Sunday, January 31, 2010

THE TREES REMEMBER - Imbolc and celebration of life.

Though my days seem slow and pointless right now, natures move on. Her cycles do not wait on the mood of man. Sadly, she may however, have to deal with our greed as industrialization continues to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is funny how a principle that no one would deny when confronted by the blast furnace of a closed car in summer, is bitterly denied when we create the very same conditions on a global scale. Sad, indeed and although dreadfully important – it is not our subject today.

For we have come upon Imbolc, an ancient Celtic name for the day falling halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is comes commonly on February 1, and it heralds- if not signs of spring, at least its approach. It is the day when the wheel of the year moves closer to the birth of spring than it is from the start of winter. In modern terms, it is the tipping point from which winter cannot long survive and spring cannot long be denied. We celebrate it as the returning of light and warmth and the fertility of nature.

This event is celebrated by earth based groups as Imbolc, by Christians as St Brigid’s day and Candlemas, as Americans as ground hog day. The celebration has deep roots and remains on the calendar of many faiths because it arises from the natural joy evoked by the return of spring.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Muller's 4 questions - basic foundations for a simple life of purpose

Wayne Muller, in an attempt to strip life down to its basics, wrote the book “Four Simple Questions That Reveal the beauty And Meaning of Our Lives.” This book is one of many that try to lead us down the path to a simple life. These 4 Questions will also be the basis of my Unitarian Universalist congregational retreat. Upon the answers to those questions we will weave a path to the next year. The questions are as follows: Who am I; what do I love; how shall I live, knowing I am to die; what is my gift to the family of the earth?

These are the four questions; how do I answer them? These are the kind of questions that most of us dread to ponder and even more so to answer. They require us to give precise form to vast ideas and subtle distinctions, to distill the noble and bestial aspects of our lives, and to sum this up in the space of a few sentences. Moreover, these sentences, these fragments of meaning and language must stand up to scrutiny from ourselves and others. They must stand alone in a world of perfect expectations and imperfect performance and present your view of truth to the world. That is a daunting task, but one should try and so I shall.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Falcon's cry - American hope for reform becomes desperate

Yet hope remains.......

I have only this to say about Obama and the defeat of health care reform. He ran as a beacon of hope for real change in America. I felt that we were approaching a real rising of the people demanding change and an agenda that included the interests of the people not just the wealthy. I believe this change is urgently needed to oppose corporate control of our lives. I opposed him in the election because I felt he was a false messiah. He seemed to have co-opted much if not all of the progressive, left wing fervor for change and funneled it into a corrupt Chicago style campaign slogan. Once elected, he put hope for change to bed when he chose Rohm Emmanuel as chief of staff.

Now, a year later, his agenda is in shambles and no change is obvious. We are still kowtowing to Saudi Arabia, still redentioning people overseas to be tortured. Still blowing the tops off 500 mountains so far in the Appalachians and filling the valleys with filth so corporations can fill their pockets with money that they use to buy congress. Health care ceased to be about reform and became yet another subsidy for the corporations. The list goes on and on. No – by any measure, change has not gone well this year. We and Obama have clearly been handed a year of basically zero accomplishments while corporate power grew at a rate that would stretch the plotline of an apocalypse novel.

Apple Butter, the kind of home made preserve ANYbody can make - A simple living treat

Apple Butter, the kind of preserves ANYbody can make …...
- As long as you have one element – time

In order to describe the relative simplicity of making apple butter, I have paraphrased my Nanny. Once, my mom brought a friend of hers to the deep Georgia woods where my Aunt and Uncle were living with my Nanny (grandmother). Harriett was a lovely, lovely person and we all liked her. Well, that was the start of the problem. My Nanny was many wonderful things but if she had a weakness, it was jealousy. At first, all was fine and dandy. But then after a day or two of hearing how great mom’s friend was, nanny had had enough. At one point in the day, Harriet brought out some homemade fudge she had brought as a gift. Passing it around, everyone responded with oohs and ahhs and the usual southern pleasantries. Having had quite enough of the attention given to Harriet, nanny looked at her fudge without eating it. When Harriet left the room, Nanny laid her piece on the plate and leaning over to me, whispered, “That’s the kind of fudge ANYbody can make,” I Laughed so hard I thought I would die.

Well, apple butter is the kind of preserve anybody can make. The recipe and the technique are simplicity itself. But, there is one catch. Yes, apple butter is a simple recipe and simple technique. Simple yes – but not easy. I suppose that sounds contradictory. But the fact is apple butter is notoriously easy to scorch because it requires long, low cooking and that means it is easily forgotten, allowed to stick and burn. In the following, paragraphs, I will share with you an heirloom recipe that Nanny and I used to prepare this simple but delicious treat.  Plus, I will share with you some modern tweeks you may want to try.  So, read on.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hinc Illae Lacrimae- hence these tears - A lesson I learned from my Nanny

Imitation of Eternity

This little thing we call our life
is neither strong nor free
A mere flame flickering in wind
It trembles ceaselessly

And all that we can hope to do
Is use our little light
Before in cold eternal wind
It flickers into night

To shine against the stifling dark
By burning hot and bright
We imitate eternity
By holding back the night

For every lone flame that dies
Another rises up
And for a moment, oh so brief
One light holds back the night

However short our burning time
But this, at least, is true
Lighting the path of those to come
Is the best that we can do

To lift and share our little flame
To grudge not, but to give
Whatever here we have of strength
That yet more flame may live

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chickens in the backyard - answers to common questions

As we take the steps to build our own little flock, we often hit roadblocks. Hopefully, I can share some information with you which will allow you to learn first and avoid any problems as you dive into the world of raising chickens. I will attempt to deal with some environmental issues with Backyard chickens – providing them with a clean, safe and engaging place to live. Backyard chickens and cold weather, heat, rain, how much room is ok, how much room is better. I hope to answer these all briefly and succinctly.

This is a simple primer in the many little things one needs to know to be successful raising backyard chickens. First, let me say, me decisions and advice are based on the needs and limits that a small homestead or backyard gardener would meet trying to balance the concept of sustainable living and ethics with the needs to actually produce food. Not to say that I intend to reproduce the horrors of factory farming, but neither am I going to be able to provide a life of lavish, perfect solutions for my chickens, They are living a life of simple care and optimum living conditions – not minimum and not maximum, but the best I can provide on a limited budget and very limited space. Not, that they have not had some splurges like the cedar coop and the lovely vinyl screen door that hey peer out of every morning waiting for me to sing them out into the garden. Yes, they may not meet the ideals that once can imagine with fresh pastures awaiting each morning and their pen and coop could both be a little bigger – but they do receive a steady diet of extravagant love and care. It seems to be enough to make both chickens and I happy.

So here are some quick, practical things to handle, given these conditions. The answers will not be in detail. Basically just a yes/no, this high, this big, this much kind of answer to common questions the backyard farmer would have adding chickens to his projects. Read on for the details.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The deep bedding method for backyard chicken coops - a lot of pine chips = a lot less work in the homestead

Abigail says: " keep me happy"

Deep bedding keeps backyard chicken coops clean. Clean hens – happy hens – good neighbors
As I began my addition of backyard chickens to my little homestead, I had read about the idea of deep bedding. Deep bedding is a system designed to keep the floor of the chicken coop clean and safe and warm all the while reducing the amount of work necessary to maintain the coop. It is simplicity itself” you start by laying down a layer of bedding material, straw, hay or pine chips. The depth should be around 3 to 5 inches to start, perhaps a little less is your use pine chips, due to their superior ability to absorb and retain moisture. This initial layer is the basis of all later success so do not scrimp – especially, if you have a wooden floor. Well, I told you it was simple. That’s is for step one

Now you enter the maintenance phase. You will want to check the litter every day or so. The standard method calls for stirring the bedding every week. I find that the hens do such a good job of scratching that this is hardly necessary. However, I always check the area directly below the roost and remove any wet or heavily soiled litter. This is the most obvious spot for over concentration since they will spend a lot of time there, especially in rainy weather. This spot maintenance is a little hands on and it can get icky. But it is always a small amount and can usually be easily disposed of in your compost bin where it will serve as an excellent booster to the composting process. But even this bit of work is very minor, you would be surprised how rarely this occurs, this system is just that good.

Over time, you will want to add fresh bedding. I cannot nail this down to a strict routine but here are some guidelines for when to add another inch layer of bedding:
1) Add bedding whenever you smell any noticeable ammonia odor
2) Add bedding whenever you notice any moisture
3) Add bedding once a month at a minimum
This maintenance will allow the original bed to stay safe and healthy for months and months.

Research has shown that a year still based on the original bed of litter is no challenge at all and still maintains a healthy clean environment. In fact, research shows, less parasites, less mites, less infections, greater weight gains and just better overall health using the deep bedding method over traditional methods that replaced the bedding more often but kept a thinner layer. In cold weather, the deep bedding method also helps to keep the chickens warm – both by sheer volume and by the gradual composting heat generated as the soiled material sinks to the bottom through constant scratching by the hens and the occasional deep stirring done by us.

I did not choose to leave the bedding in place for a year. I have decided to change my bedding twice a year. The reason in not lack of confidence in the deep bedding system and it is not through excess care and fastidiousness. No, I chose to change the bedding twice a year because after a year the bedding can reach up to a foot in depth and I simply do not have that much room in my coop. Remember I made my chicken coop by converting a prefab doghouse. This is a great success, but it is only 36 inches high. The bedding may continue to rise but my doorway and roost do not.

So, no matter, changing a bed of pine chips twice a year is no problem. I set out with a lined garbage can, a small rake, a large scoop and a flat scrapper to clean out corners. Within a very few minutes, all the bedding was gone – all the pine chips raked and brushed into the can and ready to compost. Then I took time to add a thin dusting of diatomaceous earth to thoroughly dry the floor and kill mites. I had planned on a bleach water bath, but it was so obviously unnecessary that I skipped it. All this was accomplished, used bedding in the compost pile, new bedding in the chicken coop and tools put away in less than an hour.

If you have backyard chickens, a good weather tight coop and this deep bedding method will make the joys of backyard farming all the more easy and truly enjoyable. What could be better a small investment in pine chips, will reduce your work, increase your hens health and happiness and end you up with a great batch of material ready to compost. It almost seems like this should be illegal. Take my word for it; this is an idea worth doing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wild Harvesting - Hickory and Black Walnuts from the woods. A barrel worth of work, a lifetime of memories.

My nanny, (grandmother), used to stay up late into the night with me and we would talk about many things. Much gossip of course, plans made and plans undone, dreams and hopes and hopeless schemes. But one of my favorite subjects was her life, growing up as a child on a farm.
Nanny was the daughter of a yeoman farmer in Alabama– pretty prosperous as small farmers went. But even a successful farmer had to make use of all the things he could grow or find. The farm grew many things, vegetables and grain, chicken, pork and beef, milk and cheese and all manner of things fresh and wholesome. But the farm also supplemented their meals with food gathered from the wild woods. Hunting put venison and rabbit on the table. Berries were picked from the brambles and wild plums and other fruits from the hedgerows and meadow thickets and nuts were gathered from the shaded glens of the deep woods.
As a child, my grandmother had many daily chores, feeding chickens etc. But there were also seasonal chores and these were always so fascinating to me. For example in the fall she and her siblings would be sent out to the woods to collect black walnut and hickory nuts. There were two big wooden barrels in her daddy’s barn, each with a tight fitting wooden lid to keep out rodents. The children’s job, every fall, was to collect the wild nuts and fill each of the 2 barrels. Nanny’s reward for filling the barrels would be a nice new warm pair of shoes to keep her warm all winter long. Of course she was also rewarded by sharing in the cakes and cookies baked with these nuts all the way to the next summer. But obviously, she was rewarded with something more than sustenance of the body. For that memory was fresh and vivid in her mind, all those many decades later when she told me the story over cake and milk in the deep quiet nights we shared together.

If you want to taste the rich complex flavor of hickory or the deep flavors of the black walnut, you will have to work for them. You will want to scout your local woods for some mature trees. Borrow a tree identification book from the library if you are not familiar with them. Then, after spotting your trees, you will need to learn a little about your local maturity cycles. The trick is to go harvesting at just the right point in the fall. Timing is everything; needless to say, squirrels do not leave these gems laying around for long.

The hunt for Hickory trees is a hunt for history because hickories are slow growing and don't begin bearing nuts for 75 years or more. They live for hundreds of years so; the tree you glean from may very well have nourished some pioneer family. The unique thing about black walnuts is the nut itself. The hull is so thick that they are almost as big as a tennis ball when you find them on the ground. The actual hard inner nut is only about the size of a hazelnut. The Black Walnut hull has a huge pithy green rind on the outside. But the inner side of the hull is coal pitch black. Dyes for many purposes are made from this inner hull and you cannot over-estimate how easily or permanently it can stain.

I do not know if any of you have every tasted wild hickory or black walnuts, but let me tell you – there is nothing like that taste to be found in the commercial varieties we buy in the store. They are an unbelievable lot of trouble to get to however. Not to find them, even in today’s world, hickory at least is still scattered all throughout the woodlands. Black walnut is a little more scarce, but it can be found. No, no the difficulty is not in finding them – but in getting to eat them. They have thick hard outer husks and even thicker wood in the inner shell protecting the edible kernel. Hickories would seem to be almost 90 percent wood of some sort or another with little isolated lobes of the kernel nestled deep, deep, within.

The standard way to get at the delicious hickory kernels deep within its armor is by smashing them with a heavy hammer. Nutcrackers will not work unless you are bionic. You have to pound them with a hammer and then sort through the shattered results looking for the prize. It is a ton of work to smash them, a ton of work to glean them from the shards and a ton of work to sort them to be sure you don’t bite into some wooden shard. So, I take it you get the point – a whole lot of work. For that reason you rarely if ever find them for sale commercially and never in standard grocery store.

Your efforts will be well rewarded. These are truly rewards beyond the reach of commercialism, haste or the other curses of modern society. The time invested will be some of the best you ever spent. You may not fill a wooden barrel to the brim with nuts. But you will fill your heart with wonder at the beauty of nature. You will fill your soul with joy at having connected with the primal cycles of life. Your will fill your mind with memories, ageless treasures you can store up for the future and share in the dark winter nights. And, If you are amazingly persistent , you will be able to fill your tummy with hickory nut cake or black walnut ice-cream. But, best of all, if you are very, very, lucky, maybe some dark frost kissed night, you will sit across the table from someone you love and hold their hand as you share with them the memories that started with my Nanny and the barrels in the barn.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chicken Coop - a simple, elegant if not cheap way to give your backyard chickens a home using a prefab doghouse

Every chicken needs a coop, even backyard chickens, safe in suburbia feel the need for safety and privacy. The normal way they achieve safety is to roost as high up in trees as they can manage. Well, as urban chicken keepers, we deny them this habit as it also leads to wandering into the neighbor's yard and trouble of all sorts. So, it is up to us to provide them security in another manner. The easiest is the chicken coop. Basically a little house for them to roost and nest in peace and quiet.

Their are zillions of plans out there for chicken coops. Some horrors straight from factory farming and some gingerbreaded doll houses that would embarrass any honest hen. Some are large, some small, some are designed to be movable. They call them tractor coops and they can be pulled about the yard to provide the hens with fresh grass - greener pastures as it were. This is a brilliant idea. In fact, I saw lots and lots of brilliant ideas.

One problem loomed before all the brilliant ideas and plans. I hate carpentry. I am inefficient and prone to error - although I must say my table saw may be changing all that. Getting me to buy a table saw was one of the best things my dad RJ Hedley, ever did. But dreams of craftsmanship lie in the future. I needed a coop now.

Solution: convert a prefab dog house into a chicken coop. Now remember I have only a backyard flock - currently, I only have 2 hens - perhaps will rise to 4 in the future. With that few hens, a dog house would be gracious plenty space. I will wait for the applause to die down before continuing on. Yes, yes, the great idea is to take a pre-made dog house of sufficient size and deck it out with the things needed to make it backyard chicken friendly. Namely, get it off the ground, give it a roosting bar, provide nesting space, make it easy to get to eggs and easy to clean.
Start by buying your prefab house. These can be found at pet stores, farm stores and some home improvement centers. They will cost between $100 and $250. Look for the all wooden ones cause they are easiest to modify. I think a fine coop could be made with some of the fiberglass units but I didn't go that route. Remember - hens spend a lot of time in coops and you will want to get as roomy a unit as you can afford
Getting the coop off the ground has to be a relative thing. Your are trying to resolve two needs. One is the Hen's need to be off the ground to reduce predator access, it is their natural instinct to go higher to accomplish this. The second drive for height is based on human need. We like coops to be up higher so we have easier access for retrieving eggs and cleaning the coop. The limiting factor to these two needs for height is practicality. If you make it high enough for the chicken to feel they are in a tree - access is gonna be a problem. Even raising it to an ideal height for access can present a problem and here it is. Chickens get on top of the coop, somehow, someway they will get on top. Your 5 to 8 foot fencing may have been doing a great job of containing the little dears before you raise the coop. But, after you give the girls a 4 foot - or more, headstart, the game changes totally. Especially so, if your coop is near the fence - then all bets are off. After that you can plan on constantly chasing chickens and praying you get to them before the neighbors, the neighbor's dog or cars on the street.
So the optimum limit to how high you can raise you coop is around 4 feet - which is fine if your coop is no closer to your fence than lets say 12 feet on any side. That way they cannot take advantage of the headstart over the fence. But if you have a smaller pen, anything less than 15' X 15', the practical thing is to just get the coop off the ground around a foot. The unit I bought had lovely plastic clad sturdy little legs that got me almost halfway there so I simply placed the 4 legs on concrete pavers and voila: height, stability and water resistance. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that height also helps keep the coop dry. Both from water runoff and by allowing easier evaporation of any moisture that does get it. Well, there you have it. Height is good, 4 feet is ideal if you have large pen, 1 foot is fine and easily accomplished.
Next modification to accomplish is a roosting bar. That is, something they can pretend is a branch while they are pretending the coop is a tree. This is not rocket science. Here are the parameters. You need the roost to be high up in the coop but with enough head room for then to jump up comfortably. The roost should be fairly far from the entrance to make them feel safe. You can make the roost from a wooden dowel or a conveniently trimmed small limb. Either attach the roost directly to the coop walls, or make a stand alone unit that fits snugly in the space between walls but can still be removed for cleaning and repair. This is the route I chose.
I took four 1 foot sections of 2x4 lumber, nailed them into two T units. Turning the Ts upside down to act as self supporting posts, I then took a piece of limb, trimmed in to within 2 inches less than the distance between my inner walls, This was then nailed on top of each upright.
There you have it, a simple portable roost that you can place securely inside the coop but still remove to work on later.
Now we come to providing nesting space. I must confess to some confusion here. You see hens like to be in secluded nests when they lay and humans like them to lay in nest so we know where to look. All good and wonderful - but the solution of a prefab dog house does come with one drawback - they can be limited in space. Honestly, you need to use some individual judgement here. You can fill the coop with pine chips and other absorbent nesting material and just let them make nests in a corner. They will and it can work. But they don't prefer it and the nest can be more easily fouled. Better solution is some kind of small open box that they can climb in either resting on the floor or better yet somewhat raised. In truth, I still haven't found the ideal solution to this and the girls are nesting ala cart in the pine chips in one corner.
The last need is easy access for egg retrieval and cleaning. The answer to this is easy, ridiculously easy for most prefab units. You need to make the top removable. Accomplishing that with my unit was simple - I never attached it with screws at all. I simple rested the roof on top. It is a fine roof with edging and shingled top and it rest securely on the walls with no issues what so ever. Whenever, I need to clean the coop I merely take the top off and have easy open access to the interior. I may install some spacing blocks this summer to raise the roof an inch or two off the wall edges. This should increase air circulation during the hot months of summer and could be taken back down in the winter for a more secure fit - if necessary. Truth be told, cold is not a problem with most breeds - keeping them dry is the issue.
Well, it may not be ideal, it may not be the best design. But it is a fine design if you are averse to cutting and nailing your own chicken shanty. I am happy with mine and have few complaints. More importantly, the chickens seem happy in their doghouse conversion.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

People make me sick - thoughts from the inner curmudgeon

Same begining as last time without preample

Ok todays, candidate for most nausea inducing people you meet in daily life is people who toss cigarette butts in the street

people who dont understand the concept of a line

people who overuse quotes

people who watch family guy

people who

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Sorceror's apprentice - eggs from my own backyard

Eggs! I dreamed and schemed, planned and most definitely worked and paid for this moment. Well, here it is, in the midst of this horrid cold snap, Abigail and Millicent have discovered fecundity.

At first it was 2 tiny lil pinkish brown eggs in a neat nest beneath Milly. I first noticed something new when she did not come out of the coop to greet me in the morning as I sang "morning has broken" - they insist on being sung out of bed. Well, in any case, I was concerned for they usually meet me with much clucking and bowing. I was singing and there was Abigail - but no Millicent. I became really alarmed, fearing death, disease or escape. I got Abby to waddle to the side and let me pass so I could check the coop. There in the furthest corner, was my sweet Milly, fluffed up to the size of a basketball and residing in a beautifully made next of timothy hay.

In truth, she looked a little annoyed, like I had barged in without permission - true, in its strictest forms. I looked a lil while to be sure all was well and ducked back out. My hens were sitting! Now, it was possible that all this was just an attempt to stay warm and cozy. But it was 5 months since their birthdays and the math was on my side. In a few minutes, Abby became bored of the garden alone and began to cluck for her sister. Milly appeared at the drawbridge to the coop and flung herself down the path, past me and collided into Abby with all the usual clucking and chest beating as they settle into their usual conjoined behavior.

I walked back to the coop and peered in. Two lovely little eggs, perfect in shape, silky smooth and in a shade of pinkish brown that looks like it fell off a Martha Steward paint chip. It really is the most remarkably lovely color. Oh and speaking of color, totally without me noticing the combs and wattles of my little dears had become bright red - they were grown hens. I won't say I cried, but it was a touching little moment both in their lives as pets and as a fulfillment of a long dream of my own.

Well, cold dreary day followed day and the girls had only short brief walks in my garden all covered in every piece of cloth I could find in a vain attempt to stave off the freeze. Seeing the two fluffed up hens contently stroll through ghostly mounds of draped shrubbery was more than a little bizarre. It was like Cranford meets The Shining. But each of those days, save one, I found at least one egg, usually two, as I feed them in the morning or exercised them in the afternoon.

So, now, history has occurred. I have sitting in a little porcelain dish in my refrigerator - a full dozen eggs. Eggs from my own soil, my own hens, and in some little degree, my own efforts - most credit to Milly and Abby of course. Now the eggs are coming about 10 or so a week. This will most likely sound ridiculous, but I have yet to eat one. No, it is not fear of infanticide that keeps me away and not even sentimentalism. The truth is, after eating store bought eggs for so long the taste of fresh eggs can be extremely rich and overwhelming. Prior to the yuletide, I had some deviled eggs made with fresh eggs and I could barely eat 2 - I normally manage a half a dozen easily!

I have a plan to bring my tastes in line with my production. The first will be to make cornbread with the eggs, there the richness should be a gift and allow me to take a first step. Second phase will be to scramble the eggs for breakfast. I am thinking the detailed mixing of white and yolk should make the rich taste less emphatic. With these methods, I hope to trick my taste buds into relishing the rich real taste of eggs after having been weaned on the watery horrors of factory eggs. Silly is it not. I wanted this so badly, put not a little effort and huge emotional commitment into it - and now I stand like the sorcerer's apprentice, overwhelmed by my success.

Life can be very funny. Funny indeed, and I cannot express how much satisfaction and joy have opened up to me as I take this tiny step to self sufficient living and a simpler set of days ahead. What came first - the chicken or the egg? - the dream came first, the dream.

People make me sick - purging my inner curmudgeon

People that talk loudly into their cell phones in public make me sick - and that includes those ridiculous blue tooth thingies

Okay, okay, no I do not find all people sickening. In fact, most people rarely induce more than a slight stomach twitch when I am forced to deal with them. Actually, quite enough people are delightful enough to make me into the inveterate chatter than my friends all know me to be.

But, nonetheless, some people make me sick and it is my intention to write a brief tome describing said people and their various behaviors. The hope and intention is to, by putting it in writing, to purge myself of these debilitating annoyances and cast them to the ether of the cyberworld. Hopefully, thereby, removing them from my life and allowing me to become a happier more positive person.

So, the first of these "people" to be consigned to paper and oblivion is............
People using blue tooth phones in public.

Yes, out of benign courtesy, I am sure that the people in your life are fascinated to learn that you are out of cigarettes, your kid has a runny nose, or you found hamburger helper on sale at Walmart. THOSE people are interested, but the world in general, and I in particular, are not. Most clearly, decidedly and unequivocally- are not.
I understand that some use of the phone in public is to be accepted. But, cannot these people walk outside, go to a corner or at least lower their voices? It seems to me that phone usage right in your face is simply an intrusion into my personal space. It is rude and commonly rises to the level of passive aggressive behavior. They cackle on without restraint, purpose or limit and they dare you to object to their inalienable right to chat.
They express their rights loudly and openly, while ignoring our rights to privacy. Why do they think the world needs to hear their innanities? - we do not. But no, regardless of our lack of need to hear them, despite our heart felt desire not to hear them, hear them we must. They prattle on in full voice regardless of where they are and whatever affairs others may be attempting to accomplish. Their connection to the world of gossip and minutiae must be maintained at any cost. No amount of subtle glances or feigned coughs will break through their vocalizations. I say vocalization because I am unwilling to label most of what I hear as conversation or even communication. On most levels it barely exceeds the grooming grunts of monkeys as they preen lice out of each other's hair or the mewing sounds of herd animals clodding from one point to another.

The most remarkable thing is the sanctity and intensity with which they conduct their chat. In the presence of these people, one would think that they surgeons responding to an urgent call from the operating room. Or perhaps, the trance of saints hearing the distant and divine call of martyrdom, may resemble their belief in the self obvious sanctity of their voice.

With the intense surety that their conversation is critical and must supersede any other need, they speak at above casual levels in libraries, waiting rooms, anywhere the wireless revolution can reach. You will test that surety at your own peril. If you have ever attempted to get one of these people to realize how intrusive they were being, you know how risky that can be. I think I would be better received tossing a lit match into their lap than asking them to be a little quiet. Any thing less direct will be ignored totally and a positive plea for common courtesy is likely to be seen as an affront to their very dignity and rights as a human being. Believe me, I have tried countless approaches, from subtle wordless clues to outright asking them to shut up. All provoke anger and disbelief, most if not all also fail. The usual response is to huff and glare then turn their back to you while interrupted their comments on unified field theory to inform the other party that "some fool just...."
If you really want to invoke their sanctimonious wrath - try this. Sometimes, while some person is jabbering away: "whatcha doin?" "nuthin" "what you doin?" "chillen". As I am pondering what life in prison for manslaughter would be like, I reconsider. Perhaps what they need is a firm reminder of how annoying this is. Yes, of course that will return to the path that 30 centuries of western civilization are pointing them to. So, as they stand in the middle of the grocery store aisle discoursing on the subtleties involved in picking the ultimate brand of generic cigarettes. As they pontificate on how drunk they were last night or how much their kid kicked some other kid's butt - I begin the lesson. I begin to speak aloud - to no one and into nothing. I speak as loud and articulately as possible. What I say has varied from the recitation of poetry to asking my imaginary listener to speak louder: "Cause I can't hear you - some lady is standing here talking on the phone".
Now really, I leave it to your imagination how well that went down. The responses have ranged from huffing indignation to threats that made my testicles recede. Suffice it to say that these people do not choose to return to the golden path of civilization and are quite happy trouncing down the path to barbarism and chaos.

Yes, the idea of public quiet in certain areas may not rank with the writ of Habeus Corpus, but it was a fine and cordial supplement to civilization while it lasted. As surely as the atom bomb ended isolationism, blue tooth technology has ended this fragment of civility.
Yes, you people make me sick.

Hard freeze = hard time in Florida gardens. Managing Cold weather in the Central Florida Garden

Yes, Central Florida gardens do freeze.
Unfortunately, hard freezing weather is a rare but predictable visitor to central Florida gardens. This last week we have had more consecutive days near freezing than at any time since the 1940's. The effects have been dreadful. Until last week, most of the Lakeland landscape has been green with just a few hints of fall and winter seen in the maples and a few scattered species. The grass was stunted and barely growing, but it was clinging stubbornly to shades of green. My garden had pentas, roses, impatients, geraniums, and many other flowers in bright bloom. The St Vincent's Lilac was blooming its wisteria-like blossoms and the Today-tomorrow-forever (brunfelsia) was in full bloom with clusters of blue, violet and white blossoms hanging over my fence into the neighbors garden and mixing with the rich crimson of the Camelia.

By this morning, all of that is a brown and grey landscape of shrunken and wilted leaves peeking out from the sheets and blankets and yes, even my best flannel shirt - all of which were pressed into action in a futile attempt to stave off disaster. The sight of all those bedsheets fluttering in disarray is almost enough to make you laugh. That is, it would make one laugh, if you did not know that underneath that clownish display lay years of work brought to ruin in a few days and even more years of blooms that could have been.

When you have nurtured and fought and tricked and lavished care over some silly Chinese skull cap in a simple desire to keep blue in your garden - the humor seems remote. When you have protected them from our filthy humidity, our scorching summers and the normal perils of life, when you have against all odds managed to keep Heliotrope and garden Rue in your garden when all logic cries against it - the comedy seems hollow. No, no to a real gardener, the sudden and senseless loss is not the loss of time and money - it is the loss of dreams. I will still sip tea in the garden, but it looks ever so little like the English charade I had so carefully crafted here in the subtropics.

Now, as I said this cold snap has been record breaking in its consistency and length. This is not the cold weather we are used to. Normally, we get a brief cold blast that really only lasts a matter of hours before being relieved by some mid 60s are returned thanks to the eternal efforts of Florida's subtropical sun. Florida gardeners are not normally prepared to deal with such a long and consistent visit from the frozen north. A brief dip to freezing followed by a return to warmth is not a big challenge to most plants and can be readily defeated with a few well placed frost blankets.

However, this cold front has presented us with near or below freezing weather for nearly a week now. Even fully mature Orange trees are damaged with temperatures at, or below 24Celsius for 4 hours or more. My Mexican Ruella and Pentas never had a chance. In some ways the great duration of this freeze is a comfort. Nothing is as depressing as losing vast swaths of your garden due to a few hours of freezing air and then assessing the damage in short sleeves the next afternoon as temperature quickly climb to our normal above average temperatures. How can we be above average by 5 or 10 degrees most days of every single month? The only way that can be legitimate is if they "average" is so weighted by a century of non global warmed data that the recent decade can still stand out as an aberration. Well, that is straying from the point.

Well what is the point? Nature has its rules and one of them is that if you live in a transition zone like ours which teeters between temperate and sub-tropical you will have a hard time gardening and suffer inevitable catastrophes from time to time. Each summer the temperate plants suffer from wilting heat and fungus riddled humidity. Each winter the tropical plants are at risk for a blast of Canadian air. Honestly, it is a lose lose situation and its only redeeming feature is the long long growing season and usually heavy rains which help to restore damage to the gardens in record time.

Every so often, a freeze of this dimension comes around and everyone swears off the orchid grass and Ixoras and puts in dull boxwood and hardy viburnums. But inevitably, the years pass and we begin to creep in the colorful tropicals and set ourselves up for another Apocalypse. This is the tragi-comic cycle of Florida gardening. When you add that standard risk to my own addiction to recreating the lush overflowing English gardens of Jane Austen in the fungus heaven of Florida humidity and it becomes apparent that my task is truly on a scale with Sisyphus. I roll a huge heavy boulder up to the top of the hill, only to have it roll back to the bottom again. Over and over, one would think I would learn my lesson. One would, however, it is near 60 out there again and I am thinking perhaps a nice flowing snow on the mountain could fill in some of the more severe damage while I replant my Pentas and Rue and well, you get the point.

Life - you never get out alive ; )