Life one bite at a time…….


Two of my favorite films of all times are Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Growing up, there was not a time when this aired on television I didn’t clear my “agenda” and make sure that I was available to watch this commercial-interrupted version year after year. I couldn’t get enough of it. As I became a teenager and a singer and actress in my own right, I sometimes wondered, pre-k.d. lang and Patsy Cline, if somehow I weren’t somehow linked with her. I had her song book, knew her life, watched her films. I so wanted to be Judy Garland. A career spanning stage, screen and cabaret, what not to want to be? Yes, there were addictions and temperaments but to me small price to pay.

Growing up in the overlapping hoods of The Jacksons and Stevie Wonder, living in a neighborhood of a melange of early 70s music, I hotly anticipated Q’s remake of my classic. When it came out, I was sold. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsy Russel just to skim the surface on a visually and musically funkalicious score.  I was hooked.  Don’t care about anyone else’s opinion.  If this is my guilty pleasure, believe me, there are worse.

And then there was Home.  Shortly after buying the two album set, I had the words, timing,emotive part down.  I could do this cold.  Performed it live at a gig in 1982.  I have sung this tune naked, drunk, painting a shed (none of these public venues).  It’s my go-to tune.  Like mac and cheese or a really good pinot.  Home food.  Pun intended.

For me it turned the corner on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (also in my repertoire), and added an urban need to knowing what your life was/is.  Diana killed it.  Already a Diana fan from The Supremes days, this was icing.  A really well executed butter cream type.

And then life hit.  I left music, became suburban, stopped singing.  Spent too many years trying to anticipate the demands of the man.  After life hit, it left.  I had forgotten about Home.

It’s been just over four years since life slammed into my psyche like a derailed express train. I searched for home.  There were so many days  I just wanted to run somewhere, anywhere.  I looked at real estate in France, Italy, northern California.  I have lost count of the times I drove around town talking myself out of missing the turn off or even hitting the bridge abutment.  Sometimes a really active argument.    I even fantasized about swinging by the house, picking up the fuzzy faces and heading out of town, no looking back.  Couldn’t leave them but surely did not want to stay.

I wanted to exfoliate this life by any means necessary.  It itched.  I was raw with it.

You see, I felt I had a home with my life partner.  It didn’t matter the zip code.  He was home.  Where he was, was home.  It sounds so biblical, but for me it was.  And home had evaporated; not sure it ever really was, except in the zip code of my mind.

For several years, I have searched.  The areas have changed, sometimes closer to family, sometime closer to here.  Consuming the real estate listings like an addict.  Looked at a couple of real possibles.  The one that got away still haunts, a beautiful 1930s bungalow on 13 acres outside of Danville Kentucky.  Again, that whole 1930s thing.  I still look for it in the Danville listings.  When I encountered it, I was still far too wounded to decide.  And it slipped away.

For four years I have tried to execute the projects I knew would make my house salable.  Painting, flooring, remodeling, lighting.  I let the garden go until 2013.  By that time, becoming a sad neglected jungle in places.  The house consumed me.  I needed to get it off my skin.  I needed a place of my own, I needed.  I needed.  I needed. I needed peace, contentment.  I needed.

Last gardening year, was a time of clean up.  I knew no one would want this place with overgrown beds full of self seeders and self pegging roses.  So most of the summer was spent trying to reclaim, trying to simplify and streamline.  Suburbanners don’t want high maintenance landscapes.  If my house were to sell, I had to make it simple.

As I cleaned up, I started connecting, talking to my plant partners.  This may be even crazier than liking The Wiz, but I fully believe plants are sensitive to us, they hear our voices, know our presence.  I touch as often as I can, talk, encourage.  There have been studies recently that indicate plants hear.  It mattered to me to know who had made it through the years of neglect, who had met their demise.  Who was flourishing. My 120+ year old rose bush was transplanted.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, a miniature I cloche every year, had survived. And so many others had put their cockney thumbs to the sides of their noses and were thriving.

The 2014 garden year was about accenting what was already here, with as minimal a cost as possible.  So many plants had not been divided in several years, a means of killing two birds with one stone.  Build up beds with plant materials already on the farm.  The repetitious use of plants is how a cohesive planting scheme is achieved, as well as minimizing costs.  I have spent the spring and early summer dividing and tucking, moving plants hither and thither.  Fleshing out areas that needed, well, you know, fleshing out.  Nothing crazy.

Interestingly enough, the midwest has been blessed with what I will term as “California weather”.  Not too hot, not too cold, plenty of precipitation.  Clear skies with low humidity.  Ideal for transplanting.  The skies this summer actually remind me of time spent in Montana with crystalline blue skies, no humidity and just a touch of coolness.  Beautiful.  If this is global warming, where do I sign up?  The beds this year are lush and diverse.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, as tiny as it is, is the biggest it’s ever been.  My 120 year old rose surviving its transplant is on its way to climbing the arbor.  The grass is lush and verdant. The farm is full of birds and insects.  The air is sweet and caressing.

There are still projects.  The basement remodel, a problematic little so and so, is on its way to being finished.  There are a couple of smaller items on the wish list.   I need a new roof, a new air conditioner, a new driveway.  Cheap.

This afternoon, I took some time off from doing.  The yard was mowed, the basement ready for the next onslaught of contractors.  Surrounded by fuzzy faces, farm cat Fletcher, Joy and Dante, I carved out some sweet moments on the deck to read.  I listened to the wrens and the robins. Watched the crows.  Heard the music of the wind soughing through the branches of the oak and the locust and the linden.  The air was unbelievable, almost too cool for normal summer gear.  I was digging it.  Fletcher curled around my feet, Joy and Dante flanked my chair.  No sounds of mechanization anywhere.

The sound of Home, right here in my own back yard.  No heel clicking necessary.  When I think of Home, I think of love overflowing.  Welcome Home.











The Slow-Rhea Movement

It’s only June and the year has already been so interesting and so tough.  In the past I’ve written mostly as a catharsis, sometimes healing wounds too deep to see.  It’s been a while since I put digits to keyboard; I’ve been avoiding the demands of the computer lurking and taunting me as I scuttle through my day.

It’s not as if I haven’t had some ideas.  The slowness of the spring to develop lent some ideas for the Burgeon Queen or the Burgeon Rhea, but I just never could force my self to sit down and do it.  Like my dogs, there have been too many distractions to sit and stay.

Today, I missed my window for mowing.   My mowing method is a trusty, old John Deere push mower.  While self propelled, in the last couple years the propelling has become open to interpretation.  When it dies and I scatter its ashes, time for a new mower.  But not today.

No, today I bother my dear reader with the musings of a different 2014.  I ran across a quote a couple years back “If you want different results, you have to do things differently.”  My experiment for 2014.  I attempted a consulting life in 2013; in 2014 I realized that I really didn’t like working with people that really didn’t want me in their offices, regardless of how badly they needed help.  So I learned to say no and bye-bye.    Instead of rushing into the next gig, I am taking a step back.  As Jim Carey said in his graduation address, I think I want to fail at something I really love to do.  At least I will have enjoyed the journey.

I am trying to Let Go and Let God.  I am trying to not always be DOING.  I am still trying to learn not kill myself with so much hard labor. And I am learning while alcohol is a compelling way to relax and sometimes temporarily forget, it is a slope I really don’t have the muscle to climb.

How do you slow a Rhea down?  Very carefully.

2014 in the garden has also been a year of different ventures, different results.  Last year, I had to take the bull by the horns and do massive scorched earth operations in beds not maintained for three years.  Self pegging roses attempted to eat me alive and not even leave anything for compost.  I decommissioned a huge sun bed full of tree peonies, roses, irises, butterfly weed. Giving away, transplanting, sometimes abandoning.  It was going back to sod.  I needed to simplify.

While our Plains brethren scoffed at our winter weather, for the midwest it was an unbelievable season.  I grew up outside of Chicago, so I know a few things about winter weather.  First, let me say that this area is not used to sustained weather of any kind.  The winter of 2013-2014 not only brought lots of snow, it brought sustained low temperatures, aggressive winds lasting for days.  The result being even lower temperatures.

Generally, by the time April has rolled into the hood, there are some pretty advanced signs Mother Nature is softening her stance.  Not so, 2014.  For weeks it was even too cold to venture out to check the beds without some serious gear.  Finally able to go out with only a heavy sweater, I saw so little peaking above the soil level it was frightening.  Sometime in May, early, or very late April, I saw the first defiant digits of peonies clearing the ground.  It took several days after that before anything else was brave enough.  Scary.  There was a bit of a warm snap and for any intrepid hostas that proved their undoing. Some came up and some were scorched back to earth by cold.

Then finally, temperatures began to settle in the warmer brackets.  Slowly, slowly trees budded out, spring ephemerals launched.  Ahhh, burgeoning.

As it turns out, for some peonies and most of the irises it was a great spring.   Apparently the coral family of peonies really loved being hammered by cold.  My woodland tree peony was stunning, and some of the irises bloomed like they have never bloomed before.


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For roses, a spotty spring.  Most roses died back to the ground.  Even the two knock outs I purchased for $5 in a scratch and dent sale, were knocked back to earth.  As it turns out, rosa The Fairy which someone begged me to pull out of their yard a decade or more ago was hardly impacted. And while my rangy pink Grootendorst had some fall out, she’s doing quite well, thank you.  The real rose stand outs were Darlow’s Enigma which has been trained into a maple on an exposed northern face of the yard;





the Chrysler Imperial which is about the only hybrid tea I fool with, for me never a very robust rose but I cannot live without that fragrance;





and the last rose has no name and no picture. It is a storied rose in my garden.  Part of the roll out of the old sun garden, last year it was moved.  As it came out of its spot of 15 years, it broke into pieces.  And in pieces, it was placed along a new arbor and fence line.  As of today, this rose is about 120 years old.  Given to me in the mid nineties by a friend who had no need of it, but because her 90 year old client had given it to her she couldn’t just take it out with extreme prejudice.  So she gave it to me.  This rose had been growing outside the front door of her client’s birth place.  I was saddened and worried that I had to move this gem.  It was a beautiful rose; old fashioned quartered blooms in a nice palish/mid pink with a marvelous old rose fragrance.  It had been growing inside a tuteur with a dusky purple clematis in my sun garden.  I had low hopes that either would survive relocation or that deadly winter.  And she thumbed her nose at me.  All the various pieces living and blooming, including the clematis.  Will try to post pictures when the second flush graces me with her presence.

The real beneficiaries of this new winter/new results have been my hostas.  Even those clobbered by an early roll out, have thrived.  So thick and so lush it’s been unbelievable.


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Weeds too appear to have been unintended beneficiaries to this harsh new winter.  Commando efforts will be necessary to eradicate or at least knock back these interlopers.  Different efforts here include having to resort to chemical means in some areas to removed these unwanted pests.  A very conflicting change.

New on the scene this year are projects I am taking on:

The truck garden that from last fall to this went from compost to set up to full of, yes burgeoning, vegetables.

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Hanging my newly acquired green man:







After five years, opening my fountain:





The new fountain project, in progress:

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Blooming rattle snake plant, YOWZA!

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Deer stalking……

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And after that marathon, bi-annual update, something completely new to the farm:






Hmmmmm, the slow life………


There is a beautiful verbal exchange in Pride and Prejudice between Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth. She has just been taken to task for not being a piano proficient, and in turn she has taken Mr. Darcy to task for being antisocial. Both deficits, it seems can be solved by practice.  I do so love the language of Jane Austen, so delicate and yet so clear.  I am afraid I am more Mr. Darcy than Miss Elizabeth.

I have a few people in my acquaintance.  I have never endeavored to amass an enormous sphere of social contacts, having always lived a more insular life, even as a child.  I love deeply and freely but not loudly.  Living love loudly takes practice.  And I must admit a certain aversion to exercise.  I like to think those who know, know and if you don’t know you probably still know.  One way or the other.

Like those soundbites describing how true friends need say nothing, can be in each other’s presence for hours or absent for years and then one day the phone rings and it’s as if no time has passed.  My management style exactly.

Within my sphere, I have had the pleasure of acquaintance with some profoundly talented and bright people. Beautiful people, really.  I have been lucky.  And blessed.

When for the first time I ventured out as an adult by myself I was going to college, pursuing music.  Having been active in my high school’s vocal and theatre departments I thought I had some decent background for this pursuit.  I was not prepared, truly I was not.

One of the first into whose path I was tossed, became a teacher, a mentor, a friend.  He was the kind of guy everyone wanted to know, get a piece of.  Larger than life. His artistic pursuits were so numerous, so varied and so thickly interwoven one would have thought it would take an army of people to hold it all down.  His name has been dropped so often he could be mistaken as the Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey of my college set.

We became acquainted through a series of entry level courses he taught.  Deepening our relationship by singing together in the small chamber group which progressed to singing in his jazz vocal group.  I was thrilled when he asked me to sub the girl singer spot in his big band.  I knew then what the wise guys must feel when they became made men.  I was in.

There were eight guys in the band.  I was young and naive and most of them treated me like a little sister.  My teacher/mentor/friend, the band leader was notoriously on sleep deficit.  Surviving sometimes on a couple of hours of sleep a night for days on end, gigging, teaching, writing charts, traveling.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  One of my new found brothers advised me: keep him awake by talking about two subjects, baseball or sex.  I was screwed.  I would be hurtling through the night at high speed in a van packed to the gills with equipment, and no idea what to say to keep him awake. Nothing needed to keep ME awake.

I had the privilege to ride shotgun with him for four years.  It was definitely not four years of baseball lingo and sex chats.  I found someone to whom I could speak without having to worry about being understood.  In some ways I think he knew me better than I knew myself. His advice was always spot on and he never treated me like a kid. Our conversations ran the gamut.  Excluding sex and baseball.

In the final part of my college career I had two private studies with him.  One was an indulgence, since it was a private jazz piano session, and my piano playing certainly wasn’t up to snuff (perhaps if I had practiced?).  The other a music analysis course.  Given a piece of music each week, I had to deconstruct, analyze and then verbalize the results into a 5-10 page term paper, hand typed.  Each week.  Did I mention this was each week?  It was one of the funnest classes I had. It allowed me to indulge so many aspects of my personality and then play it to an appreciative audience.  What not to like?

That class became a catalyst for what was to become one of the most momentous events of my life.  During one gig commute, we talked about my nonexistent love life.  I still remember every word he said to me and then what he did practically in the next breath.  At the gig that night, he corralled one of my band mates.  This guy was brilliant, talented, funny and sensitive.  And preternaturally shy.  Mr. Brilliant was told he would walk a mile for a girl that could write a term paper like I did.  Sexy.

It worked.  Mr. Brilliant/talented/funny/sensitive asked me out and soon became my husband.  My friend/mentor/band leader had now become my Yente. I do not like to use the word debt, as there would be no way to repay it.  But it earned a permanent place in  my personal pantheon.

Some of the most profound compliments I ever received came from him, which I hold in my heart. Buried treasure. But unfortunately as life progressed and my management style set in, we didn’t keep up. I failed to practice.

So here I am, breaching the silence of those interstitial spaces in our relationship. Loving loudly.

I love you man.  Djeet?

Let them eat cupcakes!

Monday I am going to the doctor for the first time in well over a year, maybe even two. Yes, I can hear the coming admonition about doctor’s visits and women “of a certain age”. I know. It hasn’t been because I haven’t had some complaints. For three months or so I have fought a running skirmish with sinus issues that have been cyclically debilitating, a few muscle problems to work through. Nothing serious.

No my absence of medical advice has been primarily due to my current employment situation which is “self-employed” and the saga of the health care portal. I was a bit anxious to expose my healthcare to a system that might pull the rug out just as I was getting to the good stuff. For the record, while the healthcare marketplace website was a debacle of no small order, once I actually got it working it was pretty slick. (To my Obama hating public: I don’t want to hear about it!)

This will be a new doctor for me. I want someone who will look at me and my life holistically. I am going to ask her about her relationships with pharmaceutical companies and other suppliers so I know I will not be subjected to medicines and procedures based upon some quota that sends her to Cozumel for a week.

I am hoping this isn’t going to be like some medical relationships past, one which tried to blame an impending gall bladder explosion on the fact that I just had too much weight pressing on my internal organs. Seriously, that is what is causing your reflux, indigestion, and heartburn, Mrs. Smith. You can pay at the window, next please.

I am a short, round woman. I have commando gardened for long enough that while I look like a cupcake, the cover can be deceiving. This past summer I unloaded and deployed over 250 bags of 3 cubic feet of mulch around my acre of heaven, some totally saturated with water. And that was just part of my gardening season. Am I a little slower with less stamina than in the past. Indeed. There has been too much water under my bridge in the last couple of years for me to retain my past commando crown, but I pull my share.

Four years ago I decided to work with a personal trainer. I was working out at home in addition to my commando time and just wanted to make sure I was not doing anything wrong, causing more problems than I was solving. Before I could even begin, I had to have a sign off by my physician. Check. Then they had to do a physical assessment. Check. I was tested for strength, balance and flexibility. They were astonished at how strong I was, how flexible, how good my balance. Honestly, I had to keep from laughing. I guess it suspends belief that a short round woman can actually be in decent shape.

A couple of months ago I attended a drop in yoga class. I arrive in my baggy ancient sweatshirt and sweats into the spandex and midriff bearing crowd. Oh boy. The young instructor sidles over to me and starts the conversation, “You’re new?” Yes. “What do you hope to gain from coming tonight?” Well, I’ve been doing some yoga at home and want to make sure I am doing it right. “Okay. Well, don’t feel like you have to keep up. If at any time you need sit it out, please feel free. Work at your speed.” Sure, says I with a cheshire grin.

The workout was intense, more so than at home. I have a bum knee from a 15 year old hiking/climbing accident that doesn’t allow certain positions, or at least not easily, so I gingerly worked through those. For the most part, I kept up throughout the whole hour and half. Not bad for a first timer I thought. After class, the instructor sidles up to me and says, “You’re really strong and flexible.” Yeah, I know, I look like a cupcake.

Over New Year’s I accomplished a life goal. I’ve always wanted to see a Mayan ruin. I am totally an archeology geek. If I had one reason to bring back my cable service it would be so I could watch archeology shows on History and Nat Geo. On the Riviera Maya is a lesser known Mayan temple called Ek Balam. Not as touristy, still accessible, indescribably wonderful. And I was able to make the climb. I didn’t climb over a short wall at the top not wanting to subject my knee to potentially more trauma than what I was going to need going down. The height is giddy-inducing. I have a love-hate relationship with heights that sometimes makes me experience a free fall feeling when on the top-side. So I took a few iPhone shots and started down. Yeah, I know. Cupcake.

So Monday is the doctor. I am hopeful that I won’t be compared to a bunch of sanitized statistics managed and massaged by the insurance industry. I don’t desire to live into longevity. Long life doesn’t necessarily mean a good one. I have friends in their 80s and some past 90, and the crowd is evenly divided on how well they view their lives. I want to live well, make my own choices, rattle a few cages. Go down without living in a forest of tubes and monitors and medications. I have already beaten the abysmally poor infant mortality statistics of the modern American health system. I want to have some honesty and dignity in my health care relationship.

Geez, I hope this doctor ain’t a cupcake.


Isn’t Marjorie a beautiful name? To me evocative of English accents, cocktails and dinner parties.

I am lucky to have a Marjorie in my life.  Some folks call her Marjie or some such.  But to me it short sells a beautiful word, aptly applied to a beautiful person.

How did I come to have a Marjorie you might ask?  When I found the sanctuary of Grace UMC, I was alone.  Every Sunday for months, I would enter the calm stillness and hope to find peace, true grace and a way ahead.  Every Sunday, two lovely ladies sat near where I sat.  Sometimes, I would sit right behind them.  Soon, we struck up a friendship.  It didn’t take long to find out my new friends Joyce and Marjorie had existed in my state of onesiness for a long time.  They knew where I was, and made an effort to make sure I got where I needed to go.

Soon, we were seeking each other out before service.  It was delightful meeting those ladies.  Joyce sent me cards.  Long after the madding crowd had left my little drama, a card now and again would pop through the mail.  Made me feel there was someone out there thinking.

I recognized a fiesty streak in Marjorie.  Don’t ask me how.   I was blown away when she stood up in the pulpit and described not only that she had been attending Grace for over 80 years, but she had begun the journey as a little girl,  alone.  First walking, and then riding a trolley.  Beyond fiesty.  Determined.  Very, very determined.

When we began serving on the finance committee together, I loved seeing her work the room.  She was a force.    I became chair of the committee and soon Marjorie and I were riding together, sharing space, sharing tales.  I started realizing how shallow the end of the pool I inhabited.  She was quite simply, Something.

I thought I was so cool, so pushing the envelope when I picked her up for her birthday lunch in my hot little convertible.   That day we were ladies who lunched.  Taking our time, swapping stories.  It wasn’t until afterwards, when I had forgotten to take the convertible up to 90 in honor of her upcoming date, that I realized I needed to run a lot faster than that to keep up.  She told me that she and her husband had owned a GTO back in the day.  Not only did they own it, they drove it Mexico.  When he needed a nap, she took over the driving.  Wide open spaces, foreign country, muscle car, Marjorie at the wheel.  Then her husband woke up and discovered she was doing 90.

And she is the 90 I would aspire to be.  Curious, energetic, thoughtful, smart.  She volunteers, she leads, she continually keeps moving and it seems takes no prisoners, except me. Sweet, gentle, fiery.

Happy birthday, Marjorie.

The Good, the Bad and oh, whatever…….


Today is a day I have been dreading.  Not like the April 15, I gotta send money kinda dread.  But in the “this is gonna be some serious hard work” kinda way.

It’s been at least five years since I’ve been at the compost bins.

Can I digress here and say I don’t always get the English?  Don’t they say comPAHST?  So if that’s the case isn’t it The Pahstman Always Ring Twice?

Anyway, I have been procrastinating.  I know there is deep rich stuff in them there bins.  But the shoveling and filtering is dirty heavy business.  But in the end comes gold.  Black gold.  Ohio tea.  Like in the picture above.  One bin of sieved, compost filled an entire large Vermont cart.  This is the stuff of gardener’s green dreams.

For me, this is the beginning of a new project.  Part of the procrastination.  There is scope creep in this here project.  First some background.  Although I live in a suburban area, we are mightily plagued with an expanding deer population.  I have tried on several occasions to vegetable garden here.  I have the room and some ideally sunny areas.  But those spots are also easily marauded by our four legged friends, not to mention the raccoons, possums, skunks and anything else running loose.  I have been most successful with pots near the shed.  Not ideal in terms of sun space, but close to rainbarrels and the building seems to act as a deterrent to marauders.

So here is the next generation project……


Raised beds ala stock tanks.  I have done a little reading.  Very little as I am a woman of action!

Unfortunately, the feeding of the procrastination is moving the wood pile in this area, figuring out the best spot for sun and then filling said stock tanks with compost.  The Vermont cart full filled one stock tank about halfway.  I have to rehome the wood pile, figure out the walking path and then get the rest of the compost sieved.  I’m exhausted just writing this.  And I have yet to plant a thing.

I am hoping with these deep tanks, root vegetables, garlic, onions will have a chance.  I am not greedy.  I am limiting my potential harvest to tomatoes, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes and green beans.  If there is  enough room, can asparagus be too far behind.?  But first I have to prove this little experiment will work.  I am worried there is too much shade.

And the bad?  You might have interpolated that the bad in the title was the hard work.  Unfortunately, not so.  Don’t forget I am a professional commando gardener.  Used to these bursts of high energy farm labor.  The bad is actually human intervention.  Someone put a broken bottle into my compost bin.  And one enterprising piece found its way into the palm of my hand.  I swear I felt it hit me all the way to my shoulder.  It’s for these occurrences I keep the peroxide handy.  Hard to type a post with just one hand……

And the news from the rest of the estate?  Ah, there is news indeed.  In addition to mantis this year, has been a blessing of butterflies, many which I have no idea who they are, many of which are swallowtails.

I was blessed to see that a Giant Swallowtail was flitting through the farm.  Think really large black/brown chocolatey wings with yellow racing stripes looking much like unwound film.  More dark than light. Enchanting.  Flew through too quickly for  me to get the camera, or so I thought.

A few days ago, there was something decidedly nasty, decidedly sinister on my lemon tree.  Yes folks, the same lemon tree the deer pulled off it’s resting place and broke many of it’s branches.  Patched up it survived.  Who knew deer liked lemon?

But the thing on my lemon tree?  At first, I thought it a particularly artistic means of bird self expression.  Yes, bird poop.  But it was fascinatingly weird, I couldn’t take my eyes from it.  When it moved I realized what I took for the terminal glop of poo, really looked like a baby alligator, or a dragon.  Holy smokes!  this is either animated bird poop ala Stephen Spielberg or it it’s ALIVE!

And thus I get to see the caterpillar form of the giant swallowtail, hanging it in my lemon tree……..


As a point of comparison, this is what a yellow swallowtail caterpillar looks like, just so you don’t think I have this bizarre sense of drama (okay I do have a bizarre since of drama but not with caterpillars)…..


Big difference, no?

Then there are the mantis.  In my previous post, it might be recalled that in the nine mantis counted, one was a two and half incher.  Clearly out of his league amongst all the heavy weights around him.  Yes, it was a him.  The next day, I found his headless, dessicated body not far from where I first spotted him.  Seems he found his femme fatale.  Interestingly enough, his replacement was an even smaller mantis, under two inches.  Good luck little guy.  May you creep under the radar.



I sedum come and I sedum go…….

Mantis on my Mind

Today the southwest Ohio heat storm broke a bit. Able to walk through the yard without becoming wringing wet (at any time of the day) for the first time in days, it was a cool but humid morning. Offered time to get a few tasks done before the uptick in both heat and humidity.

First task is to take the devil dogs for their morning jog. It was a good run. Since bringing a fully charged water pistol to the task, I am seeing a little less attitude when meeting other canines in the ‘hood. Today was a good dog day from another aspect as Joy did her first mock pull. She has been wearing a pull harness on our daily walks for over a week, with the ultimate goal of pulling a dog cart. She has gotten so used to it if I am not quick enough to suit up for our walk, she is nudging the harness and giving me meaningful looks. “Hurry up Mom”. So today, I built a mock pull jig that could be clipped to her harness. Fancy words for a piece of pine with eye screws. We walked the block and she did GREAT!

Time now to address yard and garden issues.  I don’t water much.  New plantings and transplants, yes, but when the beds are starting to dry up and crack, time to water.  Time to set sprinklers and timers, and hope for a cooling down.  Just get the shrubs and perennials through to dormancy.

On my first walk through the western terrace, I started to see them.  MANTIS!  Without much effort on my part, I counted 8 good sized mantids in about a 6 foot square area.  Ranging in size from 2.5 inches to easily 4.  Two  four inchers hanging almost nose to nose within 6 inches of each other.  I waited to see the action, but with usual mantis timing, hardly a twitch. And I must say these two were certainly not interested in me.  Sex or lunch? Don’t know but when I checked back about 30 minutes later, both had gone missing.  Hmmmmm.  The others, still in roughly the same attitudes as I had last seen them, some dressed in the radiant emerald green of a fresh molt and others the standard camouflage of golden amber and green.

My next coup of the day was to break out the mantis cam kit I bought on the internet.  Since I am still trying to diagnose why my good camera has thrown up its hands (thus no standard pictures, sorry!), this was a good opportunity to try the new technology.  (

Included in the kit is a mantis vise, which allows you to gently restrain the animal in question, while the micro chip and the cam are affixed.  It’s just snug enough that a small range in body sizes can be accommodated.  You may have a bit of a struggle at first, but once you have handled the first one or two you kinda get the hang of it.

Once in the vise, you must work quickly.  You do not want to stress out the mantid especially as it will take some time for the glue to dry after affixing the chip and the cam.  The glue is a special concoction developed by NASA for use with aliens, so is very gentle and nontoxic.

Glue the cam first.  It’s a bit heavier than the chip so will need a little extra curing time.  I placed mine right behind the neck joint so a literal mantis eye view can be obtained.  Then I placed the chip right behind it.  I sped up the gluing process by gently squeezing the tube of glue to create a bubble at the applicator point and allowing it to set just a bit before placing on the device and placing on the mantid. I was able to glue up and release four mantids in about a half an hour.

The theory is that in going through the next molt cycle, both devices will be sloughed off, but are completely biodegradable.

I found the mantis cam software was easily installed on my mac mini and getting the various devices identified and cued up took very little time at all.  These were very thoughtful software developers to say the least.  And what wonderful pictures started rolling in, in addition to being able to track movements through my garden beds via the chips.  AMAZING!!!!!!

Oh, how wonderful if I could just…….. Okay,  everything was true down to the mantis cam kit. No mantids (real or imagined or any other creatures) were harmed in the ripping of this yarn.  Just a little flight of fancy on my part.


PS – Since posting have gotten the camera back on line ……. (Yes Virginia, these are ALL DIFFERENT!)

IMG_5474 IMG_5473 IMG_5471 IMG_5467 IMG_5465 IMG_5462 IMG_5461 IMG_5458 IMG_5455

Full Circle

When I first began this post, it was because my queendom was so blessed with so many mantis queens.  They had thrived despite neglect and carried on the order.  They really didn’t need me, they just needed vegetation and bugs to eat.

This has been a summer of rebuilding.  A summer of oddities.  A summer of awakening. There were garden spaces to be reclaimed and others to be decommissioned.  It’s definitely been months of seriously hard work.  In the past ten days alone, I have loaded, unloaded and placed over 1,500 pounds of reclaimed concrete pavers.    The weather as so many of us have noted has not been midwestern typical, but I will take the California dreaming any day.  It’s been marvelous.

So tonight, as I sat on the deck post dinner it was hard not to notice that my beautiful farm cats, Munchkin and Fletcher were in a bit of a dither.  At first, I chalked it up to kitty hi jinks.  Munchkin had reappeared after a couple week hiatus.  Florida?  Costa Rica?  She never tells.  But Fletcher wouldn’t let it go, so now my curiosity is up:  is there a baby bird in the vegetation, someone wounded?

Below my deck is a nice stand of grasses.  They have thrived despite being in too much shade and have added a punctuation point to the path to the deck.  I love them.  And so apparently does the mantis.  As I approached the clump of grass in question, the one to which Fletcher was taking exception, I noticed it was quivering.  I was expecting a baby bird, many of which I had rescued and put beyond farm cat reach in the past.

I was surprised.  A four inch mantis queen had captured a full grown katydid.  Katydid not yet dead did not in any way deter the queen from beginning her meal.   It was astonishing.  I attempted with two different cameras to capture the moment.  Neither one, the good camera erroring out and the iPhone 5 focusing on too much green, could capture it. And just as I was admitting defeat, I realized the queen was focused on me.

Her beautiful diamond shaped head and sparkling eyes were looking at me as if to say, “You looking at me?”  It was a Taxi Driver moment.  And I just put the cameras away and slinked back onto the deck.

Life is good.  Long live the Queen.


I Am What I Am

I am a gardening snob. While I can arguably be accused of being many other kinds of snob, this is one I easily ‘fess to.

I am a gardening snob.

What crime, you might ask, to which I am confessing?  It could be native vs. all other plants; or local nurseries vs. mail order, or David Austen Roses vs Knock Out roses.  There are a plethora of permutations.

My crime, my prejudice, is the very definition of gardener, in my book.  Unless your hands are wrist deep in dirt, you are not a gardener.  You may be a designer, or a conscientious homeowner, but gardener, no.  My neighborhood is full of point and click gardens (landscapes as I refer to them).  Folks wanting maximum curb appeal with the least amount of bother.  Cover up that horrible utility box or erase my neighbor’s presence, but it has to be NO maintenance.   Once I write the check I no longer want to think about it.

Gardeners think about it all the time.  And I ain’t talkin sex, I am talking plants.    Is that the right spot for X, should I move Y?  Maybe it’s time to pull the plug on Z as it’s been five years and no improvement.  Experiment W has hit the jackpot, time to invest in more.  We absorb our plants through our pores.  Dream about next year, plant for the next decade.

One of my neighbors made a huge investment in landscaping.  Purchased yards and yards of topsoil, invested in thousands of dollars of mature plantings.  Then rarely spent time in the space that was created.  I couldn’t see the point. I guess it was the horticultural version of I belong to the country club.  My landscape is more expensive than yours.

Most of the gardeners I know, besides gardening to a compulsion most of us barely understand, are gardening to create a place of peace and beauty and sanctuary,  A place to spend time, recharge, seek comfort.

And this, I am most comfortable being snobbish about.


I practice commando gardening. No, it does not mean I garden naked, although now that I think of it, what paradigm adjustments my neighbors would have to make?  Thinking of course, Kathy Bates and Jack Nicholson in a hot tub. Okay, I digress……

For me, commando gardening are the 5, 6, 7 hour sessions where I stop for nothing.  By the end of which I look very much like Rambo coming out of the vegetation, covered in mud to my eyeballs.  AND several meaningful tasks having been completed, I need food and water and rest.  And maybe a redux of Lonesome Dove.

When I first started on this journey of creating my personal arboretum, I read somewhere the test of a true gardener was when the plants spent more time in a wheelbarrow than in the ground.  So, many of my plants have been moved several times, trying gracefully to beg off of the next road trip.  I am trying to find the best spot where they will thrive.  They on the other hand, just want to stay connected to the ground.  So in comes the commando; time to move troops!

This year I am decommissioning a garden space. Having decided to stay in my home of a decade plus, I am redeploying those perennials remaining in a high maintenance area I can no longer maintain alone.  I have been moving and giving away as many living entities as I can.  For me folks, each plant represents a life, one that deserves respect and hope and from there the chance to move on.  If not in my home, then somewhere it will be respected and loved.  I feel them and I talk to them.  They reward me.  Sometimes despite my negligence.

This has been an amazing spring, despite the decommissioning, there are plants blooming which have not bloomed before; roses that have been in the  ground for over a decade have multiple buds/blooms.  I think Mother Nature has put an umbrella over my little arboretum, helping, supporting, teasing me.  Now that I have accepted this little acre as mine.  Mine.  Only for a lifetime, a steward.

I feel connected to this place.  A place that has existed so much in my mind as I plan, develop, nurture, move plants.  I am reminded of Scarlett O’Hara.  Despite the loss of love, the loss of loved ones, felt such a deep connection to her bit of earth she knew she always had a place.

So here it is, the connection between Rambo and Scarlett O’Hara.  My Zen.