Dec 23, 2010

All About Yule Article

Here is a short article with lots of information about the Pagan Yule, or Winter Solstice. Though is has officially passed, beef up some knowledge so you can know about it for next year!

All About Yule

Dec 22, 2010

A Very Brief History of Jesus

I can't help but mention Jesus at a time so close to Christmas! December the 25th is thought to be Jesus' official day of birth. As you will discover, that date is really more conjecture at this point than actual historical fact.

Jesus of Nazareth is thought to have lived from around the year 5 CE (or common era) to the year 33 CE. He is the central figure of Christianity. Christians view him as the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament, and as the Son of God. Christians traditionally believe that Jesus was born of The Virgin Mary, performed miracles, founded the Church, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The majority of Christians worship Jesus as the incarnation of God the Son, of the divine Trinity (The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit). Jesus is thought be both a human man and a divine figure (as the Son of God).

In the year 33, Jesus was crucified (upon orders from the Roman Prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate), on Mt. Golgotha, in Jerusalem, along with two other people, who were both thieves. The charge against him was sedition against the Roman Empire. The Crucifixion happened on a Friday (what is now Good Friday). Upon his death, Jesus’ side was pierced by a lance (from which flowed blood and water) to make certain he had died. Later, he was entombed.

On what is now Easter Sunday, it is said Jesus rose from the dead and was taken into Heaven to sit at the right side of God the Father. The only witness to this resurrection miracle was Mary Magdalene. She alone went into the tomb, finding it wide open, and Jesus’ body missing. All that was left behind was the shroud in which Jesus had lay dead. Today, the Shroud of Turin (thought to be the actual shroud Jesus was entombed in) can be seen inside the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Northern Italy.

Christians and Catholics alike reflect on the story of the Crucifixion whenever they think about the concept of sin. Jesus was crucified and died for the sins of all humankind. His death provided salvation and also allowed for a reconciliation with God.

The birth of Jesus is celebrated as a national holiday in the United States each December 25th, but is observed and recognized worldwide. The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen for any number of reasons: 1. to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived 2. as the date of the Roman winter solstice, or 3. as one of various ancient winter festivals celebrated at that time.

In my opinion, the Catholic Church decreed his birthday celebration be moved to the Winter Solstice in order to correspond with the pagan festival of Yule. December was likely not the actual birth time of Jesus, despite common misconceptions on this point. In fact, scholars today believe Jesus would have most likely been born some time in the Summer, rather than in Winter.

There is much debate regarding the Bible on many things, but particularly with these questions:

1. How much of the Bible is factual history?
2. How many of the Bible stories can be verified through written accounts or archaeological evidence?
3. How much content is conjectural rather than historically accurate?
4. Which books of the Bible that describe events in Jesus’ life are 100% historically accurate?

I will not attempt an answer to all these questions. But, as to the final question, I will say we will never really know for sure! I believe all the Gospels which mention Jesus must be studied in order to fully understand the scope of Jesus’ life. Each contains a kernel of the real truth of Jesus, both the man and the divine.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us the clearest pictures of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, all the writers of these books have something important to say about Jesus. It’s only when we piece all this information together into one bigger picture that we even come close to finding the answer to the ultimate question: “Who was the real Jesus?”

Which Plants Do I Own?

What's the story behind my plant collection?
My plant collection is large and varied, from foliage plants to flowering plants, to cacti and succulents. Some plants were gifted to me, while most others I just bought on my own. A typical scenario when out shopping goes like this: I see a particular plant in a store that looks amazing and say to myself,  "I have got to have one of those!" I really do have a plant addiction, in the same way I am addicted to buying books!

Bitten by the plant bug!
I think I can safely blame my Mom for helping me grow in my interests with plants in general, especially over the past couple years. My Grandma Durecki is the person that originally passed her love of plants to both my Mom and my Aunt Colleen. Now I wish I'd had the chance to talk plants with Grandma before she passed away - of course a ten year old (my age then) isn't usually too interested in plants!

Additionally, while living with my boyfriend of 4 years (his name is Kenny) I come into contact with plants a lot, so the oportunity for finding a new green friend does arise from time to time. Kenny's Mom loves to keep plants, as does his Grandma Browning. Grandma has given me a cactus and my Flaming Katy plant, although she was not sure exactly what type of plant it was, until I googled it! Thank you, Google!

My best friend Brie is also familiar with many different plants, as she works with them daily. She also owns several, including Living Stones, Philodendron, and Christmas Cactus. We talk about plants all the time! I'll say it's certainly a favorite thing to do!

Almost all my plants are indoors, but a few of them do enjoy the occasional summer hiatus. I have a few outdoor flowering plants in the ground, none of which are currently doing anything, except for the Mums (which bloom in the wintertime). Even now, the mum's have finally wilted away. Winter is certainly here in Michigan! I divided the plants into 2 sections: indoor and outdoor.

My Plant Collection Inside the House
English Ivy (Hedera helix) - See the picture to the right. This plant is just over two years old now. We got it from Kenny's friend at work around Samhain 2008 (Oct. 31).

Many, many African Violets (Saintpaulia). These are without a doubt a sort-of-new favorite. I have officially gone nuts with the propagation of these beautiful African flowering plants. They can be temperamental at times, but are extremely rewarding and fairly hardy. The reward truly lies is a successful bloom. If given the proper care, AV's will flower several times throughout the year -- even in the dead of winter! There's nothing like an AV in bloom to bring some joy to your home amidst the frozen, snowy cold!

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) 'Spath' - My Peace Lily is in fact 2 plants in the same pot. I recently repotted them since the roots were becoming rather large... this plant sucked up so much water in a few days (during its primary growing period) it was almost difficult to believe!

Moses in the Cradle plant (Tradescantia spathacea)  This one has seen better days. The photo to the right is an old one. Hopefully, he will recover! I hacked it down since it was losing its uniformity, hoping to reroot the plant heads in the springtime. Because it has cane like stems with rosette like leaves, if should be fairly easy to root in barely moist soil. I shall see what happens!

2 Snake Plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) - Both of these plants are in fact one and the same. I divided the root system in half a couple summers ago, and in the process I accidentally killed a baby leaf that was shooting up! Sorry!  Also, Snake Plant was my very FIRST plant - ever! I bought it while out shopping at English Gardens with Brie. I needed a low light plant that a novice could easily care for in a basement room without killing it. We decided the best plant for my room was a snake plant. I even named him Max the Plant!

My Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is from last Yule, or maybe it was the Yule before that? I don't quite recall exactly when I got this tree. It is now branching out--very very slowly--but it seems to like bright light and the occassional misting. I let the soil go dry on top before watering again.

Pothos ‘Marble Queen’ (Epipremnum aureum) - The hanging basket in the bathroom needed something to go in it... I figured a trailing plant like Pothos would do it!

Janet Craig Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig') - A gift from our friend Rachel. She also brought me a Croton, but alas, that one was toast. I noticed Croton was dropping leaves every so often. They were weirdly discolored, so more than likely there was some type of pest problem (Spider mites?) causing the leaves to drop.

2 Lucky Bamboo plants (Dracaena sanderiana) - One was a gift from my Aunt Colleen, and it's still doing very, very well, despite being over 2 years old now! The other plant was Kenny's. We lost a total of 5 stalks, which turned yellow from an unknown cause and died--perhaps it was too much light? To this day I really don't know. So following the loss of 5 bamboo stalks,  I got him even more stalks to group with the single stalk that survived. Since repotting the bamboo from soil to water again (to avoid the dreaded Yellow Houseplant Mushroom--GASP) it has done very well, indeed!

Warneckii Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis) - A gift from Kenny's Mom. I regrew the root system after it got leggy. Warneckii has been fine back in his original pot =)

Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) - A gift from Kenny's Grandma Browning. Please flower already! LOL

Brazil Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) - This was a gift from my best friend Brie! Thanks, Brie! This philodendron is one of the most colorful plants I have ever seen!

2 Heart-leaf Philodendrons (Philodendron scandens oxycardium) - One was given to me by my Mom, who kept the plant as part of a dish garden from a funeral. Also in that dish garden was a Parlor Palm and Peace Lily.

Miniature Ficus (Ficus microcarpa?) purchased as a bonsai, but really I just let it do it's own thing. It does have a constricted root system which is on the deep side but purposely not very wide

False Aralia (Dizygotheca elegantissima) - A gift from Kenny's Mom... It's becoming a bit leggy. I may need to air layer it in the springtime!

Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) in two pots - two of the spider plants (pictured left) are now one larger plant in the same pot, and were a gift from Mom. The third plant is actually from both Mom and Aunt Colleen. The office has a few too many plants, so I was given the third spider plant to revive it a little bit. I snipped the baby plantlets and potted them up, then noticed the mother plant was terribly root bound, so I repotted it into a much deeper container. All 3 plants are doing very well, except for the leaf tipping!

I have several varieties of cacti, one hairy, and many with spikes! Ikea has a 3 pack of cacti in little 1.5 " pots; they are various types of cacti. I took them out of the package and potted them together in a 4 inch terracotta pot. They look really cute!

2 Parlor Palms (Chamaedorea elegans) - One was part of a dish garden (a mini palm), while the other plant was much larger with many separate plants in one pot. The small one got toothpaste residue on it from sitting next to the sink... I thought it was a disease, then Kenny's Mom showed me I could rub the spots away with my fingers. Needless to say, I was much relieved!

Money Tree (Pachira aquatica) - A beautiful plant that likes to have evenly moist soil. It's actually 5 plants braided together into one larger plant. I believe right now Money Tree is about a foot tall. All the foliage has stayed green -- no problems so far! I'm crossing my fingers!

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) - A red and green Christmastime plant, perfect for the holidays! I thought I had a pest problem when the leaves started getting white dots on them. It turns out, poinsettias are full of a milky, sticky sap. Overtime, the plant may leech some of the sap through the leaves, causing white spots to appear. Some newer leaves tried to form at the base of the stem, and turned yellow! Apparently this is also a normal occurrence. Poinsettia's prefer a warm environment, detest arctic cold, and should be allowed to dry on the top layer of the soil before watering again. Important tip: be sure to remove the decorative plastic covering from around the pot BEFORE you water your plant; otherwise, the root ball will become saturated with water (the plastic prevents the plant from draining properly) and may cause problems! This plant is my very first poinsettia!

Payer Plant (Maranta leuconeura) - I always loved these plants, especially the red and green and white colored ones. My plant is the simple green with brown/black markings. I have pruned it due to the browning leaf edges which, try as I may, I cannot seem to stop! Drat!

Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) - I loved this plant so much when I saw it at Meijer, I just had to have it! Cacti and succulents are one of my favorite varieties of plants, so I always wanted a Jade. I potted it in a 4 inch terracotta pot which it loves. They like a lot of light and only a little water!

2 Living Stones (Lithops spp.) - These little plants are complex indeed. Interesting and challenging to grow properly, they really don't need a whole ton of water, especially during their growing season (winter). They push out a new leaf through the cleft in the old leaf and suck up the juices of the old leaf. During this time they need no water at all! I'm doing my best to learn - I almost killed my first Living Stones, and my next try is going well (other than the accidental sunburn of the leaves!).

2 Rosemary plants (Rosmarinus officinalis) - The rosemary had a pest problem (most likely spider mites) a while back, but after misting with a bit of soapy water, the problem was solved.

2 Aloe plants (A. vera) - One very large plant and a baby plant, which comes from the larger mother plant. So far I haven't had any major issues with burns!

Large Wormwood plant (Artemisia absinthium) - I grew this entirely from seed. The photo is an older one (the plant is much, much larger now). It's doing very, very well. After pruning it a bit, the plant is sending out even more leaves!

Chives grown from seed - I left these outside a while after it got cold. I will have to see if they will make it...

Total number of indoor plants: 40 (see, I wasn't kidding about my plant addiction!)

The Plants Outside
The Chrysanthemums are now all wilted, as winter is officially here! It sure is cold and a bit icy outside. It's cold enough that even when it's sunny out, the  snow won't melt! It looks as though we are getting a snowy white Christmas this year. Happy late Yule everyone!  :)

I also have:
Hen’s and chicks (flowers red)
Daylilies (bloom when it gets cooler in the fall)
2 Marigolds
Mock Orange Philadelphus
Silver Mound Wormwood

The Lore of Christmas Plants

Are you curious about Christmas legends, pagan lore, and the history surrounding the many types of plants availible during Christmas/Yule season? If so, read on to discover The Lore of Christmas Plants!

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) – This tree dwelling cactus has dark green stems that are segmented at 1 to 2 inch intervals. The leaf margins are scalloped Whorls of satiny flowers dangle at the ends of the stems, giving the plant a graceful, arching appearance. Hundreds are available today in flower colors such as: lilac, deep rose, salmon, red orange, and white. Plants usually bloom in mid-late December and are very popular holiday decorations.

Holly (Genus Ilex) – Holly is an evergreen which symbolizes eternal life. Druids believed the holly or ilex was sacred. They thought this plant stayed green year round because it was especially favored by the sun. Christian legend says one winter night, the holly miraculously grew leaves out of season in order to hide the Holy Family from Herod's soldiers. Since then, it has been an evergreen as a token of Christ's gratitude.

Mistletoe has apparently been used as a decoration in houses for thousands of years and was associated with many pagan rituals. The church forbade the use of mistletoe in any form, mindful of its idolatrous associations. As a substitute, it suggested holly. The sharply pointed leaves were to symbolize the thorns in Christ's crown and the red berries drops of his blood. Holly became a nativity tradition.

Another legend about this Christmas plant says that a little orphan boy was living with the shepherds when the angels came to announce the birth of the newborn king. Having no gift for the baby, the child wove a crown of holly branches for its head. But when he lay it before Christ, he became ashamed of it's poverty and began to cry. Miraculously, Jesus touched the crown and it began to sparkle while the orphan's tears turned into beautiful scarlet berries.

Many superstitions surround the holly. It is a man's plant and is believed to bring good luck and protection to men while ivy brings the same to women. It is thought that whoever brings the first sprig of Christmas holly into the home will wear the pants that year. It was hung about the doors and windows to keep away witches, spells, evil spirits, goblins, and lightning.

Ivy (Hedera spp.) – Ivy had been a symbol of eternal life in pagan religions. The Christians believe it stands for the new promise of eternal life. In England Ivy is considered to be feminine while holly is masculine. It was the ancient symbol of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry.

Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) – Both a popular houseplant and a popular tiny version of the Christmas tree, Norfolk Island Pine is a fast growing tree, reaching heights of 200 feet in its native habitat. As a potted specimen, it needs ample bright light and lots of room to grow.

The first European known to have sighted Norfolk Island, and thus the Norfolk Island pine, was Captain James Cook in 1774, on his second voyage to the South Pacific on HMS Resolution. He named the island after the Duchess of Norfolk, wife of Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk (1685–1777). The Duchess was dead at the time of the island's sighting by Cook, but Cook had set out from England in 1772 and could not have known of her May 1773 death. Cook landed on Norfolk Island, and reported on the presence of large quantities of tall, straight trees which appeared to be suitable for use as masts and yards for sailing ships. However, when the island was occupied in 1788 by transported convicts from Britain, it was found that Nofolk Island Pine was not resilient enough for these uses and the industry was abandoned.

In the late 1950s a trial shipment of Norfolk Pine logs was sent to Sydney plywood manufacturers in the hope of developing a timber export industry for the Island. Although the plywood companies reported excellent results the industry was deemed not sustainable by the Norfolk Island Advisory Council who decided to reserve local timber production for use on the Island. The timber is good for woodturning and is extensively used by Hawaiian craftspeople today.

Gardenia (Gardenia spp.) – An attractive, glossy-leaved plant sets off the richly scented, waxy white flowers that grow up to 3 inches or more across. Flowers turn cream colored after a few days and then brown. Gardenia is available year round, but is most plentiful around the major winter and spring holidays.

Freesia (Freesia spp.) –  Freesias were taken to England by a botanist in the 18th century and their popularity quickly spread and remains strong today. The French have developed some of today's most popular hybrids. Freesia were named in honor of Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese (1795-1876), who was a German physician. This bulbous plant has fragrant single or double flowers in white, yellow, mauve, pink, red or orange colors. Stems grow to about 18 inches in length. Flowers last a long time; good for cut flowers. Freesia is available as a potted plant in late winter.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) – Shades of white, pink, red or lavender rise above the heart shaped leaves decorated with silvery or light green markings. Bloom period is as long as 5 months. They are most readily available from December thru February.

Laurel (Lauraceae family) – The first Christians in Ancient Rome decorated their homes at the Saturnalia with laurel. Pagan Romans believed laurel was sacred to the sun god Apollo. When Romans became more Christian, laurel became a symbol of Christmas. In the Christian sect it came to symbolize the triumph of Humanity as represented by the Son Man. Bay is also a name used for laurel. As the bay tree, the true laurel of the Ancients, is scarce in England. Substitutions such the common cherry laurel, the Portugal laurel, the Aucuba and others are often used.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Rosemary was used during the Middle Ages by housewives to spread on the floor at Christmas. As people walked on it, a pleasant aroma arose. Tradition has it that the shrub is fragrant because Mary laid the garments of the Christ Child on its branches. The night he was born, legend has it, the trees suddenly bore fruit and flowers blossomed out of season. The name rosemary is given, too, an association to the Virgin Mary's name, making it all the more fitting for the Christmas season

Mistletoe (Viscum album) – Mistletoe has long been a symbol of love, peace and goodwill. Mistletoe is an aerial parasite that has no roots of its own and lives off the tree that it attaches itself to. Without that tree it would die. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. Even the warring clans would stop their battles and claim a temporary truce when they would chance upon mistletoe.They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion.

From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. It was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions.

The story goes that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death, which greatly alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end. Balder could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it, striking Balder dead. For three days each element of universe tried to bring Balder back to life. Frigga, the goddess and his mother finally restored him. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) – One of the most delightful decorations at Christmas is the poinsettia. The usual color choice is the deep, vibrant red. However, there is a wide array of other colors, including pink, white, marbled, speckled and yellow. The colorful parts of the poinsettia, the bracts, are actually modified leaves. The poinsettia flower is small, green or yellow and situated in the middle of the bracts.

The poinsettia is named after Joel R. Poinsett, who served as the USA's first ambassador to Mexico, from 1825-1829. He saw this indigenous plant with large scarlet leaves encircling small, greenish yellow blossoms, which was the Mexican Christmas flower. He sent specimens back to the USA, where they flourished.

The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing.

One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course other children teased them when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today.

Nov 24, 2010

Chocolate Eggnog Martini

Here is a perfect martini recipe to share with friends or family around this time of year! If you love eggnog, this one's for you! Forget the brandy! Try this:

Note: adjust the amount of eggnog to suit your personal taste

3 shots eggnog (homemade or store bought - either is fine)
4 shots Creme de Cacao (chocolate liqueur)
4 shots vanilla vodka (Smirnoff or any vodka of your choice)

For a larger glass, double the above recipe. Add all ingredients to a shaker with lots of ice. Cap. Shake vigorously until ice cold. Pour into a frosted martini glass. Garnish with nutmeg and cinnamon. Sip. Enjoy!


Chocolate Espresso Eggnog Martini
For a coffee twist, use Three Olives (Triple Distilled) Espresso Vodka instead of the vanilla vodka. Contains caffeine!

Chocolate Mint Eggnog Martini
For a Christmas delight, use creme de menthe and creme de cacao together (with vanilla vodka) for a surprising combination. The trick is to use much less mint liqueur than the other ingredients so it doesn't overpower the others:

4 shots creme de cacao
4 shots vanilla vodka
3-4 shots eggnog

1 shot creme de menthe

Happy Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Noël, Sinterklaas, etc!

Oct 20, 2010

Caring For Houseplants While On Vacation

When You’re Away, Houseplants Will Play!
Keep your plants healthy and happy while you are away using these helpful tips:

If you often vacation in the summertime (when temperatures are warm), put temporarily orphaned plants outside. They appreciate the warm temperature and fresh air just like we do!

Water all your plants (both indoors and out) thoroughly before you leave the house. Some plants will be fine with just the one watering. Others will need constant moisture to some degree (to provide this, use the tub method, below; or try the wicking system, also described below).

If you have potted plants outside that concern you because you aren’t able to bring them in, sink the pot and all directly into the ground (especially if the pot is clay or terracotta) – The pot will soak up the surrounding moisture in the soil and utilize it for your plants.

To do this, simply dig a hole slightly larger than the diameter of the pot, and the same depth. Sink the pot into the hole; firm soil around it. If it rains, your plant will love the drink! When you return, dig up the pot and rinse it clean.

**Warning**  Just in case you are in a wet climate or swampy type area, I recommend you do not leave cacti or succulents outdoors while away – even if they are potted. Do not use the sinking pot technique with cacti! The wet area will prove too moist for a succulent (such as Aloe Vera or Jade Plant). If you insist on putting these plant types outside, place them in a shaded area on a table or surface away from the ground; you wouldn’t want them going mushy!

Outdoor plants don’t do well in direct sun. Choose good places such as under a tree, or at the side of the house in the shade. They will use much less water than normal when shaded.

Your outdoor plants will also be watered by the sprinkler (assuming you have one!)

Also, it's a good idea to place those moisture loving plants in a kiddy pool filled with a bit of water to give them plenty to drink!

Try to be gone no longer than 2 weeks. If your trip lasts longer, have someone come to house sit.

You can place plants (that are in clay pots) in the tub to water them while absent. Use unglazed bricks to set them on in the tub with just a few inches of water. Make sure water is touching the bricks. Your plants will absorb the water through the bricks (they are porous, just like terracotta) and then on up through the pots to your plant.

If your plants are in the bathroom for the duration of your trip, be sure to leave the lights on in the room. They will benefit from the fluorescent lights (even if the bulbs are standard types, the plants will still appreciate the light) which will effectively replace natural sunlight.

Setting Up a Simple Wicking System

A. Place plants in a circle around a large container of water

B. Use cotton twine and place one end deep into the water, with the opposite end set into each pot; bury this end a little bit in the soil

C. Make sure the water container itself is higher up than the actual pot. Gravity will drag the water down to your plants via the string

D. Be sure the leaves do not touch the string! Otherwise, they will get too wet and rot! Your plants should stay nice and evenly moist for those shorter trips! Tip: For water loving plants like a Peace Lily, set 2 water containers nearby, and wick 2 strings into the pot instead of one. That should easily satisfy Peace Lily's never ending greed for more ((and still more)) water!

With these easy tips for plant vacation care, you'll never have to worry about coming home to a bunch of dead houseplants ever again! Vacation with confidence!

Oct 16, 2010

Just a Few Wrinkles! - Blog of Note

Hey everyone, click below to check out my Mom's blog. It's called Just a Few Wrinkles!

There, you will learn all about health and fitness, wisdom and aging, beauty care, how to find the best beauty products, gardening, yoga, happiness, and much, much more! So go on over, pull up a chair, and spend some time at Just a Few Wrinkles!

Mom's veggie garden!

Orchid Care 101

Orchids (Orchidaceae spp.) grow naturally in tropical environments like a rain forest. They are a  large group of flowering plants with over 22,000 known species, and are perhaps the second largest group of flowering plants in the world. Some orchids even grow on rocks near rivers or streams where they receive constant moisture. Orchids also grow dangling from the branches of trees. Over time, these beautiful plants have adapted to warm, humid places. The easiest way to care for orchids is to try mimicking these conditions as closely as possible in your home. 

They have a reputation for being difficult to care for, but given the  right conditions, and assuming their needs are well met, they can live for years just like any other exotic houseplant. What most people don’t realize is that orchids love water and humidity. Because of this, orchids need a good draining mix and lots of air circulation – both down in the roots and around the entire plant. Orchids DO NOT grow in potting soil – this would most assuredly kill them! Instead, they are grown in a light, airy bark mix and clay, terracotta or glazed pots. Orchid pots have holes throughout the pot, in order to let the plant's roots breathe.

Most orchids love bright, indirect light (but not full sun). A southern window is the ideal location for most orchids, except Lady’s slipper and Moth orchids, which prefer less light (East or West facing windows are best). Place your orchids back a bit from the window to avoid direct sun.

Northern light would not be good for any type of orchid – In order to grow well they must have lots of bright light. Consequently, a northern exposure does not offer this important requirement. In case northern light is all you have, you can successfully grow orchids using only fluorescent lighting.

Although many orchid tags state “just three ice cubes every week” is enough water for your orchid, this is not true! Don’t believe it! The fact is, orchids need more water than just three measly ice cubes can provide.

That said, overwatering is probably the number one reason orchids (and in fact all houseplants) die. The second reason (magnified if the plant is already being overwatered) is lack of proper light. While watering your orchid isn’t an exact science, learning the needs of you particular plant will help you to better meet its watering needs. All orchids have slightly different needs. Even so, your best bet is to drench the plant and let it dry out slightly before the next watering. In general, it’s good to water your orchid every 7 - 10 days.

There are two good ways to water your orchid. The first is to bring it to the kitchen sink. Run it under water until the bark (or whichever growing media you have for your orchid) is thoroughly saturated. Drench well. It should drain freely – the last thing anybody wants is a soggy, wet orchid mix! These beauties need a steady supply of moisture. However, be careful not to overwater. It’s better to forget a watering than it is to water too much.

The second way you can water your orchid is: submerge the plant pot into a stock pot or bucket of room temperature water. The water level should come up to just above the lip of the pot. Leave the plant there for about 10 minutes. Take the orchid out of the bucket and allow it to drain thoroughly.

One symptom of underwatering is wrinkled leaves. If you notice the foliage wrinkling, try watering your orchid a bit more next time.

Symptoms of overwatering include yellowing foliage. If you notice this symptom, it means the roots are slowly rotting; the plant can’t handle too much water! Let it dry out thoroughly before you water again. However, yellowing leaves can also indicate underwatering, so try and keep track of how often (and how much) you water. I’m not asking you to measure the water out, just keep it in mind!

Checking the Moisture Level
Use a pencil (point side down) in the media to check the moisture level of the orchid. Leave it buried for about 10 minutes. If the pencil is dry on the end when you check it, you need to water the plant. If the pencil is moist, wait before you water again.

Orchids love humidity since it reminds them of their natural growing conditions. There are several ways you can boost humidity around your orchid:

1. Use a humidity tray. These can be purchased specifically for orchids, African Violets, and other humidity-loving plants. Or, to save a trip to the plant shop – create your own humidity trays using a plastic drip tray filled with glass gems, stones, bark, or even sea shells. Set the orchid onto the stones, and then fill the tray to just beneath the bottom of the plant pot. Change out the water every two weeks and keep an eye out for empty trays… The more often you fill the tray, the better your orchid will do!

2. Mist your orchid whenever you water, or more even frequently if you live in a hot, dry place. If your home has very dry air, try misting daily

3. Use a humidifier in the same room as your plant. This will boost the ambient humidity around your plants, and they will reap the rewards! Leave it running whenever you feel your plants need a humidity boost
Use something like this tray filled with gems and shells (above), which also works well for African Violets. Of course, for your orchid you will surely need something a lot larger than what's above!

4. Group your orchids close together, even on the same humidity tray. The plants will benefit from the moisture expelled and take it in through their leaves

A Specialized Plant Part
Some orchids have a feature on the base of the plant called a psuedobulb, which stores water (exactly like cacti and succulents store water in their leaves). These orchid types love water. When you water, just drench the plant. Before you water again, allow the orchid to approach some level of dryness. This is very important, since psudobulb orchids will utilize the water they already have stored. A psudobulb is exactly like the hump on a camel’s back. Remember this fact the next time you water! (Keep in mind: some orchids don’t have a psudobulb, so it’s a good idea to look at the base of your orchid to see which type you have)

Media and Fertilizer
Orchid growing media is usually composed of some combination of: Fir bark, perlite, and charcoal. Occasionally you’ll see coconut husk fibers included in the mixture. Orchid planting mix/media will drain very generously. Fir bark is very low in nutrients, so your orchid will need to be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer (such as 20-20-20 or 10-10-10) from time to time to maintain its beautiful blooms and foliage. When fertilizing an orchid, please remember: a little goes a long way! Use a water soluble fertilizer every other time you water – even in the winter! Shock! You won’t hear me say that very often! Be sure to fertilize monthly in the wintertime.

Types of Orchids
There are many kinds of orchids available for you to choose from. If you have eastern or western facing windows where you already keep plants, your best choices are the Moth or Slipper Orchid variety (since these prefer less light). If you have a southern or western window, look for any of the other plants listed below. Florescent lights are also available if you don’t have a South, East or western exposure to take advantage of.

Buttonhole Orchid
(Epidendrum spp.)
Blooms: Clusters of small flowers
Light: Bright light is best
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Cactus Orchid
(Epiphyllum spp.)
Blooms: Large, bright flowers
Light: Medium to bright light is best
Water: Keep this plant barely moist at all times (slightly wet); water less than other orchids

Corsage Orchid
(Cattleya spp.)
Blooms: Big, frilled blooms used to make corsages, hence the name.
Light: Bright light is best. Direct sun in the morning is okay, with just a bit in the afternoon
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Clamshell Orchid
(Encyclia spp.)

Blooms: Clusters of numerous small flowers

Light: Bright light is best

Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Cymbidium Orchid
(Cymbidium spp.)

: Long lasting flowers, grass-like foliage

Light: Bright light is best

Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Dancing Lady Orchid
(Oncidium spp.)

Blooms: This orchid’s flower actually looks like a little dancing lady in a dress, hence its name. The plant can produce up to 100 small blooms at once! Colors include red, white and yellow. The flowers have the scent of chocolate!
Light: Bright to intense light is best. Protect from direct sun if placed outdoors in the summertime
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings. Can have pseudobulbs.

Dens, Spray Orchids
(Dendrobium hybrids)
Blooms: Attractive flowers last for weeks at a time. Yellow, red, pink, or violet colors.
Light: Bright to intense light is best.
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings. Keep in mind their cane-like stems store water! Some varieties also have pseudobulbs.

Jewel Orchid
(Ludisia discolor)
Blooms: Maroon colored leaves with silver veins
Light: Medium light is best
Water: Keep plant evenly moist (drench, then water again just before the media dries out on top)

Moth Orchid
(Phalaenopsis spp.)
Blooms: Flowers last 6 weeks or longer and come in colors of white, pink or yellow, with a network of colorful veins throughout the petals. The flowers are moth shaped, hence the name
Light: Medium to bright; less light than most other orchids. Place the plant in an eastern or western exposure
Water: Allow media to go dry (about 1 inch below the surface) between waterings

Odontoglossum Orchid
(Odontoglossum spp.)
Blooms: Dramatic arching flower spray
Light: Bright light is best
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Lady’s Slipper Orchid
(Paphiopedilun spp.)
Blooms: The blooms include a pouch which looks like a slipper, giving this orchid its name. Blooms can last for 8 weeks, sometimes more. Strap-like leaves with large, waxy flowers. Comes in pink, brown, or white colors.
Light: Needs less light than most other orchids, on the moderate side. An eastern or western exposure will do nicely. Protect from direct sun if placed outdoors in the summertime
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Spider Orchid
(Brassia spp.)
Blooms: Spider-like flowers with graceful stems
Light: Bright to intense light is best
Water: Allow media to go slightly dry between waterings

Tailed Orchid
(Masdevallia spp.)
Blooms: Showy tailed flowers
Light: Medium to bright light is best
Water: Keep plant barely moist at all times

Vanda Orchid
(Vanda hybrids)
Blooms: Large long lasting flowers
Light: Bright to intense light is best
Water: Allow media to go dry between waterings

This post was made especially for one of my readers, Joe's Blog, who asked me a question about her orchid. Thanks for reading! And to all of you, good luck caring for and selecting your orchids! Have an awesome day =)

Oct 15, 2010

Lucky Bamboo 101

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is actually a member of the Dracaena family, and is not really bamboo at all. The kind of bamboo people confuse it with is in fact a grass which is eaten by pandas in Asia. They do look very similar, though! This type of Dracaena is a popular houseplant. Legend has it this plant will bring good luck to your home and family.

Most Lucky Bamboo plants are sold potted in clear glass containers with decorative glass gems all around the roots. These are ideal since they are pretty to look at, and they help hold your plant up! If you see Lucky Bamboo sold another way (i.e. in soil, bare root) try to look for little glass gems at the dollar store or online to help hold up your plant. Stones or pebbles also work for this. Simply repot the plant into a glass container with water instead of soil. (Lucky Bamboo potted in water is easier to care for than one in soil -- due to the fact that soils carry bacteria and many fungal diseases).

If your Lucky Bamboo container or pot hasn’t been cleaned out in a while, it’s a good idea to do from time to time, both for cleanliness reasons and the health of your plant. As the plant gets larger, its roots will grow longer and begin to fill the pot. It’s a good idea to give these leggy roots a trim. Also, because this plant is (usually) potted in water alone, algae will build up over time on the inside of the container and must be cleaned properly.

Read on to find out how to change the water and clean out your bamboo pot!

You'll need:

Lucky Bamboo
A large bowl
A cup with high sides
Your kitchen sink (or a place with running water)
Soap and water
Clean water for your plant

1. Lightly grasp your bamboo in one hand (see above).

2. Hold plant pot over the bowl.

3. Gently pull bamboo out of the container. Let all glass gems/stones fall into the bowl. Next, clear off all gems from plant roots.

4. Set bamboo into the cup (right); high sides prevent your plant from toppling over. Set aside.

5. Rinse out the container with soap and warm water. Next, rinse gems or stones free of any debris.

This step helps remove algae buildup and refreshes your gems (which surround the plant and are in direct contact with it); It is important the gems and container remain clean so bacteria doesn’t harm your plant! Changing the water periodically is also useful in preventing plant diseases.

6. If needed (using scissors) trim excessively long roots to a uniform length. You can remove up to (but no more than) 1/3 of the plants’ roots. Doing this keeps the plant from sucking down a whole ton of water, and also makes it aesthetically pleasing when displayed in glass containers.

7. Replace plant into the clean container. Hold the stalks straight and make sure they are centered.

8. Then, replace gems around the roots and stalks to stabilize the plant

9. Finally, water your bamboo with clean water (at room temp). Be sure to change the water every 3 weeks or so and always keep the roots covered in water!

General Care
Give Lucky Bamboo good light, but not direct sun; this will kill your plant! A western or eastern facing window works very well. Keep an eye out for any spotting or discoloration of the stalks. If you notice this, it means one of two things: either too much water, or the plant is getting too much sun. Fill the container with less water and move the plant to a less sunny location.

Watering and Your Container Size
Depending on the container size, the plant may need more or less water. Clear glass containers work well to help you keep track of the water level. For example, if your plant is small (less than 5” tall) the container won’t need to be filled to the top. If your plant is larger (7-10” tall or taller) you can safely fill the container to the top. (Be careful if the stalks are mostly inside the pot -- filling it with water all the way can cause rotting. If, on the other hand, the stalks are completely above the pot and not really inside [that is, underwater], your bamboo will be safe from rotting)

So generally speaking,
Shallow container – fill to top with water
Deep container – cover roots and fill about ¾ way up

Keep in mind, there are exceptions to this rule; I'm speaking generally here! Be careful when watering, but always keep roots covered. The leaves tend to get a bit dusty, so rinse them off occasionally. Yellowing of leaves does happen sometimes. I find this to be a normal occurrence with Lucky Bamboo. Simply trim them off with scissors to keep it looking nice!

One of the major mistakes people make with Lucky Bamboo is letting the roots dry out. Although the plant can stay alive for weeks (sometimes months) in a dry state, the plant needs regular watering to thrive. On the other hand, I have seen bamboo get too much water – this causes the stalks to turn yellow and rot. Once this happens, the only option is to buy another plant!

I hope this little guide will provide you with some tips on care and maintenance for your plant. If anyone has questions or comments, please let me know!

Oct 13, 2010

Samhain Lore and Recipes for Halloween!

Halloween Lore
Below are some excellent recipes for Samhain, the Celtic festival to honor those who died in the past year (and friends, family, or acquaintances who've died at any point in your lifetime). It is celebrated from October 31st to November 1st. The word Samhain is pronounced 'sow-en' and literally means 'summer's end.' It is held sacred by pagans and witches as the Witches' New Year, since it marks the ending and beginning of the Wheel of the Year, always constantly turning. It is common for witches to hold rituals at this time to honor or commune with the dead. The festival Samhain actually directly influenced the celebration of Halloween as it is known today (but that's a VERY long story, so I won't get into it here!)

The night of October 31st (Halloween) is a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is at its thinnest; therefore, this is truly an excellent night for divination. Parlor games involving apples are another popular pastime at Halloween, due to its associations with love divination. The apple has always been a symbol of sex, fertility and romance. Back in the day, people who underwent Handfasting (a pagan wedding) would sometimes exchange an apple as a symbol of their bound and love for one another.

El dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is traditionally celebrated in Mexico on November 2nd. The Day of the Dead is a time of remembrance, prayer and celebration to honor the deceased. Mourning is frowned upon - Mexicans believe one should celebrate death through life, rather than fearing or feeling saddened by it. Home altars to the dead are decorated with photographs, skeleton figurines, candles, foods, and much more. Many of the items are things the deceased person loved or cherished in his/her lifetime. Feasting, listening to music, singing, and dancing (all things associated with a fiesta) are all permitted activities during the holiday. Visits to grave sites often last all night long, and many families even sleep in the cemetery with their loved ones until morning.

Let me mention that Samhain is not a diabolical rite, a Black Mass, or a dance with the Devil. We do not worship the devil, make pacts with him, brew poisonous potions to taint the water supply, or feast on the flesh of human babies. Nor do witches sacrifice animals, unless they have no idea what they're doing. Witches who do any of these activities I have just mentioned will only get themselves into a slew of trouble, so please don't! My point is to clear up a few of the misconceptions people have about pagans/witches. And believe me there are a lot of them! We'd be here all night if I tried listing them all.

The Recipes:
Recipe from: A Witch's Halloween by Gerina Dunwich

5 lbs potatoes
1 head cabbage
1 onion
1 1/3 cups milk

1 stick butter
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

1. Wash and peel the potatoes. Remove the eyes, sprouts; cut into quarters. Put potatoes in a large pot of salted, boiling water.

2. Wash and chop the head of cabbage and the onion. Put them into the pot with potatoes. Cook and cover, 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3. Drain all this in a strainer and return to pot. Stir in milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mush together until blended.

Serves 6.
Chocolate de los Mexicanos
(Mexican Hot Cocoa)
A traditional treat for El Dia de los Muertos celebrated on November 2nd.

Recipe from: Sabbats by Edain McCoy

4 ¼ cups milk
4 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
5 tbs sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla
⅛ teaspoon allspice
1 shot tequila
Cinnamon sticks
Whipped cream

Serves 4

Melt chocolate over low heat. Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. With a mixer or wooden spoon, beat mixture until it stops boiling and becomes frothy. Stir in tequila. Serve immediately in mugs garnished with a cinnamon stick. Dust whipped cream with cinnamon.

Pumpkin Muffins
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup canned, mashed pumpkin
2 tablespoons milk

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside. Cream together shortening and sugar in mixing bowl until light and fluffy, using electric mixer at medium speed. Beat in egg. Combine pumpkin and milk in small bowl. Add dry ingredients alternately with pumpkin mixture to creamed mixture, stirring well after each addition.

Spoon batter into paper-lined 2 1/2-inch muffin-pan cups, filling 2/3rds full. Bake in 350 degree F. oven 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with butter and homemade jam.

Baked Harmony Apples

Recipe from: Halloween by Silver RavenWolf

8 Macintosh apples
1 cup brown sugar
10 tbs chopped raisins
1 stick butter
2 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
Ground cinnamon
Ground nutmeg
Vanilla ice cream OR
Whipped cream

Wash apples. Core apples at one end only. Mix together sugar, raisins and butter. Place apples in a baking dish, cored end facing up. Fill with brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle apples with spices.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a separate bowl, combine water with wine. Pour around apples. Bake for 45 mins, basting occasionally. Top apples with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Serves 8.

Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead)
(Another treat for El Dia de los Muertos, used as an ofrenda [offering] to the dead.)

Makes 1 large loaf.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/4 cup graulated sugar

1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

1. Heat the milk and the butter together in a medium saucepan, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add them warm water. The mixture should be around 110 degrees

2. In a large bowl combine 1 cup of flour, yeast, salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat in the warm milk mixture, then add the eggs and orange zest, beating until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of flour, and continue adding more flour until the dough is soft.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

4. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 to 2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape it into a large round loaf with a round knob on top. Place dough onto a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until just about doubled in size.

5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then brush with glaze.

6. To make glaze: In a small saucepan combine the 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over top of bread while still warm. Sprinkle glazed bread with sugar.

Samhain Oil

This oil recipe is for a very large amount of oil. If you wish, cut down the proportions of the ingredients to suit your needs. **Warning: Not for consumption. Do not ingest under any circumstances!**

1/2 dram Pine Oil
1/4 dram Frankincense oil
1/4 dram Patchouli oil
1/4 dram Lavender oil

Mix well and bottle. A good high altar oil for your rituals and anointing candles.

A Herbal Journey - Blog of Note

Here is a great blog I just found through a friend connection: it is called A Herbal Journey, and has some excellent information on herbs and their use, particularly in the pagan community! Lists of plant folk names abound! Please enjoy! The link is below.

A Herbal Journey

Oct 12, 2010

Peace Lily 101

Here are some basic tips for keeping your Peace Lily looking its very best:

1 - Keep the plant evenly moist (not dry to the touch, not soggy, but lightly damp)

2 - Water Peace Lily frequently

3 - Fertilize each time you water for increased flowering production

4 - Wipe leaves clean with a damp cloth or sponge

5 - Shower or rinse this plant monthly, but especially in the spring and summer

6 - Remove the flowers when they turn green

7 - Avoid leaf tipping by watering only with distilled water or filtered

8 - Trim the leaves to mimic natural leaf shape without cutting into healthy green tissue

9 - Repot into any good potting soil. Amend soil with sharp sand (aka builders' sand) for increased drainage

10 - Do give the plant ample light but not full sun

11 - Avoid shaded areas!

12 - Do display as a centerpiece (in any room you'd like) in a decorative or seasonal pot

13 - Slightly rootbound conditions may help flowering