Sunday, September 30, 2012

Imagination and a Visit to River Bend

Crunch!  Swoosh!
Crunch!  Swoosh!

Walking silently was not an option.  Dried leaves covered the trails of River Bend Nature Center, and our energy was running high.  We had finally made it back to the park.

Much of the green was replaced with orange and yellow, while bits of red poked through, vying for attention.

red virginia creeper vying for attention

Breezes alternately whistled or rushed through the tree limbs, making my daughter and I smile in wonder, imagining fairies, trolls, and even dragons hiding within the treeline.  And who could blame us?  The falling of the leaves revealed so many hiding places, if you have the imagination to see them.

Could a tiny civilization make their home within this hollowed out, fallen tree trunk?  We can't see through to the end, after all...

hollowed out log

And what lies beneath these still and murky depths?  As we look down, we can't help but wonder if we're standing at the center of a troll bridge...

murky still waters

It was so much fun!

Normally I talk about the farmers market on Sundays, but I didn't make it  this week... again. We spent a few hours at River Bend on Friday, exploring the trails, and used more of our energy than we realized.  Indeed, neither one of us was awake before 9:30 am, and that's quite a feat for us!

Going to River Bend not only allowed us to set our imaginations free, but also gave us the opportunity to get away from the trappings of modern life.  Rather than television or games, our imagination and activity levels were our entertainment.

Furthermore, getting out into nature brings a certain clarity of mind.  

Daily stresses wash away, because, well... think about it!  They aren't needed.  That mistake you made at work?  That person that judges your every action?  The bills that need to be paid?

None of those things have any place here, and there's nothing to remind you of them.  Nature doesn't judge.  The trees have no use for your money.  If your boots stumble off-trail and onto a young sapling, it'll still grow.

Nature is peaceful, and holds no grudges.

Your only responsibility as you wander the trails is to have respect for the life around you.  Just as the green (or in this case, the orange and yellow) plants clean the air around you and grant you this peace, you can, in turn, remove any human waste you find littering the trails, helping the plants do their jobs more efficiently.

autumn trail

Get out there and enjoy yourself!  

Sure, you may not live anywhere near River Bend, but there are so many other places to visit.  Who knows what your own imagination will conjure up?  Only you, and only if you take the time to allow it to happen.  Take some time to get away from the stresses of daily life, and enjoy the world around you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Black Walnut Trees: A Piece of Local History

Every now and then, the missing piece to a puzzle just kind of falls into your hands.  This is pretty exciting, in and of itself, but it becomes even more exciting when you didn't even realize it was lost!

That's what happened to me on Thursday.  While waiting in line at Walgreen's,  I happened to look over at the newspaper rack.  There it was, staring right at me:

My next blog post.

It was a story in the Daily News that dealt with local history - something I always loved to read in El Paso, so naturally, I was eager to read this.  This one, though, had a bonus that no other historical piece had ever given me:

It had the answer to how something that has become a central focus for me in the present even became an issue in the first place.

Where the heck did all of these black walnuts come from?!

Tons of Black walnuts!

Ok... duh.  They came from trees.  But the trees are everywhere!  You literally can't go anywhere in this city without finding them.  My own yard is filled with them, and I'm constantly pulling saplings from the ground.

There were just too many of them for there not to be a story behind their presence.

And the front page of the Daily News was kind enough to give me this answer.  There is a story behind them, and it's actually a rather nice one.  Yep!  The local newspaper gave me the missing piece to a puzzle that had been nagging my subconscious for quite some time.  Not only that, but it was on the front page.


The article was entitled "THAT'S NUTS: The story behind Faribault's abundance of walnut trees", written by Ashley Klemer.

Talk about convenient!

Even better - The story is green in nature.  It all began with one man that was determined to protect our environment.  Specifically the trees.

C.E. Purdie saw the occurrence of deforestation due to logging that was done in the area.  Black walnut wood is a very sought after material because it's strong, and able to resist the elements far more effectively than many other types of lumber.

The problem, though, was that there didn't appear to be any effort to re-plant what had been taken.

Faribault was losing its trees.  

Purdie decided to do something about it.  He grabbed up some seeds and planted them, deciding that he'd not only try to bring back some of these trees, but also reap the benefit of having lots of walnuts for various recipes.  Hearing about this, other community members gave him even more seeds.  Soon, there were thousands of saplings bursting through the soil.

What the heck do you do with thousands of saplings, though?

Obviously, that's way too many for a single family to care for, so he had a giveaway, and it was a huge success.  The saplings were all gone in only a few hours.

People obviously really liked this decision, so he planted more, and it became an annual occurrence...

Word got around, and soon the saplings were given away to people from here...

to China!

Everything ended about 8 years later, though, when only around 60% of his black walnut saplings found new homes.  He had to plow the remaining young trees under, because, I mean, really...

What else do you do with that many unwanted trees?

One of his sons still continues the tradition, however, planting trees (not just black walnut, thank goodness!) wherever there appears to be need for them:

Areas that lack the wooded growth that should be seen in the region.

My relationship with black walnut trees is very obviously a love/hate relationship.  

I worry about my dog's safety, since he loves them so much, and I worry about my family's safety as I stare up into huge branches that are due to fall at any moment.

fallen branch
Or have already fallen!

But I also recognize their beauty, as well as their uses for dyes, construction, decor, or even their importance as a food source.

And now I have a wonderful history to attach to that.  A beautiful, life-giving, environmentally responsible history that's based on, dare I say, caring for the environment and community?

I imagine what Faribault would look like today if C.E. Purdie hadn't planted these trees that I both love and hate, and I don't like the world my imagination conjures.

It's awfully barren.

We spend so much time learning about the political and military heroes in our regions that we sometimes forget about the quiet, everyday heroes... the ones that make the world better just because they did something incredibly simple...

Like planting that first seed.

Do you know of any peaceful, environmentally responsible history that has made a difference in your community?  Unsung heroes that helped make your home a little more beautiful?

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Autumn Purging: A Seasonal Ailment

Many people fall victim to that horrible ailment known as spring cleaning.  

They race from area to area, brandishing spray bottles while carrying washcloth shields.  They kick up dust, only making this illness progress to a far greater level as they sneeze and cough, their lungs in distress under so much pressure.

Just before their recovery from this horrid condition, their skin cracks or itches and they fall into exhaustion.  Even more strange, they do so with a satisfied smile on their lips, as though brain cells have been depleted in the process.

I'm happy to say that I've never been one to succumb to this.  Thus far in life, I've avoided it in its entirety.

Unfortunately, I appear to have fallen victim, as of late, to what appears to be a mutation of this ailment:

The Autumn Purging

This is a strange condition that appears to be a mutation of what's commonly known as spring cleaning.  From what I've been able to piece together, it doesn't pass from person to person.  Instead, it's carried by the cool autumn wind.  Many appear to have an immunity to it, such as my immunity to its springtime counterpart, but those that are unlucky enough to catch this ailment are in for quite a ride.

The symptoms?

A compulsion to purge the area of every last leaf, the overpowering need for a sparkling clean rain gutter, sudden visual intensity that forces the victim to see each and every brown spot in the yard, irrational sadness as the victim realizes that they're powerless to do anything about the brown spots, bursts of energy that occur sporadically as a leaf falls, tunnel vision, and finally, exhaustion.

It starts abruptly, and with little to no warning.  The trigger is a single area that is in need of the purging.

dried brown leaves covering the edges of the sidewalk.
My trigger was the front sidewalk.
All was fine until I walked my daughter to preschool one morning.  A sudden breeze rushed past me, and the dreaded ailment took hold.

A few leaves leapt into the air, and my eyes followed them back down to the ground.

No, down to the top of an entire pile of leaves.  A pile that reached around seven inches high at its peak.  A big, no... a huge pile of brown, dry, crunchy leaves that were sure to end up tracked inside the house as they clung to the bottoms of people's shoes.


And over.


The Autumn Purging: A seasonal Ailment

The specific leaves that I had originally noticed never made it to the ground.

I had contracted that horrible ailment. The Autumn Purging had me in its grasp.  There was no going back.

I moved porch furniture.  I raked. I swept.  I cleaned.  I repaired a few cracks in the house's siding.  After 3 straight hours of this, combined with crushing leaves roughly into a black bag to fit

more, more, MORE 

inside, then re-sweeping and re-raking after my daughter 'helped' me, I was exhausted.

Autumn Purging, nearly complete

I fell into a chair and smiled, thinking I had finally done enough to take a rest... after, of course, I filled that second bag and threw out a few small items of trash I had found.  I was exhausted, but the chair was oh so comfortable.

But then...

A leaf fell from the black walnut tree that overhangs the back porch.

I stood up and grabbed the broom.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Black Walnuts: Dangerous for Your Dog


I yell at the top of my lungs.  Yanking the leash hard, I attempt to pull my 90 pound dog away, then stumble in the process.  I lose my footing when I step on a black walnut.  My foot rolls, and I start spiralling toward the ground...

On the path leading up the hill and into the fenced-in area of the yard.  

I throw my arms out and catch myself on some rocks off to the side, but the pain that shoots through my ring and pinky fingers causes me to jerk back, and I continue my downward descent to the ground.

I know that if I continue in this manner, I'm going to end up rolling down the path, which would probably be fine (I fall enough that I'm great at rolling), except that the path is narrow, and somewhat walled on either side at this point.

treacherous path on the hill

I do some not-so-graceful feats of gymnastics, swing my head to the right just in time to avoid the retaining wall, and land on my feet.

Well, ok... I land on one foot.  I land on the  instep of my other foot, however, and the front of my calf gets close and personal with the edge of the wall.  In a word...


My loyal dog, of course, is right there beside me, nudging my face with his nose within moments.  Satisfied that I'm reasonably ok, he goes back to

chewing on the black walnut.

I groan in defeat.

You're probably wondering why I was so panicked about his decision to chomp on a walnut.  I mean, while deathly poisonous to horses, this nut is perfectly fine for a dog.


You've seen what the black walnut shells look like.  As you break them apart, the extraordinarily hard shells become jagged, and very sharp.  If you walk across a broken shell with your bare feet, you can easily pierce the skin.

And my dog doesn't just chew on these things... he eats them - shell and all.  Think about what that can do to a dog's stomach and intestines...

On second thought, don't.  That's just not a pretty picture.  

Ok, but that's not everything.  According to

Black Walnuts

Black walnuts contains a toxin called juglone which can cause a vascular disease in horses known as laminitis, but doesn't appear to cause problems in dogs. Eating black walnuts can cause gastric intestinal upset or an obstruction.
In addition, moldy black walnuts can contain tremorgenic mycotoxins which can cause seizures or neurological symptoms.

Yeah, this is some ugly business.  Walnuts that fall to the ground and aren't picked up reasonably quickly can grow mold.  I've seen this in my yard quite a bit. 

On one hand, I have a dog with ripped up insides, and on the other, I have tremorgenic mycotoxins that can make him appear seriously drunk, or even cause seizures. 

Oh, the joy of black walnuts!  Right? 

I didn't even know what these toxins were.  To break it down, tremorgenic means 'pertaining to fungal toxins', while mycotoxin means, quite simply, 'a toxin produced by a fungus.'  Pretty redundant, right?  

Regardless, it's bad.

Every day, I pick up all the black walnuts that I find, yet there always seem to be a few that I miss.  Maybe the squirrels are dropping them, or maybe they're falling naturally.  I never worried about the black walnuts in this manner, since my dog had never shown any interest in them...

That is, until this week.

Now I need to find ways to keep him from eating them.  Raking the walnuts, then picking up any spares isn't a very viable option, as we can see from my lovely gymnastics display.  So far, the only option I have appears to be keeping him on a short leash.  Something I hate to do.  He loves the fenced in area of the hill, after all.

Any alternate ideas?  I'll take all the help I can get!

And just when I thought I could finally get over my dislike of black walnuts...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Decorate With Gourds!!!


I'm going to decorate with tons and tons of gourds!  I'm going to have piles of them outside my door.  I'll cut off their tops and use them as candle holders. 
I'll paint them,
I'll poke beads into their shells,
And I'll use big gourds as a place to pile small gourds!

This house will be overflowing with them!

There's just one problem with this plan...

At the moment I have one mini pumpkin that I got at the farmers market, and a gourd that my daughter chose while we were at the grocery store.

Totally not enough.

Looks like I'll need to remember to plant gourds for next year, right?

In the meantime, though, I'll be looking around for more, while deciding what to do to turn them into the perfect decor.  

We've already talked about a simple way to create fall decor using a mason jar, so now we need to learn how to decorate using gourds.

Naturally, my first worry was preservation.  

You can hardly feel like you're being eco-friendly if the gourds you work hard to use (instead of plastic) decide to rot and grow mold all around you.  Fortunately, I found a good tutorial on that process, courtesy of ehow.

Basically, you have to go through a lot of washing (with borax) and drying.  

The washing is done in hope of destroying any mold that may have taken hold, as well as cleaning off any unsightly dirt.

The drying needs to be done in a warm, dark area, and goes on for a few days.  You'll need to throw out any of the gourds that become disfigured or mushy.

Everything that's left becomes part of your smashingly beautiful decor for the season... or maybe for the next few decades of seasons!  How awesome is that idea?

I've been looking through site after site, and blog after blog, trying to find just the right ideas.  Some ideas are simple, yet beautiful in concept.  

I liked the simplistic design ideas that I found via Restyling Home By Kelly.  Kelly doesn't spend time etching, painting, or carving.  Her concepts are warm and simple.  They make a person feel comfortable, and at home - stress free.  

Ahhh... heavenly relaxation.

For something that requires a bit more hands-on effort, however, and uses more color, I found the techniques used by Pam of Gingerbread Snowflakes to be rather exciting.  She draws on the gourds, using tools like colored pencils and sharpies, 
- I love sharpies! - 
bringing colorful designs to life on gourds 
that have otherwise drab colors. As she points out, this would also be a great project for kids!  And she even makes them into Christmas ornaments!  


Still not enough for you?  How about if we paint everything and do some etching on top of that?

Still not big enough?  

Ok, I'm up for the challenge.  How about if we use fire?

That's exactly what Vickie of Vickie's Sketchbook did.  She uses pyroengraving.  How awesome is that?  Granted, I'm not about to do it - I'd simply manage to burn the entire gourd.  If you want to do it, however, that link to her site gives you a tutorial.


There's so much you can do with gourds, and I can't wait to begin.  I've never really taken the time to decorate for fall, being more of a Christmas person, but I've discovered that for whatever reason, gourds really make me... well... happy!

They're much more eco-friendly than their plastic counterparts, and if properly preserved, can last for a very long time.  Do you decorate with gourds?  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The About Page is Finally Up!

Super short post today...

The 'About' page is up!!! 

::insert loud and excited cheering here::

It's about time, right? Let me know what you think!

***See?  I told you it was super short!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Impending Freeze? Cover Your Plants With Blankets!

I kept glancing to the side, keeping an eye on that thing I had created.  It was nothing but cloth and sticks, but to an overactive imagination, it may as well have jumped out of a horror movie, and into my backyard.

A gigantic creature from a well crafted novel:

One that inspires fear through the viewer's imagination, rather than through showing the terrible creature.  You know it'll attack at some point. You even know you'll eventually see it... you just don't know when.  Remember The Alien?  Same concept.

What am I babbling about?

As mentioned yesterday, a freeze was coming, and I had to protect the remaining crops in my edible garden.

I discussed it with various vendors at the farmers market, and they all said the same thing.

Cover everything with blankets.

One woman explained that by using blankets, the freeze hits everything around the covered area, and even the blanket itself, but passes over the plant that's being protected.  This made sense, and I had a few large camping blankets and sleeping bags, so I got to work as soon as I finished dinner.

First, I folded the smallest blanket to the correct size, and laid it over my winter squash vine, finishing up by placing rocks on top in order to keep it from blowing away if a gust of wind hits.

This plant is the least likely to produce any fruit, since I planted it in a bad location, and very late, then continually forgot to water it.  Oops.

blanket covered winter squash

Why did I protect it, then?  I find it intriguing.

It has got to be one of the hardiest plants on the planet.  In order to keep itself hydrated, it seems to be sucking every last drop of moisture from the surrounding area at the expense of my violets and hostas.  I've previously mentioned how hardy these two plants are, so you can imagine how intrigued I am!

Next, I covered the watermelon vines.

I used a huge, blue blanket that I folded in half.  I not only covered the ground, but also wrapped the edge of the blanket around the hanging melon.

blanket covered watermelon vines

Finally, I got to work on my spaghetti garden.

This, of course, is a container garden, so it's even more vulnerable than the first two crops.  First, I wrapped a sleeping bag around the pot and the stump it was sitting on, keeping it together with duct tape (Is there anything duct tape can't do?).

After that was complete, I grabbed some long wooden dowels and set them up inside the tomato cage at the center so that any covering I used would have support.

I didn't use a blanket for the top of this garden, however, because I was worried about the weight.  Instead, I grabbed a large trash bag and covered the entire thing, stuffing cherry tomato stems and leaves inside.

In the end, I ended up with something that reminded me of a central scene within some sort of Stephen King novel.

container garden covered with a sleeping bag and a trash bag


No, seriously... I can totally see the sociopathic killer hiding within those bags.

Naturally, the whole time I was moving plants into the garage or house I'd watch that creation out of the corner of my eye.  I was relieved when it was all complete.

When morning finally arrived, I went out to remove all of the blankets.  

The temperature had dropped to 30 degrees that night, and even though that's higher than I expected, it's still dangerously low.  The decision to cover everything with blankets was a good one, but I didn't know what to expect.  Blankets, after all, are heavy.

What if I didn't support them well enough?  Would I have snapped stems?

Fortunately, aside from having a serious case of 'bed head' (Everything was pretty flattened wherever it was touched by the blankets), everything was doing well.  I knew it would perk up within a few hours.

Even the warm-weather loving watermelon!!!

safe watermelon after the freeze

And look at that!  Even the blossom survived!

So remember...

Cover your crops with a blanket when you have warning of an overnight freeze.  You won't regret it!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Piercing Cold Morning at the Farmers Market

I was sniffling non-stop.  My body was shaking so hard that I probably appeared to be dancing.

I imagined there was a possibility that my pain ridden fingers would fall off at any moment, but quickly soothed myself with the thought that the temperatures were so low that we wouldn't have to put them on ice to ensure a doctor could reattach them.

Yeah.  It was really cold.

But I was determined.

I missed the farmers market last week, and refused to miss it again this Saturday.  My daughter and I ran through Faribault's Central Park and to the far side that held all of the vendor tables.  Why did we run?  To increase my warmth, of course.

You may wonder why I said my warmth, rather than ours.

It's simple.  I was raised in the desert Southwest, where many of us tend to share a common trait:  We place our children in layer after layer of clothing to protect them from the elements (many times it's too much clothing), then totally forget to do the same for ourselves.

So she was just fine.  I, however, had teeth that were chattering so hard that I worried they'd chip into pieces!

The good news?

Many of the vendors at the farmers market seemed to share my lack of preparation for that cold morning.  We were all dancing around with chattering teeth, which means that nobody really noticed that I didn't dress appropriately.


It also appeared that the cold temperatures caused the vendors to drop prices on a great deal of the produce. I think this was probably because everything had to sell fast.  A freeze was predicted for Saturday night, so much of the crops probably wouldn't make it.

If I was in that position, I'd probably pick as much as I was able, in order to be able to save as much produce from the below freezing temperatures as I possibly could.

I have a few plants that need protection from the elements, but the vendors, on the other hand?  They have to worry about way more than me.

Since prices were low, I walked away with a large amount.

1 bunch of carrots
1 gigantic apple (sweet, but tart)
1 small loaf of apple-cinnamon bread
1 small bag of homemade tostada chips, seasoned with a chile mixture
1 bag of normal sized apples
1 bag of large potatoes
1 small pumpkin (I'll get a big one for Halloween later on)
4 cucumbers (two of them are monster sized!)
6 mega super huge chocolate chip cookies (from Kristi, of course!)
12 perfect, organic, free-range eggs

I also bought a raisin and chocolate chip bran muffin for my daughter, and a few pieces of fudge.  They're not pictured, though, because my daughter ate the muffin (of course!) and I kinda sorta put the bag of fudge in my sweatshirt pocket where my body temperature melted them into a sludgy mess... oops.

It's ok, though.  They're still yummy!  

And the 3 different fudge types blended together rather nicely, I might add...

I left the farmers market very happy, but also very determined.  

I talked to a few vendors about the impending freeze, and got some advice for protecting my remaining plants from the cold.  All I have remaining are my spaghetti garden, a winter squash, and my one remaining watermelon, which is now about 3 inches long.

I'd be ok with letting them go, but we'll have higher temperatures for about a week after the freeze, and I'd hate to lose that remaining growing time.  I'm really glad that I had the farmers market vendors to advise me on this.  What do you do to protect your "outside" plants from the cold?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Stuffy Nose? Fight it the Fun Way!

I couldn't help but wonder if it was possible to suffocate due to a severely stuffed nose.  Would the nasal passages clear on their own, due to blood flow, if for some reason my mouth was blocked?  Or would I be unable to breathe and die a very embarrassing death?

Ok, ok... that's a little overly dramatic, but you get the picture:

It was not a good morning.

We've all had a day like this in our lifetime.  This tends to happen due to allergies or a cold.  As you've probably figured out based on my cayenne pepper sore throat remedy a couple of days ago, mine was the latter.

I told you what I do to fix a sore throat, but it just occurred to me that I neglected to mention the accompanying stuffy nose, and how I relieve that.  It all comes down to yoga.

Wait!  Don't run away!!!

I promise I'm not going to tell someone that's laid low by a cold to actually do physical work.  Not only would it be crazy, but it'd be pretty cruel.  You're tired enough already.

Well, ok... I'm not being entirely truthful.  You do have to do a slight bit of work, but it's nothing beyond average.  It's probably something you want to do, anyway, because you're feeling so yucky.  Basic movement.

Get up and take a warm bath or shower!

See?  That's not so bad, right?

The reason you need to do this is that you need to moisten all that stuffy yuckiness so that you can manage to get breath through at least one nostril.  Feel free to skip this part if you can already do that.

Now comes the fun part:


Oh, but I am.  And admit it... it's fun!

Why in the world would I possibly want you to hum?  

The vibration that you feel in your nasal passages when you hum loosens the mucus that causes the stuffy nose in the first place.  From what I've discovered through my personal brand of haphazard research (see diagram photo), this humming appears to increase oxygen levels, which, naturally, leads to increased blood flow.

I know it's embarrassing to start humming in front of people - it feels like you've been put on the spot.  But you know what?  I see no reason why you can't combine your shower (or bath) and the humming.  Plenty of people sing in the shower, after all.

Even people that can't carry a tune to save their lives, like me.

Once you're finished with that bit of fun, it's time to breathe.

Alright, it's pretty obvious that you've been breathing this entire time... through your mouth, mostly, but now it's time to do some controlled breathing through those poor, miserable nostrils.

This is where the yoga comes in.

No poses.  We're just breathing.  Specifically, we're using a form of yoga breathing called Anuloma Viloma.  I originally started doing this to combat sinus headaches (it works wonders), which means I had to add a few simple movements to it, but it's easily modified to combat a particularly nasty stuffed up nose.

And it's super simple.  Score!!!

  1. Press on one nostril with your finger, to close it.  Breathe in through the other nostril for 4 seconds.
  2. Pinch your nose with 2 fingers, and hold your breath for 16 seconds.  (When you're sick, this seems to feel more like 16 minutes, so if you can't hold it for that long, it's ok.  Don't stress yourself out2.  This is supposed to be fun, remember?)  
  3. Now uncover the nostril opposite to the one you were originally breathing in through (If you started by breathing in through the right, release the left nostril, or vice versa). Breathe out for a total of 8 seconds.
  4. Breathe in again (for the original 4 seconds) through this same nostril, and repeat the entire process at least three times.  More is better, but if you're not used to it, that can be rather challenging.


Ok, in a nutshell, here's what to remember:

  •  The entire process goes through a 4 - 16 - 8 second interval pattern.  In for 4, hold for 16, then release for 8.  Repeat over and over, alternating nostrils.
  • Don't stress out over it.  Get yourself to do this at least three times.  More is better, but not at the cost of rising stress levels.  Stress, after all, only makes you feel worse.  We don't want that, darn it!  We're having fun!
Still confusing?

No problem.  Go over to the A-B-C of Yoga site, and read what they have to say about it.  And, bonus - They have pictures!!!

Who doesn't like that?!

This is not only a fun way to relieve that stuffy nose, it's also an easy way to be environmentally friendly.  

No, seriously.  

How much machinery has to be used to make this happen?  How much waste does this produce?  How many chemicals are involved?

That's right: none.  Talk about an easy way to be environmentally responsible while saving money at the same time!

Now go fight that stuffy nose the fun way, rather than the yucky-medicine-that-fixes-five-other-things-you-couldn't-care-less-about way!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Virginia Creeper: A Red Beauty in the Fall

Is this what Autumn is supposed to look like?

It's so...


I mentioned a few days ago that this region is beginning to show its fall colors.  Yellows and oranges are popping up all over the place, yet there is still quite a bit of green to go around.

Being from the desert, I'm not used to this.  Sure, I've seen the the change in leaf color on trees, but it's not the same, there.  There aren't nearly as many trees in the desert, after all, and nobody is overwhelmed with happiness when a tumbleweed turns brown and bounces off down the street.

Fall is very different in Southern Minnesota.  There's so much color, and fall hasn't even truly begun.

And this morning I saw my first red leaves!  Or maybe pink...  I'll let you decide.

virginia creeper with red (pink?) leaves

As I mentioned in the past, the leaves of the virginia creeper turn red in the fall.  It really is something beautiful to behold.  The red (or is it pink?) contrasts perfectly with the green, and attains a perfect blend with the accent of the blue colored berries which, of course, I never picked, since they are poisonous.

Virginia creeper actually turns red before it's really necessary.

Crazy, right?  The thing is, color change usually has to do with the loss of chlorophyll in leaves.  With the virginia creeper, though, as stated by The Natural Capital:

It turns out that they're colorful around the time that their berries are ripe, which serves as a loud announcement to birds to come and check them out. The extra advantage in seed spreading must be worth trading off for the extra bit of energy the plants might gain by photosynthesizing for a little longer.
Viewing the red beauty of my virginia creepers is wonderful, but I'm ready for more.  I can't wait to see what this area looks like in another week or two!

I think another trip to River Bend Nature Center is in order.  Maybe I'll even have an opportunity to take a picture of the same location that appears at the top right side of the page... but with autumn colors!

Oh, the excitement!

I'm reveling in the colors of this season.  What is your favorite part of the Fall?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cayenne to Relieve a Flaming Sore Throat?

Flames erupted within my throat.
Burning pain, and no water could staunch it.

I had a sore throat...  The sore throat to end all sore throats.

We all have some sort of ailment that makes us feel as though the end is near, whenever it comes calling.  Some people are completely floored by sneezes, some by nausea.  These problems, while not fun in the least, are perfectly manageable to me.

Sore throats, on the other hand, are torture.  Syrups don't work, nor do cough drops.  Chloraseptic spray works for a brief period, but pretty much numbs my entire mouth, so that's out, as well.

And besides... who wants to throw something with the word septic down their throat?  I mean, seriously... the word is derived from the Greek word meaning putrefaction.  Eew.

What's left?

Natural home remedies, of course!  I've tried many, with various levels of success and failure.  There is one, however, that stands out from the rest.  It's cheap, and it's super easy.

And most people have the ingredients in their kitchens.


What is it, then?

cayenne pepper, honey, and lemon juice for sore throat

Three ingredients:

Cayenne pepper, 
Lemon juice

Yep.  It's that easy.  I first found this sore throat remedy on the Earth Clinic site last year.  I was desperate for sore throat relief, and was willing to try anything within reason.  I saw no harm in lemon, honey, or cayenne pepper, so I tried it.

And it worked!

I simply mix 1 teaspoon of cayenne with (roughly) a tablespoon of lemon juice plus a couple of teaspoons of honey, and drink it.  Almost immediately, it begins to relieve the burning pain.

The Ingredients, and Why They Work

Cayenne Pepper:

Cayenne has a chemical known as capsaicin, which acts as a pain reliever.  It basically stops pain signals from reaching your brain.

Cayenne will not cure a sore throat, but it does a great deal to relieve the pain, and let's face it.  Pain relief is pretty important to your mental well-being.  The better you feel, the easier it is for your body to heal itself, because your stress levels aren't quite as high. Indeed, if all you care about is pain relief, you can easily just mix it with some warm water and gargle.

Some people can't handle that much cayenne pepper, so it really depends on your own tolerances.  If you think that seems like too much, there's nothing wrong with using less.


We all know I have a great love of bees and their honey.  Previously, I mentioned the benefits of honey in allergy relief.  Honey does much more than that, though.

Honey has antimicrobial properties.  That means that on top of providing soothing relief in the form of a smooth layer over the throat, it also acts against the bacteria that cause the sore throat.  It also has the benefit of immunity building, which means you have some protection against the next round of germs that travel your way.



This last ingredient simply boosts the antimicrobial properties of honey, while reducing mucus.  This is, no doubt, due to the acidic content of this citrus fruit.  Lemon is also high in vitamin C.

This is my preferred recipe for sore throat relief.

It's what works for me, and it relieves my sore throat much faster than any other method I've tried, both medical and holistic.  You should always see a doctor if your symptoms last longer than 3-5 days, but unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to any of these ingredients, I would argue that this is a very worthwhile method.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Friend's Birthday and Nature's Glow

You know those days where you wake up and everything is just... right?

I know, they aren't very common.  Usually, our first thought when we wake up is something more along the lines of, 

"Just 5 more minutes...  ugh..."

This morning was a good one for me, though.

I have two friends that have been there for me from the very inception of Even Green Boots Leave Trails.  They've offered me encouragement, they've pushed me to go beyond what I thought was possible, and they've kept me on track.

And today, one of them is celebrating her birthday.

birthday cake

You're probably wondering why in the world I would be talking about a birthday, when I should be talking about gardening, or about green DIY projects.

It's simple.  If this one birthday had never taken place, this blog may not have existed.


This friend pushed me to do what she knows I love.  I'd call her up, crying from across the country about how hard it is to keep up with this blog.

"...and it's so hard... and I don't know what to write... and my last project crashed around my ears... and then I got toilet paper wedged in my nose!

Just keep it up.  You can do it.  You love this, you're smart, and... Wait.  You got what wedged where?

Yeah.  She puts up with a lot.

She gave me courage, and she gave me confidence.  Her belief in me propelled me to do things that, only a year ago, I would have thought were impossible.  She has helped make Even Green Boots Leave Trails a reality, and as I celebrate her birthday, I reflect on just how lucky I am to have her.

Indeed, even nature seems to remind me of this.  

As I walked out to take my daughter to school, I looked up at the neighborhood trees, only to notice that this morning has ushered in a change of season.

vibrant colors of fall

While my black walnut trees have had leaves turning yellow for quite some time, this is the first time I've seen a vibrant color change in any other trees.  Yellows and oranges blended in with the green to produce a cheerful and endearing sight.

It happened on her day.  Even nature itself recognizes my friend's importance, bringing in beauty and smiles... 

Just like she does.

A very happy birthday to a beautiful woman without whom Green Boots would never have existed!

**Should that have been whom or who?  Seriously... I always get confused on this rule!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Watermelon Survival: Battling With Mother Nature

Well, that's strange...

I puzzled over the 'largest' watermelon that grew on my vines.  It was the first to form, and had been growing at a nice, fast pace.

Over the past few days, though, growth had stopped.

Just stopped.

Finally, a went up onto the hill to the spot above the retaining wall that it had grown above.  Everything seemed ok, so I picked up the vine that it was attached to -

And it separated from the rest of the plant.  Four inches of vine, still attached to the baby watermelon, hung from my hand.

Those darned squirrels!!!

Ok, in reality, it may not have been the squirrels.  They're just the easiest target.  It could have been a rabbit, or even the shrew that shares my yard, protecting it from any small rodents that would dare to set up house.

Heck, maybe even an insect had done it.

Regardless, something chewed through the vine, destroying any chance of the 1 1/2 inch long watermelon's survival.  I was left with a tiny oval shaped orb that was too young to be eaten.  To add insult to injury, there was also a blackened area along the area nearest where it connects to the vine, caused by little teeth or claws.

tooth and claw marked watermelon

There is a bit of good news, though.  Even though I lost this first watermelon, Another has gown to match and surpass its size.  It's about 2 inches long at the moment.

watermelon hanging off retaining wall

It's a bit more protected, since it's hanging off the side of the wall.  This isn't perfect protection, of course... not even close, but it's better than what the watermelon that was attacked had.

There's also another young melon that's much easier for critters to get a hold of.  It's extraordinarily young, and still has hairs attached to it!

hairy baby watermelon

You can tell it's tiny, since the surface it's lying on is a brick!

I sliced the baby watermelon in half, just because I wanted to see what it appeared like at this stage of development.  The skin is still soft, and the melon has the same firmness as a mango, at this point.

young watermelon inside view

I expected the center to be yellow or orange in color at this stage.  I was rather shocked.  And the seeds?  I totally didn't expect to see anything more than a couple of millimeters in length!  It resembled the mature fruit more than I expected.

Now my only problem is protecting it from our evening temperatures.  

I just got a freeze warning for my sister's region of Minnesota, and she only lives about 3 hours North of me.  Her nighttime temperatures could dip into the twenties.

Mine, on the other hand, will be in the low forties or high thirties.  I'm hoping for the forties, because the melons would stand a better chance of survival, but we'll see.  I think I'll be piling leaves on top of the mound.

Anything to give them a fighting chance!  

They don't have to survive much longer to be viable, so I just need to hold out a bit longer.  If only I had additional ideas to protect them from the cold.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jalapenos and Heat: The Problem of Temperatures

Oh, dear.

It's pretty obvious that the climate of Southern Minnesota is very different from that of the Mexican American border.  Even a total dummy could figure that out.  But because I'm from a different region, I still get things wrong, and I still feel the shock of that difference.

Take my jalapenos, for example.

healthy jalapeno growth

They were doing wonderfully.  The plants were growing within their Topsy Turvy Hot Pepper Planter, and producing a great deal of fruit.  The fruit was smaller than what I'd get in the grocery store, but even more flavorful.  The leaves reached up toward the sun, green and vibrant.

But I learned something that needs to go into my mental filing cabinet for next year.

This region's September temperatures drop too low for jalapenos in hanging containers.


Jalapenos require temperatures that stay above fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

I knew that this climate was very different from my desert home, but I figured I had until at least the first day of Fall.   In the past, I had always been able to pick all of my jalapenos long before temperatures had dipped that low, and taking into account the temperature differences, I deducted time from my original growing season in order to compensate.

I didn't compensate enough, however.

wilted jalapenos after a temperature drop

Now, one night of temperatures is not usually going to cause wilting like this to occur.  What caused this was three different days in a single week that had temperatures below 50.

How did they end up in this situation?

That's an easy one to answer.  I had forgotten the fifty degree rule.  I treated it like any other plant, and since you're pretty safe with temperatures above 42 degrees in most cases, I didn't worry.

Some of you are shaking your heads at me, trying to figure out how I could've forgotten something so important.  So am I.  The only excuse I have is that I come from a region in which Winter temperatures are generally in the mid 30s to mid 40s.

Thinking that temperatures wouldn't dip below 50 until the beginning of Fall, therefore, seemed perfectly reasonable to someone like me.  I'm used to it being in the 60s at that time.

Oops, again.

The good news, though, is that even though my jalapenos have decided that their growing season has come to an end, I was able to salvage 6 fruits from the plants.  If you look closely at the image above, you can see four of them.

It could have been worse.  This was a good learning experience.

We're scheduled to have the temperature drop to around 38 degrees, tonight, so I'll be trying to keep my tomatoes warm enough to survive it.  I'm thinking lots of bundling, and a plastic bag or two on the plants themselves.

Wish me luck!

Have you ever had a sudden 'Oh, dear' experience like this one when gardening with something new, or in a new region?  How did you handle it?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Black Walnuts: Only a Hammer Will Suffice

I hefted my trusty rock hammer.

Most people use a standard hammer, but I have a special bond with this one.  It's been with me since I studied geology in college, and there are so many memories attached to it.

Using my rock hammer actually ends up working quite nicely, since the weight of the top is so much greater at the point where it comes into contact with its target than on the 'pick' side.  That helps propel it downward in a rather fluid motion.  Yes, the same can be said about a standard hammer, but the shape of the head on this one increases the aforementioned fluidity.

Yep.  I love my rock hammer.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of curing the walnuts prior to opening them.  Today, though, it's time to break apart my black walnuts and reap the treasures from within.


First, I got all of my supplies together.

rock hammer, bowl, and bag of cured black walnuts
Bag of cured black walnuts, rock hammer, and a bowl

You're probably wondering why I've decided to use a rock hammer to crack open a simple nut.  That's what nutcrackers are for, right?

Well, black walnut shells are amazingly strong.  Using a nutcracker would get you absolutely nowhere... except maybe back to the store to buy a new one after it breaks.  To give you some idea of their strength, I discovered one woman that gathers all of her fallen black walnuts into a plastic bag, places the bag on the street, then slowly drives over them to remove the outer husks prior to the curing process.

Ok, let me repeat that one more time, for anyone that missed it...

She drives over them!!!  
::insert shocked expletive here::

Yep.  They're strong.

So I use a rock hammer.  Fitting, right?

You don't have to be delicate about it.  See, with a black walnut, there is no way you're going to get 'walnut halves' from a nice break.  Black walnuts are compartmentalized, with the nut growing in a few different chambers.  The closest you'll get to that is a shape that (in my mind) resembles a molar that's been pulled from your mouth.

Beautiful imagery right?  But seriously... that's what it resembles:

black walnut shape is similar to a pulled molar tooth

Before I make black walnuts sound too horrid, though, I should point out that as the shells are cracked open, sometimes, if cracked open just right, you get a rather beautiful result.

heart shaped center of a black walnut

There's no way you can deny that this resembles a heart.  Amazing, isn't it?

I actually broke open only about 7 or 8 of them, saving the rest for later.  In the shell, they can actually keep for about a year if kept cold, so I wasn't too worried about getting it all done immediately.

I do, however, need to get this done so that I can see how many have viable fruit.  A few of the shells revealed fruits that didn't make it to their full potential, and were a dry and withered mess.

dessicated, nonviable black walnut
Those papery bits that you see are actually the
nut that didn't 'make it'.  

In the end, those few nuts that were harvested with my rock hammer gave me approximately 1/4 cup of viable fruit, which isn't bad when you consider that not all of them produced an adequate nut.

Upon a taste test, I discovered that it's very different from a standard walnut.  Black walnuts have a strong, fruity taste.  To me, it seems to have a hint of apple to it, golden delicious apple, if you really want me to be specific.

Very interesting...

And rather appealing, if you ask me!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Harvest Black Walnuts: Importance of Curing

Thwack!  Pow!  Crash!

My trusty rock hammer came down
                                                              and again.

Each shell was as solid as a rock. I was on a mission, however, to remove the treasures within them.

The branches that have fallen, the nuts that had come down directly on top of my head while I stood beneath the canopies of leaves, they were all worth it in the end.

I've finally found something regarding my black walnut trees to be truly happy about!

Two weeks ago, I discovered that eating a black walnut immediately after it falls from the tree is a very yucky, very bad idea -
It kinda tasted like soap.

I went off, therefore, to do a bit of online research, and found a great youtube video that explained what I did wrong.

As it turns out, you have to cure the walnuts for two weeks.

I washed them first, in order to remove the husks from the shells and aid in the process.

black walnut bath

I'm not going to say what I think that looks like...  I'm sure the thought is already in your head, anyway, after all.  Pretty nasty is an understatement.

I rubbed the black walnuts together inside the water, allowing the course shells to do the work of removing pieces of their husks for me.  After about 3 water changes, the shells were cleaned enough for me to be satisfied.

Ok, in reality, it probably would have been fine after only two water changes, but the water's resemblance to sewage just really...

grossed me out.

It sure is a good thing that the exuded scent resembles soap (similar to Irish Spring, in fact), because if the scent was bad, I probably would have given up altogether.

Once everything was cleaned up enough, I got out one of my handy-dandy, netted popsicle bags (Another great way to reuse them!), and loaded it up with the wet walnuts.

curing black walnuts in a netted bag

I hung them from a hook at the corner of my garage, and waited a full two weeks for them to cure.  Curing is important because if a walnut isn't properly dried, mold can grow, and nobody wants that!

As a walnut dries, the outside shell becomes darker and darker, until it is black.  It is indeed a black walnut, as the name implies.

It has been two weeks since I went through this process, and as of yesterday I've begun the long process of removing the inner fruit of the nuts.  I'm not actually sure why the process of curing the nuts is integral to getting a good tasting black walnut, but I tried one last night, and there is a definite difference in the overall taste.  If you know the answer to why, please leave a comment and educate me!

So far, I've found nothing.

Tomorrow I'll be telling you about the process of shelling the black walnuts, as well as discoveries I made during the process, since today's piece has grown too long to include it.

Stay tuned!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The First Day of Preschool and a Clothing Mishap

"Come on, Mommy!  Let's go, now!"

"It's not time, yet.  We need to wait a few more minutes."

"No, it's time!"

My daughter was right.  It was time for us to walk to school for her first day of preschool... 


          Without me.  

                   I was terrified.

While I'm a firm believer in homeschooling, which is, in fact, more environmentally friendly than its brick and mortar counterparts in public and private education, I recognized that I had to enroll her in a preschool.

It's not required, of course, and it's going to eat through my pocketbook, but I had to admit to myself that it was necessary.  See, my daughter has no concept of how to act within a group.  She also has no friends.  

Neither of these things are her fault.  

Rather, this is because our family moved across the country, and I have yet to meet anyone that has children her own age.  Moving across the country is a very lonely situation for anyone, and for a child, that loneliness is even worse.

So I researched the local preschools.  Upon seeing the prices, many got knocked off of the list immediately.  Of those that remained, I looked at parent reviews, general class focus, and distance.

After narrowing down the list to a couple of schools, I set up meetings and made a choice.

And lucky me!!!

She's going to a preschool that's three minutes away, walking.  That's right!  I'm not only doing car-free shopping again, but also car-free schooling!

While a brick and mortar school isn't the most green option out there, it's definitely better than having to waste fossil fuels to get her to the building!

Of course, I have to admit, there is one drawback to walking to school...

classroom weather calendar

Yeah... it was a wee bit chilly.

Of course, it wouldn't have been nearly as bad if I had just taken the time to realize that early morning temperatures are far different from those of late morning... 

                                                                                       and dressed appropriately!

bad shoe choice for cold temperatures

I'm thinking that Teva sandals were not exactly the best choice for temperatures that were struggling to push past fifty...

The morning immediately after we got a decent rainfall!  

See, the route we take doesn't actually have a sidewalk, which means that we tend to walk just above the curb, on the edges of grassy lawns.

Grassy lawns that, this morning, were covered in dew!  


I was just glad that I had dressed my daughter in weather appropriate clothing for her first day of preschool. At least one of us didn't have chattering teeth!

I think this major clothing screw up of mine had to do with first day jitters.  As I said, I was terrified.  This was the first day that she's been away from me for longer than a few minutes since we arrived in our new home.

I should count myself lucky that this was the only mistake I made... and that it effected me, rather than her!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Best Laid Plans of MINT and Men

                                       The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
                                       Gang aft a-gley

This is a section of the poem To a Mouse, written by Robert Burns in 1786.  A modern translation of that second line would be something along the lines of, "Can often fall apart in a rather nasty and unwanted, horrible way that leaves you crying pitiably while cursing everything in a five mile radius."

Ok, maybe not.

It just means, 
                     "Can often go awry."  
                                                       But you get the point...

One of my well laid plans came back to bite me in the butt.  Remember my maniacal planting of various mint varieties?

The plan was to plant enough that I could have fresh mint for my juices every day without having to purchase any at the grocery stores, where it's rather expensive.  This was a good plan, and it worked wonderfully.


I figured 4 plants would be perfect.  I didn't, after all, want the mint invading the yard and taking over.  Ok, that's not true.  I did want that, but I knew the owners of the house I'm renting probably wouldn't appreciate it.

mint overtaking the yard
Remember this drawing?
Well, it turns out that 4 mint plants was a wee bit too much...

See, mint has this tendency to grow.  Ok... duh.  Of course it grows.  But see, it grows a lot.

Especially when you cut sprigs from it at a frequent rate.

The more you cut, the more it grows.  For the most part, this is great.  It was exactly what I planned on.  I just didn't realize how much growth that would be!

This can best be explained with pictures.

Photo one is the sweet mint immediately after being transplanted into the raised garden in the front yard.

original mint transplant
Three sprigs, and they're too tiny to harvest without
harming the mint plant.

So small... so harmless.  So easy it is to soften toward this plant, its fragility bringing a tender smile to your face.

But then, after a few months, it's not so harmless and fragile.  Or small, as photo two shows.  Keep in mind, this is the same plant.

mint transplant overgrowth

Keep in mind as you view this... I've allowed clover to grow around the edges, in preparation for the winter.  I want the soil to continue to thrive.  But the vast majority of what you see is mint.

Due to constant pruning, the mint's root system has exploded outward and grown with great ferocity.  Ensuring that it be kept healthy has basically caused me to have an overabundance of mint.

And remember... I have three other mint plants to cut sprigs from, as well, and they're all growing like this.

Looks like I have a lot of mint to dig up and place into pots before winter comes!

So don't forget... 

Don't plant too much mint!  Under-guess the amount you need, so that you don't end up having to go out and dig it all up a few months later.