Thursday, May 19, 2011

Teton Mountains

I had some free time today so I drove around gawking at gorgeous mountains and cool old barns. Nice way to spend a day. I'm really looking forward to coming back here in August when Larry and I come up together for the bluegrass festival.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Only in Idaho

A few images from the day....

Spud on a Truck - Driggs, ID

"The Spud" Drive in - Driggs, ID

The Teton Mountains

Magpie Symbiosis

This week I am in Eastern Idaho, nearly to the Wyoming border, doing some presentations for my job. I had a little free time yesterday so I took a hike along a little stream enjoying the views of the Teton mountains. Amazing. I definitely have to buy myself a better camera because my cheesy little Casio Exilim simply would not do these mountains justice.

As I was hiking I was watching a pair of Magpies dancing in the sky, swooping back and forth between the creek and the trees. (photo shown here is from Wikipedia).

I decided to do a bit of reading about magpies to learn more about them. I learned that they like to land on the backs of deer, moose or other large mammals to pick out the ticks from the animals hide. I got a big grin on my face remembering an image from my childhood.

One of my brothers - I THINK it was Andy, but I'm not positive, drew a picture of a "hippopotomus tick bird". He related in great detail how the birds would ride on the back of the hippos to eat ticks out of the tough hide, giving a meal to the bird and freeing the animal of a nasty parasite. This was my first introduction to the concept of symbiosis, the living together of dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial way. I've always really liked that idea.

There are lots of examples in nature of symbiosis: the hermit crab and the sea anemone, the African crocodile and the plover bird (it cleans the reptile's teeth). The ostrich and the zebra travel together because zebras have great smell and hearing but lousy eyesight. Ostriches have lousy smell and hearing but very keen eyes. Together they make a great team in warning each other about approaching dangers. Even the plant kingdom gets in the act of symbiosis with lichens - a partnership between algae and fungus.

Why can't human beings be more symbiotic? Instead of creating walls of animosity over our differences, I believe we have the potential to find creative partnerships that would mutually benefit BOTH sides of very different people if we could just somehow manage to put down the bat of mistrust and suspicion that so ofen characterizes our species.

Every time I see a magpie I will be reminded to look for ways to make friends of my foes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

First Hummingbird sighting of the season

We got just a quick glimpse of our first hummer this afternoon. It stopped briefly at one of the two feeders I hung up recently and then dashed off to where ever it is these little buggers go. I promptly put out two more feeders now that I know they are ready to start coming around.

Years ago I visited a farm in Dayton, Washington where the family had been putting out dozens of hummingbird feeders for many years. Their place was over-run with several varieties of hummers, many of which kept nests in their pine trees. Those birds had grown so accustomed to the people coming and going that if anyone stood quietly without moving for 15-20 minutes the hummers would actually light on them.

I don't know that our yard will ever rival that level of hummer activity, but I am hoping that by keeping multiple feeders well stocked from now till October we should get some fairly steady sighting. One thing I learned from the hummingbird sanctuary in Dayton was to put some of the feeders down low. Apparently hummers like variety in the location of their food sources.

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's DONE!

After WEEKS of hard work and perhaps a few more dollars than we had initially planned to spend, the front yard project to re-vamp the landscaping is FINALLY done.

I love the raised beds for my veggies (tomatoes, squash, Swiss chard, spinach, okra, radish, carrots and cucumber) - ESPECIALLY because the drip hoses are all set up on a timer so the garden will water itself.

Then just for fun my sweet husband added a nice water feature - you can't really see them in the picture but there are an undisclosed number of turtles of various sizes and composition scattered around the catch basin of the fountain. It has been fun to challenge friends to a game of "Count The Turtles". I had planned it for little kids but there are two that have stumped more than one grown up.

I am excited to see how it will look when my flowers get going. In my big red pot I've got pink wave petunias, meezo (little red flowers),white bacopa calibachoa (ultra purple) with a Dahlia in the middle for height.

In the corner flowerbed where the light post is we have 3 roses, 3 cone flowers and an ornamental grass and some chunky rocks. Then in the flower barrel out there I've got more wave petunias and a biddy (yellow flowers)with geranium in the middle. I had tried some morning glories I had started inside but they don't look too happy. I thought they would look pretty going up the post but I may just replace that with something else. was a lot of work. I'm glad we got it finished before it got really hot. Moving grass and shoveling rock about wore me out! I am SOOOO appreciative of my sweet husband for all the work he put into this project. There is no way I would ever have anything this nice without him.

Tomorrow afternoon we are having a BBQ here for the students in my class. It will be fun to have them see it.

I've loved my back yard since the day we moved here. Now my front yard is every bit as pretty in its own way. I love being surrounded by beauty! Then to be able to grow some yummy fresh veggies for our table makes it that much better.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

New Plants

Today I went to the annual fundraiser plant sale at the Boise Botanical gardens. We were moving rock in the the front yard most of the early part of the day so I didn't get to the sale till just shortly before they closed. Part of that was deliberate, figuring I didn't need the temptation of all the fine specimen plants they probably had to offer early on. As much a I can I try to avoid buying new plants all together...I trade starts of stuff I have with other gardeners who have things to share, saving us both some cash and making some new friends in the process. But I figured a few new babies to support the sale could not hurt.

I got a black hollyhock that I am very excited about and a really pretty bachelor button called "Amethyst Dream" that has rich purple flowers. Then I let one of the volunteers talk me in to one that I wasn't crazy about, but she said it would do well in nearly full shade and since I have so much shade to cover I thought I'd go ahead and give it a try.

This one is a lungwort, or pulmonaria. I was not at all familiar with it so I looked it up to add it to my inventory of plants. This is what I learned:
"Apart from being a pretty garden flower, old-fashioned common lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) was a favorite medicinal herb in the Middle Ages. It got both its common and Latin names from the curious belief, expressed in the 16th century by a Swiss alchemist in the Doctrine of Signatures, that god made herbs to treat human illnesses and each herb’s physical appearance actually indicated how it should be used. Because the leaves of some lungwort species are oval-shaped with white spots, apothecaries concluded the plant was a sure cure for spotted lungs, i.e. “pulmonary” diseases like pleurisy, tuberculosis or pneumonia. What seems like crazy superstition to us dominated medical thinking in Europe in the 16th and the 17th centuries. Common lungwort has silver-spotted foliage and sprays of mauve buds that open into small blue flowers. It grows about 12 inches (30 cm) high and spreads aggressively by underground runners, making it a good groundcover for wildish, shady places under shrubs or trees." (By Janet Davis at

The plant I got is a bit leggy, but we got it planted back in the shady spot in the back corner of the yard and we'll see how it does.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Tastes of Summer

Last night we had some fresh local asparagus with our supper. It was absolutely YUMMY! We eat a lot of vegetables at our house, with hearty salads being a real staple. I'm grateful that we have access to produce pretty much year round thanks to modern packaging and transportation methods. Still, eating fresh foods grown locally is something I try to do as much as I can. Not only is it healthier, the taste is just unbeatable.

Here are a couple links that would agree with me:

Top 10 Reasons to Buy Local

Eating Better Than Organic

I really liked the article at the second link - "Eating Better Than Organic" by John Cloud for Time Magazine.

He lives in New York and found himself with a quandary over whether he should buy an ORGANIC apple that was probably grown several states away or buy a LOCAL apple that had probably been sprayed with pesticides. He ended up purchasing both, but then goes on to reflect on the merits of various sources of food.

There is just no doubt that something picked when it was ripe and eaten shortly there after TASTES far, far better than something picked prior to ripeness and then stored/shipped/stored again before it could be purchased and eaten. Also the nutrients are much richer. So I do agree with folks who encourage others to eat locally grown as much as possible. I'm just not willing to give up salads and such in winter when I have to get my stuff from California or Mexico or other places.

The one case of a far away food that I definitely choose to eat year round is bananas. I eat a banana almost every day. (Usually in a smoothie for breakfast, sometimes sliced down the middle lengthwise and spread with peanut butter, or just as a quick grab snack.) Also I do buy quite a bit of citrus, which also has to be shipped from other places to get to me.

So in concept I support the idea of looking for local things to grace my table. I'm just not at the point where I am willing to sacrifice the things I enjoy eating that are not.

Boise has some great farmers markets that I'm looking forward to frequenting once the harvest season gets going. And of course I do plan on growing some of my own vegetables this summer. Still - I will more than likely continue to buy foods that increase demand for fossil fuels to ship them to me. And honestly, I'm just not willing to pay the higher price for "organic" in most cases.

How about you? Do you know where your food comes from?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Didn't you mean "Flutter-by"?

Did you know there are EIGHT families of Butterflies in Idaho?

I had no clue. But Larry might have. My sweet husband has a Master's degree in Entomology - the study of insects. Weird, I know. My niece, Rachel, always called him the "Bug Uncle" and used to mail him jars of various insects from Colorado to ask him to identify.

While we are out on our walks I'm forever noticing the birds and the flowers. Larry looks for the bugs. Hey, different strokes for different folks. I've never been a big beetle fan myself. But I do LOVE butterflies. We have several of them framed on the bathroom wall.

There are only so many hours in day and I DO have a full time job, plus a side job teaching adjunct college classes, so I have no illusions about becoming any sort of expert in butterflies as well as birds. However, by understanding A LITTLE BIT about the butterflies I can make more mindful choices of what sorts of plants I introduce into my landscaping to make an inviting home for them.

This sounds like a project for my husband to follow up on.
Hey honey - when you get done with all that work on your front yard project, how would you like to track down some information on butterflies of Idaho? We can find out what sorts of them are in our area and see what we can do to attract them, ok?

Butterfly Gardening
List of Butterflies in Idaho
Butterflies and Moths of North America - Idaho
Key to Butterflies in Idaho
We Love Butterflies

Name that bird

After posting my piece about preparing for the hummingbirds I got to thinking about all the OTHER birds I enjoy watching in my yard. One of the reasons I was so adamant about buying a place that had mature trees was because I just plain like them. But just as importantly, I wanted a place that would provide habitat for my feathered friends.

I don't always know the names of the birds that I see come through here, I just know when I think they are pretty. I'm not all that knowledgeable about birding. But then, I didn't know the names of half the flowers and bushes when we got here. Little by little I've learned to identify most of them. So why not do the same thing with the birds?

I've decided I am going to set up some links on my side bar with references to the birds of Idaho and then I will track the ones that I can identify (both in my yard and when I'm out on walks along the greenbelt.)

One of my sweetest memories of my paternal grandmother, Jane Pendley, is of going for walks with her on the ranch in Oak Creek, AZ, which is now Slide Rock State Park. While she didn't have all that much formal education, that woman was SMART. She knew the names of every plant on the property - even the weeds. She knew the animals. She knew the birds. Having grown up in Oak Creek Canyon from the time she was about seven when she came out on the train with her mother from Oklahoma, Jane knew the land and all its flora and fauna like the back of her hand.

I doubt I'll ever be as knowledgeable of a naturalist as my grandmother was. I live too much in the modern word of media, technology and other interests to make that a live long study the way she did. Still, I am motivated by the words of Edward Everett Hale who said: "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

So I'm going to start learning about the birds of Idaho. I'll check out some library books and get out my binoculars. I'll do some clicking around on the net at places like:
Idaho Birds.Net
Regional Reports
Digital Atlas of Idaho Birds
Birds of Idaho Field Checklist
Idaho Bird Inventory and Survey

I will admit that last one rather baffles me. Every page is stamped "Review Draft - NOT for distribution" but there it is on the Internet for all to see. What's up with that??

Anyway, I have lots to learn. What birds can I expect to see in this neck of the woods? What do their calls sound like? What is their preferred habitat? What are their migration patterns?

Some people would say WHO CARES? For me though, it feels like embarking on an adventure.

Ready for Hummers

I put up three of my hummingbird feeders this morning. I have a few others that I'll wait on until I see my small friends appear.

Here are some great links for Hummingbird information, some specific to Idaho:

Tracking arrival date by county HERE

Basic Information

Migration Info

Banding Programs

So the watch begins. I'm looking forward to that first sighting. Even though they can be aggressive little bullies, I can't help but love these diminutive birds.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Here is some of what I have blooming in my yard right now:

Bleeding heart

Tulips (along with some Basket of Gold - and while not blooming that rhubarb you see on the left behind the row of tulips is looking mighty fine.)

I think violets are so cheerful - and the lilies and allium coming up give promise of more pretty blooms yet to come.

Ornamental Plum Tree

Siberian Bugloss (false Forget-me-Not)

The deadnettle along the pathway has gone absolutely nuts. This is just one of the several different species of lamium we have.

I particularly like this one:

There's lots more - way more than I have the patience to photograph or upload. LOTS of things are just beginning to emerge. Every couple of days something new blooms. I love Boise in the spring time. What a blessing it is to have this garden~!

Picking our Battles

Our many projects on the yard continue. Because of that we decided to forgo one project that was just bigger than we wanted to take on.

When we bought our house last year there was an old picnic table in the back yard that we had planned on scraping and repainting. We started the scraping job and bought the primer and paint. But the more we worked on it, the more overwhelming the task seemed to be. So finally we threw it the towel and decided to just give the thing away to someone with more energy and patience that we had. Can you blame us?

It didn't take us long to find a home for it. Better them than me!

Instead of working on that old bench we've focused on the front yard. We've gone from digging rocks and roots to a finished flowerbed with three rose bushes, several cone flowers, an ornamental grass and a big pot for some bright colored annuals yet to be planted. My hard working hubby did a terrific job of completely reworking our irrigation system to go from the old lawn springlers to a drip system that will target each plant with just the right amount of H20 to keep them thriving in our hot summer sun.

We went from a hole in the ground to a working fountain. No small task, that one. Had to bring electricity out to the site, haul lots of rocks, and dig a deep enough hole to submerge the recirculating pump. Then came moving the actual fountain piece we bought at the Boise garden show. Holy cow the thing weighs over 300 pounds! (It just LOOKS like a big tall rock - it's actually formed concrete.) Thank goodness for kind neighbors with strong backs!

Probably the biggest job was removing half our lawn and getting the raised beds created and filled.

Next we will be putting in the brick edging to match what we did around the corner flowerbed going all the way around the area where the raised beds are. Then we will lay down landscape fabric and stone. We thought about putting bark there, but since we get a fair amount of falling leaves in the fall we want something we can use our leaf blower on to clean it up. We've looked at a few different kinds - sort of leaning toward gold cinder. If I had lots of money I'd go for the new rubber mulch just because it would be cozy for bare feet, but then again that would get us back to the same problem with leaf clean up so I guess rock will have to do.

It has been a lot of work. My sweet husband has been amazing with the amount of progress that he has been able to get done each day. We had one lady who lives up the street be so impressed she wants to put the same raised beds in her yard. So we worked out a barter deal - Larry will do the miter cuts on her pieces of wood with his fancy saw in exchange for tomato plants and herbs she has growing in her plant shed. What a deal!

When we first started tearing out our lawn and the neighbors heard that we were planning to have our garden in the front yard I think they were all worried that it was going to be a horrible eyesore. But now that we've gotten these stages done lots of folks walking by or riding their bikes have commented on how nice it looks.

A few have teased us that they are looking forward to helping themselves to our tomatoes. At least I HOPE they are teasing! We are not tempting fate by growing watermelons. Those would just invite trouble.

Larry and I got into a great conversation this evening about the comparative ethics of watermelon stealing. It was one of those hilarious you-had-to-be-there sort of conversations not soon forgotten.

We're tired. We'll be glad when it is all done. But it is a good kind of tired that comes with taking on a big project and seeing it through.

Taking Pictures With My Heart

Last night there was the most amazing rainbow directly over our street. It was a huge arc of color bands that seem to say to me "You are in exactly the right place." The whole evening sky was absolutely astonishing. I thought about running for my camera, but chose instead to simply stand in my front yard gaping at it in the light rain, soaking in every minute of it as the horizon transitioned from golds to pinks.

I have neither the quality of camera or skills as a photography to fully do it justice. So instead, I took pictures in my heart.

I thought of other moments like that - images that I have captured in my memory that were so surreal in their beauty that I would savor them always...

- my eldest son sitting in a field of dandelions grinning at me when he was 10 months old

- the first time I saw the Grand Canyon

- the glaciers in Alaska

- a certain overlook along the Wenatchee River with the Cascade mountains in the background

- the pyramids of Giza

And then there are other senses that have less to do with what I saw, but more with what I heard or smelled or tasted or felt.

There were some kind of flowers in my brother's yard in Florida that smelled absolutely stunning in the evenings. I never knew what they were and I can't even begin to describe it, but I've never forgotten it. I love the smell of fresh bread baking, of the ozone in the sky right before a big rain, and of my beloved right out of the shower with no cologne - just man and soap.

Favorite sounds that have touched my heart - my grand son's belly laugh, loving neighbors singing Christmas Carols at my doorstep, the ringing bells at the Orthodox church in Walla Walla on Pascha morning, waves crashing on rocks at a certain beach I once went to, and the special symphony that is the mix of light wind in the trees, birdsong and my backyard fountain bubbling.

I cannot take a picture of those things, but they are just as dear to me as the images I've seen. I do love taking pictures to look back on as a way to remember places, people and experiences. But sometimes pictures reduce, rather than preserve, a moment. Sometimes the grandeur of night sky, or a mountain vista or a beloved's smile just can't be captured with film or pixels.

It's at times like that when I just stand still, catch my breath, and take a picture with my heart.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Happy Anniversary Idaho!

I just touched the one year mark of my move to Idaho. Hard to believe that much time has passed. I'm feeling pretty good about the transition to Boise. I love the climate, the people, the surrounding scenery. I'm enjoying exploring the local music scene and learning about various fun places to hang out.

After many corporate moves that kept shifting us to where ever my beloved's job told us we needed to be to suit their fickle company fancy, this is the first time in 30 years we were able to mindfully CHOOSE where we wanted to be. We took a mason jar ring and named it to be a 50 mile radius, then listed about 10 different factors we wanted within that space for our quality of life. We kept shifting our circle all over the western USA, considering several other places before landing here. However, after giving it lots of thought, Boise had all 10 things that were important to us. So, once we made our minds up that this was the place we just kept poking at it till we were able to find the job and the house to make the plan real. One year later I have absolutely no regrets about putting down roots here. I plan to burrow in deep. No more tumbleweed moving from place to place for me. I may not always live in my current house, but if I have anything to say about it, BOISE will stay my home.

I've finally found a place where I feel at peace, I feel connected. I generally believe that happiness and contentment come a lot more from INSIDE a person than whatever their external circumstances may be. Still, being in a place that FITS is a blessing indeed.

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