Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hello Iris; So Long Rhododendron

My progress in the garden continues, and at last I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I tackled cleaning out the largest flower bed just in time for the blooming of my Siberian iris.  They are especially pretty this year.

My rhododendron bush, however, is not doing well.  I have no luck with them.  Over the years I have planted three bushes.  They look fine for a few seasons, and then start to go into decline.  I plant them in a sheltered, moist, semi-shady location, and feed them acidic fertilizer, but they never thrive.  It's odd, because I have no problems with azaleas which belong to the same family.  This year the rhododendron is mostly bare branches with some sickly looking leaves, and a half dozen clusters of flowers.

I've decided that after it blooms, I will put it out of its misery and dig it up.  I will plant an azalea in its place.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Father in World War II

My father was a veteran of World War II.  He did not talk a great deal about the war, but from what he did mention, and from records that I found from my genealogical research, I was able to piece together his wartime experience.

When the war broke out, my dad was not drafted, probably because of his age.  He was approaching his 30th birthday.  But because he and my mother did not yet have any children, he felt that it was his duty to enlist.  He enlisted in the army on December 28th, 1943.  By February of 1944 he had completed infantry training in heavy weapons at Camp Blanding, Florida.  He wanted to be a paratrooper, but he was too old.  However, there was a misprint on his birth certificate which enabled him to enter paratrooper school.  He completed that training in July of 1944.  In September of that year he made the crossing to Europe on the Queen Mary, the luxury liner that had been put to use for troop transport. 

He was in England and Scotland for a while until his unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, Company B, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, was deployed for battle.  He had missed the Normandy invasion, but he served in the Ardennes and Rhineland campaigns which put him in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge.  He was manning a machine gun on January 7, 1945, when he was hit in the leg by enemy fire.  It is due to that injury that I am here to tell this story.  As he was being taken away on a stretcher, the soldier who took his place at the machine gun was immediately killed.

My father spent the rest of the war in hospitals in Paris.  His wound had become infected, and gangrene began to set in.  If it had not been for the discovery of penicillin, he would have lost his leg.  For the rest of his life he had shrapnel in his leg.

He returned to the United States in May of 1945 and was discharged the following year.  He was paid $122.65 (including $15.85 travel pay) upon mustering out. 

My father's Purple Heart

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Garden Decorations

A lot of garden decorations are pure kitsch... think of garden gnomes and pink flamingos... but during my visits to garden centers this spring I found a number of items that I liked and bought.

This ceramic globe is supposed to be placed on a pedestal... a la gazing globes of Victorian gardens... but I find it interesting simply placed on the ground.  I have a couple other globes which I bought in previous years and which are strategically placed in the garden.

Today I found this interesting item created by a local artisan.  A piece of granite is sculpted to resemble an owl.

I also found today this garden plaque.  I definitely concur with its message.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Garden at Twilight

Last year I bought some solar-powered garden lights, and this year I bought a few more.  This is what my garden looked like this evening just after the lights came on...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Next month I will take a short trip to Chicago for a party celebrating the 25th anniversary of friends of mine.  I probably won't be doing any sightseeing, but I thought I would post a few pictures from a previous trip. 

In the summer of 2013, my friend Alejandro and I, during one of his visits to the United States, spent a day in Chicago.  We didn't try to cram in all the typical tourist activities or visit any of its great museums.  We just spent the day wandering around downtown.  Although the day was overcast, we had an enjoyable day, and Alejandro had a chance to see a bit of the "Windy City".

The Chicago skyline as seen from one of the parks along Lakeshore Drive
Michigan Avenue is one of the major streets in downtown Chicago.  It is also the city's most upscale shopping area, and is nicknamed "The Magnificent Mile."
The John Hancock Building stands along Michigan Avenue.  When it was built in 1968, it was the second tallest building in the world.
The Chicago Water Tower, which was built to pump water from Lake Michigan, was one of the few buildings in the central district to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Two of the city's early twentieth century skyscrapers overlook the Chicago River.  To the left is the Wrigley Building, built by the chewing gum magnate.  Across the street is the Tribune Tower, headquarters of the Chicago Tribune.

Millennium Park was planned to celebrate the second millennium, but due to cost overruns and construction delays, it did not open until 2004,   One of the most popular sights in the park is the large metallic sculpture called the Cloud Gate.  However, it is commonly referred to as "The Bean".
Looking down a side street from Michigan Avenue, you can see the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).  For 25 years it reigned as the tallest building in the world.
Chicago's most popular tourist attraction is Navy Pier.  It began as a municipal pier, and later was a training center for the Navy.  In 1995 it was revamped as an entertainment, dining, shopping and cultural center.  Frankly, I find it a bit of a tourist trap, but we went inside.  Alejandro was able to buy some Chicago souvenirs at the shops.

A final view of the high-rise buildings along the Chicago River.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Time to Start Planting

It's that time of year when my travel blog seems more like a gardening blog.

The last couple weeks have been spent cleaning out my flower beds, but up until today I have not done any planting.  Here in Ohio the traditional wisdom is that annuals should not be planted until Memorial Day.  By that time, the likelihood of frost is minimal.  However, it is not too early to plant hardy perennials.  It is my goal to eventually fill my beds completely with perennials so that I don't have to buy so many flowers each year.  I would only have to buy annuals for my flower box, my hanging baskets, and the pots that I set out on the patio.

Yesterday, and then again this morning, I went to a nearby nursery and started buying some new perennials.  Here are some of the plants which I bought.

This is called a lirope.  The variegated yellow-green leaves make it a nice foliage plant, but it also is supposed to have lavender flowers in the summer.  Since it tolerates both sun and shade, I bought several of them for various spots in the garden.

This foliage plant is called Japanese Blood Grass.  The tips of the leaves are red.  It does well in full sun or partial shade.

In my previous post I wrote that I have been removing some overgrown shrubs.  This has opened up a lot of room for planting flowers.  To the left is a Carpathian Bellflower, which will have bell-shaped blue flowers in the summer.  To the left is a Beard Tongue or penstemon.  It already has flowers and it is supposed to bloom until fall.  Usually perennials bloom once and then they are done.

This is a variety of erysimum called Limoncello because of its yellow flowers in the spring and summer.

This is a New England aster which will have purple blossoms in August and September.

I have not had any luck with the traditional bearded iris in my garden.  However Siberian iris has done well.  I found this, a Japanese iris, at the nursery today, and decided to give it a try.  It has nice variegated leaves, and unlike most iris, this variety blooms in the summer.

All of these plants are now in the ground.  Hopefully they will be happy in their new home.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Clearing Out

In addition to spending several hours each day clearing my flower beds of weeds, I have also been slowly working on another project.

The shrubs around my house, which were planted many, many years ago by my father, have grown too large.  Sometime in the next few years I want to have new siding put on the house, but there is no room between the house and many of the bushes.  So my ongoing project is to remove the shrubbery and plant smaller bushes farther away from the house.

Right now I am working on a huge juniper bush.  Each day I cut off a little more, and about half of it is now gone. 

In the photo you can see that there is also a taxus bush that was almost completely hidden by the juniper.  It only has a small section of green growth.  That is coming out too.  I am simply chopping them down to the ground.  I am not going to attempt to remove them by the roots because they are too close to the gas line (you can see the gas meter in the photo), and I don't want to dig there.  There will be plenty of room in front of the stumps to plant new bushes.

Last summer I removed two overgrown taxus bushes that were next to the juniper. Those I did remove by the roots.  That was a lot of work!

In the above photo you can see where those shrubs used to be, and that I planted a couple smaller ornamental bushes farther away from the house.

I still have a number of large bushes in front of the house which need to be removed.  (Fortunately my beautiful azaleas are not too close to the house.)  I'm beginning to think that I will call a landscaping company to take them out, rather than tackling the job by myself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

More Blossoms

More flowers in my garden.

My purple azalea is now in full bloom.

Jacob's Ladder...

Lily of the Valley...

I have leeks in my garden which I do not grow as a vegetable, but for their unusual and attractive flower.  Usually they bloom in mid-summer, so I was very surprised to see that one of the plants is already starting to bloom.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Early Bloomer

While I was working in the garden today I noticed a blossom on one of my day lilies.  This particular clump of lilies is always the first to bloom, but I can't recall ever seeing any flowers this early!

The clump of lilies had a number of buds on it.  I immediately sprayed it with deer repellant, because the deer love to make a snack of the day lily buds.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Time to Toil

It's that time of year again when every day, weather permitting, is spent working in my flower gardens. 

I don't know if it is because of the mild winter that we had, but it seems that every weed seed has germinated.   My flower beds are a jungle of weeds.  Because I have so many perennials, weeding is a slow, tedious process in which I must carefully pick out the bad growth (trying to pull each weed out by the roots).  Slowly my garden is beginning to emerge from its weedy cocoon.

The shade garden is almost complete.

This flower bed is filled with perennials, mainly a variety of hostas, ferns, astilbe, loosestrife, and filipendula.  I will not have to plant any annuals in this bed.  I will fill in the few bare spots with some more perennials.  I have been spraying my hostas with deer repellant, because the deer view my garden as a giant salad bar.

I can remember when I could work in the garden from morning to dusk.  Now, after four hours of work, my body protests and says that it is time to go inside.  When I look at how much remains to be done I despair.  But then I think of the days when I was teaching.  Back then I didn't have time to start gardening until Memorial Day weekend.  When I look at it that way, I realize that I have already accomplished a lot.

Today it is raining, so I have a day of rest!

Friday, May 13, 2016

May Flowers

Here are a few photos of what is blooming in my garden right now...


creeping phlox...



a pretty plant with an ugly name.
Even after it blooms in the spring, it is a very attractive foliage plant.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mexico Is One of a Kind

There is an old Mexican saying "Como México no hay dos" which loosely translates as "Mexico is one of a kind".

Yesterday for the very first time I uploaded a slide show to YouTube.  It is a montage of photographs that I have taken during my travels to Mexico.  I attempted to show the great diversity of the country from its Pre-Hispanic ruins to its colonial towns and modern cities... its people, art, natural beauty, food and handicrafts.  I realize that it does not truly reflect the entire nation.  Mexico City, Yucatán and Oaxaca are overrepresented.  I have been to other parts of the country, but these are the places that I have visited most frequently since owning a digital camera.  In my description of the slide show, I apologize to any Mexicans whose states and cities are not included.  

As a musical background I chose "Huapango", a short symphonic work by the composer José Pablo Moncayo.  It is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral Mexican music.

Here is the link to the slide show...

Mexico Is One of a Kind  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Taste of Colombia

Yesterday my cousin Gail and her husband Wes took me out to a restaurant which has been around for a number of years, but which was new to me.  We went to a place called "Barroco" in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood.

(image from the web)

The owner is from Colombia, and the menu features dishes made with "arepas", flat bread made from ground white corn.  It is sort of the South American version of the tortilla.  They are often served like a sandwich with a variety of fillings.

(image from the web)
As a starter I had "papas con maní"... roasted potatoes with slices of Colombian "chorizo" (sausage) in a peanut sauce.   For my main course I had an "arepa" filled with "ropa vieja".   "Ropa vieja" (which means "old clothes"!) is a type of beef stew popular throughout the Caribbean.   In their version the beef was cooked in a sweet tomato sauce with red peppers, black beans and cheese.  It was served with "yucca" (cassava) fries. 
Everything was delicious, but the food is very filling, and I had no room for a dessert of "flan".

Thanks to Gail and Wes for turning me on to this great restaurant.  I will definitely return!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Road Trip Out West - 2007 - Part Four

Continued from the previous post...

After visiting Mount Rainier National Park, we spent the night in Yakima, Washington.  The next morning, after leaving Yakima, we stopped at a viewpoint where we could still see Mount Rainier in the distance.

We once again crossed the Columbia River... this time much farther upstream than before.

We continued eastward, heading across the narrow, northern section of Idaho, and entering Montana.  Our destination was Kalispell near the western entrance to Glacier National Park.

That summer there were numerous forest fires raging through western Montana.  In this photo taken in Kalispell, those are not clouds on the horizon, but smoke from the fires.

The next day we drove across Glacier Park.  Most of this enormous park (16,000 square miles in size) is back country.  There is only one main road, the Going-to-the-Sun Highway.
It was built in the 1930s and was considered an engineering marvel.
Because of the nearby forest fires, the air was hazy.  I did not get many good photos of the spectacular scenery.


Glacier Park got its name because of the many glaciers on the mountain peaks.  Sadly the park's glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change.  Only 37 glaciers remain, and it is predicted that they will have all disappeared by 2030.

About half way through the park is the Logan Pass Visitors' Center.  This is the trailhead for one of the most popular hiking trails, the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail.  It is a 2.7 mile round trip hike, and climbs 540 feet to an elevation of 7152 feet. 

The path is dominated by Mt. Reynolds.
Looking back along the trail that I had traveled
An alpine lake and meadow beneath Mt. Reynolds
This mountain goat was resting in the shade, and was not going to be scared away from his cool spot. I saw quite a bit of wildlife during this trip, but this was the only good photo that I managed to take.
The end of the trail, a panorama looking down at Hidden Lake
For the rest of our drive through the park, the haze was so bad that we did not even stop the car to take pictures.  We spent the night at East Glacier Village, just outside the park.  A few days before, the residents of the village thought that they might have to evacuate because of the fires.
We continued the long, boring journey home across the Great Plains.  We drove along Route 2, which crosses Montana not far from the Canadian border.  Montana is a huge state... the drive seemed endless.  We eventually got on Interstate 94, and then Interstate 90 and home.