Archives for 2014

Artichokes and Airlines

Not every veggie gets a movie star’s endorsement. There aren’t any fancy clubs for radishes or muskmelons.

Then there are artichokes.

I had the pleasure of feasting on these odd-looking edibles on a trip to Salinas Valley, in California. It’s not easy to get under their prickly exteriors to reach their mild, delicious hearts (they’re especially yummy with melted butter and lemon), but it’s worth the effort.

No less a celebrity than Marilyn Monroe once praised the humble vegetables; she was the first honorary Artichoke Queen, in 1948, and in 1959, the city of Castroville, California, launched a festival to promote the local crop. It’s still held every year. Now you can also join culinary clubs to learn how to turn ‘chokes into cupcakes (which taste a lot like carrot cake), or make them into other fried, marinated, baked, or steamed delights.

Check out my article in the very last issue of U.S. Airways Magazine. After this month, the airlines will merge, leaving American’s publication, American Way, to carry the torch of reporting from varied domestic and exotic locales.

It’s been a real joy to write for U.S. Airways magazine. Now–grab a ‘choke and look for the recipe in the link to my article. Enjoy!

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Glorious Morning Glories

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It’s December now, and my garden looks brown and bare–nothing like the picture above. But I just found this on my camera, and wanted to share it so we’d have something colorful to look at during this kinda dreary season.

I saw these morning glories earlier this year, growing on trellises at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. If there was a sign showing the variety name, I missed it. But aren’t they glorious?

Morning glories can be really weedy, of course, and take over your yard or garden spot. I made the mistake once of composting some vines, and the next spring–in fact, for many springs thereafter–I had to pull up seedlings that sprouted everywhere. Now I know it’s better to trash or burn the vines at season’s end (if burning is permitted in your area). You just can’t tell if a few dried seed pods are still clinging to the plants, and believe me, they’ll grow almost anywhere you toss them.

This summery picture will have to hold me for now. If anyone can tell me what variety these might be, please let me know. I’m wondering if they’re open-pollinated/heirlooms.

Walk for a Dog with WoofTrax

molly in sweater

Don’t let this sad look fool you. Molly doesn’t really mind her sweater, and with temperatures in the 20s today, she even likes it.

I put it on her so we can go for our daily walk, and while we circle the neighborhood, we’re using a new, free app to track our steps. It’s called WoofTrax, and it’s available for iPhone and Android. It’s a great way to support your favorite animal shelter or rescue group.

All you do is download the app (did I mention it’s free?) and select one of over 4,000 organizations you want to help. The app’s sponsors donate for every mile you rack up. WoofTrax says the donations also come from advertisers and investors. Of course, the more people who sign up to walk, the more money the charities receive.

So grab a leash! And put a sweater on your pup, if it’s frosty out there. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do, and besides–every step helps make life a little better for our furry friends.

 

 

 

First Frost of Autumn

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The first official day of autumn has come and gone, but not all the flowers in my garden have gotten the word yet. This is a blue morning glory that recently unfurled in my yard. The vines have stopped blooming in the last few weeks, but freezing temps are on the way, and soon they’ll fold their leaves and die.

Makes you appreciate that phrase about “the last rose of summer.” The last rose–or morning glory–might come late in the season, but it’s no less breathtaking.

Happy Halloween

Audrey in paper macheBack by popular demand!

Okay, not really. But Halloween is coming, so I thought I’d bring my paper mache re-creation of Audrey, from Little Shop of Horrors, out for another viewing.

I had fun making her, although she had a tendency to keel over because of her extremely heavy head. A lesson for all of us, perhaps? Avoid having a big head??

Writing for HGTVGardens

mum from New York Botanical Garden Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival

Spider mum at the New York Botanical Garden Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival. Courtesy of Ivo M. Vermeulen/NYBG

I’m really excited to tell you that I’m now writing for HGTVGardens.com every month!

I’m covering lots of different topics, like growing a corn maze (okay, you’d have to have a HUGE backyard to grow an entire maze, but I learned how The Rock Ranch, an agritourism destination founded by the late Chick-Fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy, grows their maze. And I’ve got tips to share on growing a cornfield in whatever space you have).

I’m also putting on my girl-reporter hat to cover events like the stunning Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival at the New York Botanical Garden.

And my bookshelves are starting to groan, as I’m stacking up new gardening titles to read and review. Look for posts on a great new book about growing tomatoes and two books on fairy gardening (one is good for beginners, while the other is packed with beautiful photos of fairy gardens that range from the fabulous to the otherworldly). The reviews will go live over the next few weeks.

Check out my posts when you get a chance, and while you’re there, explore all the other cool stuff on HGTVGardens.com!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding

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I’ve been posting book reviews for some time on LibraryThing.com and finally realized: why not share them here, too? Here’s the first, my thoughts on The Map Thief.

The subtitle of The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding, is “The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.” It is gripping; I couldn’t put this down, despite its very detailed history of map-making and mapmakers. (I got bogged down in some of the names of the mapmakers, who worked from 1470 to 1860, and in the names of various map dealers, librarians, investigators and outright thieves. That’s why there’s a helpful list of characters at the front of the book.)

I was fascinated to know why the thief in question, a dealer named Forbes Smiley, stole so many rare, valuable maps and destroyed many of the atlases they were collected in, but of course his motive was an old and familiar one: greed. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine why a man who devoted his professional career to studying these historical gems could remove them from public access so callously.

Blanding’s book is filled with tidbits that made me curious to study maps myself.  Who knew that the notion that California was an island surfaced in the 1500s and persisted until Spanish king Ferdinand VI ruled in 1747 that it was, in fact, not an island? He had to outlaw future mapmakers from portraying it that way.

Many libraries only discovered their maps were missing after Smiley’s arrest, and not all have been recovered. Our public institutions have had to spend a lot of money beefing up their cataloging systems and security measures. How sad–our children aren’t safe in their front yards anymore, we have to strip off our shoes and belts to get on planes, and now our libraries have been violated and our freedom of access has been altered because of one man.

This is a fascinating book. I recommend it. Disclosure: my copy was provided to me by the publisher through a LibraryThing giveaway.

Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.

 

Blue Mind: Reading a New Book and Making a Change

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Is there anything better than sitting by the ocean, watching the sun go down? I’m reading Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, by Wallace J. Nichols.

Outside Magazine calls the author a “visionary,” and a reviewer with Library Journal calls his sense of wonder and love for his subject inspiring.

I can’t argue with his passion for the sea–or a river, creek, or lake, for that matter.  Water mesmerizes as it shimmers, ebbs, flows, froths, foams, gurgles, splashes or puddles. When I watch the waves surge over the shore, I can feel my stress melting away.

Found this quote today, which seems relevant as I consider a big decision: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and float.” – Alan Watts

It all comes down to faith when you contemplate a change. Either you believe it will make your life better, and you move forward with confidence and hope, or you can’t summon up enough faith, and you’re hamstrung by fear. You stay where you are. You get stuck and never know what might have been on the other side.

Today I’m choosing faith.

Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival

hydrangeas in Suzanne Hudson's garden

It’s June, and hydrangeas are busting out all over at the 7th annual Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival!

Named for the founder of the American Hydrangea Society (AHS), the festival runs from Friday, June 6, to Sunday, June 8, in Douglasville, GA. It’s centered around the Douglas County Courthouse in downtown Douglasville and will spill out into the surrounding streets. They’ll be blocked off for vendors, a flower market, a vintage garden furniture exhibit, a farmer’s market, and more.

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The festival kicks off on Friday evening with a Summer Sampler Wine Tasting; tickets are $25. Tours of private gardens, also ticketed at $25 per person, take place on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.

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There’s plenty of free fun too, including a standard flower show, scarecrow display, and in-town gardens to visit with free shuttle service to and from the Courthouse.

Don’t miss this beautiful flower fest!