Significant Gifts are Transactions of the Heart

Every year my husband and I set a budget for spending on Christmas gifts and we try to stick to it. Throughout the year we’re thinking about what we can give each other and our family members that is both thoughtful and budget friendly. We keep notes on our phones and wish lists on Amazon for inspiration.

We have one child. He’s on the spoiled side, but he is loved, if anything. Our discussions about budgets and gifts sound like this:

“Let’s not overdo it this year with the kid gifts, ok? He has so much stuff already.”

“Yeah, last year was overboard. We need to focus more on the time with family, visit your grandma, go see my Pawpaw… not go crazy with Christmas gifts. You know, you don’t have to get me anything for Christmas.”

“I know, and stop saying that. I’m going to give you something for Christmas.”

“Seriously, you don’t have to, whatever you were going to spend on a gift to me, save it and spend it on our son.”

“Didn’t we just start this conversation about how we weren’t going to overdo it with the kid?”

Then somehow every year it looks like Toys R Us threw up in our living room. Everything is a piled-up mess with wrapping paper remnants, shredded bows and packaging shrapnel that could double as a prison shank.

I yearn for a less commercialized holiday, when the frenzy of Christmas decorating didn’t start before Halloween. Maybe it’s wistful to think that a genuine gift is a smoked ham from the fatted hog or a special bottle of wine that everyone gets to taste.

The art to truly giving a significant gift is not about how much it cost, but how well it captures the essence of the recipient. Sometimes this requires a lot of thought or not much at all. Some people in your life are hard to fin

d gifts for no matter the amount of meditation or money.

It’s about giving gifts with the most meaning, not the most expensive.

My young son is a better gift giver than I am and that’s embarrassing on Christmas morning. But he provid

es an example of what great gift giving is.

I am an avid gardener and plan continuously for each growing season.

My birthday is in February and on the cusp of spring planting. This year my son knew exactly what he wanted to give me and stated it clearly to his daddy that he wanted to give me “magic beans.”

At first my husband didn’t understand, thinking it was an absurd idea inspired from a Jack and the Beanstalk movie. But our son persisted, telling him it was easy to find at Walmart. So off they went … and there they were on the seed rack, a package of “magic beans” in an envelope containing 14 grams of hybrid green beans.

The perfect gift cost $1.28. When my son gave me the “magic beans” my soul smiled with the deepest appreciation because his gift was full of meaning.

His honest gift is one of my most treasured because it was a transaction of the heart, not the bank account.

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A Good Egg

“And a big white hen standing on one leg. And under the hen was a quiet egg,” a line from one of our most treasured board books, The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown.

Today was a momentous day for our little backyard flock of four hens. It was a day we’ve been waiting for… for 21 weeks since they hatched.

Someone laid the first egg, ever!

It was a small, perfectly shaped, light brown egg. I’m fairly certain it came from Dexter since she is the only one squatting and singing a clucking, egg-laying song. But there were both red and black feathers in the nesting box, so it could be Tollie, our one red chicken.

The first egg ever!

 

Backyard Opossum, Oh No!

Tonight I got quite a fright when I went to check on my backyard flock of hens. There he was looking at me with his eyes flashing back like highway reflectors—a opossum! He just stood there frozen still with his mouth open. That saying, “playing possum,” is true. He didn’t even flinch when we moved suddenly in his close proximity.

Playin’ Possum is an involuntary response, like fainting. What would happen if you had both fainting goats and opossums?

 

I saw this devil-animal incarnate a week ago when I heard his scratchy paws on the tree bark, thinking it sounded strange for a neighborhood cat. (we have tons of alley cats around us). When I located the critter he was high in the backyard tree.

The opossum is often misspelled as “possum,” and is so common, that it’s an accepted way to spell it. Opossums are marsupials, not rodents. Like kangaroos, opossums give birth to offspring early in the gestation cycle. The baby opossum crawls into the mother’s pouch, attaches to a teat and nurses through the last stages of its gestation.

As for our backyard opossum, as soon as he had a chance, he ambled along and climbed the tree. I’m sure he’ll be back, so we’ll have to set a trap soon, because opossums and chickens are not simpatico.

Up, up, up into the tree he goes.

 

 

Experiment: Propagating Roses

I am experimenting with rose propagation. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I have read about it and gotten advice from my rose-expert friend, who has successfully propagated roses clipped from bar ditches and yards with a caved-in houses.

According to the internet and my friend, a stem that is about the diameter of a #2 pencil with multiple nodes is ideal. It’s recommended to use a seed starter mix, perlite or vermiculite as the medium and rooting hormone.

These roses came from the flowers at my grandmother’s funeral. They were beautiful and smelled amazing, so I figured I’d give it a go and see what happens. I can’t identify these roses (although they are technically not roses, but rather floribundas,) and I don’t know if they are GMO freaks or their growing history. I’m sure they were bombed with all kinds of chemicals and preservatives.

1. Since it’s off season, I got what they had at the hardware store, putting the starter mix into a tub and watering thoroughly. Water, stir, water, wait, water, stir.

2. Once the starter mix is sufficiently moist, I packed it into a couple pots.

3. Made planting holes several inches deep with my handy chopstick.

4. Clipped the roses down to use just the stems with multiple nodes.

5. Dipped the stems into water, then into the rooting hormone so it would stick, and placed each stem into the holes.


6. Covered with plastic sacks to create a mini greenhouse. I left the pots on the ground in the greenhouse in a partially sunny spot.

Now we wait and hope.

The last time I tried this it didn’t work, but it was July, in Texas, during a drought, and we left for vacation, etc. A north Texas November and a commercially grown floribunda may not work either, but I figure it’s worth a try.

My Precious Tomatoes

A rainbow of fall tomatoes.

My compulsion to garden began with my quest to grow an abundance of tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes until I was about 22 years old. The first time I remember loving the flavor of a freshly-picked, salted tomato was when I lived in Chicago working my first post-college job. I visited friends in Champagne one weekend and bought tomatoes at the farmers’ market. That first bite of beautifully ripe tomato was like heaven on a plate and since then I’ve been hooked. Two years after that tasty bite, I moved to Michigan—where the climate is just right for tomato growing.

My first garden was a success in Michigan, which has a much milder climate than North Central Texas. The harsh Texas summers and drought conditions make gardening a challenge. I decided to approach the objective from a different angle by looking for the best-performing vegetable varieties for my area.

I consulted the Texas Agri-Life Extension Service’s list of recommendations but only found a few tomato varieties for sale at local vendors– Celebrity, Beefsteak and Big Boy are the most commonly available. So I started looking to seed sources and catalogs, hoping to find varieties that would grow well where I lived. Over the last few years, I’ve amassed quite an assortment of seed stock and catalogs. The more I learned about the plentiful tomato varieties, the more intrigued I became with open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of all plants, not just tomatoes.

Peppers: Jalapenos and Serranos

Even though Texas “technically” has a long growing season, the hottest part of the summer is about keeping things alive, not producing. So really we have two short growing seasons with fall being best of all. In the spring I try to grow bush-type tomatoes that ripens (55-70 days) all at once. In July I pull the spent vines and start seeds in the same beds. What sprouts and makes it will produce the best fall fruit. If a volunteer tomato comes up, I let it grow. Every time I’ve done that, it’s produced the most awesome fruit.

After three trial-and-error growing seasons of starting tomatoes from seed, I’ve found that Porter and Porter Improved are the top performing tomato cultivars in my backyard; Willhite Seed has the highest germination rate of all the sources I’ve used; and when a volunteer tomato plant starts growing, let it grow because you will be rewarded for it.

My favorite resources:

Texas Agri-Life Extension http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ — a great resource for all Texas gardeners. If you live in a different state, look for your local extension service. It will be affiliated with the land grant university in your state (Auburn, Michigan State, University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, etc.)

Willhite Seed
www.willhiteseed.com – everything I’ve ever grown from this supplier has been top notch. They breed their own watermelon seeds! The first year I grew their Porter tomatoes, I had a 98 percent germination rate – that is quality seed!

Botanical Interests
www.botanicalinterests.com – this company is part of the coalition of non-GMO growers and suppliers of seed. They have the best information on their seed packets – tons of information about each variety and cultivar.

Totally Tomatoes
www.totallytomato.com – the 2013 growing season is the first year I’ve used seeds from this supplier. So far so good. They have the most comprehensive selection of tomatoes I’ve ever seen. They also have a wonderful selection of other seeds, especially night shade plants (tomatoes are part of the night shade family).

RH Shumway
www.rhshumway.com – this company has the coolest retro-style catalogue and is one of the best sources for beans. 2013 is the first growing season I’ve used this seed provider. The germination rate has been excellent. It will be awhile before I can report on production.

Victory Seeds www.victoryseeds.com – one of the best sources for open-pollinated and heirloom seeds that grow in most parts of the United States. They produce their own seeds and are a non-GMO seed source.

Baker Creek (rare seeds) www.rareseeds.com – another comprehensive source for heirloom, open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds. I have not grown any seed from this supplier but they have great reviews.

The New Victory Garden

Gardening: the original patriot act. (source: Michigan State University)

I have been salivating over gardening books, seed catalogues, blogs and ag extension websites for weeks. It’s only January and I’m anxious to start a spring garden. My seed box has many great leftover seeds from previous growing seasons. There are numerous sources for all kinds of seeds—organic, heirloom, F1 hybrids, new plant breeds, etc. I want to plant them all.

Over the last three years, I’ve noticed a surge in the availability of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. Considering the growing popularity of locally-grown, non-GMO or organic food, it’s not surprising that the market is meeting the demand. This trend toward organic and local foods has sprouted the long-dormant victory garden concept. Urban and community gardens have become all the rage in big cities and small-town classrooms.

The victory garden’s inception came during WWI, but really took off in America during WWII. It was a way for the war department to send all available food supplies to the troops. The idea was for private citizens to grow their own produce in their backyards, so the large-scale farm production could be sent to the war overseas. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the first victory garden planted on the White House grounds in 1943 to publicize gardening as a patriotic act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million Americans planted gardens during the WWII years.

Fall tomatoes collected before the killer frost 2012.

Today’s victory garden trend is a more grass-roots movement. People are driven by health consciousness, environmentalism, self-sufficiency, and the emerging “food culture” in America. Fueled by available resources focused on cuisine, there is a schmorgesborg of food blogs, print publications, websites, TV programs, all focused solely on cooking methods, recipes and food preparation. When celebrity chiefs cook, they use the best ingredients, which are fresh, locally-grown produce and meat.

Market demand for homegrown food—favoring organic, heirloom and specialty items—is the byproduct of our food culture. Thus, boosting demand for seeds, especially the unique and old varieties. The benefits of healthy eating is a major contributor to the new victory garden effort. The first spring in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama created a kitchen garden as part of her healthy living initiative. Ironically, Mrs. Obama’s kitchen garden is the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s.

Other groups advocating gardening are Americans who want to be self-sufficient, or are ecologically minded. There is also a group of people who are opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). There is big debate about the long-term safety of consuming food from GMOs. Stewardship and nostalgia factor in too, since many gardeners and horticulturists want to preserve the world’s rare and unusual plants.

For me, I’m just happy these forces are culminating into a perfect storm for gardens and seeds, both rare in nature and scientifically cultured.

I love to see city folks growing nutritious food in whatever space they have available. It’s a reconnection to our roots (no pun intended) as Americans that carved out a way of life in a harsh and rugged environment. It’s also gratifying as an “ag woman” to see a renaissance of agriculture—growing our own food so we don’t have to travel, scavenge or starve. And the important lessons of knowing where food comes from; the work involved to grow it; and the patience required for a bountiful harvest.

I will be planning an entirely new garden space this year … more to come.

Ladybugs are a garden’s friend.

Fun Photos from Arcadia

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted fun photos from our life here in Arcadia.

Black eyed susans from my front flower bed. This is a perennial favorite of North Texas gardeners.

Jdubs on the “Fastcat.” His grandfather rigged up a stampede string from a left-over strip of leather.

The real deal.

Textbook wall cloud. A few minutes after I snapped this, the sky opened up and hail stones rained down.

This photo represents the “why” of living where I do.