Monday, May 30, 2005
You Say It's Your Birthday...

If you're crazy, there's two things you can do to make yourself feel better: one is to get yourself cured. The other is to make everyone you have to deal with crazy.
Alan Dean Foster

PrairieTide reached its first birthday today. With today's anniversary, we're celebrating a year of wandering topics, meandering entries, typos and misspellings, frustrations with HTML, lost entries, and erratic posts!

PrairieTide started out as a project for a graduate English project, and I must admit I did my best blogging when it was a class assignment. After I wrapped up my graduate degree, I shifted my blog focus to my favorite hobby: knitting. As the internet's slowest knitter, I needed a little something more to keep the blog moving. So since then, my blog has broadened to include my efforts building a garden in our midwestern plot.

Below is my very first blog post.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The rain is really coming down. Looking out the windows, the world outside is dank and wet. The windows are tear-streaked. The sounding of pelting raindrops echos on the roof. And I think, "so this is what it's like to be a fish."

In the immortal words of Dory from Finding Nemo, just keep swimming. With any luck, the fun and mayhem will continue in the same scatterbrained way. Here's to another year of PrairieTide!
Sunday, May 29, 2005
King of the Jungle

Give me a Roar! Posted by Hello

With Memorial Day Weekend in full swing, Randy and I spent Saturday exploring the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The Lion King stood guard near one of the main exits, and we listened to his impressive tones all day. He put on quite a show. The zoo if free to all visitors, and it is open to the surrounding Lincoln Park at several points. This makes the zoo popular with city joggers, along with the usual throngs of tourists and family sight-seers.

Into the BorderPosted by Hello

During our stroll through the zoo, I kept an eye out for interesting landscaping in the zoo's extensive gardens. The gardens were enchanting, and from what I could tell, they were made up of typical garden plants, laid out in a lush and inviting way. Here's a border I particularly liked, a pleasing mix of hostas and purple irises.

A Victorian RetreatPosted by Hello

Throughout our day in Chicago, rain clouds threatened ominously. Luckily, it only sprinkled a little here and there. During one brief cloud burst, we took refuge in the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a huge glasshouse built in the 1890s. Amazingly, it's located right next to the zoo, and it's also free to the public.

Foliage for InterestPosted by Hello

Inside the Conservatory--a vast tropical oasis. I overheard a tour guide explain that before the Great Chicago Fire, the city sprawled about haphazardly like all booming frontier towns. After the fire, city founders put a lot of thought and energy into setting aside space for cultural institutions, like museums, zoos, and the Conservatory. It's a remarkable legacy.

Orchids, Anyone?Posted by Hello

The Orchid Room captivated me the most. I've never been a big fan of orchids. The plants look like dead twigs when they are not in bloom. But this room in the Conservatory was filled with a heady perfume, so sweet and beguiling, it was just overwhelming. Some of the blooms were gorgeous smiles, other strange monkey faces. One unremarkable little bloom boasted a label that read "Coconut Orchid." One wiff confirmed that it smelled just like it's name sake. Randy took a sniff and then said in his wry way, "Makes me want to drink a Pina Colada."
Friday, May 27, 2005
The Holiday Weekend Starts Early at PrairieTide

Plant Sale Success! Posted by Hello

Each year right before Memorial Day, my friend Nita has a plant sale. Most of the plants are perennial divides from her garden and the garden of her aunt and sisters. The plants all sell for $3 a pot, and there's a new selection every year. The last couple of years, I stopped by the sale after work, but the plant offering was a bit slim. So this year, I planned ahead.

I took off from work for Thursday and Friday. My coworkers thought I was a tad crazy for taking vacation days to work around the house, but I've been looking foward to this sale for ages. I got to the sale just as they were opening for business on Thursday morning, and I proceeded to fill up the back of Randy's station wagon, which I borrowed just for the event. The plants I purchased were mostly basics--a few hostas, some bee balm, a bunch of irises. I spent all day yesterday tucking these plants into the ground. It was the first day of a fabulous vacation weekend.

And the fun continues! Today, I tackled another project. In the backyard on the south side of the house, there's this garden bed that has been driving me batty. When we moved into our house two years ago, there were only a few flower beds around the entire yard. Most of the beds we've completely demolished and reworked. This bed, though, has stayed pretty much the same. It had a few flea-bitten perennials that I've moved around to better spots. Last year, I lined the bed with some annuals, and we grew a really productive tomato plant here. The tomato tasted so delicious, it inspired this year's veggie plot.

Last fall, I began preparing the bed for blueberries. I added a bunch of sulfur to the soil, plus I worked in an entire big block of peat moss, both of which are supposed to lower the acidity of the soil. During the winter, I coverd the bare earth with pine boughs, which I hoped would protect the bare soil and maybe the needles would help with the soil acidity, too. This spring, the bed got another couple of inches of compost. A few weeks back, I planted two bareroot blueberries and a bunch of leftover strawberries.

So with all that work, the bed should be looking great. Instead, it has just been an iritation. Why? Because the cement pavers that boarder the bed were placed in such a crappy, haphazard way. The pavers were totally chaotic. Some high, some low. There was no sense to it. Worse, the lawn happily spread right through the pavers like a tenatious virus. Grass really can be a weed. Here's how the bed looked before I began my cleanup project today.

Posted by Hello

Why does the grass insist on invading my flower beds? There are plenty of bare spots in the lawn the grass could easily spread through. But for some reason, the grass seems to prefer the nice compost soil.

Here's Another the Blueberry Bed "Before" Picture. Posted by Hello

What a mess. No amount of mowing or hand-trimming has kept the grass out of the bed. You'd never know I've spent lots of time weeding this bed. I've been meaning to redo the border of this bed for ages, and today I finally got the gumption to tackle it.

The Blueberry Bed "After" Picture. Posted by Hello

Not bad for a days work. After a bit of prodding around the border with my shovel, I finally decided the easiest thing would be to completely dig out all of the cement pavers. Once the pavers were out of the way, I was able to pound down a better "path" for the pavers to take around the bed. Honestly, I'm not sure who made this bed originally, but I think the pavers were just thrown on the ground like toy blocks. While I was digging out the pavers, I also dug a shallow trench in front of the bed. Once I wrestled the pavers back into place, I placed a layer of mulch in the shallow trench. My idea is that the trench will keep the grass runners from spreading into the blueberry bed. The trench should make it easier to mow, too. I can just drop one side of the mower into the trench and cut along the front of the bed.

The cement pavers are not my favorite, but in the spirit of making do with what you've got, they work fine. I think the pavers have been around for some time because they are covered with a gold-colored lichen. It gives the cement a bit of a patina.

Closeup of the New Boarder. Posted by Hello

It's not exactly something for the pages of Fine Gardening, but it's definately an improvement. From here you can also see that the strawberries are doing nicely. The petunias are tiny, but they are still green. The blueberry shrubs look alive, though they have not put out a lot of leaves yet. I'm keeping an eye on them.

Posted by Hello

I thought this was interesting. These "slices" of grass were growing between the cement pavers. None of them are more than a quarter-inch thick, but they are packed full of roots. Some tough stuff.

Just as I was finishing up my project today, Randy got home from work. He laughed when he saw me and insisted on a picture.

Posted by Hello

Here's why. After spending the day in the garden, I was covered with compost! Time to hit the showers!
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
All those gardening experts give themselves catchy nicknames. Ketzel Levine, the NPR reporter turned gardener who occasionally returns to her old career to report on the plant scene, she calls herself "The Doyenne of Dirt." I like this nickname. It sounds classy and trashy all at the same time.

While at the library the other day, I picked up one of her books, and it is the kind of gardening book I crave--great writing with lot of interesting advice. Plant This! recommends 100 plants, what Ketzel claims are the "best bets for year-round gorgeous gardens."

Frankly, these plants seem way to advanced for me. I'm a beginner. I need to hobble by with Stella d'Oro daylillies for a while. But this is still a lively read, even if I won't be planting Schizostylis any time soon. My favorite part of the book is Ketzel's explanation of Latin plant names. Here 'tis:

A smear campaign against botanic Latin--denigrating it as highbrow--has blanketed much of the United States. Don't fall for it! It's about as highbrow as pig Latin, and a whole lot more fun. Here's how you play: Put your last name first and give it a botanic-speak ending, like "ia" or "us." Then replace your first name with a Latin world that describes something that sets you apart. For example, since I'm easily identified by my curly hair, my botanic name might be Levineus spiralis. Hollywood mermaid Ester Williams could be classified as Williamsia aquaticus, and the blue-eyed Paul Newman, Newmanus azureus. Get it? Now, you try.

With each plant recommendation, Ketzel lists the botanical name, plus what it sounds like. I found this to be great fun...and enlightening. I'm forever bumbling the names of plants, and here's a common-sense reference to help me out. She says Buddleia sounds like "Dudley yuh." Verbascum is pronounced like"Don't ask 'em." I'd always wondered about those two.
Sunday, May 22, 2005

Randy modeling the Star Wars poster in our TV room. See the pictures just behind Randy? Those are just a few of Randy's sci fi paintings. Posted by Hello
Where's My Light Saber?

When I was about six years old, I had this little pink diary that locked with a clasp. I wrote my very first entry into the diary after we saw "Star Wars" movie at the drive in theater. Trying my very best to be just like Marsha Brady, I wrote, "We saw Star Wars last night. It was groovy." That's right, like every kid growing up in the 70's, I wanted to move to a galaxy long, long ago and far, far away. Groovy.

Saturday, Randy and I got out of work a little early so we could get to the Multiplex to watch the latest Star Wars flick before the crowds. Once we got into the theater, we moved our seats twice to make sure we were in the best spot in the place. We snuck in two types of M&Ms, the Jedi mix (milk chocolate in earth-tone colors) and the Darth mix (dark chocolate in moody black and burgandy). I got figdety when the film did not start at the top of the hour.

Then the lights dimmed. The same music. The same theme. The same "Star Wars" logo.

Sci fi is one of Randy and my favorite interests. It's something we enjoy together. We've watched all the Star Trek movies and series religiously (though I must admit I'm relieved "Enterprise" has kicked the bucket). We've followed "Babylon 5" and new "Interstar Galactica" series. Randy does most of the sci fi reading in this family, and his bookshelf is stuff with fat pulp paperbacks. What's more, just in the last three weeks, we've gone to the movie theater to see the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Gallaxy", a theatrical viewing of the last two episodes of "Star Trek: Enterprise", and now "Star Wars". So, you can call us nerds. We're OK with that.

That final scene in the new "Star Wars" movie, with the familiar music and the desert sunset with two suns... I admit it...I teared up a bit. Frankly, I was just so relieved that this final installment in the "Star Wars" cycle was good, I got a little emotional. Whew.

On our way home from the movie, I was so caught up in the whole Star Wars thing that I insisted that we cross over to the dark side and stop by WalMart on the way home. (..."wretched pit of scum and villany"...) We purchased the DVDs for the first three movies (or the last three movies, whatever). We've spent the rest of the weekend watching the old movies again. Some folks say that the new movies and the old movies don't really go together. Actually, watching them together all at once, I see a lot more connections between the old favorites and the new movie. And now that we know all about Darth Vadar's twisted past, his familiar profile is all the more evil and menacing.

May the Force...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Salad Days

Salad greens from the veggie garden, with the first radish of the year. Posted by Hello

Sweater Update

Mary asked about whether the "Blue Shimmer" sweater is knit with the yarn that works up in a colorful pattern. That type of yarn is called "self striping" yarn, and it is fun to use. It works best on small projects like socks or mittens. I've also seen kid sweaters made with the stuff. Some of the yarns that create very wide stripes can also be knit into adult-sized sweaters. In fact, my local yarn store has some Noro yarn that I'm itching to buy for my next project.

The "Blue Shimmer" sweater is a little more of a challenge. The pattern is created "from scratch" by using at least two contrasting yarn colors at the same time.

When I bought the yarn kit for this sweater almost two years ago, I wanted to learn how to do two-color knitting, or "Fair Isle"-style knitting. With this kind of knitting, you hold two balls of contrasting-colored yarn at once, with one color in each hand. (Some talented knitters hold both colors of yarn in one hand, but this is way beyond my skill level.) With two-color knitting, both hands are getting a workout.

It's taken me two years to really feal comfortable doing this kind of knitting. In fact, this is why back before Christmas I knit the bulky sweater for Anna and the funky stockings for Mom and Dad. I wanted to practice my two-handed knitting technique on some easy projects with thick yarn before I tackled the "Blue Shimmer" kit.

There are some incredible knitters on the internet who turn out projects like this all the time. "Blue Shimmer" is my first attempt at a really challenging knitting project. And actually, it's pretty tame because the pattern only goes around the collar. With the collar finished, I'm beginning to work on the solid body of the sweater. The next challenge will be in about a month or so when I wrap up knitting the body. Then, I'm actually going to cut the front part of the sweater open so I can create a cardigan. THAT'S when the fun will really begin.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Some Knitting, Some Gardening

While you weren't looking, I finished the collar for the "Blue Shimmer" sweater. The rest of the sweater will be knit in a light blue shade. Overall, I'm pleased with my progress on this sweater. It's taken about a month of knitting to get what you see here, and it's been a relaxing month of knitting. I thought this two (and sometimes three) color stuff would be stressful, but I found the color combinations to be entrancing. Most nights when I sat down to knit, I was only able to finish a round or two. But little by little, there you are. The rest of the sweater should be a breeze. Posted by Hello

The veggie plot. Just about everything I wanted to plant this spring is in. This week, I hope to add two more tomatoes, a couple of peppers, and an eggplant. In the top left corner, you can see the peas that are growing like gangbusters. Two broccoli plants, two garlic plants, and five onions are barely visible along the top of the plot. In the middle of the plot is the spinach and lettuce I started under the coldframe back in March. Along the right side of the plot, radishes, turnips, carrots, plus a new round of lettuce and spinach. In the bottom right corner, two basil plants are growing confidently. Last night, we had some folks over for dinner, and I made a salad with greens from the garden. It was a proud moment... Posted by Hello

Strawberries! I planted two varieties in this bed--Early Glow and Allstar. This year, we'll pluck the flowers off so the plants put down good roots. I am already dreaming of next year's first bowl of fresh strawberries. Posted by Hello

New flower bed along the east side of the house. So far, I've put in four shrubs plus most of the seedlings I started under lights in the house. The shrubs are tiny now, but in a few years they should take up most of the space, so I'm planting mostly annuals in this flower bed. The bed really needs to be lined with something to keep the grass out--I suppose I should have thought of that sooner... Posted by Hello

Can you see the vinca? There are about 200 new vinca plants beginning to take hold on this hillside. A few of the original plants did not survive being transplanted, but most of the little guys struggle on. This weekend, I added a few additional plants, because I'm hoping things will fill out a little more in the next few months. So far, I've been able to keep up with the weeds in this plot. I think this is because we used black plastic to kill the grass the grew on the hillside, and during the months the plastic was on the hill, it cooked the weed seeds, too. Posted by Hello
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Just wanted to let you know I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. My year-end college recruiting activities are going on now. In the community college world, a lot of students make up their mind to attend a CC at the last minute, so we do a lot of recruiting events this time of year. What's more, the student club I advise has been putting on events left and right--last weekend we held a two-day "Madden" tournament. (Before this weekend, I had no idea that videogame football is so popular.) Our event was packed with some very serious videogame players. This weekend, the student club is doing a car wash. And in two weeks, we may be going to Chicago for the day (this depends on how successful our car wash is!). In my spare time, I've been reviewing scholarship applications, attending the occasional student achievement dinner, etc. It's a busy time of year in the community college world.

But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In just two weeks, spring semester will be over. The college will be deserted for a couple of months, and I'll have some time to dig through the paperwork piled on top of my desk: do my budget for the year, turn in my travel expenses, rewrite my student worker training guide, etc. During the summer, I'll do some marketing writing, work with the web guys to redo a few of our webpages, visit a few businesses and community organizations for some "non-traditional recruiting efforts." Mostly thought, I'll be planning for the recruiting season to start all over again.

And in my spare time, I've been doing some gardening. After many hours spent pulling dandalions, I had to give up that fight. I made a sizeable dent in the dandalion population in the front and back yard, but the side yards are riddled with the little buggers. I just couldn't keep ahead of the blooms, and now the side yards are filled with white puffs. My goal is to continue to pull dandalion weeds through the summer to see if that won't make a difference next year.

The plants I ordered over the winter all came in one week. I planted five shrubs, two blueberries, 50 strawberries, and 200 ground cover plants in about two weeks. The entire time I was working on this project, our weather was really windy. It didn't get really cold, the wind just blew like crazy. It didn't even rain that much--just this stong, persistant wind. This made working outside really unfun. And then, last night the temperatures got down to freezing. I managed to cover up all the new strawberry plants and most of the shrubs, but I knew I'd never get all the ground cover plants covered. This morning, I went out to check, and the ground cover did not look frosty. This might be because the ground cover is planted on the side of a hill, or maybe its because the hill is pretty well shaded by some big trees. Anyhoo, I don't think the frost damaged the ground cover plants last night. We'll see what happens tonight. We're supposed to get down below freezing again. I would like to point out that we are now four days past our official "last frost date." Grrr.

Speaking of the ground cover plants, the plants that I ordered were the tiniest plants I'd ever seen. I ordered vinca from one of those mail order nurseries. Vinca is supposed to be a general-purpose kind of ground cover. Hardy, hardy, hardy. The 200 plants came in a box small enough to hold a pair of shoes. The individual plants were not much more than long stems with one or two leaves and a very few roots. Rightly or wrongly, I went ahead and planted these tiny plants out back. When I look at the hillside out my back window, I can barely make out a sprinkling of leaves bobbing around in the wind. The instructions said to get the plants into the ground as soon as possible, but now I'm wondering if this was a mistake. Maybe I should have brought the vinca plants inside and started them under lights for a few weeks until they were a little more substantial. Outside, the plants seem to still be alive, so we'll see what happens.

In the mean time, I have a bunch of little flower plants wanting to get in the ground. The seedlings I started under light are eager to go outside. Over the weekend, I'd hoped to get them all planted, but when I went outs with my trowel in hand, the wind blew me back indoors. Now with the frost, I see it was just as well they are doing some time under lights. The flowers are pretty well "hardened off," so I think they are safe to go outside once we get beyond "all danger of frost."


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