Archive for February, 2012

February 9, 2012

Fairy Gardens

Fairies.  There’s something magical, mysterious about fairies, or at least that’s what I think now.  My earliest memories of fairies were of the Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell.  Although I knew the Tooth Fairy brought money for my teeth, which was exciting, it was also a little creepy.  How did she know that I lost a tooth?  How did she get into our house?  And my room!?! How did she know where I put it?  What if she was short on her allotment of teeth for the month and needed more?  Could she just snatch an extra while I was sleeping?  And what the heck did she do with all those teeth anyway?  And then there was Tinkerbell, she was a little creepy too.  Or maybe it was the essence of Captain Hook that clouded my memory, making me want nothing to do with her.

Twig

Twig

Okay, so my memories of fairies as a child we’re all that fanciful.  And honestly, I don’t think that changed until I met Twig at the Renaissance Festival a number of years ago.  A friend of mine and I brought our kids to the “Ren Fest”.  As we wandered the grounds chatting and laughing we saw a small crowd of people gathered around something, or rather someone, on the ground.  Twig, a woodland fairy, was sitting, perched, playing her flute and flirting with children and adults alike.  She was beautiful.  Her hair, her eyes, the sparkle that seemed to hover around her.  And while she didn’t speak a word, the way she played the flute was memorizing.  The kids stood, as if in a trance, not taking their eyes off of her.  And then she would put her hand into the little pouch that hung so gracefully from her shoulders, and from it she would take a small stone and place it ever so gently into each child’s hand.  The children would close their fingers tightly, hanging on to their stones until they would finally turn, slightly dazed and go back to their parents to show them what they got.  Each child unfurled their little fingers to reveal a magical stone covered in fairy dust.  I fell in love.  While I knew in my grown-up mind that Twig could be easily be a friend or relative playing the role of a fairy, there was something magical about her.  I went traveling back oh, so many years to become that little girl again who believed in fantasy.  This time instead of being creepy, it was dreamy, more like my visions of princesses, only with wings.  It felt amazing.  Every year since, I seek out Twig to catch another glimpse of that magic.

I’m not sure if it was before or after my first encounter with Twig that I discovered Fairy Gardens, but the timing was pretty close.  I remember being in Bachman’s, a garden center in the area, and seeing a little wooden box.  In it stood a miniature world.  A pebble pathway meandered through tiny plants blooming the smallest flowers I’ve ever seen in my life.  The path led to a miniature bench.  Beside it stood a tiny bird bath, a wheel barrow and a couple of tiny pots tipped over on the ground.  The whole area was surrounded by a little picket fence.  Amazing.  Some genius had just transformed what I formerly knew to be called “Alpine Plants”  (which frankly I had no interest in) into something I suddenly became extremely interested in: Fairy Garden plants.  All of a sudden I had to have them, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Actually, I’ve had a couple of rounds of Fairy Gardens at my house.  Both have died due to neglect.  I tend to get a little busy in the summer months and although Fairy Gardens don’t require any more maintenance than other plants, they simply were forgotten about during the busy outdoor garden season.  This doesn’t stop me of course.  I’m about to plant up another one.  I’ve had a lot of inspiration over the past few months to get it going again.  My son made a fairy house out of a tree stump at the Arboretum this past summer fully furnished with a twig ladder, branch furniture and crab apples on the wooden dinner plates. Another garden center I frequent, Uncommon Gardens, had an amazing little Fairy Garden this summer on a little larger scale.  It was planted up in a raised cedar garden planter elevated off the ground.  It even had a little stone cottage, I could just envision the fairies coming out of their little cottage when we weren’t looking and tending to their tiny gardens…

Fairy Garden

And then the Arboretum again, I never cease to find something of interest there!  While attending another function last week, I took a few extra minutes to visit the Tiny Treasures: Fairy Gardens and Gnomes display.  Oh, what inspiration!  More little gardens, more little houses. It must have been obvious that I was enchanted because while we were visiting the gift shop later and I happened upon a Fairy Garden book, filled with more Fairy House inspiration entitled “Fairy Houses and Beyond!” and my dad was kind enough get it for me.  I can’t wait to get started!  If you’re thinking about starting one of your own Tonkadale Nursery put together a nice gallery of Fairy Gardens as well as a step-by-step to get you started.  You can find more info on their Fairy Garden page.

One of the things I love about Fairy Gardens is that they are perfect for kids.  If you’ve ever wanted to have a children’s garden and didn’t know where to start, Fairy Gardens are a perfect.  They are kid-sized.  They have small plants, small benches, small worlds for their imaginations to run wild in.  We’ve had mysterious and magical things happen in our Fairy Gardens at home.  Gates left open, pots and wheelbarrows moved, all sorts of things… you never know what you might find when you have a Fairy Garden!

Even if you don’t have kids, but you’re still a kid at heart, Fairy Gardens can be quite fun.  The scale of them makes it easy to incorporate bonsai trees into as well.   Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to have a small place of wonder to visit and escape from reality.

So with that, I blow a little bit of fairy dust on each of you and hope that even if you aren’t as enchanted as I am, I hope you’re at least “a little” amused.  🙂

Kate

February 7, 2012

A word about your new (counterfeit) gadget

We all love them, we all want them, and once we have one, we want the next one. Its newer, faster, smaller, lighter, whatever the reason, we’re snatching up the new smart phones, tablets, notebook, e-readers, gaming systems and other electronic gadgets like our lives depend on it.  But it comes at a cost.

I hesitated writing about why I left my previous job.  Did I like what I was doing?  Sure.  Did I like who I worked with?  Yep.  The pay?  That was okay too.  So what was the problem?  The real problem lies within the fact that the business supported something I don’t believe in.  Major, major consumerism.  Am I sitting here writing on a laptop?  Yes.  But do I think twice about buying the next newer, better gadget?  Absolutely.  Especially since I spent time in the electronic components industry.  Why?  Because until I got into the industry I had no idea what our purchases were doing to us and the rest of the world.

Shortly after I started the job I remember being in my car and listening to a report on National Public Radio about the e-waste situation in China.  I heard stories about women, with children in tow, working in factories, if you can call them that, sifting through mountains of electronic trash that we disposed of in the US and shipped back to China.  These mountains of trash contain lead, mercury and other toxic materials.  And these women sift through these piles with bare hands, exposing themselves to lead and mercury poisoning every day.  If that weren’t bad enough, they also take circuit boards and melt them down in facilities with no pollution controls thereby releasing toxic chemicals into the air.   The thought of this hit me hard.  I felt physically ill.  My stomach hurt.  I knew that by working in the industry and continuing to buy electronics so freely myself, I was supporting this.  But I hadn’t been at the job that long so I did what any other rational person would do.  I tried to put it out of my mind.  Don’t think about it. Forget about it.

But I couldn’t.  Every day I learned more.  Not only have we been sending our e-waste overseas, but these parts are also being sifted through, sanded down, remarked and sold back to us as new.  Counterfeit.  How is it getting in?  Easily, because there’s so much of it and because they have gotten really good at making the counterfeit parts look like the real thing.  Don’t believe that it can be that serious?  It is.  This has grown to be such an enormous problem that even our country’s defense program has been effected.  A couple of years ago counterfeit parts were found on brand new P-8 Poseidons, our military defense planes.

The sad part is, it’s getting worse, fast.  Let’s put it this way.  When I started my job in the industry a little over a year ago I’d heard a statistic that about 60% of the electronic components in the industry were being counterfeited.  At the time that estimate was released, the major concern was about “black topping”; a process where junk (e-waste parts) are sanded down, skimmed coated with new surfacing and remarked as new parts.  Now, a little over a year later, they’ve got counterfeiting down to a science.   The most recent estimate indicates that over 99% of the components made are now being counterfeited.  In other words, pretty much every component on the market has a counterfeit twin out there.  They believe that every single one of us has counterfeit components in something we own, whether that’s the phone in our pocket, the tablet in our bag or the notebook on our desk, the gaming systems in our houses, or kids hands, oh and I almost forgot, our cars.  We have a few electronic components in our cars don’t we?

The counterfeit components issue is not a minor one.  Its impacting every one of our lives every day, we just don’t realize it.  It doesn’t phase us much if our phone stops working.  Sure, it’s annoying, but we’ll just go out and get a new one, right?  The thought of something happening in our car, hmm, that makes us stop and think for a second, doesn’t it?  As a parent I get a little twinge in my stomach, as the thought crosses my mind, “What if something happened while my child was in the car?”  But when the U.S. defense system is impacted that seems to make a difference doesn’t it?  When we don’t feel like our country is safe, protected, because a system might fail from counterfeit parts that gets our attention.  And it should.  It’s that serious.

What’s being done about it? A lot.  There are meetings constantly and systems being put in place to prevent counterfeit parts from returning to our country, but much like any other injury, a band-aid only stops the bleeding, it doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem.  We are the root of the problem.

I’m not writing this as a scare tactic.  Nor am I writing this to cause alarm.  I don’t need to.  I am writing this to ask that each of us, each of you, think twice before you buy the next hottest gadget.  The root of the counterfeit problem, much as we would all like to blame China, is not China.  The reason this problem has become what it has is because of us.  Our purchasing and tossing on a whim.  Dropping $100, $200 or $500 on the latest gadget just to be dropped in the trash a few months down the road has to change.  Counterfeit parts are invading our lives and we need to take them back.

So when 3G leads to 4G which leads to 5G or whatever comes next.  Please take a moment, a conscious moment, and think about whether this is truly a need in your life or just a want.  Please, please be mindful, our future depends upon it.

Kate

February 3, 2012

A Dose of Patience

If patience came in a bottle, I’d be all over it today.

Actually, my day started off quite well. I was a chaperone for my son’s class field trip to the MN History Center.  You would think that with tons of kids around, noise and commotion everywhere, that my patience would have been tried, but it wasn’t.  I was fine with that.  I had a small group of four that I hung out with, checking out all there was to see at the museum.  We sat in a C-47 warplane and experienced a crash on D-Day, we huddled in the basement while the house shook as the 1965 Fridley tornado went over, we took a walk through time in a house built in 1887 at 470 Hopkins Street that had over 50 families live in it, we took a stroll through life in 1968 and even spotted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  It was all great.  The kids were great.  We took it all in and the day flew by.

Then I got home and everything went off kilter.  My son had a hard time listening and focusing on what he needed to be doing.  He wasn’t doing anything bad really, just not doing what needed to be done, when it needed doing.  Then the dogs knocked over the lamp for the second day in a row while barking at the mail carrier.  I know, I know, just move the lamp, right?  I would, but I’m trying to break the dogs of this habit (although I think they’re going to break me first).

I was also trying to do more research for the Garlic Experiment (because I didn’t find what I was looking for last night) but wasn’t having much success, which was adding to my frustrations.

Then there’s my huge pet peeve, lack of communication.  Communication is really important to me.  Conversation is important to me.  When I don’t get a response I get frustrated. That was happening too, or shall we say, not happening.

All of these things combined made me feel like I was loosing my grasp on life.  Then I stopped and took a breath.  I took a step back and tried to figure out how I could go through the entire day with tons of kids and commotion and be fine, but get so frustrated by the smaller things at home.  I came to the conclusion that it’s because I had no expectations earlier today.  I was ready to go with the flow and adjust on the fly as necessary.  Home is a different story.  Even though my personality lends me to like to operate more freely, I still have a need for an agenda.  It’s probably more loose than others have, but it still exists.  And that, my dear Watson, is my problem.  When I do have an agenda with expectations as to what needs to take place and when and things don’t go according to plan I get frustrated.  Why?  Some may say it’s because I’m a “control freak” but I really think it’s because I don’t have a lot of expectations, so when I do ask something of someone (I think dogs classify as someones too) I expect them to work with me, at least after a few requests!

So, my deal to sort out.  Do I need to learn to just go with the flow on everything?  Become more strict about my expectations? Or do I take a dose of patience and come back to it with a better attitude?  Right now I’m leaning towards the latter.

As for the Garlic Experiment, I’m leaning toward making an educated guess and winging it.  More on that later.

Feel free to weigh in on any part!  And if you know where to find a little patience, please send it my way.  In the mean time, I think I’ll dust off my Guns N Roses CD and breathe.

Kate

February 2, 2012

A Confession and The Beginning of the Garlic Experiment

I have a confession to make.  Remember last fall when I wrote Growing Garlic? and told you the time was right for planting, how to go about planting it, so on and so forth?  Well, guess who didn’t get out there and plant her garlic before the ground froze?  Yep, you guessed it.  Me.

So what’s a girl to do about this?  Well, let me tell you.  Tossing the garlic heads was never an option.  It goes against my grain.  I had to do something with it.  Given my background in gardening, landscaping and horticulture, I know that certain bulbs, flowering and edible, need a cold spell to get the bulbs to plump up for the next season.  Garlic is one of them.  But, I also know that if circumstances don’t cooperate sometimes you can fool Mother Nature and recreate that cold spell with a refrigerator (cold conditioning).  So that’s my plan which I’ll be executing shortly and you can all ride along with me on what I will call the “Garlic Experiment”.

Sad garlic

What I can tell you right now is that this will definitely be an experiment.  Some of the bulbs are already fading, they are no longer firm to the touch which means they’re drying out (not a good way to start off) but I’ll see how bad they are when I break open the heads and take off the individual cloves, at that point I’ll provide pictures and the play-by-play.

But before I begin the experiment I had to do a little research.  I already knew that garlic needs a cold treatment to get the bulbs to form, but what I didn’t know was how long they need to be cold to give the bulbs enough time to form.  Since we typically don’t have a hard time finding cold weather for growing garlic in Minnesota, I had to start doing a little research on how southern gardeners grow garlic.  So far my research has shown that garlic needs anywhere from 2 weeks to 8 weeks of cold to produce a bulb.   Well, super!  That’s pretty specific!  That’s a lot like waiting for the furnace repair man to come and they say they’ll be arrive on Thursday, sometime between 8am and 5pm.  Thanks for narrowing that down for me!  (Obviously I have a little more work to do.)  If you remember from last fall, I have 3 kinds of garlic .  Tonight I’m going to do a little more research and see if I can find specific information on what each of them prefers and then go from there.

Until then, please accept my apology for not planting when I advised you to.  Life happened, so it didn’t get done.  At least now we have an excuse for an experiment!  And boy do I love experimenting with plants!

Kate