Sunday, May 11, 2008


I've been wanting an old-fashioned reel mower for years. We had one when we were first married, 28 years ago...our lawn was small and sparse, and we couldn't afford anything else. I only remember that it was beaten and rusty and was a bear to use, but it did the job. I must have found it at a yard sale for a buck or two. When we moved from Indiana to Pennsylvania several years later, it became M.I.A. Lately I'd been hinting big time that I wanted a reel mower for Mother's Day. Dean kept hemming and hawing about it, reminding me how hard the old one was to use, and pointed out that our yard was bumpy, lumpy, uneven and full of roots and weeds, and that it wouldn't work very well, if at all. But I STILL insisted that I wanted one...I felt compelled to get one. I just HAD to have one again!! With the price of gas continuing to rise, how could we NOT justify getting one?

To make a long story short, I got a nice new 16-inch reel mower for Mother's Day. My in-laws were here, and I'm sure they must think they've got the weirdest daughter-in-law ever, because I'm always asking for strange things like weed whackers, spades, and wheel barrows for Mother's Day (and other) gifts. This mower is smooooooth. Works like a charm and slices through the lawn like a hot knife through butter. Our youngest son, Tyler (22 years) had a blast mowing a portion of the yard. I think that was the first time he's ever volunteered to mow!

I love the sound of the reel mower. A nice whirring noise, not the loud roar of a gas engine. Now I can mow without wearing earplugs! And the idea of NOT using any kind of fuel, other than perhaps a bit of body fat is hugely satisfying. My husband is right though, not all parts of our yard will be "mowable" with the reel mower, and for those parts we'll still need to use the gas mower (push) and weed whacker.

I talked to my brother James in Indiana earlier today, and he mentioned that he's got three reel mowers that his family uses for their lawn. He's mennonite (contemplating becoming Amish), so he has lots of reel mower know-how and experience...he stated to make sure the blades are kept sharpened, otherwise they'll be a major chore to use. He gets his sharpened about twice a year.

On another note, Tyler just graduated from Bloomsburg University yesterday with a B.S. degree in Computer Science. He graduated Cum Laude with honors in Math, and he's got a job lined up already with Raytheon Corp. in State College, PA. He starts to work May 27. Our nest is "empty" after all these years, though I hope our boys will always feel welcome to return at any time they want.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Just Bein' Neighborly

Several days ago while I was eating breakfast and Dean (husband) was talking to a client on the phone, I heard someone at the back door. Rarely do we get visitors here, so I a bit surprised that someone would be here so early in the morning. Upon opening the door, there stood my neighbor, R, holding a paper towel to her hand which was a bloody mess. She seemed a bit upset as she explained that she'd accidentally locked herself out of the house, then cut her hand when she attempted to open a storm window which promptly broke. I grabbed my EMT bag out of the car, and bandaged her hand. Her cuts weren't too terribly deep, thankfully, and when I finished bandaging her hand, I drove her the nearly 1/2 mile back to her house to attempt re-entry with a screwdriver that she'd borrowed from Dean. Once at her house, we attempted to open several doors and windows, but she assured me everything was locked up tight as a drum. After looking around a bit, we decided to try another door, which thankfully had the hinges on the outside of the house, but inside the garage. I was able to get the pins out of the hinges by poking a nail up through the bottom. The door was still stuck in place since it was locked and we couldn't really move it one way or the other. I continued to jiggle the door and managed to get it just loose enough that I could then take the screw driver and work the bolt part of the lock over just far enough that the door eventually came open.

OK, back home to finish breakfast. By the time I got home, Dean had left for work and the bowl of cereal that I'd left on the table had mysteriously disappeared. Well, the bowl was there but the cereal (granola and homemade yogurt) was gone. Tristan, our collie, looked smugly satisfied, while Toodie, our Australian Shepherd had this look on her face like, "Tristan did it but I told him not to! I told him he'd get in trouble if he ate your cereal!"

Just about the time I finished breakfast attempt number two, the phone rang and another neighbor, N, wondered if he could stop by for some of the plastic bags I bring home from work. These bags are big trash bag-size, clear plastic and generally in excellent condition. Occasionally there will be a couple very small holes in them, but they're still functional unless you want to put very small things in them. At UPS the small packages get shipped to us in these bags to reduce package handling; it's so much easier and quicker to move one of those bags than separately handle the 50 or so small packages it contains. These bags are just tossed in the garbage and hauled off to a landfill. This makes me sick, seeing these bags get tossed like that, so I bring home as many as I possibly can, and use them for our own use, give them away on Freecycle, and give them to family and friends. The bags with the small holes are excellent for hauling our recyclables off to the recycling center.

I had hundreds of these bags stored in our garage, which my husband was quite upset about. "Get rid of these bags!" was his battle everyone I met was laden down with plastic garbage bags. Anyway, our neighbor, N, wanted some of these bags for his little business, and I let him take as many as he could. When asked what I wanted for them, I told him, "nothing...they were free and were just going to be thrown away". He must have anticipated my response, because he came prepared with a bottle of homemade rhubarb wine which he presented to me. OK, I'll gladly take that! Bartering is a wonderful thing!

Monday, April 21, 2008

In Memory of a Best Friend

I met Crystal Snyder in my 1999 Northumberland County Penn State Master Gardener class.  We immediately hit it off, having so many similar interests.  We were close to the same age, I being 3 years older, and we nearly shared the same birthday...hers was October 9, and mine is October 7.  Our firstborn sons even share the same name, Jeremiah, and they are the same age.  Our similarities were pretty amazing, really, everything from our love of organic gardening to a similar childhood.

Crystal and I performed lots of Master Gardener duties together, went to various gardening trainings and workshops, went plant shopping together, and just had a blast whenever we'd get together.  She had a quick, contagious smile, and would do anything to help a friend or neighbor.

Tragically, Crystal became a statistic.  She was one of the many women who contracted cervical cancer due to a prescription drug her mother had taken while Crystal was still "in the oven".  She fought a long, hard battle, and confided in me of her fears of how this would all end.  Sadly, she lost her battle on October 23, 2006.  I was devastated.

Spring is a difficult time since Crystal died...I'm always thinking how much she'd be enjoying the flowers and planting her garden.  And I'm sad that I can't share my gardening joys with her, call her up and talk gardens, go to a nursery and buy plants, and do all of those things that best gardening buddies do together.

Last fall I bought some little tete-de-tete daffodil bulbs with the intention of planting them on Crystal's grave.  I thought that would be pretty cool to see a wave of those cheery little yellow guys waving in the spring breeze there, but unfortunately when I went to plant them, I couldn't find the exact spot!  I was close, but the family hadn't put a headstone up yet, so I couldn't be sure where to plant them.

So I brought them home.  I planted them around my yard in various locations.  Some by the mailbox, some in my Secret Garden, some in a flower bed in front of the house, and some by the cellar stairwell.  They're blooming now, and every time I see them I think of Crystal, and how she must be having a blast now gardening in the most incredible garden of all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

First Spring Veggies

In past years, I don't recall the asparagus popping up quite as early as it has this year. Maybe I never really took note of when the asparagus peeked out of the earth simply because I've never had a decent crop of asparagus in the approximately 8 years since I planted those little octopus crowns. This is the first year that I haven't seen asparagus beetles snacking on, crawling on, and using the asparagus as an egg incubator.

Perhaps the asparagus truly is early, or the beetles are late. At any rate, I had a beautiful bunch of asparagus to accompany our Sunday dinner of steak on the grill, mashed potatoes, fried yellow squash, Indian puppodums, and a yummy dessert of whole wheat berries cooked in milk and honey with golden raisins and seasoned with cinnamon. The dessert was like rice pudding, but wheat berries were used instead of rice.

I must tell you here, that in the past I tried all sorts of things to eradicate the asparagus beetles. I tried planting petunias between the asparagus plants (I'd read somewhere that petunias repel the beetles). That seemed to help initially, but eventually the beetles came. I tried spraying insecticidal soaps, I tried hand-picking the beetles and crushing their eggs. As soon as the spears would poke up from the ground, the beetles would be on them, devouring them and laying their eggs on them. The spears, in addition to being eaten by the beetles, would also be grossly misshappen. I'm not sure if that was due to the beetles snacking on the spears, of if there was a deficiency of some sort in the soil. The poor little spears would just...shrivel.

Today's asparagus feast was simply "brilliant". Since I'm the only one in my family that even likes asparagus, I had it all to myself. Nothing fancy today, just butter and a hint of salt tossed on and it was pure bliss.