"I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere beyond the morning." - J.B. Priestly

Friday, September 27, 2013


I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I've never visited Minneapolis (short field trip while in high school but I remember absolutely nothing about it).  The JASNA Convention was here this year so I decided to drive over (stopping in Duluth along the way) and, while here, took a minute to track down this iconic statue of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air (as she did on the TV show.  The statue is literally right in the middle of downtown on a street corner, and only blocks from where I was staying at the Hilton.

Minneapolis is a beautiful city and I really want to come back for a long weekend some time to do some exploring.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fall Updates

We're only in the middle of September and the kids are all busy with sports.  Ian plays kickball in a league, Alex plays football and baseball (both on Saturdays), Jack plays soccer on Saturdays and just tried out for basketball, and Anna is still doing gymnastics.  Very busy kids and we try to make as many of the games as possible.

The weather has been fairly mild so we're doing outdoor work a bit at a time so we don't get hit with it all at once.  My gardens looked really awful for a quite a lot of the summer but look pretty good right now.  I need to remember to plant more things that bloom in the Fall.

As a result of the trip to the U.P. with Jeff and to the House on the Rock area with Mom in August, I've decided to spend some more time visiting 'mansions' in and around our area.  I spent a lot of time and money visiting big old manors and mansions in England, and it occurs to me that we have quite a lot of those here, too.  With that in mind, then, I'm going to start blogging about all of the places I visit on my travel blog:  In Search of My Next Adventure.  A link is available on the right side of this blog page.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chihuly Exhibit

So, when you Google mansions in Wisconsin you'll get a list of historic homes and 'mansions' that are open to the public.  This, along with the book National Geographic Guide to America's Great Houses, forms the framework I'm using to explore my new hobby of visiting great homes.

From Dale Chihuly's Venetian collection -- on display at the Paine (on loan from a private collection)
Oshkosh is a short 25-minute drive from my home and, yet, I've never visited the Paine.  Home of beautiful gardens and many artsy programs, it's one of those things that I keep saying I'll do.  Just in the last two years I missed an Ansel Adams exhibit and a Normal Rockwell exhibit.  No excuses.

Earlier this summer, I noted that there would be a Chihuly exhibit there until mid-October.  Interestingly, when we were in Seattle last year, I remember there was a Chihuly gallery near the base of the Space Needle and, in fact, there were quite a number of Chihuly sculptures scattered about.  Frankly, I didn't recall the name -- really didn't mean anything to me at the time although I liked the look of the work.  So, when I saw the billboard advertising the show at the Paine, I decided that I'd go to this one.

The summer has been clicking away but last week I finally got down to Oshkosh to see both the exhibit and, more importantly from my current perspective, to see the mansion that appears on the list for Wisconsin.  That part, though, I'll recount in my other blog because it's part of a larger adventure.  (To see that blog, click on 'In Search of My Next Great Adventure' at the top right of this page.)
I really love this glass 'tree' on display in Seattle

Now, I realize that this type of artwork isn't for everyone and, in fact, there are many of his pieces that I don't like.  But most of them (especially the Venetians) are almost breathtaking.  At the Paine, there was a DVD playing that showed an exhibition put on by Dale Chihuly and some specially-invited outstanding glass artists like himself.  The event took place over a week-long period where different styles of glass creation was done at each of the sessions.  It was absolutely amazing; I'd love to attend something like that.
'Temple of the Moon' at Atlantis resort
'Temple of the Sun' at Atlantis resort
                                                When I first saw the billboard announcing the exhibit at the Paine, I immediately thought about Seattle and the missed opportunity to visit that gallery.  While I had peaked through the fence and got some pictures, I didn't go into the gallery itself.  Then, I started looking at his work and it occurred to me that I was pretty sure I had seen examples of it on display at Atlantis when we stayed at the Bahamas resort.  His style is very distinctive so I was pretty sure I was right and, upon doing some research, I discovered that I had seen his work at Atlantis.
Ceiling in the lobby of The Bellagio in Las Vegas

My big shock, though, was the revelation that I had seen and admired his work a lot longer ago than during my visit to the Bahamas.  The gorgeous ceiling at Bellagio is Chihuly.

I'm so glad that I didn't keep putting this off and I can't wait to see what the next exhibit will be.  I know they decorate the entire property for Christmas and do performances of 'The Nutcracker'.  I may have to consider going to see that!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Anniversary Weekend in the U.P.

Our anniversary was Wednesday and we decided to take a little trip.  I've been interested in the many waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so we thought we'd take a long weekend and see what we could find.

Since returning from China, I'm still having some difficulty with sleep patterns so I was up last night until after 4 a.m.; then Jeff was up at 6 this morning.  With this early start (after little sleep), I'm hoping this might be just what I need to get things back on track.

Anyway, we got going this morning and, as we drove north, it was obvious that it had rained earlier.  Fortunately, though, the day was clear, sunny and beautiful for us.  We drove up through Watersmeet and had lunch in Paulding (too early to see the Paulding light, though).  Right outside Paulding is one of the top rated waterfalls:  Bond Falls.  It was absolutely well worth the drive!

After Bond Falls, we tried to stop and find another waterfall, but the path was so full of mud and water that we had to turn back.  :(  Instead, we decided to drive straight up to Ontenogan and see the shores of Lake Superior.  Once again, we weren't disappointed!  

Then the adventure started!  Jeff was pretty sure he could figure out a shortcut back to where we wanted to be so we started driving straight East on a seldom used road.  As we drove, it got more and more isolated and eventually turned into a dirt road -- then a dirt road interspersed with lots of water-filled potholes.  There was some logging activity taking place along the road so the road was in pretty bad shape.  After a pretty long time, we eventually found signs of civilization and came out pretty close to where Jeff was hoping.  Unfortunately, the "lake shore drive" didn't pan out, though, as we were going straight east and the shoreline actually took a northerly turn.  On the plus side, we came out over a bridge with a really lovely view of the river beneath.  Note:  due to all of the rain and the run-off, the water is really brown from all of the vegetation!

Got to Houghton, Michigan planning to spend the night and turned out to be Alumni Weekend at Michigan Technical School, which is a huge school so, consequently, lots of alumni taking up the hotel rooms.  Across the bridge in Hancock, though, we scored the last hotel room at the Ramada right on the water so it worked out.  I had hoped for something like "The Pine Trees Cottages" or something like that rather than a national chain, but this is right on the water and we can enjoy the hot tub this evening.

Tomorrow we're headed to Copper Harbor at the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula and, then, who knows where we'll head next.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April Showers Bring May Flowers

I'm inclined to believe this rhyme, but let's not forget the beautiful warm weather that we had for 5 whole days.  With sunshine, warm temps, and a little rain each day, my bulbs and perennials are popping up everywhere.  The biggest change, though, had to be my magnolia.  When I left home in the morning yesterday a few of the upper blossoms had opened.  When I came back 3 hours later, even more were open.  This morning, the whole tree is in bloom and smells heavenly.  Little, bitty pollinators are buzzing from flower to flower to make the tree healthy and overall:  it smells and feels like Spring.

Note:  my magnolia was in full bloom last year on March 19 so we're a full 5 weeks later this year than last year's incredibly early Spring.

Monday, April 15, 2013

No Help from Mother Nature

Last year we had a really early Spring, but a very dry summer.  I was able to get lots of new plants in the ground nice and early, but my water bill doubled over the summer as I struggled to make sure they had enough water to survive.

This year, winter doesn't seem to want to leave.  It's the middle of April and, not only do we still have patches of snow and ice on the ground, it was snowing yesterday!  Mixed with all of the snow we've been getting have been days and days of rain so my lawn and gardens are underwater in places in back.  I just hope some of this water is able to absorb down where it's needed and not run off due to frost still being in the ground.

Today it's in the 50s and a bit breezy with very scarce sunshine, but at least I was able to
get outdoors and start cleaning away debris from my gardens.  We also have twigs and branches all over from the ice storm last week [see photo of ice on my birch tree].  Sandy Dog Carter is visiting this week so she and I were able to get quite a lot done out in the dry parts of the back gardens this afternoon.  It wasn't a lot, but the parts that were cleaned out look ready for sunshine and warm weather!

Because of the drought last summer, I had a lot of damage and lost a lot of plants that need replacing this year.  And I want to fill in with a ton of annuals and herbs, so I'm getting a little impatient!

Not having good luck with the seed starting this year.  I don't know if the potting mix is poor or the seeds are poor or what the problem is.  I've had to reseed two and three times for some of the plants.

However, should we ever get good weather, I will have the following to plant:
  • Blue hydrangea that I bought at Easter (still blooming -- it's gorgeous.  See photo at right)
  • Maroon calla lily that I also bought at Easter
  • 10 Astilbe bare roots that I got at Sam's Club
  • 2 Elephant Ear bulbs
  • 2 Agapanthus that were bulbs that I put in soil and they're doing beautifully
  • 3 Siberian Iris that were also bulbs that I put in soil and are also really doing well
  • 2 Arum bulbs that are in soil but doing absolutely nothing
  • 1 Amaryllis bulb that was beautiful at Christmas and I intend to plant it outside so see what happens this year
  • 70 plants that have been ordered from Springhill
  • 42 plants that have been pre-ordered from the Master Gardener plant sale
My own seeds that are sitting under gro-lights right now include:
  • 2 Bells of Ireland
  • 1 Cleome & 1 Butterfly Weed (both are pretty small & weak, though)
  • 10 pots of multiple sprouts of Coleus.  I should be able to get at least 30 or 40 Coleus from these sprouts.
  • 5 Hollyhock & 5 Flowering Tobacco (not looking real strong at this point)
  • 4 Morning Glory
  • 4 tomatoes (and I intend to buy a bush tomato as well)
  • 6 assorted zinnias
  • 10 assorted sunflowers
  • 10 assorted marigolds
  • large container of multiple sprouts of Snapdragons.  Probably 30-40 plants.
  • large amount of basil and cilantro.  Parsley isn't showing up so I might have to buy that.
With two plant sales coming up where I'll be working, I'm guessing that I'll be carting home quite a few more.  The Gardens of the Fox Cities sale is all heirlooms and I'll get veggies and herbs there.  Since I already pre-ordered quite a lot from the MG sale, don't know if I'll be buying more there or not.

Once again, though, Mother Nature seems to be in charge!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ice Storm

This has been the weirdest winter/spring that I can recall.  Winter was fairly average but we'd get snow, then it would mostly melt before we'd get snow again.  As we head into spring, though, things are just bizarre.  The weather is warm for a few days, then it gets bitterly cold, then it rains, then it snows, and last night we had a huge ice storm.  Now this is coming in on the heels of several days of rain so we have huge areas of standing water in our back yard that are now freezing over.  When you now add the massive amount of branches and sticks that have fallen off the trees as a result of the ice, everything is just a mess.  Plus, there are still piles of snow scattered about.

The power went out just before 5 this morning but our gas fireplace still worked so I turned it on to keep the living room fairly warm and sat near it reading a book until the power came back on around noon.  The internet was out for a few more hours after that.

I was positive that we were going to lose our birch trees.  The one in front was so heavily laden with ice that it was almost in my office window and did, in fact, scrape the roof when the wind started blowing.  The one next to the driveway lost a ton of branches and, when the city came out to clear things on the power lines, they cut off a few more of the branches.  Not sure what the tree will look like this summer!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bird Count

I'm not actually going out looking for birds, but I am spotting quite a number of different ones right from my window.  Since my last post, I can add Red-Winged Blackbird (both male and female), Common Grackle, lots of Robins (including an immature young one that has different coloration), American Crow, Black-Capped Chickadee and, on a walk to the park with the kids, 2 sets of Mallard Ducks (male and female).

My Waxwings are long gone and I feel lucky to have had them visit my trees for a while.  This bird-watching is pretty fun actually.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lots of Visitors

Red-headed woodpecker
A very small portion of the tree-full of Cedar Waxwings
This morning, I have a whole tree full (at least 50) of Cedar Waxwings that are flying back and forth to my neighbor's Mountain Ash and sharing the berries with a dozen or so Robins and a few House Finches. There was also a big Red-Headed Woodpecker going up and down the tree for a while. Really enjoying all of the variety and color.  Of course, my driveway and sidewalk are covered with hundreds of those Mountain Ash berries that have been dropped by my visitors!
Anna in her school play

My other visitors are the two-legged variety:  all 4 of my grandchildren!  Thursday was Grandparent's Day at Jack & Anna's School.  Anna's class put on a series of "plays":  hers was The Little Red Hen -- so she wore a beautiful red dress.  When her class was done, she was able to leave with me so we went and had lunch with Mommy and Daddy.  Then, I went to Jack's class in the afternoon where we did puzzles and word games and Jack had to make a square for a "quilt" the class was making.

Jack making his quilt square
On Friday, Ian and Alex were also out of school so they were able to come over for the day and we went to Badger Sports Park where the kids played tons of game and, of course, Anna won a prize from a machine where absolutely no one else could win anything.

Popcorn and movies and a sleep-over, and everyone headed home on Saturday.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Seed Starting

It's not that I don't believe that Spring will ever come; I'm just not seeing much evidence of it.  Therefore, starting seeds makes me a little nervous as I only have so much room in my house and, unless the snow melts and the ground warms up, I might be stuck with the seedlings for a while.

That said, the 10 day forecast has us finally getting into the 40s and staying there.  That should take care of the bulk of the snow.

With a little trepidation, then, I decided to get some seedlings started.

Background first:  I've spent the past couple of months drawing up plans for my gardens as I wanted to do some major renovations this year.  Then, Stacy came to our Garden Expectations conference this year and, in the issue of B&B that she was using, was the fountain for my back yard.  That gave our President the idea that they should take one of our road trip meetings to our house.  Fortunately, it won't be until August, but I'd really like to have a nice, lush garden by then (even though I've really only been at this for 2 years).  To accomplish that, then, will require a lot of new plantings including a lot of annuals.  Hence, the need to start the seedlings unless I want to spend a fortune on transplants.

I had started 12 zinnia last week (3 are up and moved to the gro-light), and I've now added 3 Siberian Iris (already sprouted), 2 Agapanthus (already sprouted), 2 Arum, 28 marigolds, 40 assorted perennial and annual flowers, and maybe 7 or 8 each of basil and cilantro, plus a parsley.  Brought in one of my greenhouses (the other is holding my overwintering plants) and set it over the heat vent.  At least, now I'm started!

I still have a ton of flowers and some vegetables to get started -- probably in the next couple of days.  I've already pre-ordered 112 plants from various sources, and I know I'll end up buying a flat of impatiens and petunias for my containers.  This is going to be a lot of digging!

Bird Watching

I'm not a 'birder'.  I don't read magazines and books about birds, I don't try to learn the songs of different birds, and I don't go on expeditions to try to see specific birds.  However, I do have several bird feeders and I love to see the bright flashes of color when an unexpected bird drops in for a visit.

Through this long winter, I've become accustomed to the gray feathers of the mourning doves and the barely colored house finches that have continued to visit my feeders.  Today, though, the temperatures were a bit warmer and I saw some fun visitors.

First, there were three woodpeckers in one of the trees in my front yard.  They were pecking away at bugs, but I was able to clearly see them and identify them as Downy Woodpeckers.  As I watched them frantically pecking for bugs, I saw a flash of red and a different species of woodpecker.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it clearly enough or long enough to tell whether it was a Red-Headed Woodpecker of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  Either way, it was fun to watch them and it motivated me to go out and clean up my feeders and refill them.  I'm afraid I had let it go a bit long.

Then, as we were sitting down to dinner, I looked through the back yard into the evergreen trees that grow on the other side of our fence.  Tucked into the branches was a big fat Northern Cardinal.  I had just put out some cracked corn and sunflower seeds so I'm hoping he'll stick around for a while.

The Mourning Doves have been coming up on the porch and hiding out behind the wagon that I have (filled with branches) as a winter display.  I suppose it's a bit warmer and safer hiding behind the wagon.  It's probably a nice refuge for them, but I wish they'd quit pooping all over my porch!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Home & Garden Show

Jim Beard (FVTC) at seminar
Jeff and I went to the Tri-County Arena Home & Garden Show.  We go every year just to check
things out and see if there's anything new and innovative that we just have to have.  While there, we sat in on Jim Beard's seminar on 'Waking up your Garden' and got a lot of useful information.  Gave me a nudge to get out there on the nice days coming up and get my spireas pruned down to about 4", and some really helpful information has convinced me to try to go organic with the lawn.  Might take a few years but the roots will go much deeper and the lawn will be stronger if we eliminate the synthetic fertilizers that we've been using.  Other than enjoying the seminar, there wasn't much else that we gained from being at the show this year.  Don't need gutter inserts and we aren't selling our home.  Did talk with VandeHey's about maybe coming out and helping me with some changes I want to make in my gardens involving large, flowering shrubs.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Desperately Seeking Spring!

Our Master Gardener group had our annual Garden Expectations conference on Saturday.  Friday night it snowed with blowing winds but Saturday turned out pretty nice.  Stacy spoke to the group on the process that goes into creating the issues of Birds & Blooms and she did an awesome job!  I continued to get comments from people long after she left.

Between Stacy and our other speakers, we're all really in the mood for spring and getting started with this year's gardens.  And it snowed again all day today!  Two days until the first day of spring and we're getting more snow now than we did all winter!

Nonetheless, I did start some seeds today.  3 pots each of 4 types of zinneas (including some that only get about 12" high).  I still have plenty of seed so I can start more, or simply sow them in the ground if and when we ever get to that point.  Right now, my tray of 12 potential seedlings is suspended over a heating vent for bottom warmth.  As soon as the seeds sprout, I'm going to get it set up in the basement under my new grow light.  Initially, I was thinking that I was a bit behind in getting things started (although I know the end of March is technically the 6 week mark until our last frost date).  With all of this additional snow, though, I'm thinking that there's no rush to get a bunch of seedlings that I won't be able to move to greenhouses.

Need to keep an eye on that long-range forecast.............

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tax Time

So, every year I put off doing our taxes.  I use TurboTax online (which is the best program ever!!!) so it's really easy.  They ask me questions, I give them the answers, and the forms get filled in and filed electronically.  Still, I always put it off.  This year, because of being completely retired and collecting my pension, I was a little concerned about how all of the numbers would shake out.  Should have remembered, though, that the pension funds are non-taxable income (yeah!).

Sat down to go through all of the paperwork tonight and, with very little problem (some complication over foreign taxes paid to Canada on some investments), I found that I should have done these weeks ago!  What a huge return we're getting from the IRS -- and we could have had it invested and working for us already!

Thank you, Scott Walker, excellent Governor of Wisconsin, for now making HSAs tax deductible.  Our burden to the great state of Wisconsin was cut in half this year as a result.

Our hot tub bit the dust this winter after many, many really good years.  The kids loved it but, as a general rule, it didn't get used too often so I won't be sorry to see it go.  Now I'll get my sun room back and I'm going to fill it with plants this Spring.  I already have my eye on some nice wicker furniture to put in there using a part of this nice tax return.  Kind of have my eye on something along the lines of this grouping.  This particular set is at Sam's Club, and I'll need some kind of rug not unlike the one in the picture.  Actually, they could just pick up the whole thing and bring it right to my house and I'd be thrilled to death.  Bring some of my plants into the room, which they'll love due to the sun that pours into that room all summer, and all I'll need is a book and a cold beverage!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Planning for this year's Garden

As I look out the window, it sure doesn't look like spring will be here any time soon.  It has been rainy and foggy all day, but the temp is dropping and it's getting kind of 'sleety' and windy out there.  I had actually hoped to go out and prune some of my shrubs this week (want to get to my wiegelas while it's still plenty early.  Don't want to cut off the flowers!).  Don't think that's going to happen!

One of my weigelas starting to bloom
So I've been reading about gardening, and watching TV shows about gardening, and I took all afternoon today to plan the renovations that I want to do in just one of my flower beds.  The front of my house just doesn't have the 'curb appeal' that I want (from a gardening perspective) as a result of older plants getting a big spindly and some of the newer ones that I had put in last year dying due to the drought and horrible summer that we had.  My magnolia is beautiful every year and all of my old-fashioned weigelas are so beautiful when they flower!  However, the two in front need to be cut back pretty severely so they'll fill in some pretty unsightly areas.  I have another one in the back that I never prune so it's big and sprawling and I love it.  Wish I had left the two in front alone and they would look as nice.  Sigh!

My front entry flower bed is in shade a good bit of the day.  It faces west, but we have huge trees that keep it shaded for much of the afternoon.  So it gets some early afternoon and, then, very late afternoon sun.  I have a sprinkler hose running under the mulch and I've learned the hard way what will survive in this garden.  My sedums (reliable 'Autumn Joy' variety) are very happy and my astilbes (one of my favorite of all plants) are growing larger each year.  We have a severe rabbit problem (probably brought on by the plentiful supply of food under my bird feeders) so trial-and-error have shown me what they'll leave alone on those spring days when tender shoots are coming out of the ground.  [Note:  I found that moss roses are not a good thing to put into the ground.  The bunnies cleared all of them out in one meal.)

My super boring front entry garden.  Yawn!
The plans I've made for that front entry garden are pretty extensive:  digging up three spireas (which will be moved up to my hillside at the lake), and replacing them with an azalea that needs to be transplanted from the backyard and two dwarf Burning Bushes.  Then, I also want to add another heucherella (Foamy Bells) and 2 Heucheras (Coral Bells).  I absolutely love Coral Bells and I'm looking forward to the two new ones:  Circus and Berry Smoothie.  There are 5 Hellebores going in between the 5 sedum that are there, and I'll fill in around the under with annuals.  I planted daffodils last fall and it will be interesting to see if they come up.  There was also a lovely chrysanthemum and, again, I'll be interested to see if it survives the winter.  The whole color palette of this entry garden is pinks and green-to-greenish-yellow, plus the yellow of the chrysanthemum (if it's still there).  I know that's not exactly the way the color wheel would have it done, but I like pink and yellow together.

The extension to the front garden is also boring!
 Next to the entry garden is an extension that goes over to the magnolia tree and this garden is planted more in shades of gold, yellow, and peach.  Using yellow, then, should tie them together (I hope!  Keeping my fingers crossed).  [Note:  as I was writing that last bit about tying the gardens together with color, I decided I need to add some foxglove for height and color as the azalea and weigela will be done blooming early, and the burning bush, sedums, and chrysanthemum (I'm keeping positive thoughts) show off their color in late summer to early fall.  I'll need something with a little color in the middle.]

 I'm also planning extensive changes to the rest of the front garden (that which runs over to the magnolia tree), and to the butterfly garden on the side.  So far, I've come up with more work than one summer can hold.  Guess maybe some of these are long-range plans.  Can't wait to get started, though!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Blog Fever

I originally started a blog when I traveled to England to chronicle a trip that I knew would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing (and it was).  I wanted to keep it separate from my daily ramblings because it will then read like the travelogue I was hoping to achieve and, via a company I've located, the entire blog can be downloaded and printed as a book.  It will make a nice addition to the souvenirs I collected there.

But, I needed by everyday blog to follow the ordinary things that happen in life (along with some of the not-so-ordinary) so I created this blog:  Vicki's Pensieve.  It's based on an item that appears in the Harry Potter books -- a basin in which your memories can be stored and examined at will so your brain doesn't get all clogged up trying to remember everything.

However, I liked the idea of having a blog that covered trips and travels.  Traveling has always been so important and fun for me and, now that I'm retired, I intend to do more and more of it.  So, another blog was born.

Then, when I started gardening seriously, I started a gardening blog more as a journal for myself so I could track the progress of the things that I was attempting.  Now that blog is also shared on our Master Gardeners website so I really need to keep the entries as non-personal as possible.

Now I'm going to China in July and had intended to create yet another blog just for that trip.  However, I've decided to fold that trip into my travel blog.  I mean:  Really -- How many blogs should one person manage?!

So I spent this evening cleaning up the blogs that I had, making them a bit easier to read, eliminating the one that I had started for China by integrating the information into the travel blog, and trying to find out how to delete old blogs (took me forever to find the instructions).  I also discovered that you can change the date on any blog post, which will allow me to go back and fill in some pages in a chronological order.  That was a wonderful discovery!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Battling the Bug

Winter is, of course, a notoriously bad time of year when viruses and other bugs travel around freely making people feel miserable.  I usually do pretty well each year but not this year!  We were in the Dells the second weekend in January to celebrate Ian's 11th birthday and maybe it was the high moisture level in the water park or maybe it was something else.  At any rate, I got up on Monday with a tickle in my throat that developed into a pretty deep, rumbling cough.  Timing was horrible as we were planning to leave Wednesday to drive to New Orleans where we were going to catch a cruise ship.  By the time Wednesday rolled around, my sinuses were inflamed, my throat was raw, and I had no voice, in addition to the continual coughing and sneezing.

We had a good drive to New Orleans and, by the time we got there, all 4 of us were coughing and downing big quantities of Nyquil, etc.  As a matter of fact, on Friday 3 of the 4 of us ended up staying in bed all day sleeping (in our hotel in New Orleans).  Although we were permitted to board the ship, we had to fill out a health questionnaire and get checked out by a nurse.  (for additional details on the trip, visit my travel blog:  http://castleswavesandvolcanoes.blogspot.com/

It's now 4 weeks later, and I've continued to fight one additional symptom after another while supporting Vicks and all of their cough and cold products.  This included a week in Las Vegas (where the dry desert air did finally succeed in driving out the bronchitis).  Now in Florida, I continued to struggle on our drive down but this morning, after still more medicine and a good night's sleep, I think I may finally be on the mend.  Didn't have to get up even once in the night to cough or blow my nose or take more medicine.  Woo-hoo!  We have a full week here and it looks like I'm going to have some fun (once it warms up here)!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


My mom has always had a green thumb.  She can pluck a leaf off of anything and, a few months later, she has a full-grown plant.  Her African Violets continually bloom and re-bloom (and that's a plant I won't even try any more).  Upon moving down to Florida, she left all of her houseplants behind with my sister, but I'm betting she'll have a house full there by the next time I go back.
Chinese evergreen & draecena
On the other hand, my efforts with houseplants have not always been successful.  However, I now have a living room full of the most beautiful plants and I'm so thrilled!  I have a Chinese Evergreen that was given to me when I had surgery many, many years ago and, because they're pretty low maintenance, it has flourished and grown dramatically.

Then, there is a draecena that I bought at Sam's Club one time.  It was small and, while it was healthy, it definitely needed some care.  Now I keep it in front of the window all winter and out on the front porch all summer.  It's 4 times the size it was when I bought it.

When taking my Master Gardener classes in 2011, there was a class on plant propagation and I started a spider plant from a snipped leaf.  Now, 18 months later that plant is enormous and sending out spider shafts in all directions.

Peace Lily and Meyer Lemon
I also have a Norfolk Pine that is large and healthy, a peace lily that is healthy and sending out pretty white flowers regularly, a Meyer Lemon tree that I just planted this past summer so the jury is still out, and a couple of smaller plants that I'm coaxing along.  Then, there's also the English Ivy (mentioned in a prior post) that is flourishing in the front window as it spends the winter indoors.  It normally hangs outdoors during the summer.

Philodendron in blue beads
Finally, I have an experimental philodendron.  I plucked a leaf from a healthy plant at the public library, and it is now in a vase filled with those beads that sit in water and grow large.  The beads are generally used for cut flowers to hold the flowers in place and add beauty to the vase, but I thought I'd try it as a propagation medium -- and it's working extremely well!  We're up to a total of 5 full leaves and a sixth is beginning to unfurl.  It's a little tricky because the beads alone aren't enough to nourish the plant, and the water tends to get pretty gross if not kept fresh.  A learning experience!  [Side bar:  Stacy is now using those grow beads as a planting medium for forcing bulbs.  I'm interested in how that will turn out.]
Spider plant in the center & Norfolk Pine to the right

All-in-all, I've moved from someone who neglected or flat-out killed my houseplants to one who now needs to stop bringing them into the house as I've run out of room!  Very satisfying.

Beautiful Amaryllis

And one final picture of my beautiful amaryllis.  It had three blossoms that were a soft shade of red and almost white streaked.  Unfortunately, the blooms were gone before Christmas, which is when the second stem really grew.  Now I have a pot with a large V-shaped double stem that isn't very attractive but it will have to just take it's own time for the foliage to die off.  I really want that bulb to stay nice and healthy so I can plant it again for Christmas of 2013.

I'm guessing that even a monkey could have gotten it to grow since, when I went into the store closer to Christmas, I saw tons of unsold plants literally growing out of the boxes on the shelf.  It appears that the bulbs were going to sprout whether they were planted or not!

Snow Storm

As mentioned in the previous post, we got Mom moved to Florida just in time as there was a snowstorm right before Christmas.  On TV they were calling it a blizzard, but it didn't look or feel like a blizzard.  No howling winds or ice crystals slamming against the window.  It was just a lot of snow and, then, some winds that came a bit later.

We ended up with 10 1/2 inches of snow, which is amazing because we still had green grass in places before the snowstorm.  We literally went from zero snow to 10 1/2 inches on the ground.

I always wonder about the little birds when there's a storm going on.  Where do they go?  How do they find food?  It was funny, then, to see this little guy huddled in my window bird feeder.  He was inside it for shelter and he was putting his little beak right against the glass and drinking the melting snow as it trickled down the window.  Pretty awesome really.

Jeff was out of town and I was pretty sure he wasn't going to be able to get back.  Sure enough, he was able to fly into Minneapolis but the flights were cancelled from there.  So he rented a car to drive home.  In the meantime, though, I had 10 inches of snow in my driveway and on the sidewalks.  I have this pretty hard and fast rule:  I clean and shop and cook and do the gardening and I'll mow the lawn and I take care of my own car, but I don't do snow removal.  Period.  Mostly because I can't run the snow blower and it's not worth the aching back to shovel the heavy stuff.  Now that I'm retired, I'm good with staying in until the Spring thaw, if necessary. 

In this case, however, I was rescued when Scott and Alex came over.  Alex and I played in the house while Scott blew the snow off the driveway so I could get out.

So, we had snow on the ground for Christmas, which is always nice, but that's enough now for the winter.  The ground is covered to keep the grass and shrubs nice and warm through the cold weather so I don't think we need any more, thank you.

Mom's Move to Florida

An incredible amount of work was undertaken by all of us this past summer in clearing out the house and the garage and the storage shed, plus painting and landscaping, to get Mom's house ready to go on the market.  By August, we had it ready to go, picked a realtor, and went off on our Alaska cruise.  While on the cruise, we heard from the realtor that the feedback he was getting indicated that the selling price was set too high so, over a period of a couple of weeks, we lowered the price down almost to where we had wanted to set it to begin with.  He was certain that it would go for more money, but it ended up quite close to our initial estimate.

After sluggish activity in the early Autumn, we decided to just go ahead and get everything ready for the trip to Florida.  Mom had already purchased her new home and was going to head down earlier than we had done last year in an effort to avoid having to deal with the snow.  We took a quick trip down in September to see the home and spent a whole week cleaning and painting.  It looked (and still looks) really pretty and clean and nice.  When we came home, we decided that we'd leave November 11 -- my plan being to drive down with Mom and then fly back home.

Then there was an offer on the house.  This was a pre-approved buyer so it looked pretty good.  Then, she couldn't get financing after all, but was going to continue to try to find another lender.  The accepted offer specified a closing date in early December, but it didn't appear that the sale was going to go through so we were still planning to leave November 11.

Then she found another lender and the round of inspections started so we thought it best to postpone the trip.  But we heard absolutely nothing further and assumed everything had fallen through so we made new plans to leave the Monday after Thanksgiving.  At this point, we had been pretty lucky with the weather -- only one small snowfall -- but we didn't want to wait too long.

Then the phone call came that the loan had been approved subject to yet another inspection.  In the midst of all of the waiting, we decided that it would be smart to get the house packed up because that closing date in early December was still valid.  So, when the house inspector came, it was to a house that was already being emptied.  He ended up taking over 6 hours to inspect every little thing in the house, resulting in a request by the buyer to have an old fuse box removed and the outlets in the kitchen and bathroom replaced.  This required an electrician, of course, and this happened during the week of Thanksgiving when everyone was out hunting.  There was no chance of an electrician coming in until after Thanksgiving so, once again, our travel plans had to change and I had to cancel another flight.

Finally, though, the electrician showed up and did his job.  The closing was set for the 5th of December (instead of the original date of the 4rd) so, on that day, we finished taking everything to the storage unit, returned the cable and TV boxes, signed the papers, picked up the big check and left for Milwaukee where we spent the night before leaving for Florida on Thursday, the 6th.  Got all the way to just south of Atlanta on that Thursday night, so we made it to the house on Friday afternoon.  Finally!

So, Mom's all moved in and enjoying the nice Florida weather without worrying about the snow and cold that we've been having in Wisconsin since right before Christmas.  Pretty soon, the visits will start from all of who are still up here in the cold and looking for a break!