Saturday, August 29, 2009

Speaking of apples ...

Earlier today I posted the recipe for our apple crisp and I suppose we were still thinking about that when we made another trip to Crossroad Orchard. We bought a bag of Jonathan's for Bob's family and dropped them off after stopping at the library.
As we walked back to the car, I couldn't help but admire the trees heavy with their fall crop. I certainly can't tell you what kind of apple this is but the ones in the foreground sure look healthy ... and delicious!

Another entry I want to make to this blog is an update to the picture of the mushrooms I posted on 08/23/09. I said then - and I believed it to be true - that a mushroom does most of its growth at the beginning. For these, however, that's not true.
Each day as we walked the path at the park, I noticed the mushrooms changing. First they seemed to have been stepped on. That set them back a day or two. Then they seemed to be expanding. Today they are quite an expanse of white.
Compare this to the initial entry on August 23, a mere 6 days ago. Look at how much they have changed.

They seem to have almost grown together. You can barely tell where one begins and the other ends. Their beautiful "toasted" top is gone and they're now essentially pure white. How the world around us does change! Look closely or it'll soon be gone.

Pinehaven Apple Crisp

It is close enough to fall that our appetites have turned to apples. And apples mean one thing at Pinehaven: Apple Crisp.
We've just been to the Crossroads Orchard in Miamisburg, an annual trip, and we've come home with half a peck of Jonathan apples. They're a little sweet for this recipe - tart is better - but they're what we bought so they're what we used.
Here's a look at the finished product. The house smells of apples at it bakes and that, coupled with the pungent scent of cinnamon, even drifts into my bedroom on the second floor. I wish you could share this with us but I'll go one better. I'll show you how to make it.

Pinehaven Apple Crisp

6-8 apples, sliced
1 cup sugar (1/2 brown, 1/2 granulated)
1/2 cup butter (we use margarine)
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
squirt of lemon juice if apples are too sweet

Put apples in greased baking dish (8x8" Pyrex). Work together sugar, flour, butter and cinnamon with fingers until crumbly. Pack closely over apples. 45 minutes in 375 degree oven. Serve warm.

This recipe card is the one Mom has used since the 1960's. She's made notes and modified the recipe slightly over the years. The printed recipe is the one we used for the dish shown. Because the apples were quite sweet, we did add a squirt of lemon juice. We buy lemon juice in the plastic lemons commonly sold in the produce sections of grocery stores.

That's it. Make a nice, hot cup of black coffee. Don't ruin it with cream or sugar! You want the contrast of the bitter coffee with the sweet of the apples. Don't even think of tea.

Pick a day when the outside air begins to cool. Set about baking early in the day. At lunch sit down to a leisurely dessert with one of the best apple dishes around. Smile!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nature today

So what does a single summer day present to me?
For starters, mushrooms.

This clump of mushrooms was first spotted yesterday at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Joint Park. They had just sprouted beneath an old pine. I didn't have a camera with me then, plus I wanted to see what a day would do for them. The answer: nothing. They looked no different today than yesterday. So any growth must happen initially.

The I was reading a book ("Breakfast at Sally's") on the sofa when I spotted movement outside the nearby window. I stood and saw this butterfly slowly moving his wings. Or was it an unfelt breeze? In any case, he stayed at the same spot for some minutes and seemed to be exercising his wings. Were they wet with the morning dew? Or was he almost a meal for some other creature. As I looked closely, his wings were tattered and had a few holes. His season is ending.

Later this afternoon I went into the barn and found this worm clinging to the vinyl siding near the door. He was a compact, fat green worm and seemed pretty much asleep in the sunshine. I didn't bother him any longer than it took to take this picture. Are green worms stopping too low? Never!

So how about this salmon zinnia? Could there be a prettier shade? The front flower bed is alive with zinnias just now. What? Two more months and we'll be cleaning the last of the frost-blasted debris.

And this zinnia, too ... a pretty orange that caught my attention. All from a single pack of seeds. What variety there is in nature, even within a single species. How can there be boredom anywhere on this planet while there are flowers?

Friday, August 21, 2009


This past week we have had storm after storm. Each day seems to find towering cumulus building towards mid-day and storms by evening. I have stood beneath these massive clouds and literally become dizzy looking up at them. How they boil!

Step out into Pinehaven's yard and enjoy the upward view!

This cumulus (below) was standing on the western horizon as the sun was preparing to set. Such a pillar of moisture! It looked as though it was about to strike! Flaming orange about the edges, this cloud looked positively threatening as it came ever closer.

Below is a cumulus which has moved east of here. I could almost see it unfold upwards.

Though these clouds can be deadly, dropping tornadoes from their underbellies, while they are docile they are a sight to behold.

Blooming Time

A Canada Thistle, I believe, but can you imagine a more delicate flower than this? If you didn't get in close, you'd think of stickers and skin rashes. But have a close look at the delicate lavender filaments of the flower and you can't help but fall in love with this lowly weed.

These flower abundantly just now, beside roadways and in ditches and across unkempt fields. Their only care is what nature provides: some sun, a little rain. And yet they grow luxuriously among the other weeds, holding their regal blooms high.

Yet closer to our house I planted sweet peas some years back because I didn't like having to clean the dead vines from the trellis each winter. One year, after pulling all the withered vines down, I thought I might transplant a single start to the meadow, placing it near the edge where I could watch it. Now, at least five years later, I am annually rewarded with bright pink at the base of the weeds.
Have a look:

There, on the ground, this plant still thrives. There is no trellis, nothing to pull itself up with, and yet it blooms. I drove by and saw the blanket of pink and couldn't believe how well it is doing. A perennial, the plant requires no care at all. If I am coaxing this one to become a weed, I have nearly succeeded. It's seen no water from a hose in years, no turning of the soil, no fertilizer but for what the soil itself produces through decay.
Who says we humankind are much needed? The world will go on without us ... and beautifully, too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

African Violet

A few years back I bought this African Violet for my mother. Of course she can grow anything and manages to make everything bloom as often as possible. This particular violet is on a small three-legged stool in my bedroom, hiding behind a thin white curtain at the south window.
I can wake during nights with a full moon and see its hazy flowers glowing there in the dark.

And again the plant blooms. Mom mentioned to me a few weeks ago that it was getting ready. She notices the small changes that presage a bud. Soon enough, I too see that it's going to flower. She waters the plant on some particular schedule by carrying a small cup of water from the bathroom sink.
The plant has it good.

A close-up of a single bloom shows the beautiful details of what seems to be a simple flower. I love how the petals seems to be made of tiny transparent balloons, each filled with moisture. A finger press would come back wet.

My first admiration of the African Violet was of a particularly huge specimen - or so I remember it to be - in my Aunt Belle's dining room. Placed by a north-facing window, I remember the plant in a terra cotta crock and how huge and soft the leaves. Upon visiting my aunt as a baby, I'd always want to see the African Violet. It was sitting atop a humidor that my uncle used for pipe tobacco. He died in 1947 and I did not come along until 1949 but I remember opening the door of the humidor and smelling the sweet scent of tobacco, lingering years after he had gone.

So there they were: the humidor and the African Violet. Inseparable in my mind.

The past is recalled in visions and reminders and scents.

Butterfly King

This regal butterfly - the Monarch - is one we enjoy each August. I was getting into the car - camera in hand - when I noticed a Monarch flitting about the zinnias we have planted right outside the garage door. Would it hurt to walk over that way and see if he'd alight?
And so he did - immediately - and he stayed on a flower while I composed and focused this shot.

A wider view (below) and the exquisite details of the orange and black wings unfold. Danaus plexippus, it is named, but the more common "Monarch" is how we call it. I remember as a child watching the chrysalis hanging on a fence and how it became more transparent with each passing day. Finally I watched the finished butterfly emerge from the greenish capsule, replete with golden regal dots. They looked to be painted on with the finest of brushes.
We have now plenty of milkweed about the grounds and I suppose this accounts for our plethora of adult butterflies. They're usually a little tentative and flit onward when I approach.
But not this time.
Imagine the journey ahead, the tattered miles to Mexico. Imagine "King Billy" then as he joins legions of others, moving to Central America.
Why King Billy? Why for the colors of King William of Orange: orange and black.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pinehaven at 118

Here's a view of Pinehaven as it looked in this morning's sun. It was still pleasant then - a low of 58 degrees with a nice layer of dew on the grass. But how quickly that pleasant time has passed. We're to approach 90 this afternoon and beat that by a few degrees tomorrow.
What's new with Pinehaven? Well, the heat pump (lower left) is now our sole source of heating and cooling. I thought I'd made a smart move going all-electric. But no! Electric costs are up about 20% and fuel oil is down about 40%. So, as usual I've done the wrong thing. How do I manage to pull that off time and again? You'd think I'd hit it right once.
In addition, the chimney on the south side of the house (left) is gone. We had it taken down when the new roof was installed last year. The dimensional shingles, by the way, should be good for 30 years. That should exceed my own warranty.
Pinehaven was built as early as 1891 (thus the "at 118" reference) but it could have been as late as the first decade of the 20th century. We just don't know for sure. In any case, it's now passed the century mark.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Crackin' the Egg

Let me give you a warning. If you've just had breakfast, read no further. But if you've got a strong stomach and a stern disposition, have at it!
A week ago today (08/07), Mom was working in the kitchen preparing lunch. Dad, as is his habit, stumbles by whenever the mood strikes him. It's usually to re-supply his cache of pills. He lines them up on the dining room table before he has lunch. So, while Mom is cooking, Dad ambles into the kitchen.
At that moment I'm upstairs. All's well. All's quiet.
Next thing I hear is a pretty sizable thud and a few loud expletives. This is what I see when I find Dad.

He has managed to lift up under an open cupboard door. The gash he got ran from almost his forehead, back halfway across his head. He's bleeding and a little dazed but otherwise still has his wits about him.
Dad's head is hard, apparently. I worried at first that he could have a subdural hematoma but he insisted he felt all right.
Today the scab has mostly washed off with repeated shampoos. He's feeling OK. But he insists Mom opened the cupboard after he bent down and she as surely insists that she did not.
Trouble is, Dad seldom learns a lesson and will probably be at it again. I suppose each crack makes him a little stronger.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Think you know?

Think you're pretty good at riddles? OK, what is it?

Now don't cheat! Don't move down the page and have a look at the whole object. What are you looking at?
Is it the edge of a dove's feather? Is it sugar sprinkled atop a cupcake? Is it a piece of pure white paper folded in some unusual Origami style?
A hint: This morning as I walked across the dew-soaked grass to place some vegetable debris into our compost (which we move to various locations at the edge of the garden), I spotted this object on the opposite side, standing there alone in the cool shadows as the first rays of the sun began moving across the garden.
So, what is it?

It is probably a Coprinus, a delicate (and edible) mushroom with a pleated cap. But I'm hardly sure so there's not a chance I'll be adding it to a salad.

We had a very heavy rain on Monday (almost 0.8" in a matter of minutes) and the humidity has been very high since then. Last night we had a light shower which added even more moisture. This little fellow took advantage of the weather and decided its time had arrived.

What a treasure it is to find mushrooms sprung to life overnight! Though this one is not uncommon - it enjoys even lawns from May through October in the eastern United States - with its dew-spotted cap, it's a true present of the season.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Orchid's Afire!

It's a little early this year but Mom's beautiful orange orchid is in full bloom.

Look at last year's entries on 11/01/08 and especially 12/12/08.
This year is, therefore, quite early. We've noticed the buds for the past few weeks and we were surprised this morning to find the plant on the back porch in full bloom.
I'm a little confused by exactly what it is, though. I always thought it was a Cymbidium orchid but I'm beginning to think it might be a common Cattleya orchid (the traditional "corsage" orchid). Anyone know for sure?
The plant seems to love basking in the shade of the north side of our back porch. It gets very muted sunshine beneath a large maple tree. Mom is careful to water and fertilize the plant and will bring it back inside when the weather begins to turn cold. It spends each winter on our south-facing enclosed porch.
I bought the plant at an orchid show at the Dayton Mall in the early 1990's. So the plant has been here at Pinehaven for nearly 20 years. I don't remember a single one of those years when it hasn't bloomed.
For those who think orchids are hard to care for, think again. It's a plant that rarely complains and offers a bounteous show each year.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mid-Summer Sunset

The other evening, I walked into the backyard just after sunset, while the orange glow was still pronounced in the northwest, and enjoyed the last minutes of the day. The day has noticeably shortened already and it's losing about two more minutes with each passing day. We are sliding steadily towards winter again, even while the heat holds.
This first shot is towards the northwest, though an opening in the pines caused by one which died this year. Last spring my brother and I took it down and reduced it to logs which are now seasoning for the winter ahead. I might have plugged the hole with another seedling but for the fact that I like the opening. While the cold wind may pass through that space unimpeded, so may my vision in the other direction. It is something I don't want to give up just yet.

Then, looking to the southwest a little later, the moon is idly hanging there among the clouds. A lone dog barks in the distance and only a passing car disturbs my thoughts. I enjoy the clarity of a winter sky but I love the time I may linger beneath a summer one, when the wind is not biting at me and coaxing me back inside.
And yet Orion is still beyond view and I love the winter sky more for Orion alone. There is no other constellation that moves me quite the same. It will not be long.

Isn't this a gentle picture? Don't you want to pull a chaise lounge into the grass, plop a pillow down and just look up for a while? Can't you anticipate the fall crickets and katydids?

Night Blooming Cereus

My maternal grandmother, Catherine Paulsen, always had a plant which intrigued us because it only seemed to bloom every seven or so years and only at night. When we got the call, we'd actually drive over to see the magnificent - and rare - bloom.
I know more about it now and it's not so rare. But it's just as magnificent as I remember as a child.
Behold a picture of the single bloom we were given on July 30.

Just before the Night Blooming Cereus bloom opens, it begins to unwind pink strands which seem to have been holding the flower tight. As they slowly drop away, the flower opens in a rush. Taken with a time exposure, it must seem like an explosion.

Perhaps this (below) is a better view of how the bud is held together.

Here is Mom (below) watering the plant, a member of the cactus family and native to the southwest. We often take it outside in the summer and let it flourish on the back porch. But not this year (actually, it's getting too big to handle and could use a good pruning). Mom punched a couple of fertilizer sticks into the soil earlier in the year and I suppose that gave the plant an extra push to get a flower open before winter.

The earliest bud is tiny - it looks like no more than a speck when it first appears. Slowly it expands and begins looking more like a flower and less like just another flat leaf. Color begins flowing to the edges as they take on their sunrise pink hue.

Here (below) is a look inside the bloom. What a marvelous machine it is! Look at all the intricate and delicate parts. Snow white and ivory mixed with pastel shades of yellow. It makes me think of a wedding inside a single bloom.

The original plant - the one my grandmother grew - certainly dates back more than 80 years. When my grandmother died in 1969, Mom inherited the plant. Since then she started this plant from it as the original was becoming unsightly.
So the flower you see owes its genesis to a plant from the 1920's and it still blooms proudly in a new century.
Usually the bloom has an intoxicating scent but I smelled almost nothing this time. Dad said he woke during the night and found the sweet scent permeating the first floor. By the next morning, the bloom is finished. One year we did not see the bud in time and found only the spent remains of the flower.
I would call this our most precious plant for its connection to my grandmother. It is the rarity of its bloom that endears it to us, too. What you wait longest for is most precious in its time.