Wednesday, May 28, 2014

That Is Not Fair

There were interesting comments on my prior post.  I just wanted to clarify that I was not against the Afghan immigrants moving here, working here, and going to school here, and of course, spending money here!  I am assuming that those who waited on me were citizens of the United States although still having close ties to their homeland.  That freedom is what makes this country great.  Yes, we have those Americans who are prejudiced against these folks and that really came to the foreground after 9/11.  But we also have laws that protect them against most of that.

I just keep trying to get my mind around helping a country that has a large wealthy class while our middle class is shrinking.

I just had problems with the dichotomy of having so many of our college graduates not finding jobs and carrying college loans with a Congress that does not seem to care to support our own college students while voting for a war.

I have problems with our soldiers families living on food stamps after protecting Afghans from an invasion in their country with a U.S. Congress that has vetoed several veteran's support bills this past year that may have also avoided this health care issue.

I guess I also was having trouble with life not being fair.  But then...when has it ever been?

Friday, May 23, 2014

City Conversations

I was at a LARGE eyeglasses shop trying to select new frames for my new prescription.  I update my glasses about once every 5 or 6 years because insurance covers such a small part and I tend to like only those designer frames.  I think eyeglass frames are the biggest rip-offs on the face of the planet and if I had decided to be a designer, that is the direction I would have headed.

But this is not about my going slowly blind and broke.  This is about the people one meets on that journey. 

On my drive to the large shopping center with the large eyeglass store (I spend way to much time the country and am impressed by size) I noticed an unusual number of women wearing headdress in hijabs walking along the roadways and in the housing areas as I approached the mall.  These were the traditional dark lengthy coverings with neutral head covers...not the exotic mysterious clothing where only netted space for eyes is allowed.  They were all ages, some alone and some in groups.  It reminded me years ago when shopping this same mall I rarely heard English spoken in the stores.  I rarely heard any accent I recognized spoken although all the shoppers were at that time all in western dress.

Now I see many Middle Eastern people in western and traditional dress wandering the mall.  The eyeglass store employed ONLY Mid-Eastern people, all dark skinned, dark haired, dramatic looking people speaking with Mid-Eastern accents. 

When I had selected my expensive eye wear and handed the tray to one of the clerks, she bubbled brightly helping me choose among the selection as hubby has not a clue.  As we measured my eyes, talked about the gazillion choices in lens types she was most friendly before turning me over to a young man for the sale.  He and I discussed  discounts, insurance, and warrenty and as we waited for the computer to change screens, I said something about data and expressed that probably the NSA was inputting my eye prescription to their database and that was the slow-down. 

The young man with a mustache and wearing glasses looked away from the computer screen and smiled and said (he had little or no accent) that he was sure the NSA was tracking him and his computer and phone calls.

I asked if he thought that was because he was from the Mid-East.  He responded that "No." he had been born in Connecticut, but his mother was from Afghanistan and currently worked as a contractor for the US Army and was in Afghanistan translating.  We talked briefly about the book "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled  Hosseini and "In My Father's Country" by Saima Wahab, the latter a true story about a woman who was doing what his mother was doing. Like US Southern writers, Middle-Eastern writers have their unique style which means they tend to have a rich way of describing things and a great complexity in their characters.

The flamboyant, dramatic looking woman returned at the end of the sale to measure me for sunglass frames which were next on my way into debt.  Since we had been chatting so comfortably about love and marriage and having children...something us old folks can get young folks to do...I asked why there were so many people from Afghanistan in this area.  She responded that the Afghan government paid for them to go to school here, paid for their airfare, their schooling, their living expense and their health care!  She could not explain why this area was the one selected, but we were close to DC so that might have something to do with it.  Clearly they brought their large families along.

I could not help but feel chagrined that we send our young men and women to live in tents, eat canned or dried food, and risk their lives every day, so that these very wealthy citizens of another country can come here.

It did not ease the sour feeling in my gut when upon leaving I passed a beautiful young woman in a flowing pastel silk hijab sitting on a bench in the mall center using her cell phone which was attached to a huge jewel-encrusted chain around her neck looking like someone who belonged on Rodeo Drive in California...or more likely in a nightclub in the Mid-East.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Worker Bee Takes a Nap

This photo below illustrates what this worker bee feels like as my days start to open up with more time.

I find a cool green place and just collapse and stare into the sun.

Or perhaps, I am more like this Naval Cadet below but weigh a few more pounds.

By afternoons I do look like my grandson.

And yet wish I was more like my granddaughter!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Not What One Would Think

(This post is lengthy but important so please take time to read it all the way through.)

I am pretty sure that the average person has a pre-conceived idea of what a Master Gardener is.  Perhaps you think they are people who know the names of 99% of the plants in a garden, people who know what soil Ph is by looking at it, people who have answers to every disease or pest problem in your garden, and people who have truly lovely yards.  Well, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.  Yes a very few Master Gardeners can fit into this mold above, but most are really environmentalists with a tendency to like learning about science and a lot like you in other ways.  Their lives are busy and they get distracted and they make mistakes in their yards.  But, having written that, I admit that I got a little anal before having 12 Master Gareners come to look at my yard for an evaluation on whether it was Bay Wise ... good planting decisions to improve water quality for our rivers and bays.

Wanted colleagues to see my yard in the spring when things are blooming and weeds have not taken over.

I am the type of gardener that just lets stuff grow when and where it likes after I plant it.  This is the Master Gardener hodge podge bed.  I almost lost all of this dianthus to moles but soaked the bed with a mixture of cod liver oil and soap and that seemed to discourage them this year.

Master Gardener yards can range from floral displays to woodland hollows, to a simple lawn and vegetable garden.  They do view yard work as therapy and prefer that to watching TV.  They do have a love of eating fruits and vegetables and tend to be purists if these are not freshly picked.  They do tend to avoid planting exotics that can be invasives.  You will not find a butterfly bush (Buddleia) in a Master Gardener's yard.  Yes, we love butterflies.  But this bush is somewhat invasive (in 8 states), does not provide any food for the larva of butterflies and other beneficial insects although it does provide nectar.  Therefore, why not plant something that allows butterfly babies to grow? I will not ask you to dig up your butterfly bush, but please do not plant more when there are other shrubs that are good for butterflies.  (It is a controversial plant but I tend to agree with this lady.)

I had to wait sometime before I would allow Master Gardeners to judge my garden as to whether it would pass the Bay Wise test.  The test is really easy to pass, but I did not want them to see the mistakes I had made.  I dug up my butterfly bush, my black bamboo (it was lovely for 4 years before it started to take off), and all of the Miscanthus (a tall grass that looks very lovely but is also invasive and is not eaten by deer and seeds are not eaten by birds.)  Some nurseries will tell you they sell a non-invasive version of this grass...yeah, they tend to say that about a LOT of plants.  They also sell or sold thousands of ornamental pear trees for subdivisions and road sides that were supposed to be sterile and they can be found growing extensively along the edges of roads and highways in the mid-Atlantic.  (We do have a native Miscanthus but no one sells it.)

In the photo above was the last invasive I had yet to remove (red arrow).  It is isolated but still spread seeds in the cracks which I have to pull.  It is Catmint Walker's Low.  Yes it is related to the mint family and that is why it is an invasive.  It spreads by seeds and runners.  It has the most beautiful blue fringey flowers each summer  and gets to stay one more year until I can find something that is the same color, shape and bloom time.

If you research you can find nurseries that sell native plants and can tell you where they grow best.  Yes, SOME natives are as invasive as some non-natives, but you can feel less guilty and know that there are natural predators.

Above two photos show my ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolias).  This one is a cultivar as it is lime green and tends to be smaller than the 8 feet high version.  It is native, tolerates a huge range of soils and moisture levels, and blooms in May, and makes a lovely hedge or single mounding plant when trimmed.  Called ninebark because the bark exfoliates.  NOTE not everything in my yard is native.

I was judged on whether I encouraged wildlife.  I have bird houses, piles of broken branches, bird baths, and hummingbird feeders and lots of downed trees as food for everything under the sun.  We do not (actually in my area ... another post...CANNOT) bring down dying or dead trees (example is second photo below).  In the photo immediately above the right arrow is pointing to my butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) related to the milkweed.  I thought the winter had killed this native.  It is hard to grow from seed, but I will keep trying.  It is one of the few plants that the larva of Queen and Monarch butterflies eat.  Butterflies and humming birds love it.

Above photos are NOT the ugly.  The compost container which hubby waters and shovels monthly from side to side makes the best compost for top dressing of our gardens in the fall.  We have a jar in the kitchen for all scraps except animal products that go into this area along with shredded leaves and grass that we add later in the summer.  Right now all grass is mowed with a mulching blade and returned to the lawn.  Yes, it makes for messy walking and grass clippings in the house, but it is much healthier for the lawn.  Beyond that is a pile of weedy roots that we hope to cook through out the summer.  And then in the far end is the weeds that need to be burned and cannot go into the compost pile.  I learned from this recent yard visit that timing for burning weeds has to be carefully done.  If the pile has been sitting a while and it is spring you should avoid a burn because you will kill a lot of insects!  (And of course you have to check for those silly wrens.)  The photo above the compost pile is a holding bed where I dump the extra iris (an other stuff) until I can find them a home.  We also hang on to most of the wood that falls into the yard for winter fires.

Now to the ugly.

I do plant about 6 to 8 roses in my garden.  But these are really the bad children of the garden.  They require too much fertilizer that can run off onto the storm water, they require applications for fungus and pests, which can kill important pollinators and insects and they require lots of water.  Master Gardeners do grow roses (one in my group just bought 30 new plants to replace his winter kill.)   But we have to be aware that they are not the most environmental part of your yard.  I am using a systemic fertilizer/pesticide applied three times a year at the base of each plant to avoid sprays that are soooo dangerous to everything and to keep the toxins as local as possible.  Fungicides (and pesticides) are killing our honeybees and many other pollinators and larva...PLEASE BE CAREFUL with them.  Hubby is going to a colloidal spray (clay) for our fruit trees this year to avoid toxic applications.

We were evaluated on how we watered our plants, how we treated our lawn, whether we had native plants, whether we planned for wildlife, our use of chemicals and how we controlled stormwater runoff.  We were not evaluated on flowers and landscaping.  And we passed!!  I got a "Demonstration" sign which is one level up from a Bay Wise sign.  No, it will not stay in this bed as it looks odd, but this is where we took the photo.  The sign cannot go out to the end of our long driveway as I understand some idiots steal them!  So I will move it to the beginning of the beds and hope people notice and ask about it!  (And yes I am a bit anal as all the pottery is color coordinated with the house.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

My loyal readers know that I have been drowning in responsibilities these past weeks.

First we finished the Green Exposition by staffing (and expanding) the children's garden.  Children help us during this one Saturday to plant vegetables for later harvest for an ecumenical food pantry.  Fresh produce, while provided by farmers, is welcomed from our garden with more variety.

We worked with over 100 children during the day.  They are so fun, because they really like planting a plant!
We have expanded the raised beds from four last year to eight this year.  OMG!!

Please note that I try to hide children's faces out of respect for parents who do not want their children's faces spread out over the Internet.
And within two weeks we have salad!!

The museum donated this strawberry planter which we are using for herbs such as thyme and oregano.
The big push for this project is now done, although we have much ongoing work through out the summer.  Two short classes each week, regular watering and weeding, and delivery of produce!  We do have other volunteers to help, so that makes us sigh just a little.  Next post I will talk about the yard review by Master Gardeners.  Another big project done!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Still Hangin In There

Slowing down and finishing the big lists.  But. I will return like a bad penny, a nasty mosquito, an enduring allergy...soon.

Friday, May 02, 2014

A Favor for Tabor

I will be spending most of the day at the Children's Garden tomorrow as part of an environmental expo for the county.  I will be on my feet all day as will my hubby.  We have helpers to work with the little kids, so I am hoping the day will not be too chaotic.

Today has been one of those days where I have been running from pillar to post.  Grocery shopping, then moving gravel and soil at the Children's Garden and tidying it all up for the coming exposition and then getting the lists and sign-up sheets and all that bureaucratic stuff ready for tomorrow.

Tonight we have sorted various plants and pots for the kids to plant tomorrow.

I just made stuffed peppers and roast potatoes and I am heading for the bathtub while dinner cooks.  Oh is that bubble bath calling my name!

I really need some down time, but not seeing a break in activities until Thursday or Friday!  I sat for just a minute on my deck yesterday and was so sad when I realized I had not had time to do some spring migration bird watching.  Not one bit!  A few of the bird houses have occupants, but I am too busy to enjoy even that.  I grab a small handful of meal worms and dump them on the front door of the blue bird house and then make sure the seed feeders have feed these next few weeks.  But mostly, I have been working hard on the yard getting ready for a yard visit by a bay wise check group in about 10 days! This is an important visit that I have promised this group for over a year.  I hope I pass their test, but what they really want to see is a living shoreline that we put in.

Do me a favor.  Scratch all that stuff off your list and enjoy spring for me.  Tell me what you see and how you feel.  Thank you.