Glory's Garden

All the world's a garden, you know, and we are mere flowers within it. Come, I'll show you!

Don't get any funny ideas!

©2018 Glory Lennon All Rights Reserved

My Peeps!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Crocus: The harbinger of spring

Crocus growing in the grass too!
Ah, the wondrous Crocus! The harbinger of spring. The first flower to come poking out through the melting snow. The one true sign that winter is on its way out. No, it’s appearance doesn’t signal the time to put away winter coats, but it does give one hope and after a long and dreary hibernation the Crocus is indeed a welcome sight.

Crocus vernus, the common Dutch Crocus (Did I say common? How dare I! ) Is the most widely available, most often planted and the most vigorous of its kind. They come in dark purple, bright yellow, sparkling white and  lavender. These beauties are usually planted en mass, look darling in rock gardens and though they stand barely three inches tall they hold their own even from a distance. The Crocus has narrow grass-like leaves with a silvery or white streak down the middle.

Even among the winter litter they sparkle
While the Crocus may pale in comparison to the stately Tulip and the jolly Daffodil it still has me by the heart strings. It blooms without fail, multiplies readily and always cheers me up. I get the winter blues something awful but seeing the first Crocus tells me it’s time to start seeds indoors, in cold frames and in the greenhouse. Yes, the Crocus brings with it the new growing season. What could be better than that?

The Giant Crocus, reaching a whopping  six inches tall has a larger, showier cup-shaped flower. They come in the same colors as the C. Vernus, with the same bright yellow to orange centers plus the addition of cream, gold, pale violet and some enchanting two-tone varieties. All are hardy in most places but they do best in colder climates. In the sub-tropics and warmer areas it is necessary to refrigerate the corms in ensure blooming. These are readily potted and forced for indoor blooming just like other spring bloomers.
Multiplying like crazy

They do best in full sun but as they bloom so early they can easily be planted under trees where they will get plenty of sun before the trees leaf out. Some folks like to naturalize Crocus in their lawns. Just lift up a section of turf and place the corms right under the sod. In the Spring the lawn will get a tiny splash of unexpected color. Generally, the corms should be planted five inches deep in well drained, rich soil. If you live in an area prone to squirrel traffic it is advisable to place a chicken wire barrier over the planting area holding the edges down with U-pins. It’s not foolproof but it might discourage the little buggers.

As if I needed to say anything else in praise of  the Crocus there are some varieties that bloom in the Autumn and one in particular that provides the gourmet cooks among us the coveted saffron. Crocus Sativus, aka the Saffron Crocus,  has a lilac-colored flower with the bright orange to red stigma which is the true saffron used in dishes like paella and as a coloring for yellow rice. All you have to do is pluck the stigma as soon as it blooms, dry them and store in air-tight jars. And you thought the Crocus was just eye candy!

One thing to remember about the Crocus and all other spring blooming bulbs, the foliage needs to dry naturally to ensure it gets enough energy from the sun to multiply and replenish its store for more blooms the following year. I plant these among perennials to hide the drying leaves. Fall is the time to plant spring bloomers but right after they flower is the time for a little fertilizer in the way of bone meal, compost or  any liquid stuff you find readily available. Keeping them healthy will ensure more vigorous growth and more blooming power for the next spring. No matter what variety you choose I know you will adore the cheery Crocus as much as I do.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Life will not be denied

While walking through the garden, I am constantly reminded of the line spoken by Jeff Goldbloom in the film  Jurassic park. He insisted that though every precaution was taken to prevent the dinosaurs from reproducing on their own, """  Life will not be denied."

Even amongst the weeds
Such is the case in my garden and probably in yours too. Although I try my best to control most things in the garden, life will not be denied. Weeds will come back regardless how often you think you got all of that darn root. Other weeds will pop up at will. Plants will go to seed. Seeds will sprout where they drop. Plants will grow willy-nilly despite or because of excessive pruning. Some will thrive and some will perish and usually without any say from you. In short, the garden is full of surprises.

Case in point: How the heck did these Crocus come to be here under the Juniper shrub, outside the wooden barrier that separates the garden from the lawn and inside the rosa rugosa hedge? I most certainly didn't plant them there.

Jumped the restraints
Only thing I can figure is they went to seed, as naturalizing bulbs tend to do and the seeds blow around hither and dither and landed here and there and ....well, there you go; life un-denied.

I do like these little surprises, even if it does seem like I'm complaining.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Z is for Zany Zinnia

Lovely Zinnias! A joy to have in the garden, Zinnias provide much needed color when many other plants have petered out. It isn't until a frost zaps them that they stop their wonderful show-stopping color fest. And they do come in all sorts of vibrant colors...hummingbird and butterfly attracting colors!

Yes, Zinnias are beloved by butterflies, bumble bees and hummingbirds who love to nibble on the occassional tiny spider which passes by on silky strings to hide within the many petals.

Of course, Zinnias come in all varieties; single, semi-double and fully double, tiny one foot tall Liliput plants to towering four foot high monster Statefair Zinnias. Okay, maybe not monsters but big all the same. Some even have tiny flowers within flowers. See the five-point star shaped stamen above? Look like tiny flowers nesting within the bigger blossom, doesn't it? Just darling!

As annuals go, Zinnias are about as frugal a plant as you can get! The seeds are practically free at the store. Really, by the end of the growing season I've bought them for ten cents a pack and sometimes less! And then you can always collect seeds from the best flowers at the end of the growing season and save them for the following year. Can't get more frugal than that!

You can always find them at nurseries and garden centers growing in flats and while not as cheap as the seeds they still are quite affordable. If you like color that won't stop and a constant show all summer, the Zany Zinnia is for you. Try them, won't you?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Y is for Yarrow, the herbal bandage

Yarrow, botanically Achillea millefolium, has a long history both as a medicinal herb and as a garden favorite. Its beginnings were humble, however. It grew as a wildflower for passing children to gather for loving offerings to their mothers. Now it is simply known as an easy to grow garden perennial, but back in the day, it was considered an herbal bandage. It goes by many names some of which tell how it was used. Herbe militaire, Nose bleed, Thousand weed, Soldier's Woundwort, Bloodwort and Bad man's plaything are just a few of these common names. Do they tell you anything about its uses as a medicinal herb? Some of them should unless you're dense.

Who knew something so pretty could also be useful?

It is said Yarrow was named after the hero of the Trojan war, Achilles of Greek mythology, who used this plant to treat his soldiers' wounds and staunch excessive bleeding. Its benefits as an herbal remedy don't stop there, though. The medicinal properties within this plant are numerous. They include blood coagulants, anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, antispasmodics and antiseptics. Pretty good for just a wildflower, don't you think?
Pastel shades of recent cultivation efforts
Besides being used to treat wounds, Yarrow was used as a sedative, to reduce swellings, for treating burns, ulcers, incontinence, menstrual cramps, digestive problems, fevers, urinary tract infections, dysentery, hematuria and hemorrhoids. There have also been recent promising studies showing yarrow in the treatment of hepatitis and liver disease.
It is the stems, leaves and flowers which are used for medicinal applications. Fresh leaves can be used on cuts and scrapes straight out of the garden and teas and infusions can be made with yarrow and taken for aiding digestion, treating nerves and/or relieving menstrual cramps.

Yarrow is a rather unassuming plant with subtle foliage and unremarkable flowers. Some people may consider it unworthy of allowing into a formal garden design. In recent years, however, some exciting new cultivars--some pretty pastel shades and bright pinks and reds-- have been developed to appeal to the discerning gardener. We'll talk about those and how to actually grow Yarrow in a future post.

Monday, April 25, 2011

X is for xeriscape landscaping

 Not that I have this problem in my swampy piece of paradise, but there are many gardeners who can't do much but sit and watch their lovely landscape become a vast wasteland in the heat of summer under blistering sunshine and with nary a drop of rain to be had. Some are even banned from watering their gardens with the hose pipe. To the rescue comes xeriscape landscaping.

Xeriscaping eliminates the use of water consuming plants and that moisture gulping lawn and replaces it with native plants which are drought tolerant and can withstand the harsh rays of the sun. Using mulch to conserve what little water they do get, using drip irrigation and judicious watering practices, gardeners in hot, dry regions can have very attractive gardens.

So, if you don't have much water for the garden either as rainfall or from a hose, don't despair. There are many, lovely plants for dry regions. I'll even tell you about them in a future post!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

W is for wacky weather

Our April Fools day snow fall

It is a rather odd thing, but I can never be quite sure winter is over until spring is quite on its way. Well, its the wacky weather that does this. I can never truly be certain that winter is gone for good. Here in the Pocono Mountains, weve had eight inches of snow fall well into April, so, there is no relying on a calendar to tell us spring is here. Calender makers have obviously never ventured this way!

Once spring is declared, the Pocono gardenerperhaps its just me though?will hold her breath and brace for yet another inch or two of snow, sub-zero cold snaps sandwiching brilliantly beautiful warm days, blistering winds and an absolute deluge of water from the sky which proceed to soak an already soggy yard. Tis a wonder we can get any spring gardening done!

The truly wise and sensible gardener wont do much until after April is come and gone, but since when are gardenersthis one especially wise and sensible? No, after a grueling winter cooped up, any warm-ish, sunny day is invitation enough for getting our hands dirty, digging in the soil, pulling aside the winter mulch blanket and watching for the earliest sprouts. We shall go outside even in cold temps just to prompt spring to get here quick! Wacky weather be damned!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

V is for Valerian, the wonder herb

Do you know the story about Valeriana Officinalis, the herb which brought a town to its knees? Sit, make yourself comfortable and I'll tell you the tale.

It is said that the elders of a small town in thirteenth century Germany took a job offer of ridding the town of rats to a certain musically talented young man. He, known henceforth as the Piped Piper, readily took the employment. He did his musical magic and banished all rats out of town to drown themselves in the river. Unfortunately, he was then promptly denied the payment they had agreed upon. Feeling cheated he threatened the town in a most diabolical manner but the elders had what they wanted, a town free of pestilent rodents. What could a guy with a flute do?

Well, as it turned out, he was not just a musician, but also an accomplished apothecary quite knowledgeable about all manner of herbs and their effects on people and animals alike. Legend has it the Piped Piper used Valerian root to hypnotize the children of Hamelin into following him straight out of town until he got his proper payment. Possibly the rats as well had a dose of Valerian. It has a similar effect like that of Catnip.  Had he been a vengeful sort the Piped Piper might have asked for more money but he only wanted his due. Perhaps the townsfolk of Hamelin felt their good fortune after getting their children back and therefore gave the young Piped Piper  the respect due him.

Now, some would say this is merely a fairy tale but there is too much irrefutable proof of the astounding powers of Valerian to dismiss it totally. Several centuries before the Piped Piper, knowledgeable Greek and Roman men of science, Galen, Pliny and Dioscorides to name a few, were touting the many amazing uses of Valeriana or Valere as they called it then. The name comes from the Latin for strong due to the harsh, unpleasant scent of the dried roots. Some have described it as smelling somewhat like dirty socks.

From a pain reliever, diuretic, tranquilizer, antidote to poisons, sleep aide to a decongestant, it seemed these notable experts used the valerian root as a panacea or a good-for-what-ails-you remedy. But it wasn’t until the 15th century when the herb’s popularity exploded due to an Italian doctor who claimed to have cured himself of epilepsy using the herb. Recent research has found his claims to be valid.  The great herbalist John Gerard insisted that any medicine without Valerian was no medicine at all. He urged people to use it for chest congestion, bruises, falls and convulsions.

Nicholas Culpeper the seventeenth century herbalist told of other uses for Valerian including the treatment of menstrual discomfort, bothersome coughs, digestive troubles, treating sores and wounds and most importantly for the time, to ward off the plague. The early colonists to the Americas soon found the natives using an American version of Valerian mostly for treating wounds and this was brought to the attention of the founder of Thomsonian medicine, popular around the time of the Civil War, Samuel Thomson who called it the best tranquilizer known to mankind.

With all these accolades backing it up it’s no wonder Valerian was used readily during World War I for those shell-shocked individuals suffering from what we know now as post-traumatic stress disorder. It was commonly used as a wonderful relaxing herb for insomnia, anxiety, headache, nervousness and intestinal cramps. To this day there are over one hundred over-the-counter tranquilizers and sleep-aide products being sold and guess what’s a main ingredient in almost all of them.

Researchers have since compared Valerian to other tranquilizers, benzodiazepines like Valium and found it to be much better, safer and with none of the side effects associated with them such as addictiveness, birth defects, morning grogginess, withdrawal symptoms and there were no negative effects when mixed with alcohol or barbiturates. Some other research shows the lowering of blood pressure and tumors in animals.

As for the plant itself, Valeriana Officinalis is a tall, 4-5 foot high,  hardy perennial with a tendency towards invasiveness due to spreading rhizomes and self-sowing. The fern-like leaves are light green and form a dense clump at the base with the small fragrant flowers, coming in white, pink, lavender blue or red, towering over in umbrella type clusters from late spring to summer. Valerian likes a sunny spot but will tolerate light shade. It prefers rich, loam soil and ample moisture.

It is the roots that are mostly used medicinally. Harvesting the roots is quite simple. Dig up the plants in spring or fall, cut off the roots you need and replant the rest for your next harvest. Dense clumps lose their vitality if not regularly thinned out so this conveniently promotes it’s health as it helps your own. Dry the roots in a well ventilated area away from direct sunlight and as it does rather stink outside or in a greenhouse is best.

To use Valerian as a sleep aide take 2 teaspoons of powered root in one cup water, allow to steep 10-15 minutes and drink this before bed time. As it is a bit nasty-tasting adding sugar, honey, lemon or mixing other more pleasant herbs or teas may makes it more tolerable.

Fair warning: Using Valerian in larger doses may cause blurred vision, restlessness, headache, nausea, giddiness and morning grogginess. Use wisely.

Friday, April 22, 2011

U is for unexpected

Such was our swampy yard when we built our home here; completely unexpected. I mean to say, would you think you would find a swamp in the middle of a mostly open field, a field which used to be a horse pasture with just hay and some briar patches here and there? Swamps are supposed to be under many aged trees, with stagnant water pooling everywhere. What did I know?

It seemed we couldn't dig a hole without hitting a fresh water spring. That is how we got our pond. No, it didn't come with the land. There had been a depression in the land which always collected water and nothing seemed to dry it out. So, we dug the hole deeper, about 5 feet in the middle which would allow us to keep fish and water plants from freezing in winter. The pond filled up all on its own within a few days and frogs were making themselves at home even before that. Odd how animals seem to know where to go to live comfortably without anyone telling them.

Pond overflowing with water lilies, Hyacinths and cattails
It's either feast or famine, isn't it? Some gardeners don't have nearly enough water and I have too much. I can't imagine being so dry as actually having to use a hose to water my plants. I'm used to lush greenery around me, but I never use the hose to get it. Really I don't have to, ever. Water literally bubbles out of the ground here.  The  builder hit this gushing spring when he was putting in the pole barn and calculated about five gallons per hour came out of it. We're considering putting in another pond on the down side of the pole barn. Still thinking about it though.

The unexpected can be wonderful or a nuisance. All depends what you do with it, I suppose. We built a pond and I love it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

T is for trouble, the Trouble with Vacations

Just as I was thinking of starting some seeds indoors for planting in the vegetable garden come June first (our first TOTALLY frost free day), Tom reminded me that we were going on a trip at the end of April. This was not good news to me. It would put any seedlings I might have growing at great risk. Tyler, our official cat/house sitter, may be all right about taking care of the cats, but watering tiny, delicate plants would be beyond his capabilities.
What will happen to my babies if I'm gone for a week
 This, therefore, is the trouble with vacations. Things back home go to potor is it that things in pots go back home? Whatever the case, I have decided it would be safer for my would-be veggie garden to get started a bit late, after we come back. This would put me back a good four weeks, but what can I do? Get a plant sitter??? Ah, well, life goes onjust a bit later than it should.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

S is for Spiritual contentment

Today we'll have a guest blogger, my dear friend Raymond Alexander Kukkee 
who writes at Helium and has his own blog Incoming Bytes

Finding spiritual contentment through gardening

I breathe in the freshness of the earth as I carefully pull the weeds from my garden and listen to the early birds chirping at seven in the morning. The sun is coming up, and a gentle breeze is refreshing, but cool. Why am I so early? The weeds in the vegetable patch can wait, can they not? Perhaps I should procrastinate and sleep late, but I prefer the serenity of gardening in the early morning. I have found spiritual contentment in gardening.

Weeds aside, in my garden everything works perfectly. Perhaps the weeds, too, are perfect, for they do encourage me to think, to examine every tiny plant in detail and to decide which is which . I know most of them. I choose the weeds. The roots come out of the moist earth easily after a gentle rain. Chickweed, amaranth, crab grass, and even stringy wild buckwheat that grows like ivy decorates my vegetable rows. Canadian thistles, even as babies, are perfectly protected with thorns, reminding me to put my gloves back on. Dandelions in the middle of the wide carrot row are in flower, their brilliant yellow flowers waiting to be picked by a curious gardening child and offered to Grandma as a gift from heaven. I leave them. Somehow, earlier in the spring, the cultivator missed their deep, powerful roots too. How wonderful for Grandma. How perfect.

Pear, plum, cherry and apple blossoms are out, it is so natural, so simple; the blossoms smell wonderful and sweet and in the perfection of God's plan, offer the cedar waxwings something to eat. The waxwings prefer the pink crab-apple blossoms for some reason. Maybe they taste better, but it matters not, there are thousands of blossoms to taste.

Dogs lay in the grass silently, wagging their tails and quietly watching me when they are not gazing at the squirrels high above them in the black ash trees. The squirrels in turn chatter at the birds; the robins hop from branch to branch, carrying twigs, grass, and long strands of white horse-hair for weaving and nest-building. The nests are almost finished.

I am almost finished the third row, and it is time to lean against the hoe, straighten the complaining muscles, and watch the bottom of the sun leave the horizon. I close my eyes and thank God for the blessings of life offered by our wonderful garden. I have found spiritual contentment in the earth itself, in the spiritual patience that comes naturally with growing things. All weeds are included, as we have decided weeds are special plants offering special and unique reasons to be with us.

As I watch the sun rise, my mind is at peace, a strange and total serenity, but I can smell fresh morning coffee. The next row, the one with little beets and lettuce in it -and chickweed- can wait until tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

R is for Russian Olive

Former player and now announcer for the New York Mets Keith Hernandez was once asked what he did that weekend. He responded that he had weeded his yard of quite a few unwanted Russian Olive seedlings. After enduring considerable ribbing from his fellow announcers who thought him rather silly for doing his own yard work when he could afford a fleet of gardeners he replied, “Where’s the fun in that?”

Now, what is to be gleaned from this is:
#1- You have to love the guy if only because he likes to garden perhaps as much as you do.
#2- Even the rich and famous have their fair share of weeds.
#3- Russian Olive must be an invasive plant.

According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service  it is exactly that. There are only a scant few states in which it is not considered  “run amok” those being in the lower southeastern part of the United States. This is because the Russian Olive is only hampered  by hot, humid summers and mild winter regions. It, however, can take any other punishment Mother Nature wants to dish out. It can take the bitterest, coldest winters, poor soil, blazing sun and even drought. No doubt this is what makes it a “noxious weed” or “potentially invasive” in many areas.

Of course, one gardener’s “invasive” is another’s  “can’t live without it”. Such is the case with me and my lovely Russian Olive which I wouldn’t part with for all the world. It behaves rather nicely in my very own Arboretum. If you would like to talk invasive plants, however, I’ve an Ash tree, a massive Honeysuckle hedge and several Burning bushes that would surely qualify. But that is a tale for another time.

Botanically speaking the Russian Olive is known as Elaeagnus angustifolia. As any student of botany can tell you the name implies this small, deciduous, multi-stemmed tree or tall shrub  is elegant in appearance and willowy with slender foliage. This foliage is 2 inches long with a pale greenish gray hue. The underside is almost a silvery white. It also has its own built-in defense system in the shape of haphazardly spaced 1-2 inch long and very sharp thorns. A hedge of Russian Olive would keep just about any intruder out or leave him cut up but good if he attempted to run through it.

This fact doesn’t bother the birds who like to nest in large stands of Russian Olive bushes where they know they will be safe. Song birds also love to nibble on the tiny, sweet olive-like fruits which develop come mid-late summer. In spring along with Bradford Pears and Forsythia it bursts into bloom with a trillion tiny, rather insignificant but highly fragrant pale yellow or creamy white blooms. The perfume can be noticed from miles around. In fact, the highways where these grow in abundance never smell better than when these are blooming.

The Russian Olive can grow to 20 feet high but can be easily maintained smaller. It is apt to grow as a tree in the more dry, barren regions dropping some lower branches in an effort no doubt to conserve water but where moisture is plentiful it reverts to the shrub state unless the learned gardener does some artful pruning to keep a multi-stemmed tree form.

The Russian Olive makes a great specimen plant in the lawn which also serves to keep its invasive nature at bay. As a shrub it would make an excellent tall background, perfect for organic fencing, to define and separate garden rooms and as a sound and wind barrier when planted along noisy roadsides. It can even replace the ugly snow fence and its invasive nature could be put to good use in preventing erosion on steep banks and to soak up water in low-lying areas.

Is there anyone that can say this easy-going, virtually carefree, wildlife enticing, environmentally valuable and versatile plant isn’t a boon to almost any landscape? Possibly Keith Hernandez.  As for me I’d be more than happy  to trade some Ash tree saplings, baby Burning Bushes and little Honeysuckle shrubs in return for a few Russian Olive seedlings. If you see Keith Hernandez tell him for me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Q is for Queen Anne's Lace

When I was a child, I recall picking wildflowers in an empty lot behind my cousin's house out on Long Island in New York. At the time I was living in Manhattan, the concrete jungle. YUCK! Even then I hated the city, so a field of wildflowers was close to heaven for me. I didn't know the names of the flowers back then, but I can imagine they are the usual; Black-eyed Susans, Daisies, Buttercups, Blue-eyed Grass, Pussy-toes, maybe even a Dandelion,  Cosmo, Coneflower, and of course, Queen Anne's Lace.

Queen Anne's Lace is the most lovely member of the carrot family. If you've ever pulled one out of the garden you'll know it by the strong scent of carrots the roots have. No, you shouldn't eat them, but some larva love the leaves and they eventually turn into pretty butterflies. Queen Anne's Lace is universally known as filler for informal bouquets. The most generous among us may call them wildflowers, but in reality Queen Anne's Lace is your most prolific of weeds, after dandelions. If left unchecked, they can take over a yard, garden or flower bed.

Whatever you may call it, it is a lovely long lasting flower in the flower vase and I shall always love it. Queen Anne's Lace takes me back in time, back to a simple time when a grassy field was a fun, carefree place with zero danger. It also gives me back the lovely memory of when I gave my mother that kid-size bouquet --which I considered the most beautiful thing on earth-- I picked out in the field in the sun out in the open without my mother worried I'd get hit by a car or bus. I believe I may have learned to love flowers--or wildflowers to be exact--in that field in the country.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

P is for Pussy Willows

These are not pussy willows. This is my hedge of Rose-of-Sharon. When I woke up one morning to a light snow covering all the shrubs on the side yard, I had to laugh. I thought they looked just like Pussy willows in bloom.
 My French Pussy Willow which you can just make out behind the hedge towering over everything, is now too tall--a good thirty feet high-- too tall for me to actually see the pussy willow catkins and means I can't reach them either, which really stinks. I wanted the stupid plant to bring some stems inside for early spring forcing. When I asked Tommy if he would mind if I coppiced the tree,(meaning cutting it down to get it to branch out at the base) he gave me the answer I expected. "No, I don't like that idea at all!"

So, what I did was start another French Pussy Willow from snipped branches. You should know that most willows are super easy to root either in soil or in water. I just have to be diligent about maintaining the size of these new shrubs very small by brutal clipping if need be.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

O is for Old age and occupation

My grandmother Angela
 Old age is a daunting, frightening thing for many of us. That may be because we know what to expect and we just don't like it. The aches, the pains, the slowing down, the diminished mental faculties, all of that bodes ill for a happy life after a certain age. Some of us, however, get old before our time, mostly from attitude and boredom. Yes, boredom! To relieve this boredom we need occupation no matter what our age.
Grandmother Angela, me and my brother Alex
 Take my paternal grandmother for instance. She was a devote Catholic who had five children, 18 grandchildren and more great-grand children than I can remember. She always lived with one of her kids. She lived with my family for a while, in fact, when we lived in Manhattan in a tiny two bedroom apartment. Even when she was young, she seemed old to me. It wasn't the wrinkles or anything like that. She just had no occupation and never seemed to be doing anything other than praying. Now there is nothing wrong with praying so don't misunderstand me, but to do this all the time? She was as close to a nun as I ever saw without her actually being one. This, in my eyes, made her old.

Mom and Pop out in the sugar cane field
My parents are what most people would  consider old, into their 70's, but they just never seem old to me. Why? Because they always kept busy even after retiring. My father runs his little poultry farm and takes care of a good piece of property, planting all sorts of fruits and vegetables for their consumption and for sharing with the neighbors. Not by himself, he does all this, but with a helper. The thing is, he's always doing something and because of that, he's relatively healthy of mind and body.
Mom fussing with her plants, not much different then me!
My mother, on the other hand, is a bit sickly. She has severe arthritis so she can't do as much as she'd like, but even still, she keeps as busy as she can. She reads stories and teaches Catechism to the neighborhood kids, takes them on outings down to the river and to picnics by the waterfall. She loves doing gigantic puzzles, to go swimming in summer and to walk through her beautiful tropical garden and fuss with her vast collection of orchids. She used to do very intricate crocheting but now her hands hurt a bit too much for that, so she does it very rarely.
Mom with her Catechism class. She insists you can teach about God anywhere!
 My mother seemed to figure out what I noticed about my grandmother, that she was getting old before her time because of boredom. So, what she did was teach her how to crochet and do other simple crafts, like plastic canvas needlepoint. Now, this may seem like a ridiculous thing to teach a sixty plus year old woman--at least my aunts, her daughters thought so--but teach her these things my mother would and did.

And you know what happened? She loved it! Yes, my grandmother found something she could do to keep her gnarled fingers nimble and her mind a bit more sharp. She also found a joy in making things to give to her loved ones. Did she ever become proficient in these crafts and create master pieces of heirloom quality? No, but that was hardly the point. She crocheted doilies and baby blankets, made simple bath tissue covers, napkin holders and placemats. All of these item found permanent places of honor in her relative's homes. That was enough. It made her happy to make them and to give them away and that was all my mother had expected to do.

I thought that was pretty good. When I went to visit my grandmother in Florida she gave me two of the doilies she made. She laughed as she showed them to me and said, "They're not very good, nothing like your mother makes,but if you would like them you can have them."

"Of course I want them! They're beautiful!" I told her. To me they were.
Doilies my grandmother made for me
My grandmother died last November. She was eighty-four years old. Declining in health she was, so it wasn't as if it was unexpected. She was ready to meet her maker, I heard her often say. But still, it was sad. I will however always keep the two doilies she made which brought her equal joy in creating and giving them as it did for me in receiving them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

N is for Novice, the novice at crochet and knitting

All sizes and shapes make them fun to put together, if I cared to.
For the crochet/knitting novice out there, you may recall I spoke recently about swatches in the post about making sweaters. A swatch is just a practice piece to see if you like the feel of the pattern. Doing a swatch, either in knitting or crochet, will help you decide if it's easy to do or too difficult to make, helps you decide on size needles or hook to use and how the final product may look in your yarn choice.It's also a great way to get rid of tiny bits of leftover yarn that you work together to make multi-colored designs.
I have loads of Swatches and each is marked with the name of the pattern used.
 They can be fun to make, these swatches, and if you gather a few dozen and sew them together, you'll have yourself a rather crazy throw, lap blanket, cushion cover, scarf or shawl.

I have a wild and extended collection of swatches, but according to the experts, this is typical of all crocheters and knitters.So, there you have the swatch and all its wonders. Aren't you glad you asked?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

M is for Master Shopper

Have I told you yet that my Tommy is a master shopper? Well, he is.I'll explain how I came to this conclusion.

One day in early December,Im looking over my vast sweater collection and say, Man, these are looking ugly.

Tom asks, Whats wrong with them?

Same pattern I used to make my mother's Christmas present
Theyre old and tired looking. Dont even want to be seen in them, I grumble. Well, I decided I was going to make myself some sweaters.I had, after all, done it before for others, so why not for me? It would be fun to have a project which I would definitely wish to finish up in a hurry. I asked Tommy to remind me to buy some yarn the next time we're out shopping. A week later we stopped at a store and I grabbed eight large skeins of yarn in several jewel bright  colors. I would get at least a few sweaters out of these, although I hadn't even started looking at the patterns I'd like to try. 

I mistakenly thought that was the end of that. I'd just sit down and make a sweater, but buying the yarn was the easy part and only the beginning. So many decisions to make! Did I want a pullover, turtleneck or a cardigan? Did I want a classic style or something new and funky? Did I want to knit or crochet it? Could I use my new knitting looms? Did I want the sweaters all one color or striped or worked in colorful blocks?

I was driving myself batty looking at all my knitting books and all my old crochet magazines. I came up with dozens of patterns I would like to try so, I started making swatches. 

What is a swatch? A practice piece to see if you like a certain pattern. I'll tell you about that some other time. As I was working up these swatches and comparing them, Tommy got annoyed that it was taking too long. So, guess what he did? He went out and bought me a slew of sweaters, thirty four of them to be exact, in all colors and styles and sizes. Yes, some were too big and some too small, but they were all just $2 each, with tags and designer labels and everything.

How in the world did he do that? Heaven only knows! He explained he found them at a store which deals with surplus items and there you go! Things like this always seem to happen to Tommy; things just seem to fall in his lap when he especially needs them. According to him he needed to get the sweaters so I'd stop fussing about all those patterns, yarns and swatches. He refuses to believe this is part of the fun of making a crocheted or knitting project.

So, back to the sweaters. "Only" about twenty of them actually fit me and  were my style, so those I kept. The others were given away as gifts. My mother loved the one with the flowers embroidered on the front! Justin loved the one with Pooh Bear and Tigger and I brought a few to my mother's housekeeper too, for those chilly nights in DR. It was apparent everyone benefited from Tommy's master-shopper status. And people wonder why I never shop! I don't have to with Tommy around.

What will I do with all that yarn you may be wondering. I'll tell you that in another post!