October 30, 2009

Mystery of Mums

Like a lot of people, I love to buy mums in the fall for my porch and for indoors. I didn't know much about this plant, so I did a little research and found terms like "hardy" mums and "florist" mums, neither of which was considered to be anything that would make it through an Iowa winter if planted in the ground. Usually I purchase them at a garden center and I never spend a big wad of money on them, since we know they're really just temporary decoration - right???

Well, meet the wonder mum, the never-say-die mum, the how-does-it-do-that mum! This strange plant has been growing and re-growing in a big plastic resin planter for three years now. The first year, I planted it in this pot along with some other autumn plants, and then it stayed on our porch until we needed to move it out of the way for Christmas decorations! It was plopped into a corner of the garage and stayed out in the frigid temps all winter long. I never watered it or had any notion of tending to it, since as I said before, I considered it a disposable plant. However, in late spring I noticed that this plant was actually sending up new green foliage - how strange. At that point I did start watering it and it grew to full size and flowered right on time in the fall. It's now done the same thing for a second year! I don't think it's the same color that it was originally, but that just makes it all the more intriguing to me.

And here is another anomaly among mums. This plant was sent to us two years ago in the spring as a get well wish. After it quit blooming, I planted it out front, where it proceeded to grow and grow and bloom again in the fall. I simply cut it back to the ground after that and of course, it came back again! It got so big this year that we had to tie it to the porch railing to support it. Another thing that we've never done is pinch back the early buds that form on these, which several gardening sites strongly advised for maximum blooms. Even so, this pant in particular couldn't possibly bloom any more vigorously! I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that the plants we fuss with the least are the ticket to a satisfying landscape garden. Maybe I'll stop all the feeding, mulching, spraying, dead-heading, and so on. Maybe from now on I'll just plop the plants in the ground and let them have a go of it!

Happy Halloween!

Oh, the days of Charlie Brown and The Great Pumpkin have come again! I have wonderful, wonderful childhood memories of this holiday. We always had great costumes, classroom parties, Halloween parades, and of course days and days of candy overload! We had lots of fun with our own daughter too, and I sure miss teaming up with my mom to make a darling Halloween costume for her every year - and then hoping and praying that the snow in Colorado wouldn't wreck trick-or-treat night! We don't get trick-or-treaters way out here either, but that just means that we don't end up eating half a bowl of leftover Snickers bars on Nov. 1st!

We're currently under a flash flood watch due to our weather over the past few days. Something about rainy and snowy weather makes me want to cook and bake. I'm sure I'm not alone in that urge! Last night we had a good batch of Pad Thai and I finally got a photo of it to put on the recipe page. I also improved the directions, so if you have a craving or curiosity, click the link and check it out. It was a great way to use some of our recently harvested carrots. But, the festive thing that came out of the kitchen this week was this fantastic pumpkin bread, served with some cream cheese that I sweetened slightly with honey and spiced up with a few dashes of cinnamon. And of course I used our black walnuts in it rather than regular walnuts! The recipe for this whole wheat pumpkin bread is on my recipe page.

Hope you're making (or recalling) fond memories with your family!

October 28, 2009

Black Walnut Windfall

A co-worker of my husband recently offered free black walnuts to anyone and everyone that wanted them. He's living on a new property this year and didn't realize that his black walnut tree was going to cause him headaches deluxe when he tried to mow the lawn this fall! My DH brought home numerous bins full of these lovely things and this photo shows them drying out in our garage.

In case you've never seen a walnut before it's for sale in the grocery store, here it is in all it's glory! Frankly it's a big mess in many ways and this outer husk turns black before it's ready to be sloughed off and reveal the hard walnut shell underneath. That's probably why a lot of folks aren't too interested in dealing with them and also the reason that the shelled nuts are so expensive to purchase. If you're the one dealing with the black stains on your hands and everywhere else, you have a desire to charge what you will! Ours are now stored in the garage in air vented bins and we'll use them as we need them. According to the "experts" we have polled, these will last for a good, long time. As you know from this blog, we're always up for the experiment!

Here are the beauties after having been cracked open. Oh the fragrance, oh the flavor! There is just nothing like them. I've blogged on the love of these special walnuts before in last year's Christmas cookie entry.This black walnut fudge is absolutely amazing and a great Christmas gift, and a family member mentioned black walnut refrigerator cookies to me yesterday - must look into that! I've used these nuts in banana bread and granola as well, and they always make a distinct difference in whatever the recipe. Even if you aren't able to gather them yourself, or blessed by another's windfall, try them out if you get the chance. You won't be sorry!

October 26, 2009

Baby Got the Swine Flu

Oh, the agony of the flu and the agony of having your baby too far away to take care of her! Our DD is suffering with a pretty high fever and all the other nasty symptoms that have quarantined her in her apartment on campus. The college has asked the students and staff to stay away from classes and stay in their rooms until their fevers are less than 100 degrees. It's all over campus - no surprise - and she thought on Saturday when she called us, that she was going to get away with it just being a bad cold, but when we talked again on Sunday afternoon, it was full blown. Her very sweet roommate vowed to take good care of her though, so that is a true blessing for us all. Thank you J!

It's too late for this round, but I am planning on sending her a package with food and medicine that she might use next time. She wasn't too well stocked this go, but all of these things will keep for a long time and should be a ready resource for the next cold or flu. It's the next best thing to mom being there! I included dry soup, broth, crackers, applesauce, little tuna salads (protein that's easy to digest), noodles, and cream of wheat packets, plus the necessary medicines like ibuprofen, vitamin C, cough syrup with expectorant, cough drops, and even Kleenex. She has a veritable collection of lip balms, and a good supply of tea bags, or I would have put that in too. I think it's a good plan for parents to send this kind of care package to their students, since they don't always know what they need to have on hand. Having this stashed away should help a lot in getting them through an illness - assuming they have enough strength to boil water, or a kind roommate to do it for them!

This picture of her suffering through a bout of flu when she was 7, always cracks us up! She had no patience for a drippy nose, so she just came up with a way to solve it, which was sticking tissue up her nose for a while - so pretty!! Almost as pretty as that fancy trash bag we hung off the couch for her convenience - classy!

Take care of yourself baby! We love you!!

October 22, 2009

Fall Delights?

Yes, even in Iowa we have beautiful fall colors! This is a little tree at my aunt and uncle's house.

It's so pretty the way that they cluster on the ground and line the streets and sidewalks.

And then there are other things that cluster along the ground that aren't quite so charming...

These look like ladybugs, but they're actually Asian beetles. A little research revealed that they were brought to this country to help control aphids, and they traditionally wintered over in caves and hollow trees. Sounds harmless right? Well, surprise, surprise, they are now in the habit of wintering over in (and under) the siding on people's homes. We had quite the swarm surround our house a couple of days ago, and by the end of the day they were dead and lying in piles around the house. Apparently they couldn't make their way into our house or the siding, and they simply died trying. Not such a fall delight!

They tried to get in the back door.

They tried to get under the grill cover.

And they tried to get in the windows at the side of the house. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Sweeping them away sounded like gravel skittering across the porch. So, for anyone who gets the idea that living in the Iowa countryside is a perfect life, well...there are a few glitches now and then!

October 19, 2009

Where are we going?

I'm talking about our country. Where in the world are we going? If it's going where it looks like it might be, I for one will not go quietly. This country has been blessed by God for many, many years. Anyone with any history knowledge whatsoever knows that the United States was founded on Christian principles, and moreover, our founding fathers did this ON PURPOSE!

William Penn said "If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants".

C.S. Lewis in his classic, Screwtape Letters, wrote: "The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid 'dens of rime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do no need to raise their voice."

Have we let the smooth talking, smooth-faced tyrants pull the wool over our eyes? Have we been asleep at the wheel? Were it not for a strong faith in God and His sovereign plan, I would lay awake more at night. But I trust in God and I derive hope from a certain group of young people that I witnessed over the weekend. Once again we had the great pleasure of visiting our daughter during Parent's Weekend at her college. In the picture below, you see a large crowd of young people on a Saturday night, gathered to hear the Praise and Worship team and sing along for 30 minutes in a very moving, heartfelt service.
This service was held in the student center and it was packed with students and parents on the floor, on the stairs, and hanging over the balcony above. (Our daughter is one of the singers, at the left of the stage.)
None of these people were required to be here on a Saturday night and honestly had plenty of other choices to make about how to spend their time. They come because they have a faith that is genuine, and in spite of what is being said about the apathy of the next generation, I beg to differ.
They will need this faith to navigate the results of what is being pushed on us in this country, and they need for all of us to get off our bums, take off our blinders, and seek the truth. Please, let's not leave them holding the bag.

"Shine, Jesus, shine,
Fill this land with the Father's glory."
Graham Kendrick

October 10, 2009

October Special!

Oh yes indeed, it snowed on October 10th this year! We've had two inches and that sets a few records for both early snow and the amount that's fallen.

It's so pretty to watch, even if it is a little premature. It's given us a very relaxing, peaceful Saturday morning and that's a gift! I do, however, feel very badly for the folks around here that have literally worked all year to plan the yearly festival in our town. Visitors and vendors come from far away every year to enjoy our little county, and I'm sure there are lots of disappointments being felt on this 3o degree morning.

But we are feeling victory instead of defeat, because last night, rather than our norm of taking Friday night off in preparation for our usual hectic Saturdays, I encouraged DH to come out with me to the garden to see what we might be able to harvest. We knew it would be getting cold and that a few flurries might be around today, but we had no idea that we'd get an actual snowfall. To our delight, we found all sorts of wonderful things, including a brand new growth of tat soi, which we happily ate with our scallops! We would have missed all of these goodies if we had been our normal "end-of-the-week-slug" selves last night!

Green and red mini, second growth cabbages.

Carrots and more super-mini pumpkins, which my dear husband washed in a typically practical male way - using the dish drainer - ha!

A huge bag of fall rhubarb...mmmmm...it smelled so tart and good!

And we actually found a few more good tomatoes, a couple of peppers, and a pile of cucumbers. So this shot is my artsy-fartsy way of declaring that the harvest for this year has faded to black once and for all. Thank you Lord for a lovely season of delightful produce once again!

October 7, 2009

Bye-bye Bean Vine

One last hurrah for the hyacinth bean vine! Today was the day to cut it down for the season (so that DH can re-paint the porch), and I brought a few remnants inside to make an arrangement. O.K. - I'm obsessed with this plant!

Here it is in it's fullest.

And here it is, still looking regal in the trash bin!

It took me quite some time to get it all cut down, and as you can see, it was a twisted, sturdy creature again this year. Some folks wondered how many seeds I planted to get this much growth, and today I counted eight vines coming out of the ground, so apparently I planted eight seeds.

I sent out seeds this year to family and friends to have them try growing the vine in other places. Most had some success, though a few found that growing them in smaller containers didn't produce good results. One family member had the vine battered and bruised by hail, but discovered that it did well in a large planter, the way ivy vine grows in larger flower pots. I got just a couple of photos back...

My cousin grew this at her farm in southwestern Iowa. It's reaching for the rooftop!

And this one is growing in a garden in Minnesota - in the words of the gardener "in some gravel along the driveway"! I love how it looks on this fence.

So the seed pods are saved again for next year and fall clean up marches on. The roses have been cut back and put out of their bug-filled misery for the year. Maybe next year will be back to normal for them. We still have the big job of putting the garden down, but the carrots need to come out first. We actually have the "s" word in our forecast as a possibility for the weekend. Just a few flurries they say, but you know there's no turning back once that happens. Do I hear the holidays around the corner???? The next season of joy!

October 3, 2009

Harvest of Carotene

Or is that beta-carotene, or what's the difference? After a little research, I refreshed my memory from college days. Carotene is the pigment that makes these carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe orange. There are several forms of carotene, with the most common form being beta-carotene, and it's the one that humans convert into Vitamin A in their livers. Cooking these yummy foods (to break down the cell walls), and eating them with a little fat or nuts, both help to make the beta-carotene more available for use in our bodies. Well, I can certainly think of a few ways to use a little fat and nuts on sweet potatoes! Cantaloupe - don't know about that.

I was amazed to learn all the conditions believed to improve with beta-carotene consumption:
prevention against cancer and heart disease
slowing the progression of cataracts
prevention of macular degeneration
immunity boost
protection against sunburn
Parkinson’s disease
high blood pressure

So back on my soap box here, if you're able to grow these kinds of vegetables (add leafy greens, pumpkins, collards, etc. to what we harvested in the picture) you're almost certain to have a higher concentration of beta-carotene, and so many other nutrients, than you will by getting them at your grocery store. You can compensate by buying produce from a farmer's market, or asking your grocery stores to offer produce from local sources if at all possible. The farther it's had to travel to get to you, the earlier it's probably been harvested, and the less time it's had to develop the nutrients that you're trying to get from it. I'm totally aware that not everyone can grow their food, but it's worthwhile to get serious about what alternatives you may have - for your health and that of your family, it's really worth it.

On a different kind of harvest note, it's getting really close to that time here in Iowa, and we've seen a little bit of corn harvested already. As you can see from the clouds, rain has put a little bit of a hold on harvest at the moment. I just loved the checker board illusion in this soybean field near us. The rows are planted in a back and forth manner, but the undulation of this field breaks up the long stripes that are really there and instead you get this checked affect from a distance. I know, I'm easily amused and entertained, but maybe you are too!