July 20, 2019

July Bloom Day

A belated Bloom Day post for July. (Is there any other kind? HA!)

Despite my feeling like everything is a whole big mess o' weeds, I do have a few things blooming this month. Oh, and it IS a mess of weeds too. They are not mutually exclusive!

 These Shirley poppies keep coming and bringing me joy.
They're not great for cutting, but I still love 'em!

These lilies. 
Just can't get enough of the pink and purple-speckledy goodness.
These ones are planted out in front, down the line. 

Okay, these lilies are fine too, but you know--not like the pinks above.
They have been very useful for cutting this year.

Bachelor's buttons 'Blue Boy' keep pumping out the blooms.
I just went and deadheaded a bunch yesterday in hopes of keeping them coming.

Oops. More poppies. 
Double pinks this time.

And...we'll finish it off with a look at my snapdragon patch in bloom--with the dead weed field behind. We're hoping to get a sprinkler system put in back there and actual grass planted this fall.
So these are the snaps I bought as a flat from the grocery store (!) this spring. 
I noticed that they were the same variety ('Rocket') I had tried starting from seed, but were ever so much bigger than mine at home. Best $20 I spent all spring!
I love snapdragons!
With a good hard pinching at planting time, these are all putting up 4-6 stems, and the ones I 've already cut on have put up some new side shoots as well. 
If I could keep cutting snaps until fall, I would be so happy!
In any case, I'll take them for as long as they'll go!

I have a handful of roses blooming now, as well, but most of them have come and gone with their first flush. So just got them deadheaded this week as well. Hoping for a second round in about a month.

What's blooming at your house this month? 

July 13, 2019

Mini Theme: True Medical Mysteries

I really enjoy books where a medical case is presented, and then the doctor has to try to figure out what in the world is going on with that patient. The hope is, of course, that they do figure it out in time to save the patient. True stories--just to be clear.

If this type of book sounds interested to you, read on! I have a handful to get you started.

Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis, by Lisa Sanders

4 stars: Problems and perils of diagnosing patients, with interesting case studies to back up her points.

As the title would suggest, this book is from the POV of the doctor. Sanders says in the introduction that she hoped to put readers right there at the bedside, with the clues (symptoms) presented and the knowledge or lack thereof that the doctor has to go on in order to find the correct diagnosis. As such, it is broken into sections based on the parts of a physical exam: the patient's history, the actual physical exam, technology/testing, and what she calls "Limits of the Medical Mind." Each section has chapters within it delving into more detail about the various aspects of that method of diagnosing patients, along with case studies of real patients.

* * * * *
I found this one fascinating. Then again, I also like to read my husband's medical journals when they come in the mail. There are so many variables standing between the sick patient and the saving treatment, including: the way they tell their story to the doctor (do they leave out crucial details or tell so much that the important stuff gets lost), what symptoms are presenting at the time of the exam, what the tests show or don't show, and so on.

I was reminded again of the importance of networking amongst doctors. Many of these difficult cases were solved by the doctor/s calling up a friend who was a specialist in that field, or even just another doctor with a lot of experience, and running the case by them to get some feedback. Often it was the collective memory of knowledge that came to the right conclusion, more so than one particular doctor.

If you liked this one, I've got 2 more for you!

The Medical Detectives, below, is more about epidemiologists figuring out what has caused clusters of severe illness, rather than individual cases, but still fascinating.

The Medical Detectives, by Berton Roueche

3 stars: Stories you'll want to tell someone else about! (Though maybe not over dinner...)

A compilation of 25 different unusual medical cases. A handful are presented as the doctor trying to figure out what could be causing certain symptoms, but with most, the disease is known and it's up to epidemiologists to track down the specific cause along with who else might be affected--or infected, as the case may be. 

Somewhat uneven writing between chapters, with some very slow and tedious to get through (particularly the chapter about aspirin) and others high interest to the end. Since they span decades, I suppose it was to be expected. 

I ended up retelling many of the stories to my kids. They clamored for more! In fact, my 8-year-old picked it up to read on his own, but got bogged down a chapter or two in. I guess you can tell there's a strong medical influence in our home! 

Also, wash new clothes before you wear them. Just...do it. Please. Thank you.


It has been almost 10 years since I read this one, so I can't tell you what angle it takes. I do remember that I liked it--perhaps this was the catalyst to my seeking out these others!

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, by Oliver Sacks

4 stars: Fascinating.

I had to keep discussing the case studies with my husband just to be able to tell someone. I would recommend skipping all the introductions (there's one for each section), unless you're very interested in the author's research and networking with other doctors.

**My reviews were much shorter back in the day! :)

What have you read that would fit in with this Mini Theme? I'm always up for another!

July 11, 2019

Plant Files: Moluccella Laevis (Bells of Ireland)

It's time to spotlight another favorite plant!
This is only the 2nd year I've grown this one, but it's a winner.

Scientific Name: Moluccella laevis (it took me 3 tries to spell it!)
Common Names: Bells of Ireland, shell flower
I have taken to just calling it Bells...because I'm cool like that.

June 29, 2019

Cold Hardiness: Annual, but it reseeds!
Sprinkle it on the ground in the fall, or let the ripe seedpods fall to the ground and by early spring you'll have baby Bells! 

It can grow to be 18" wide and 2-3' tall under good conditions.
The plants can handle poor soil and drought.
They take full sun, but don't mind part shade, especially morning shade.

Wildlife: Bees love it! 

Floral Design: This is why I grew it in the first place.
It's super useful in floral design. It can be used as filler, as a spike or line element, or even in a stand-alone arrangement. The bright green color blends with anything.
It has amazing vase life, lasting 3-4 weeks.

The scent is interesting. It's sort of a mix between green apple and mint. At least, that's what I smell. Some people say it's straight-up cat pee. In any case, it's a light scent that won't overpower other flowers in the arrangement.

I also love it because you can cut it at just about any stage. If you cut the main shoot out of the middle, the side shoots will continue to develop; so each plant provides several useful stems.

It dries to a beautiful ivory color--though the bells become quite fragile at that point.

A note of caution: Each set of bells has a matching set of spines directly underneath it.
This time of year--earlier in the season--they are soft.
By the end of the summer, they stiffen up and can give break off under your skin. At the very least, they give a painful poke. Last summer I had a couple that hurt for weeks. No joke.
So come August, I'll be wearing gloves to harvest and prep these beauties. 

Just Bells.

July 6, 2019

Carnegie's Maid, by Marie Benedict

This would be a good one for book club!

Carnegie's Maid, by Marie Benedict

3.5 stars: Upstairs, downstairs, and a bunch of secrets to hide.

Clara Kelley is the oldest daughter in a family of tenant farmers in Ireland. Though they had big enough acreage to survive the Potato Famine, their family lands are slowly getting chipped away by the landholder, who disagrees with her father's political views. So she is sent off to America to earn money to send back to them.

As she finally gets off the boat and is beginning to make plans to find a second cousin, she hears a man calling her name. She ignores him at first--it is a fairly common name, after all--but after some time passes and no-one has responded to his calls, she decides that this could be a Chance. He is obviously wealthy (she is obviously not), but the other Clara must have not made it through the voyage if she hasn't answered yet.

So Clara takes on a new identity, with the same name. She is now from Dublin, Protestant (NOT Catholic), and slated to be a lady's maid to a Mrs. Carnegie. She manages to bluff her way into the position using her wits, brash courage, and determination. Then she has to figure out how to make herself indispensable and keep her secrets buried deep.

Meeting the older son of her lady, a Mr. Andrew Carnegie, may be the undoing of everything--if she lets her guard down.

* * * * *
This one was touted as great for fans of Downtown Abbey. Actually, I have never seen that, but I did still like this book. Clara was a survivor and as such, she did what she felt she had to in order to provide for herself and her family back home. That included taking this other girl's identity and running with it. She would never have succeeded (where many other, better qualified girls had failed) if it hadn't been for her quick mind and ability to figure out what her employer needed.

Was it right for her to do that? No, probably not. I could see where she was coming from, though. I think this would be a great one for a book club discussion, so you could really get into the ethics of it. Her family probably would not have survived without the money she made from this job and sent to them. Living a lie vs. saving her family....read it and tell me what you think!

The romantic side of it was interesting. Probably realistic in most respects. I appreciated that she kept it clean. The portrayal of Carnegie himself made me want to find a nonfiction biography to dive into for another perspective. He is always courteous and a gentleman to Clara, but it does show some of the uglier sides of his personality in his business dealings. Which was the true man?

Anyway, I liked it.

Content: Clean, despite an insinuation in the beginning that had me wondering.


July 3, 2019

On Aging Well

It seems there are 2 different school of thought on aging--go gracefully or fight it. 
Is that right? Is there another option?
Maybe let it overtake you when your back is turned? Ha!

In any case, I feel like I'm going to be one who tries to grow old gracefully.
NOT that I'm old, mind you.
I'm only 40, sheesh!
(My kids think I'm old.)

I just saw an ad the other day for a product supposedly proven to remove laugh lines.
Why would you want to?! 
Why would you erase the physical evidence of smiles and laughing, even if you could?
Would you truly rather present yourself as a blank slate? 
If you are the "fight it" person, tell me your point of view! I think I must be missing something.

In any case, flowers seem to have 2 categories as well: those that just drop, brown, and fizzle, and those that fade beautifully--or at least retain interest after flowering with pretty seedpods, interesting branches or bark, or beautiful foliage. 

Let me show you! (Flowers, not people.)

This first group is flowers that retain their beauty as they fade--many of them even changing colors!

#1: Lily-flowering Tulip 'Mariette'

Start off bright lipstick pink (above) and fade to a lovely white and pale pink (below.)

#2: Peony 'Coral Charm'

This one amazed me this spring, because I didn't expect it!
Beautiful coral pink to begin with (above), fading to this lemon yellow gem below!

#3: Peony 'Do Tell'

Striking pale pink with deeper pink stamens in the middle (above), fading to white with whisper pink stamens--almost looking like a daffodil by the end (below). Love it!

#4: Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Start off a rusty orange-red (above), then over time fade to a beautiful dusty pink (below).

There are other examples, but I'll stop there for now. 

For the next round, I'll just show you a couple--flowers that have wonderful seed pods.

#1: Grape hyacinths

Here they are in flower, and the pale green item in the arrangement below is the stem with seed pods on it. I love it!

#2: Poppies

These Shirley poppies are gorgeous, but only last a day or two, even when left on the plant.
However, their whimsical little seed pods will make great additions to bouquets.

Here are some poppy seed pods dried--I like that look as well.
For fresh cut flower arrangements, though, I prefer the green ones.

Since I struggled a bit getting my poppies to grow from seed this year, my plan is to let them blossom, produce their seed pods, and reseed themselves. I may help out a bit, to get as many as possible in the same row where I planted them! 
I will probably not be able to resist cutting a few of the seedpods, however.

* * * * *
What flowers do you know of that age well? 

June 25, 2019

A Cool Start to Summer

So, we've had some ups and downs this month, particularly in relation to the weather.
Join the club, right? 
While we certainly haven't had the severe weather that many in our country have experienced, we did get 2 nights of frost very late--June 8 and 9. 
I regret to say that I was not prepared.
All of my tomatoes and peppers died--the ones I had in the ground, the ones I had given my kids, and the ones still waiting to be sold. 
That was discouraging.
Going down to the nursery at the bottom of the canyon and spending money to buy more tomatoes and peppers was even more so.

These pansies are loving the cool weather!

Of course, my cool flowers aren't minding this weather--thankfully, that was most of what was really growing. However, the warm weather lovers that were up either died back or just gave up completely.
Cosmos and zinnias, especially.
The volunteer sunflowers that withstood April snowstorms were not ready for such a drastic change in temperature, I guess, because most of them died back as well. They have rallied somewhat now, but it was looking pretty sad come Sunday morning.
Sigh. No-one ever said farming was easy.

Last night, temperatures were supposed to go back down to 37 degrees. Again.
I didn't take any chances this time, and got all the tomatoes and peppers covered.
Just hoped for the best for the surviving warm-weather flowers.

It was about an hour before sundown when I realized how cold it was. I was working out in the greenhouse and my hands started to feel numb. Not a good sign in the middle of summer!
So I checked the weather and sure enough--temps in the 30's forecasted for overnight.
I knew I had to get tomatoes and peppers covered--my kids could not take the disappointment a 2nd time if they froze--and by the time I got them done it was past dark.
Thankfully, the flowers seem to have come through okay without covering.

All of this begs the question, though: when will it truly be summer?
It also reinforces to me that I need to put my time and money towards cool weather flowers, perennials, and shrubs. Basically, everything that won't mind an extended patch of cool weather. 

My cool flowers growing right now:
anemones, poppies, pansies, Bells of Ireland, bachelor's buttons, Queen Anne's lace (ammi majus), snapdragons, dill, feverfew

Peony 'Do Tell'
I've got one of these on each side of the front walkway. I left one bloom per plant to just see what I have in store, but starting next year, I'm going to let them all bloom and start to cut from them!

Perennials in bloom:
catmint, perennial bachelor's button, pincushion flower, peonies
+ yarrow, lilies (almost in bloom)

Shrubs in bloom:
roses, ninebark

I am also getting some perennial seeds started in the greenhouse, in hopes that they'll be ready to plant out this fall and overwinter for me.

In the meantime, the kiddos and I have been doing some work and playing too.
So that has been good.
So far I feel like I have kept a better balance between mothering and working this summer.

Here's to some actual WARM weather now! 
We're ready for it!

June 24, 2019

Girl Overboard, by Justina Chen Headley

Perhaps wealth is not everything it's cracked up to be...

Girl Overboard, by Justina Chen Headley

3.5 stars: This one won me over.

Syrah Cheng has a life to envy: ever since her father's company went public, they have joined the ranks of the uber-wealthy, with all the trappings: enormous mansion to live in and enough money to buy whatever they want, as soon as they want it. What no-one can seem to see is that she is miserable in the midst of all the luxury. Her parents never have time for her, her mother is always pushing her to lose weight, and worst of all--ever since her snowboarding accident several months ago, she can no longer do the one thing she loves the most. Well, technically she could still snowboard, IF her parents would let her (they won't) and IF her knee could handle it (highly doubtful.)

Syrah has also found it very difficult to make friends, as everyone seems to just want to befriend her to get to her dad, or simply because of their money. She does have one good friend, Age, who has been her friend since before the big money came along. They used to snowboard together, but things have gotten awkward with him lately as well. She has never been able to bring herself to tell him why she went off alone in the backcountry, when she knew full well it was a bad idea, but a certain summer camp counselor had everything to do with it.

Syrah is constantly expected to live up to the "Ethan Cheng Way" (she hasn't read the book yet), and constantly feeling like she is falling short. As some major changes come her way, she will have to figure out the Syrah Cheng Way to surviving life--the sooner the better.

* * * * * *

Syrah was a strong character, but one who doesn't discover her strength until later on--the best type to write a story about! I had my reservations about this book from the beginning. I mean, another book about the poor little rich girl? That's been done before! I was pleasantly surprised to find it had some depth.

As Syrah figures things out, she starts to look outside herself and realizes she can use this incredible legacy she now has at her fingertips to help others. That is the beginning of her inward shift.

I especially liked the way Syrah went from taking risks on the mountain, to taking risks in her relationships, with a much better payoff. She chooses to be vulnerable, to accept friendship in unlikely places, and to put herself in uncertain and awkward situations in order to get to know extended family better. In the process, she comes to realize how much she is loved (and always has been), as well as the first inkling of what her place might be within the family business.

Content: Some language. Some of the characters mention sex. Syrah tells an abbreviated version of the story of her first sexual experience, which was traumatizing to her, but doesn't go into detail. This is written for Young Adults--I wouldn't go younger than 16 with it. If your teenager has encountered some of these things at school already, this could bring up some good talking points.