Tag Archives: flowers

The State of Joe at 56


We had the flag out for Labor Day weekend today, not for Joe BDay season. But it could have been. Redbud tree casts shadow on flag in later afternoon image.

We had the flag out for Labor Day weekend today, not for Joe BDay season. But it could have been. Redbud tree casts shadow on flag in late afternoon image.

I just checked—a line of severe thunderstorms is headed my way and may hit before I get done writing this blog post.

And yet, the thing that makes me most anxious is not that a tornado may swoop down, but that it’s 10:03 and I have not started watching “Project Runway” yet and I want to get it watched tonight before I go to bed.

So I’ll have to make this quick. Because, you know, either tornado or Heidi. You decide which is the bigger factor.

What is the state of Joe at 56?

Well, busy. Labor Day weekend comes just as fall semester starts taking off—and after just four days of classes, I have a lot of grading. Labor Day will mostly be a day of labor, because so far this weekend, I’m proud to say, I’ve done virtually nothing school related (unless you count piano practice, but I don’t suppose I should).

Busy native bees on flowers. I shot this as I was getting ready to mow the lawn on my birthday. I mowed, cut back some dead parts of a bush and planted some grass seed. I like spending time outside, so it was a good way to use part of my day.

Busy native bees on flowers. I shot this as I was getting ready to mow the lawn on my birthday. I mowed, cut back some dead parts of a bush and planted some grass seed. I like spending time outside, so it was a good way to use part of my day.

Friday I went to my first MMU track meet, which was a bit of unexpected fun. When my kids were in junior high track, a track meet meant hours of dull unexcitement in a cold and damp stadium in some featureless small town. The Mustang Gallop, however, was hanging out in a county park—and waiting for just two races, which started and ended very quickly. That’s not a bad way to have a track meet.

Saturday I had a bike ride with my wife. It was 23 miles, which is a substantial, but not very long, ride for me. Since she is not a biker, it was a big commitment to my birthday wishes on her part.

Then again, she goes to the gym a lot more than I do. She didn’t suffer any ill consequences, as far as I know. She did announce a desire to own biking shorts, which I think would be a good move.

I also mowed and planted some grass seed. Tonight’s storm may do some good.

Physically, I’m doing well. I’ve bounced back, I think, from my RAGBRAI exhaustion. My weight is not down, but not up. The struggle to control it, and thus keep my blood pressure down, is more important in my 56th year, but then again, I’m about 10 pounds lighter than my peak, so I’ve slowly started to lose some pounds.

Work is a mixed bag. I love being a professor and am thrilled with the reaction to the World War I series. On the other hand, I sure wish I had more PR and journalism students, and a newspaper editor would be nice.

So I guess the state of Joe is not too bad. And it only took me 10 minutes to write this. My birthday celebration got an early start Friday when a daughter was confused at the date and called me a day early. One of my sons was also confused and called me a day late. So, I guess that means my birthday this year was a 3-day season.

That is fine with me. Not a bad way to turn 56.

Wife is in the lead as we round the north end of Cedar Lake on our Saturday bike ride. Later, there was ice cream. It was a very nice ride.

Wife is in the lead as we round the north end of Cedar Lake on our Saturday bike ride. Later, there was ice cream. It was a very nice ride.

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Some New Perennials In The Garden


Butterfly bush planted this week in back garden.

Butterfly bush planted this week in back garden.

Let’s just forget Tuesday’s primary, shall we, and get on with gardening. This week, I put some new perennials in the garden, purchased mostly on a whim at the local HyVee Drug Store. The new flowers include:

  • A second butterfly bush, this one planted in back. These are iffy bushes in this part of Iowa, they die back to the ground each winter, and if the winter is harsh may die back farther. I had to replant the one in front this year, but I really like these plants because they are pretty and because they live up to their name—if you have a butterfly bush, you should see lots of butterflies.
  • Hollyhock, three of them, planted in the same general area, the sunniest part of the garden by the deck. I used to have interesting black hollyhocks, but bunnies ate them. Putting in some new ones and hoping. I’ve pretty much just planted pink ones for now. Definitely would replant blacks ones if I find them.
  • A miniature rose bush to keep the butterfly bush company.
  • Some interesting lilies, blues ones. I have plenty of day lilies, and a fair number of Asian lilies. The ones I planted were ones my wife picked out, they should bloom in interesting blue colors.
  • A purple columbine. Most of my columbine is the common orange kinds, just branching out a bit.
  • Two poppies. I had a poppy in my deck garden, but didn’t see it come back this year, so I’ve planted two more.
  • Tall phlox. It should be more tolerant of shade than most flowers, and I’ve certainly got lots of shade for it to tolerate.
Marigolds, planted by my wife in pots on the deck.

Marigolds, planted by my wife in pots on the deck.

I still have some cleanup to do. I purchased some wood chips for mulch and spread them in front, but have not in back yet. Some dead branches and limbs from the harsh winter still need to be taken out. I would welcome some “putter time” in the garden, and maybe will get some later this month.

For now, it’s actually be a very nice summer, so far. Ideal weather, which we can appreciate after the winter of 2014. There have been awful storms this season—one of my daughters suffered plenty of hail damage to a car and her home not long ago—but we’ve been lucky so far to get the rain without any severe weather.

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One spent iris and one iris bud not get open (above). Asian lilies (below) that grandchildren helped plant earlier this spring are now getting to bud stage.

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The gardens are looking nice. Very buggy—gnats are terrible this year—but nice to look at. Here is a slideshow of some of my garden photos from this gorgeous morning:

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The Pleasure of Planting Some Annuals


Marigolds planted at base of new redbud tree.

Marigolds planted at base of new redbud tree.

I’m philosophically a perennial flower gardener. I like the idea of plant it once, forget it and enjoy it for years to come.

But today, nearly the last day of May—but clearly, in the strange year where we skipped through a week of spring between a very harsh, long winter and a very sudden, pleasant summer—was devoted to annuals. Each year, Audrey puts pots of geraniums on our deck and front porch, and also plants petunias in built-in planters on our deck rail.

Geraniums waiting to be planted. Like me, my wife has some more annual planting to finish up this weekend.

Geraniums waiting to be planted. Like me, my wife has some more annual planting to finish up this weekend.

This year, we also added, due to some whining by yours truly, some marigolds. They were among my mother’s favorites, and I’ve always liked them, even if I think the idea that they repel any pests from the garden seems very dubious. Even if they don’t exactly produce a sweet odor, they are nice, friendly flowers that can be picked, quickly re-bloom and provide a season of color.

Leaves of the new burgundy redbud.

Leaves of the new burgundy redbud.

I was only at it for an hour or so this morning before family matters intervened, so I can’t say I truly planted a lot. But I put some marigolds and petunias around a couple of trees in front while I mulched them. There are four trees in the front yards that are surrounded by mulch that has flowers—mostly spring bulbs—in the mulch zone, and for two of them—the birch, which is the oldest tree and has the largest “footprint,” and the newest tree, a burgundy leaf redbud planted to replace the dearly departed hawthorn—I added some annuals.

Petunias in a deck planter.

Petunias in a deck planter.

I still have numerous marigolds and a few petunias left, which will go into back gardens this weekend. Still, sticking some annuals in the ground to spice up my flower beds seemed a good use of what little time I had to putter in the gardens this morning.

Flat of marigolds waiting to be planted.

Flat of marigolds waiting to be planted.

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And I Hope Flocks of Flowers Appear As I Bury Phlox


Daffodils in bloom.

Daffodils in bloom.

It is done.

On a warm spring day when the 85-degree humid air felt more like late June than early May, I received and planted six Phlox roots, the last of the flowers that I had ordered for spring planting.

Well, honestly, that’s not totally true because I also ordered toad lilies, but they sold out of those.

Anyway, it turns out the root of the Phlox need only be shallowly buried, so my broken-trowel “scoop” was quite adequate. I put 4 roots in the main backyard garden, one in the lower garden by the retaining wall and one in the new garden near the chimney—hoping that I didn’t accidentally put it on top of a coneflower root, but we’ll see.

And I also snapped some photos as I planted, showing the flowers in my back yard as the afternoon light fades to evening. It’s a daffodil party, with lots of tulips along for the ride. Most trees are waking up, but a few may not have made it through the harsh winter. The Rose of Sharon remains quiet, and I hope that pretty bush, which is several years old, didn’t get hurt by the extreme winter. Two of the three new trees are definitely going strong, but the third may be forever dormant.

Pear flowers.

Pear flowers.

Well, it’s too early to “call” anything for sure. Some trees that are sleeping may yet wake—despite the heat today, it’s still very early May, daffodil and tulip time. Crab apples are just about to burst, but have not really bloomed yet. A look at what is blooming.

And I can see lots of lilac buds. It’s going to smell pretty good sometime soon.

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10 Signs That Spring Is Indeed Here


Spring break! How sweet it is. In fact, I have to grade some speech proposals in the morning, so I don’t get to forget the semester for long—but once that one batch of grading passes, I plan to take the weekend off, something I have not done since Christmas.

Those who don’t teach don’t realize how often it morphs into a 7-day-a-week death march during busy times, and how some semesters, “busy times” seems to describe more weeks than not. But, as those with “real” jobs might assert, not everyone gets summers off, or a spring break, either.

Fair enough. And the weather next week will make it feel more like late winter break, I’m afraid. Still, despite the chill coming in the next days, our hemisphere is committed now to facing the sun, and spring is inevitably, ever so slowly, oozing Old Man Winter out the door.

And here, in photos, are 10 signs of spring:

1) Flowers that bloom in the spring tra la! Not mine, but I had something to do with them. My wife and I and our two area daughters bought a bunch of fall bulbs which were planted in gardens in our three yards. In one, a grandson who was “helping” dropped some crocus bulbs into a window well. Apparently the micro-climate in that sunny well is zone 6 or so, because that’s where, early this week, the daughter saw buds appear which are now flowers. These are cell phone images the daughter texted to me (I took all of the other spring photos). She was pretty excited. She wins–first flowers.

The crocus Thursday or so, in bloom.

The crocus Thursday or so, in bloom.

The crocus in the window well earlier this week, budding.

The crocus in the window well earlier this week, budding.

2) Daffodils at MMU. Not blooming, but just starting to knife through the soil around the reflecting pool at Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto.

Daffodils poked through the cool soil on the shores of the MMU grotto pond.

Daffodils poking through the cool soil on the shores of the MMU grotto pond.

3) Young men growing in the reflecting pool. No, not really, the pool, now ice free, being drained for spring cleaning.

MMU facilities worker draining pond for spring cleaning.

MMU facilities worker draining pond for spring cleaning.

4) A bike (mine) in a bike rack at Warde Hall. The rack had been closed by a giant mound of snow shoveled there from a nearby walk. As you can see, the snow is not totally gone, but gone enough that the rack has emerged from winter hibernation.

My bike by receding glacier near Warde Hall, MMU.

My bike by receding glacier near Warde Hall, MMU.

5) Grandkids playing at a park. Finally it’s sunny and warm enough to do that. Then again, we do sled at this same park during the winter, but it’s not the same …

He will soon shoot down slide on his own. She will insist that I catch her, but she is the Overlord and I am one of her many minions.

He will soon shoot down slide on his own. She will insist that I catch her, but she is the Overlord and I am one of her many minions.

6) Grandkids who insist they walk home with me rather than ride with mom in the van. Shown is the Overlord, with her siblings in the background. Good for her, her older sister and her brother for walking, but bad for me. I ended up carrying the Overlord for quite a distance. Still, it was fun to be out walking.

Happy spring walk.

Happy spring walk.

7) Dry Creek, seen from the Boyson Trail. So much snow has melted that the creek, isn’t dry, but it isn’t frozen either, and that’s new.

The world is brown, but at least it isn't white anymore. And green is coming, we can tell.

The world is brown, but at least it isn’t white anymore. And green is coming, we can tell.

8) Some seeds sprouting indoors. My Chia gnome in my MMU Warde Hall office. Don’t judge me. It was a gift. The spring sunshine in the office is enough to aid sprouting that makes Mr. gnome look rather scruffy.

There's no beard like gnome.

There’s no beard like gnome.

9) Ebony and ivory together in harmony side by side on a piano keyboard in a classroom at MMU. I got to touch piano keys during my music lesson this week—progress! The key to the left of the two black ones is C. I need to learn all the others.

Piano in Warde Hall. The one in Tony's office is nicer, but they keys still look like this.

Piano in Warde Hall. The one in Tony’s office is nicer, but they keys still look like this.

10) Me in the morning with the blue sky behind me. I actually used this selfie for my other blog to show the crack in the mirror, but that looks like a nice spring sky to me.

Me with mirror crack. The door did it, not I, so no bad luck, right?

Me with mirror crack. The door did it, not I, so no bad luck, right?

There you have it, 10 images of what the bright, sunny, warmer, flower-filled future holds. You’re welcome.

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Before They Can Nest I Take Out The Bush


Corner of the deck, the bush before I start.

Corner of the deck, the bush before I start.

Well, the bush has been cut back to an impressive collection of stumps. There was an overgrown hedge-style bush by the corner of our deck. It was very tall, and over the years has spread out so that it overshadowed the steps leading to the yard, especially if it had rained.

Now, I didn’t particularly dislike that bush, and my philosophy where most trees and bushes go is live and let live. I liked the fragrant white flowers this bush has in June, and I liked that it was a frequent nesting spot, sometimes for robins or cardinals.

But, it was getting too big to manage. I could not trim it easily, and it was crowding other growing things. So my wife and I had agreed last year that it should come out.

But when? I didn’t want to take it out last year, since there might be young birds in there. So it was to be a winter job. And what a winter it has been. I assumed I would take it out over Christmas break, but that break came and went so quickly and so coldly that it didn’t happen.

With the calendar saying “March,” I was getting a bit antsy. I have already ordered some new flowers for this garden, partly under the assumption that it would be more open with this bush gone. And robins have become more visible again, a sign that, ever so slowly, spring is coming.

Grandkids were around Saturday, but after lunch I went out and got my limb saw, branch pruner and hatchet. And I attacked.

The bush put up a pretty good fight. It turned out that the limb saw was the most useful tool. As I worked, I gained a chorus of watchers. The grandchildren, armed with cardboard swords their grandmother crafted, sallied forth to observe and comment. Amelia kicked snow at me and giggled and chatted. Tristan was more direct—waiving a sword through the bars of the decks, announcing that he was helping, and hacking at the branches with his cardboard.

It took a bit more than an hour to reduce this old bush to multiple stumps. And longer to drag the branches to the back fence and toss them over. I had planned to drag them farther into the woods, but snow and ice have the back gate sealed.

I don’t like to see a pretty bush go, but there are five others of exactly this type growing in my yard at various places, and the birds have many nesting sites to choose from.

And I am happy that it was done on time. The only nests I saw were old crumbling ones from past seasons—nobody had tried to move into this bird apartment house yet this spring.

And now the Rose of Sharon and the Prairie Fire crabapple that had been crowded by this bush have room to grow.

An hour or so later. Lots of branches to drag away.

An hour or so later. Lots of branches to drag away.

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It’s Feb. 14—Gardeners, Where Are Your Flowers?


Fancy flowers from Target. A rose for my sweetie and for spring.

Fancy flowers from Target. A rose for my sweetie and for spring.

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The other side of the flowers.

OK, it’s a hard winter. The blizzard of 2014 has blitzed the East Coast with ice storms, feet of snow and snapped power lines.

Luckily, here in Iowa we’ve not faced that particular storm, but we have a boatload of snow. A few inches here, a few inches there—it has built up until the contours of the land lay hidden beneath a thick winter frosty blanket. The frost is feet deep in the ground and has played havoc with our pipes.

And cold. It’s been cold.

But, it’s also Feb. 14. Midway through the shortest month of the year. And although we can grow impatient for the turn of the season, it’s still weeks away.

Perhaps that’s a reason to celebrated St. Valentine and warm love today. Winter has us defiantly in it’s grasp, but it’s grasp is, ever so slowly, loosening.

I had to shovel snow yet again today and will tomorrow. But I also had to be extra careful, because of ice beneath the snow—ice caused because the pavement had been warmed the February sun yesterday before the snow fell.

At 5:30, it’s fading light, not full dark as it was before 5 in December. The sun climbs higher each day, and even today, when it got only to 19, where that St. Valentine’s Day sun struck pavement, it warmed that cold stone enough to melt the heart of winter.

So we buy flowers. For the ones we love. Love you, dear. And love flowers.

They lie sleeping deep in the frozen ground. But the world is slowly growing less frozen. In the second half of February, it’s inevitable that the strengthening sun will melt more of our mountains of snow. We’ll be in winter for weeks yet, but only weeks, not months.

So I’m happy to buy my sweetie a bouquet. To warm her heart. To remind me of coming spring. For the hope of future flowers.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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