are drying!)  I am the kind of person who deliberates over the smallest decision.  Over 30 years ago (with all the angst of a homebody who was reluctantly striking out on her own), I stood in a discount store in Troy, NC and tried to decide if I should buy the $2 laundry basket or the $4 basket which promised to be so durable.  I finally went with the yellow $4 sturdy basket, the "FESCO 5433 made in the U.S.A." basket.  I think I got lucky with that one!  I wish I could feel that good about some of my other decisions...

Do you remember your mother's clothespin bag?  There is something comforting about a homey fabric clothespin bag.  I made mine out of a cheap calico I bought on sale when I worked at a fabric store years ago.
I slip it over my head so that it hangs from my left shoulder to my right side. 
A tip from Mom:  make the front panel a little shorter than the back so that it is easier to slip your hand in and out. 
My own little innovations: make the front panel a bit wider than the back panel, and attach the straps to the back panel.  I think I might have made the front panel just a little wider at the top, also.  These things help it hang open and facilitate that quick draw.  (The Rifleman ain't got that much on a good housewife with her clothespin bag.) 
A tip from my husband:  if the bag is too deep, sew a seam across the bottom.  I had made this bag too deep, and I was a bit frustrated:  I didn't want to shorten the straps because then I would have to reach too high to access the opening, but it would be hard to reach the clothespins in the bottom of the bag as it was.  My husband, who is not into crafts, sewing, or any kind of construction whatsoever, suggested the seam across the bottom.  I don't mind saying that surprised me.  I modified his idea just a little:  I caught a little triangle of fabric in each lower corner of the bag with a little seam about 2" long or so, which effectively gave the bag a bottom and also decreased the depth.  That did the trick.  A remarkably brilliant, remarkably simple solution from an unexpected source...
My neighbor has a high strung personal defense dog that he is training.  Despite the fact that I'm in the backyard enough that he should know me, he still barks at me at times.  Once when I was hanging out my clothes, it dawned on me that he was barking every time I reached into the bag and rattled the clothespins.  It made me stop and think about how much I like that sound, myself.
A clothespin bag can also do double duty as a berry picking bag if you slip an empty oatmeal box or plastic bucket into it.
Long live the clotheslines, laundry baskets, and clothespins bags.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Bears like honey

                                             NC Wildlife Resource Commission

The range of the black bear in NC has been steadily expanding over the last several decades.
Here is a map from the NC Wildlife Resource Commission which shows the range expansion in our state.

A friend of mine whose husband has deer feeders in place says the bears have wreaked havoc on the feeders.  She lives in one of the areas that, at the time of the map, was "unoccuppied."  I expect that the next time the map is updated, the range will have increased again.
My brother-in-law the beekeeper lives in Raleigh.  He said a bear walked right up his driveway, went around to the beehives, and proceeded to harvest himself some honey.  My brother-in-law has been keeping bees for many, many years.  I wonder if he ever anticipated dealing with bears at his house in Raleigh.
There are transient bears (young male bears that no longer live with Mama Bear) which wander beyond the occupied range.  Of course, I suppose if they find a suitable place, they will stay there.  My county is included in this year's bear hunting season.  (I think this might be the first year, but I'm not sure.)
I have enough problems with the small pests like stink bugs and rabbits.  I don't know what I would do with bears!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday thoughts: sweeter than honey

Psalm 19:9-11

9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

My husband had lunch with his brother today and came home bearing a pound of his brother's honey.  It is far superior in richness and complexity to the honey I can buy in the grocery store.  The Psalmist described the judgments of the Lord as sweeter than honey.  Now that's sweet!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hope for a ginger lily

The late Millie Clark was a very special lady who attended our church.  I have a couple of plants that she gave me that I treasure because of who gave them to me.
One of the plants is a ginger lily.  It has not really thrived because I don't really have a moist place for it.  I've spent lots of time watering it in summer, but it seems to have had a rough go.  Finally, I thought it was done in completely.  Some guys with a skid loader rode over it.  Then when I suggested to my husband that he check his drain pipe to make sure the skid loader hadn't crushed it, he did some vigorous digging in the area.  Later I was dismayed to find a couple of ginger lily rhizomes lying, dried out, on the ground.  Oh, well, maybe it was meant to be since the lily struggled so anyway.  (And I struggled to keep it watered.  Maybe we would both be out of our misery.)  Quite a bit of poison ivy, stilt grass, and cow itch were in the area, and I sprayed weed killer there a few weeks ago.  I did not see any sign of the ginger lily.  Later, however, I saw the lily.  But the hope I might have had that it survived was immediately shaken because it looked like some of the weed killer had hit the lily. 
After a discussion with my older brother, the horticulturist, I decided to put a little compost water over it and hope for the best.  In my imagination the lily was thanking me for the water because it had been getting rather dry.
Later that day I passed by the area and stopped to weed a little around the lily.  I saw another lily sprout as well that looked healthier.  It appeared to arise from underneath a dead-looking, dried out rhizome that was on top of the ground.  I put a little soil over the rhizome.  Hope has been on a roller coaster, but I'm hopeful once again that I have a ginger lily.  I'll update with another picture in a few weeks.
(Near the lily are some wild irises.  I had tried to avoid some of them with the weed killer.  I removed a few that were very close to the ginger lily.  In the picture above there is also a bit of Virginia creeper, which I pulled out.)
As the saying goes, hope springs eternal. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Beating the heat

It's been hot (upper nineties) and muggy of late, and since the AC is not working properly, we've been making do with fans the last couple of weeks.  Thinking about all the thousands of years that people managed before electric fans and AC makes me stand in awe of some of the things people did in spite of the heat.
Sometimes, it's actually cooler outside under the sycamore than it is inside, so yesterday I took a paperback and sat out in a lawn chair in the shade.  Doing some light reading in the summer heat made me feel like a youngster again.  My reading usually consists of news, commentary, and blogs on the internet.  Rarely do I just relax with a book.  Believe it or not, I had never read an Agatha Christie novel.  I came across one of her short stories in one of my son's literature books and realized I would probably enjoy her books.  Somehow, I'm thinking I, at some point, must have been misled  to think her writing would involve gruesomeness.  Anyway, my son picked up a paperback at a yardsale or thrift shop.  I got a chuckle yesterday when I realized the book was dedicated to me:

So I've been staying at the Ritz, eating at Lyons' and riding the tube, all while tracking down a mysterious letter of international intrigue that was passed on by a young man who went down with the Lusitania.  How's your summer?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Beetles, bugs, and bees

A good way to pick the Japanese beetles off plants is to go out in the morning (or late evening) when the beetles are not actively flying around.  It is simple to knock them off into a bucket of sudsy water.  (A little squirt of hand dishwashing liquid works.)  If you bump the plant the beetles are on, they usually fall down.  Just have the bucket underneath to catch them.  If you have chickens, you can skip the bucket.  Knock the beetles down to the ground and the chicken will be on them as quick as a... well, that's where they get the saying, huh ..."chicken on a June bug."
In addition to the oodles of Japanese beetles I drowned, I also picked off at least 40! stink bugs from my tomatoes.  Here you can see they met the same fate as the beetles.
A good reason not to spray poison is that the crepe myrtle that many of the beetles were in is literally humming with bees.  I don't know if they gather nectar or just pollen, but both honeybees and bumblebees are frenetically working the blossoms.  About 3/4 mile away as the crow flies, there is someone who keeps bees, and I don't know of any beekeepers closer than that.  It always amazes me how far the bees fly to get food.
The bees were moving too much for me to get a good shot, but you may be able to see one in the upper left side of the picture (and a beetle is the dark spot half hiding in the top middle part of the picture).  Click on the image to enlarge.
I keep telling myself that one day I'll get myself a hive.

Something new, something blue

Yesterday, I passed by a fallow section of the garden and saw something new to me.  What a pleasant surprise; there was a pretty blue flower! 
I had planted a mesclun mix there last fall.  Anything that survived the winter had bolted.   I believe it is the endive that bolted.  Endive is in the same genus as chicory, the roots of which can be used as a coffee substitute. 
Since my son always recommends "a touch of blue" in the landscape, I suggested he go take a picture.  On his way out, he took a picture.  As he walked by the window, he shouted that it was PURPLE not blue!  Later, (sometime in the afternoon), I went by to take a picture, but the flowers had shriveled in the heat of the day.  I went out this morning to shoot pics while the flowers were still fresh.  I think the newer flowers are more bluish and the older flowers take on a more lavender color.

This is the first time that I know of that I've had any chicory of any kind blooming on my property.  It is so pretty!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pass along plants

Over 15 years ago when I did a local paper route, I had a customer who was in her nineties.  She was still working a little bean patch in her backyard even though she said of herself, "I can't HARDLY get about!"  She had some pinks that I wanted a division of, and I wasn't too proud to ask.
It still blooms in my flower bed.

Another plant I have which has a bit longer history is an oxalis.  When my mother was a young woman still living with her parents, she worked at a textile mill.  She did not have her own transportation, so she always rode with someone else.  One year work was sporadic, and when the mill workers didn't have employment, they could go and sign up for some type of unemployment compensation.  Mom rode into town with her usual ride and went to sign up for unemployment compensation.  After signing up, since she had no way to go home until the person giving her a ride got off work, she was invited to stay at a coworker's house.  All along the side of the coworker's house was a neat little pink flower.  Thus, almost 60 years ago, that little plant began its journey from the coworker's house to Granny's house, to Mom's house, to my house.  For all its travel and history, it sure looks mighty fresh!
If someone does a good deed, pay it forward.  If someone gives you a good plant, pass it along.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer berries

Picking blackberries is a traditional summer ritual among my folks.  Hot, humid weather, redbugs, briar scratches were all part and parcel of the ritual.
I don't know if I'll have a place to pick this year other than the few that are encroaching on the edge of the yard. 
We have black raspberries encroaching as well, and I picked a few.
To those who have the location and are hearty and hale enough to brave the heat and vermin, happy picking, and may the berries bring you good health.
black raspberries and honeydew melon 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The garden "plot"

I once saw a cartoon which featured a man and his little girl in the garden.  He was explaining that the disease and bugs and other varmints were all out to get them and that's why they called it a garden "plot."
I can identify.  The Japanese beetles have made their arrival.  They are loving my white crepe myrtle.  I was quite shocked at church yesterday to see the sweet potato vine in the planters had their leaves made into lace by the Japanese beetles.
I have a Virginia creeper vine on the fence that the Japanese beetles like, too.
My tomato plants, which are looking fairly good overall....

 ...have a few places that look alarmingly like blight.

I'm fighting a losing battle with poison ivy, as well.  I don't use a lot of chemicals, but two weeks ago, I did spray some weed killer on some poison ivy here and there.
  I've also pulled up quite a bit by hand.
Whenever I go through the yard, I manage to pick up a few ticks.  I guess we can attribute part of that to the rodent problem, which seems to me as if it shouldn't be so dire, given the neighbor's cat and our snakes.
Yes, we have snakes (even in the house) but still have plenty of mice, moles, and rabbits.  We have moles, which supposedly eat beetle grubs, but you would never know it.  Now, the snake pictured was under the awning by the back door last Wednesday (just looking in at me in the kitchen eating my snack!!).  But the one that really gave me a start was one I saw the Wednesday before that.  I was doing some cleaning up around the heat pump, and I thought it would be smart to turn off the circuit breaker that is at the end of the house.  I opened the door to the breaker box and tried to push the door into the open position.  There is a bit of finesse required sometimes to get it into position to hold itself open.  I kept meeting with resistance, so after a few attempts, I bent down to see underneath the door, and there was a snake.  Boy, was I startled!  When I came back with my camera, the snake had gone behind the panel.  I lifted the panel off, but the snake had disappeared.  The only evidence in the breaker box was a bit of dead snake skin.  There is a good-sized hole that all the wires feed through.  It must have gone through that.  (So it's in the wall of the house or under the house.)
I also saw a good-sized snake skin by the shed in the backyard.  Do you think the snake thought "shed" was a verb and not a noun?  Wink


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday thoughts: Happy Father's Day!

I am blessed to have a father who has loved me, protected me, and shared his wisdom with me.  Happy Father's Day, Daddy.  I love you.

When Jesus used a parable to describe our Heavenly Father, He described the forgiving love of a father who has a prodigal son and the entreating love of a father with a resentful son.  I find a comfort in knowing that God's love is a good father's love.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Trumpet creeper vine inspires passion

Did you ever have a love/hate relationship with a plant?  That's the way I feel about cow itch (trumpet creeper) vine.  When I moved onto this property, I judged the previous owners as being a bit slack for letting a cow itch vine grow up a pine.  I'm feeling a little more merciful towards them since I've been fighting that cow itch vine for 20 years, and it still is opportunistic enough to creep up that pine.  Just two weeks ago I broke the tine of my spading fork trying to dig up a cow itch vine.  Wretched vine!  I've rolled my eyes at advertisements for the vine in catalogues.  Sure it's pretty and attracts hummingbirds, but it is so reprehensibly aggressive!
But yesterday as I glanced out the kitchen window something scarlet caught my eye.  Now, I have white and cream flowers, pink and cerise flowers, purple and blue flowers, and yellow and orange flowers.  Very few, maybe one other that I can think of right now, of my flowers are SCARLET.  A touch of scarlet amongst a sea of green just excites, doesn't it.  It evokes impressions of some exotic tropical place.  Somehow a trumpet creeper vine had managed to sneak its way up the raintree, and, there at the end of the vine, suspended in midair, was a cluster of blooms!  It is pretty.  Here is a shot I took this morning.
Love or hate, that plant inspires passion.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cooking sorghum--"there's a sleight to it"

Is there a special treat you associate with your grandmother?  For me, the special treat at Granny's house was a homemade biscuit (cooked in a woodstove) with sorghum molasses poured into the middle, the more, the better.  We just called it syrup or molasses.  "Granny, can I have a syrupy biscuit?"
I want to say Grandpa had cooking sorghum down to a science, but maybe I should say down to an art.  As a man whom my brother worked with years and years ago was wont to say, "there's a sleight to it."
Maybe experience was the best teacher, but experience had a talented man to work with in my Grandpa. 
About 13 years ago, I took my son and his friend on a field trip to see my aunt carrying on the tradition of cooking sorghum.
The first step is to cut the sorghum cane from the field.

Grandpa had made his own dedicated tool for this.  We call it a cane cutter.
Then the cane is unloaded and stacked where someone will strip the leaves from the stalk.  Shucking fodder we called it because the leaves could be fed to the cows.  Here are my grandparents shucking fodder.  There is a big barrel in the background which was used to collect the juice.
You can see my uncle in the background unloading the cane while my son and his friend take a taste of the raw cane piths.
Once the fodder has been stripped the seed heads are cut off. The seeds can be mixed in with cow feed.  Some seeds are saved to plant the following year.
In this picture you can see the piles of cane ready to be processed.  A couple of pieces of railroad track made a convenient place to stack the cane.  You can see a bridge in the background.  Grandpa had his cooking shed in the shade by the creek.  In the foreground you see the belt which goes from the tractor to the mill which crushes or "squeezes" the juice out of the cane.  It takes a lot of pressure to crush the cane stalks.  There is really not an efficient way to do it by hand.  Before tractors, folks would use mule power.  In some primitive cultures, men use a log to crush the juice out of sugar cane, but I wonder if they expend more calories than the end product provides.
After the cane is squeezed, the juice is strained and cooked.  Grandpa used the continuous flow method which entailed moving the juice through a maze in a huge shallow pan which sat atop a long, rectangular, wood-fired oven built of brick.
Last fall my brother and a colleague tried their hand at the process.  They used a lawn-mower-powered mill to squeeze the cane like the process seen HERE.
My son had grown quite a bit from his first field trip, but he still cut a piece of cane pith to chew on just like he did when he was a kid.
Here is the steam rising off the green juice in my brother's large open pan.  At this point it doesn't look particularly appetizing to me.  But it has a distinctive smell as it cooks that takes me back in time.
Here you can see the corner of the pan and the open end of the oven which is covered with a piece of metal.  The holes in the corners of the stainless steel pan accomodate staves which are used to lift the pan off the oven when the cooking is complete.  Grandpa's method did not require moving the pan; he just drew the cooked molasses into a container at the far end of the pan.  My brother has a dipper of the syrup to pour into the refractometer to test the sweetness.  That's one of them thar newfangled contraptions that Grandpa might not have even known existed.

Refractometers have all sorts of applications.  My brother's friend who is a nurse was familiar with the ones for testing the specific gravity of patient urine.  She always got the willies when she saw my brother doing a molasses taste test after taking the reading on the refractometer.
In this picture you can also see the custom made wooden paddle (poplar) lying flat across the pan (just under the dipper).  The paddle is used for the frequent stirring that is necessary in cooking the molasses.
My generous older brother gave me a jar from one of the batches.  I did not think it was up to par.  It was too green in color and flavor and too thick in consistency.  Mama said she liked the flavor after the syrup has aged a little.  My brother cooked a few more batches.  He gave Mama and Daddy some from one of the later batches.  When I saw it at Mama's and remarked on how good it was, she shared some with me.  Now this is right!  Golden brown, heady malty aroma, sweet and pourable.

 With real butter of course.  Yum.
There's just nothing like sorghum molasses.