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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mockingbird Love Song Serenade

Open windows and cool night breezes are part of the charm of summer. But nighttime sounds can go way beyond the chirp of crickets or tree frogs. Why in the world would birds sing at nighttime?

Should you be kept awake by the nonstop medley of a bird filling the long night hours with its ballad, it is most likely a mockingbird.

Before you let yourself even think about strangling that bird, find some interest and humor as to why it goes on and on and on.
The bird is a young male bachelor.
Imagine having a suitor trying to win you over by singing under your window!

Most birds learn the songs they'll ever sing before reaching a year old. But mockingbirds continue to listen and learn throughout their lifetime, copying the sounds of other birds. All mockingbirds sing during the day but only the male bachelors sing at night. Once that bird keeping you awake finds a mate, the singing will stop.

Rather than trying to block it out, focus on those repetitious songs and try to catch the recognizable sounds of other types of birds. You may be amazed how many different songs that bird knows. Though annoying at first, that "racket" just may lull you off to sleep after all, and once nature plays out and he finds a mate, you just may miss his nightly visits.

The law is on the side of these birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects the mockingbird. It is against the law to harm or kill any type of migratory bird.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Song of the Elder Fairy

When the days have grown in length,
When the sun has greater power,
Shining in his noonday strength;
When the Elder Tree's in flower;
When each shady kind of place
By the stream and up the lane,
Shows its mass of creamy lace
Summer's really come again
"The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies"

One of nature's medicines is the wild elder (Sambucus species). A shrubby, unruly bush found among hedgerows, this small tree is lanky and not much to look at when not in bloom. Attempts to rid unkept landscapes of this shrub are often in vain as it easily resprouts even after a hard pruning.

However, every June this versatile herb is beautiful as it is covered with large, saucer-shaped off-white flowers. 

These flowers can be gathered and used as a food source such as flower fritters, a wash or toner to maintain clear skin, soothing skin care salves, a medicinal tea to clear congestion in the respiratory tract, relieve hay fever or aid in reducing fevers. Poultices for minor burns, wounds and swollen joints are made with mashed flowers wrapped in layers of cheesecloth. Elder flower water was once considered a valuable beauty aid among women to keep the face blemish and freckle free, as well as a great aid for sunburn.


The following vinegar spritz combines elderflowers and rose petals with raw apple cider vinegar to create a soothing sunburn relief body spray.
A variation in the recipe for the sunburn soothing spray and we have a wonderful ph balancing facial toner. Raw apple cider vinegar helps bring balance to troubled skin and helps with blemishes.

Elderflower & Rose Facial Toner

Sunburn Spritz

The use of elderflowers for a balm or salve is a win win from the delicate skin of baby bottoms to the fragile skin of the elderly. The flowers are rich in anti-oxidants and contain anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties that help keep the skin healthy. Below is a very soothing salve which combines elderflowers, calendula flowers and lavender buds, all safe and soothing for any age.

Baby Bottom Balm
In the late summer, the flowers have turned to dark blue berries often sought after for jam, wine and syrups. If you wait too long the bushes are soon stripped clean by the birds. Don't eat these right off the bush. The fresh berries can upset your stomach. Dry or cook the berries before eating them. If you do collect your own elderberries, make sure they are the dark blue or black ones and not the red berries. The red berries belong to S. racemosa which is toxic.

Elderberry Syrup

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hydrating and Moisturizing Dry Skin...What's The Difference

The terms moisturizing and hydration are used interchangeably but they are not actually the same thing. Normally, when people have dry skin they go out and purchase a lotion and think little else about it. We reach for a cream or lotion to moisturize our dry skin without really thinking about what the purpose is for each of the ingredients. A bit more observation of what is on the store shelves brings us to the assortment of body butters and balms. The butters are advertised as containing the ultimate moisturizers for baby soft skin. So what is the difference and when is one better than the other?
Well, it all depends on the needs of the skin.

Our skin is the largest organ on our bodies. We don't often think about its function and importance until something isn't quite right. When you think about our internal bodies and the external environment, our skin is what supports and protects our entire system. Should the skin become out of balance, it doesn't take long for us to notice.

Our skin functions as both a physical and chemical barrier. It prevents the penetration from allergens and bacteria, prevents evaporation of water and helps maintain body temperature. Problems arise when there is a disruption in the skin barrier, resulting in trouble maintaining proper moisture balance.

Healthy skin is able to produce what are called lipid cells. The purpose of these cells is to trigger the skin's natural ability to protect from moisture loss. There is communication to the sebaceous glands to produce sebum which is our skin's natural oils. Should there be a disruption of this lipid barrier, the resulting loss of hydration leads to suffering from inflammation, dry flaky skin, itchiness, wrinkles and even trouble staying warm.

Environmental conditions such as cold, wind and sun can all upset the barrier function. Harsh soaps and cleansing products can strip the skins natural sebum. But there are situations when it goes beyond the occasional need for moisturizing due to such things as dry indoor heat during the winter. Autoimmune conditions can play havoc on the normal functioning of our bodies and being the skin is one of our organs, it is vulnerable as well to disruption. Eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and lupus are examples of such aggravating chronic conditions. Allergic reactions to medication can also cause detrimental issues with the skin.

The natural barrier of skin is the outermost layer of the epidermis called the stratum corneum. Its function is to prevent invasion from threats such as bacteria and allergens and prevent what is called trans epidermal water loss (TWEL). Healthy skin shouldn't need continuous help from moisturizers to prevent evaporation of water from the skin. There are multiple stacks of flattened cells called corneocytes which are layers and layers of dead cells with a surrounding oily water-repelling coating. This provides a barrier to the escape of water and protection from the environment. The mixture and structure of lipids in the spaces between the corneocytes allows the correct maintenance of the barrier.

The loss of the lipids that sit between the skin cells results in flaking, tightness, redness and itching. A damaged barrier affects nerve endings which lead to itching that goes beyond the typical satisfaction of scratching an itch and that's the end of it. This type of itching only gets more aggravated by scratching. It's almost like a domino affect where to start scratching starts a chain reaction where the itch pops up here, there and seemingly everywhere. Scratching to relieve the itch further injures the barrier causing redness and inflammation. Anyone who suffers from dry skin conditions knows very well by scratching there is increased risk of injury and infection but it is very difficult to break the itch, scratch, itch cycle.
Here is a very good article by dermatologist Dr. Gil Yosipovitch about how itch can be a disease in itself.

When skin is having trouble maintaining proper moisture, what it needs is first hydration and then creams, lotions or butters to hold in the moisture. Moisturizers are formulated to hold moisture in and hydrating products are to increase the water content of the skin which then helps moisturizers do their job. What are first needed are humectants, such as vegetable glycerin, aloe and honey. They absorb water from the air and bind it to the skin.

The most effective creams and lotions for dry skin combine the hydrating effects of water and the lubricating effects of oil(s). The term for trapping in the water to prevent evaporation is occlusion. Good occlusion ingredients to look for are cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter, coconut oil and beeswax. The barrier created is called hydrophobic or "water hating" which reduces TEWL or transepidermal water loss.

Ingredients that soothe, lubricate and bring wonderful relief are those that help our skin feel smooth and supple. These are the emollients that help the skin repair the damaged lipid layer through the cell renewal process. They penetrate the outer layers of the stratum corneum. Plant oils, cocoa butter, lanolin and shea butter are good examples of emollients.

Jojoba oil is so close to our natural sebum that it is an excellent lubricant and help with barrier repair. Castor oil and coconut oil are very high in triglycerides which are very moisturizing.
Linoleic acid is one of the most significant lipids for barrier function. Oils high in linoleic acid include rosehip seed oil, hemp seed oil, pumpkin seed oil and evening primrose oil.
Lecithin is high in phospholipids which are a class of lipids. .
Olive oil and wheat germ oil are high in squaline.
Shea butter and mango butter are high in fatty acids and sterols.
Other wonderful plant oils for skin health include sweet almond, apricot, sunflower, avocado and grapeseed. High in antioxidants and vitamins, these are all considered nourishing "skin food"

Hydrating ingredients make the skin more receptive to absorbing all the beneficial ingredients in the moisturizer. A good lotion or cream has the benefit of both hydration and moisturizing. This is why for severely dry skin, to just slather on oil based salves, vaseline or butters, though it feels wonderful at first, you'll wonder where it goes since the skin seems to need frequent applications.That is because these barriers don't have the moisture that is normally in the skin to help them absorb.

The difference between a cream and a lotion is the oil to water ratio. Lotions are lighter due to the higher water content. Body butters may or may not also include liquid plant oils in addition to the solid butters such as shea, coconut oil and mango, but don't contain any water. Depending on the needs of the skin you can choose which is best for your situation. Once the skin is showing signs of improvement, you may only need a light lotion. Butters are rich and help skin feel baby soft, and does reduce loss of moisture, but won't directly moisturize. The best way to use moisturizers and body butters is to apply to dampened skin such as after a bath or shower. A layer of water on the skin prior to applying the moisturizer or butter is ideal.

A healthy skin is our first impression to the world so do what you can so you glow!

Meadow Muffin Gardens

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Holiday Quick Breads, Entertaining, Gifts

Home baked goods are always welcome on any party table or in a gift basket. Recipients of such thoughtful offerings just know a little touch of love is sprinkled into every batch.

Pumpkins, apples, dates, nuts and cranberries are tradition in holiday festivities and what better and easier way to use them than for quick breads. Below are the recipes for an apple bread, a pumpkin cranberry bread, a date/nut bread and a cranberry orange bread. Quick breads freeze well so you can get some holiday baking done early.


3 cups chopped apples
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts or 1 cup rolled oats
2 tsp vanilla

You'll need two bowls
Peel and chop the apples
Combine the apples and sugar
Let sit for 30 minutes
Add the oil and eggs
Beat well
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients
Stir in the nuts (or oats) and vanilla
Dip into 2 greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes
Cool before removing from pans


3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
2 cups pumpkin
4 eggs
2 cups dried cranberries

You'll need a large bowl
Combine the dry ingredients and sift well to blend
Add the oil, water, pumpkin and eggs and mix thoroughly
Fold in the dried cranberries
Pour into 2 greased loaf pans
Bake at 325 degrees for 60 - 70 minutes
Cool before removing from pans


2 cups chopped dates
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts

You'll need three bowls
Pour boiling water over dates and baking soda
Set aside
Beat eggs and sugar
Blend in the oil and vanilla
Combine the flour and baking powder
Add dry ingredients alternately with the date mixture to the batter
Fold in the nuts
Pour into 2 greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes
Cool before removing from pans


2 cups sugar
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tbsp grated orange rind
2 beaten eggs
4 tbsp melted butter
1 cup orange juice
4 tbsp hot water
1 1/2 cup chopped nuts or raisins
2 cups cut up cranberries

You'll need one large bowl
Combine the dry ingredients
Make a hole in the center and add the eggs and wet ingredients
Blend well
Fold in the nuts (or raisins) and the cranberries
Pour into two greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes
Cool before removing from pans

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


This little cookie nugget is the perfect grab and go morning meal for those who say they just don't have time for breakfast. Loaded with hearty ingredients that will hold you over without the empty calories of typical baked goods.

The prep time on the recipe said 10 minutes, but it took me 15 minutes just to gather together all the ingredients! With 14 ingredients your counter will be crowded but what a win win for a cookie. There is oat flour rather than wheat. There is only a fraction of the usual sugar called for and the type used is brown sugar rather than white. There is no added fat such as unhealthy shortening. The fat comes from peanut butter and needed moisture comes from pumpkin. Rolled oats help hold it all together and additional taste and sweetness come from dried cranberries and coconut.

Basically, this sounds like a granola shaped into a more portable form. Not sweet at all, it is still tasty and delicious, great with milk or coffee. Perfect for morning but also wonderful for the lunchbox or after school snack

These cookies are chewy rather than crispy. They freeze well and are good warmed up, still half frozen or room temperature from the cookie jar.

By Sarah@The Gold Lining Girl

1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt

In a large bowl, whisk together the above dry ingredients

1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1/4 cup melted peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

In another bowl, whisk together the above wet ingredients
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Fold in the nuts, coconut and cranberries

Drop by spoonfuls onto either parchment lined or greased baking sheets
Bake at 350 degrees
10 minutes for small cookies or 12 - 14 minutes for large cookies
Cookies are ready when lightly browned
Remove to wire racks to cool
Store in a cool, airtight container

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower...A Butterfly Garden Must Have

Just as the yellows of sunflower season begin to fade, late summer unfolds the bold orange of Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower (rotundifolia). Beautiful and plentiful orange 3" wide daisy-like flowers on long stems, this plant makes for a spectacular backdrop in the garden or beautiful against a barn or fence.


A butterfly gardeners dream, Mexican Sunflowers attract several types of butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and later, seed loving birds. To further encourage butterflies to your garden, plant not only sunflowers for nectar, but Butterfly Weed or Common Milkweed for the caterpillars. Since the bloom time is late summer, the timing is perfect for traveling monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico for the winter.


Native to Mexico and Central America, Tithonia is a late season annual that will gladly thrive in a home garden as long as it gets enough sun, not too rich soil and not what they call wet feet. Not exactly drought tolerant, Tithonia is more of a water meter. During hot spells they can wilt a bit if not getting enough water. If given too much fertilizer (nitrogen) you'll get a lot of foliage growth and height but a lack of flowers. Since they can reach 6 - 8 feet tall, strong winds can topple them over, but unless the roots are actually pulled out of the ground, often they'll bend a bit to continue reaching upwards towards the sun. Some people pinch them back while young to encourage a more bushy look rather than height to lessen the risk of broken branches or falling over in a storm. Though not required, deadheading will prolong the blooming time and avoid their looking straggly by late season. In general, these flowers are survivors.

You can buy already started plants from the nursery in the spring, but these flowers are easy to start from seed. Two things to remember are to not plant too early and not to plant too deep. Here in zone 6 I wait till June to plant these heat loving sunflowers. They need light to germinate so barely cover with soil. These sunflowers are multi-branched so they need room to do their best. Thin out the plants to be about 36 - 48 inches apart. By October the flowers will start going to seed which are relished by the birds. Also, the dropped seed will happily return to reseed in the spring.

Tithonia is named for Tithonus, a Trojan prince who, in Greek Mythology, was the love of Eos, the goddess of the dawn.

By mid-October these beauties are a good 6 feet but soon to go to seed

Below is the tale of where Tithonia got its name:

Eos and Tithonus (A Greek Myth)
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

Long ago the goddess Eos fell in love with Ares, the god of war, and like so many others, he could not resist the beauty of this goddess of the dawn. Rosy-fingered Eos dressed in long robes of saffron, and sitting upon her throne she glimmered and cast a look upon Ares he could not resist.
Alas, Aphrodite heard news of Ares' love, and bursting with jealousy, she cast a curse upon Eos: The goddess of the dawn would never stop falling in love.

And so it was that time after time, Eos fell in love with mortal men. This was a sad fate for a goddess, for mortal men do not live forever as goddesses do. But of all the tales of heartbreak, there was no sadder story than the tale of Tithonus.

Tithonus was a proud young man, a prince of Troy, handsome and brave, and the moment Eos saw him, she fell deeply in love. That was her way, but this time she decided she must carry him away with her, and so she brought him to her palace, away from his homeland.

Naturally Tithonus loved Eos. Who could resist the love of such a beautiful goddess? Just as she does today, in those years long ago, Eos woke the world each morning with curling rings of light, and every morning she mystically brought the world out of darkness. Whenever Tithonus looked at her, he felt a glow, the way so many people feel at dawn -- as buoyant as an April morning on those days when the first buds begin to bloom.

Tithonus and Eos lived together happily, and they had two sons, Memnon and Emathion, who also became famous among men and gods. All seemed well, but as time passed, Eos remembered something she had forgotten: Mortals do not live forever.

Eos began to mourn the future. How would she survive without her love? She could not imagine such a life, and so she asked the greatest god of all, Zeus, to grant Tithonus immortality.
"Please," Eos pleaded, "let my beloved Tithonus live forever." Her eyes filled with tears, her skin flushed, and even Zeus was moved, and so he granted her request.
Now Tithonus was immortal.

Never was there a happier man. Loved by a beautiful goddess, he was a proud father and ruler of a bountiful land, and Eos too was joyful, but they hadn't realized one thing.
Tithonus would live forever, but even Zeus did not have the power to make him a god. And so, as time passed, Tithonus, like all mortals, began to age. First Eos noticed the wrinkles upon his brow, and as the years passed, his muscles began to grow weak, his arms and legs grew slender, his hair grew gray and thin. Even the light of his beloved Eos no longer gave him the strength it once had.
When Eos understood Tithonus's fate, the sight of him filled her with such sadness that she could not bear to look at him. So she left him alone and traveled, falling in love with others.

Eos fell in love with other mortal men and other gods, and when she returned to Tithonus she would see her once-handsome beloved withering away. Day after day, he grew older. Like a shadow he roamed silent palaces of the gods of the east, thinking of long-ago days, remembering Eos' wish for his immortality, and ashamed of his desire for it.

How arrogant he had been. He hadn't thought of the future. In his youth he had never even imagined waste, and now here he was wasting away. Even love and beauty and power could not save him. Soon he wanted to be like other mortal men. He wished for the return of the natural order of life.

Some mornings when a soft breeze parted the clouds, he looked down at the dark world where he had once lived, and again he looked at Eos. Seeing her mysterious glimmering face and her exquisite light, he remembered the way she had once loved him. He watched with longing as the gloomy darkness below parted, and the rosy light of his beloved Eos warmed the world. This made him still sadder, for her warmth and glow were now lost to him, and he began to sing, "Give me back my mortality." But even the gods could not grant this request.

And now the rosy shadows of Eos bathed him in coldness as he looked down at his wrinkled feet, and cried out to Eos: "Every morning you renew your beauty, but I am a fool, a fool who desired to be different from his fellow men, and now I cry to you, forever. I will never stop singing this song. I sit here remembering what I cannot be."

Eos could bear this no longer, and so she used her powers to transform this shell of a man into a cicada. She watched as he emerged from the ground, his body pale but fresh as he shed his old skin, wings spreading where once there were arms, and that voice, singing on, and on, and on.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tobacco Flower, Heirloom Nicotiana Alata, Jasmine in the Air

By the end of the summer season when many of our annuals are petering out, the stately tobacco flower will be just coming into its own! A majestic plant named for the 16th century French diplomat Jean Nicot, he once believed it was a cure-all for just about everything. While historically the leaves were used as a relaxant, it is now known to be highly addictive so fell out of favor medicinally. However, it does make for a great pesticide. Soak the dried leaves to make like a tea and then put in a foliage sprayer to apply to your garden plants.

Gardeners looking for the large, old-fashioned heirloom Tobacco Flowers won't find what they're looking for at a nursery. These tall, Jasmine smelling, night blooming beauties need to be grown from seed which can be found through seed banks or catalogs. "Only the Lonely" and  "Perfume White" are good varieties. The seeds may reseed themselves on their own or you can save those seeds and replant in the spring (wait till about 2 weeks after the last frost date for your area).

Technically a perennial, Nicotiana alata, is grown as an annual in areas with a colder winter. Flowering tobacco belongs to the nightshade or solanaceae family. Since it is in the same family as potatoes and eggplant, don't plant near each other or there is a greater chance for the pests, hornworms and flea beetles, to have a feast. Should you have a problem with flea beetles, (pin holes in the foliage) try floating row covers while the plants are young and/or diatomaceous earth. If you have plants that seem to just loose their foliage, it is probably the tobacco hornworm. Large healthy plants won't actually die from these green caterpillars, so if you want the hummingbird moths to later visit your night blooming flowers, you cannot kill all the caterpillars. But if you must kill them, hand pick them off or apply bacillus thuringiensis.

Tobacco Flower at its full size
Tobacco Flower five petaled tubular flowers
Nicotiana seeds germinate quickly in warm soil and being so small, just barely cover when planting. Choose an area with full sun and rich soil. The tall type of tobacco flower grows a good 5 feet tall and don't bloom till late in the season. The garden pack varieties are small, compact and are bred to flower even while still in the nursery packs. What they have in color, they lack in fragrance. If you want the sweet scent of jasmine, you need to plant the heirloom type, Nicotiana alata. The leaves are large as you'd expect from the tobacco plant. Fuzzy and sticky, the flowers look like long trumpets with a flare on the ends which are actually five petals.

Though nicotiana likes full sun for best growth, the flowers tend to droop in the heat and wait to perk up in the cool of the evenings. Some shade is tolerated in areas with really hot summers.
Plant in an area where you can enjoy them at night. Spending time outdoors on summer evenings is wonderful with the intoxicating scent of jasmine in the air.

The flowers are a great attraction to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds during the day and moths during the evening.

Two good sources for getting your seed are Select Seeds and Renee's Garden

Once the flowers fade and go to seed, it is easy to save the seed. Below is a video showing how to gather and save tobacco flower seeds.

Tobacco Flowers going to seed