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Monday, October 29, 2012

Go With The Flow..In Yoga and Life


Tired of going through your days "feeling like crap", feeling older than your years? Do you feel you are constantly pushing off your work-out program because other obligations of seemingly higher priority keep popping up and by the end of the day you are too tired to care?

For years I had been a faithful follower of Vinyasa yoga and swore by it for helping me cope not only with Lupus aches and pains but also for the "me" time I needed in dealing with stress. Life itself can be stressful, so the best thing is to not let things that bother you build to the point you are a tightly wound knot. Use the gentle movements of yoga to stretch out those knots. Lengthen the spine, relax the  muscles, rotate the joints, free the mind. All of these will help release tension, physically and mentally, and you may notice a reduction in back pain and headaches. The hardest part may be to carve out a private hour at least twice a week to be left alone. Consistency is the key to yoga. Everyone starts with baby steps but if you stick with it you'll be amazed how your body just seems to open up. Once on that mat, something magical happens.

Vinyasa means "breath-synchronized movement," and Vinyasa yoga is a series of poses that will move you through the power of inhaling and exhaling. Vinyasa movements are smoothly flowing and almost dance-like, which explains why it is sometimes referred to as Vinyasa Flow or just Flow.
Vinyasa Flow began as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga by a Yogi named Sri Tirumala Krishnamacharya. He was given a place to teach yoga and eventually taught a young boy named Parrabhi Jois his learnings on the power of breathing. Jois then established an institute for practicing the specific form of Vinyasa yoga. Like all styles of yoga, Vinyasa has both mental and physical benefits. Physically, sweat expels toxins and re-energizes your body. Mentally, the synchronized breathing relaxes your mind and helps to release any blockage of energy flow throughout your body.

No matter what your age or physical fitness level, yoga is a wonderful and rewarding addition to your routine. Make it not only a form of exercise but a lifestyle. The point of yoga is not to contort yourself into positions you fear will cause injury, or mean you are somehow now associated with a particular religion. It is meant to move the body and breath so you learn to calm the mind, release tension, stretch your spine, and overall, better handle stress.Yoga is a program you can do in the privacy of your own home, year round, at your own convenience, as well as offered at many locations for those of you who enjoy the company of others to keep you motivated. Ideal for beginners because you can adjust the movements and build on them to eventually reach more of a personal challenge.

Those of you suffering from an autoimmune condition such as Systemic Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis may find it more of a challenge than ever because more likely than not, you are dealing with pain on top of just the lack of energy and time to stick with a program.

The first misconception you have to get past is that yoga involves pretzel like motions impossible for people who already have difficulty with flexibility.  One of the most important things all of us, whether you have a chronic condition or not, is to realize the importance of movement and proper breathing techniques. You have to work through the stiffness or like any machine you'll lock up altogether.  It may take everything you've got to start and then actually finish the session, but once done you'll realize it is a good hurt. Learning about the importance of better posture, proper breathing, and a stretched out back will greatly benefit you in dealing with pain management. Many people don't breathe properly. The tendency is to shallow breathe, especially when upset. Learn to deeply inhale, lifting the diaphragm as you fill those lungs to capacity and exhale slowly.

"Challenge your limitations while remaining sensitive to them."  That is a statement by expert and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga, Baron Baptiste.  His methods utilize the 'flowing of postures' which create heat and energy.  His techniques help our minds and bodies release accumulated tensions and open pathways of blocked energy, allowing life's energy to flow freely through every part of our being.  For improved health it is paramount to open up those pathways which will increase the flow of oxygenated blood to our organs.  The opening up of the spine helps release those everyday stresses we soak up like a sponge. Discover the relief found with what is called "meditation in motion". Baron Baptiste stresses the importance of taking care of what he calls fragile creatures... the knees, neck, and back. Ask any physical therapist and it is very likely they will tell you those areas are very often the ones needing treatment.

Baron Baptiste wrote a book, "Journey Into Power" which came out in 2002. This inspiring program helps you to lose weight, increase your physical and mental strength and stamina, and develop an inner sense of calm composure. Known as 'The yoga master for the stars', his gentle approach is as apparent on his DVD workouts as is evident from the book. Power Vinyasa yoga is described as meditation in motion. Poses are not the complicated twists often associated with yoga. His gentle, encouraging voice guides you along every step of the way, with alternatives for the harder moves.

 There is the website with an abundant source of activities and information, but if all you want is the exercise dvds, they can be found on shopping sites such as amazon, ebay or google, Available are a number of great dvds and even vhs tapes from back in the 1990's that are from beginner to intermediate. Below are a few of my personal favorites.

Baron Baptiste Foundations of Power Vinyasa Yoga
Baron Baptiste Soul of Strength
Power Yoga level 2 The Next Challenge

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nature's Fury

"Mom, people say when bad weather hits it is "God's fury". Does that mean He is mad at us?"

Oh, from the mouths of babes. A classic moment when the child becomes the teacher in that such questions make us adults think enough to perhaps learn something.

In 2011 we had Hurricane Irene and now we have Hurricane Sandy to contend with as she makes her way up the east coast of the United States. As we prepare for the likelihood of damage and power outages, that question from years back popped into my head. I'm not sure what exactly I had said in response at that time, but with seemingly one natural disaster after another, it does make one ponder life in general.

 The human race has always interpreted such life events with various explanations:
Have we always had such catastrophic weather but now with the media we are notified and caught up in every bit of news about climate changes all over the world?
Are we humans the cause of the chaos by upsetting our ecosystem?
Has God had enough of our messing up His creation and sending us a clear message of the consequences?

Out of curiosity I looked up man's history of thinking about such events.

Prior to 1500 BC world events were governed by the gods of a particular religion or mythology. Everything in nature contains a spirit and the earth is like a Great Mother. Prayer and sacrifices were made in efforts to make life a bit easier.

Classical Greece (400 - 100 BC) brought us Aristotle and Plato who established the foundation for the development of science and the traditions of the western world.

By Medieveal times (400 - 1400 AD) a Christian God reigned over everything. Life was a strict hierarchy where God ruled at the top with children and animals at the very bottom. The "Will of God" was paramount; what the Church dictated was how life was or the person suffered the consequences. Human actions were not explained, only judged as good or evil. God was feared in the literal sense. When bad things happened people felt somehow they deserved to be punished.

During the Renaissance (1500 - 1850 AD), God was still to be behind everything and set things in motion, but science provided an objective view of the universe. By the late 19th century all spiritual forces were removed from the universe and everything was explained objectively through science.
Since nature was thought to have no meaning, it was common thought to exploit it for whatever it was worth to enhance the life of humans. It was thought that technology could solve all of our problems.
As people became more literate and had access to reading material they began to think for themselves about matters of spirituality and behavior.

So as our population has grown to nearly seven billion people, we can now deal with the consequences of our actions and try to clean things up and find alternative sources of energy to fuel our modern wants and needs.

Christians today feel they can have a personal relationship with God and the term 'fearful' not to be interpreted literally, but rather a matter of respect and awe.

To interpret our weather patterns as God's way of punishing us is not the mainstream thought in today's modern thinking. We may jokingly kid about "God's fury" but few of us really believe we humans are a central focus to the point that even the weather revolves around us.

It makes more sense that the weather patterns are along Newton's thinking. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The goal of mother nature is to survive and if at all possible she will amidst consequence and change. How we as a species have to adapt to survive that change, only time will tell.

Life is what it is. Take the advice of Harold Kushner, the Conservative rabbi who wrote the book, "When Bad Things Happen To Good People". Stuff happens.
The trick to not getting down is to not expect life to be smooth sailing, things just happen and we have to deal with them.

Ecclesiastes 3:1
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven

One thing we as a society should learn is not to put ourselves in the position to be totally helpless should the system break down. We as a culture are so intertwined that our daily lives seem to come to an absolute halt when the power goes out. We are so dependent on electricity to power our lights, water pumps, phone chargers, internet service, etc. that many feel helpless and cut off when suddenly without these services.

 Throughout history man has known how to survive by making do, doing without and utilizing skills of survival so they can be self-sustaining when need be.  Plan ahead for emergencies. Use a generator for back up power or have a place to go for a few days. Have a secondary heat source such as a wood, coal or pellet stove. In the event you can't get to the grocery store, know how to prepare your own meals from scratch, bake your own bread, stock up on things like bottled water, dry milk, canned goods, dry goods, batteries and candles. If you garden, learn how put up the surplus fruits and vegetables by canning, freezing or drying.

Remember the Boy Scout motto..."Be Prepared"
And also remember my mother's motto..."This too shall pass."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween GMOs, Sugar..Try a Healthier Treat

My kids still remind me the most likely reason we didn't get many trick or treaters wasn't because we lived in a rural area, it was because I usually had "healthy" goody bags.Yea well, too bad. When my kids were preschool I had full control over the quality of food to which they were exposed. By first grade I didn't exactly give up but waged my battles carefully, hoping to at least set the foundation of good eating habits. And now that they are both young adults they, without my nagging, are realizing that how they physically feel, how clearly they can think, and of course their appearance all depends on their lifestyle and eating habits.

Only a few years back we were concerned about the amount of fat, sugar and salt added to candy and snacks but we didn't hear about the concerns with GMO modified food. Not wanting to be just one more voice spoiling  the fun of the holidays, we should at least be aware of what is going on.

A good article on the subject of what are GMOs and why we should be leery of their use in our food supply is found here from the Non-GMO Project. In the absence of mandatory labeling, the Non-GMO Project was created to give consumers the informed choice they deserve. In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale. Not knowing who to believe or even trust with the health of our loved ones, more and more Americans are taking matters into their own hands by trying not to purchase foods containing GMOs. The hope is that if people stop buying GMOs, companies will stop using them and farmers will stop growing them.

Now let's be more aware of what those labels mean in terms of sugar intake. How many grams in a tsp. of sugar is there anyway? As you can see from the chart below, the typical candy bar has 20 or more grams of sugar. Five teaspoons is 21 grams of sugar, six teaspoons is 26 grams of sugar, seven teaspoons is 31 grams, and my favorite Milky Way bar came in at 35 with 9 teaspoons being 36 grams of sugar!

As disturbing as it is to actually know that, we don't want to take all the fun out of our kids' Halloween loot. My way of handling the indulgence was to put most of the candy in the freezer and ration it out over a few weeks. Some parents let their kids have their gorge fest to get it over with and accept the sugar highs and sugar crashes as all part of the holiday. Below is the candy bar chart but for the full candy comparison refer to the following site:

Chocolate Bars Compared
Chocolate Bar Serving Size Calories Total Fat
Saturated Fat
Contains Trans Fat Sugar
Hershey's Milk Chocolate
1 bar 270 16 10 NO 31
Hershey's Milk Chocolate With Almonds
1 bar 210 14 6 NO 19
1 bar 210 10 6 NO 24
1 bar 230 13 10 NO 21
Almond Joy
1 package 220 13 8 YES 20
Kit Kat Bar
1 bar 210 11 7 NO 22
REESE'S Fast Break
1 bar 260 13 4.5 YES 30
5TH Avenue
1 bar 280 14 5 NO 27
Mr. Goodbar
1 bar 260 17 7 NO 22
YORK Peppermint Pattie
1 piece 140 2.5 1.5 NO 25
Take 5
1 package 210 11 5 YES 18
Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate
1 bar 218 12 8 NO 21
REESE'S Peanut Butter Cups
1 package 260 15 6 NO 25
HEATH Toffee Bar
1 bar 210 13 7 NO 23
PAYDAY Peanut Caramel Bar
1 bar 240 13 2.5 NO 21
1 bar 210 12 7 NO 24
SYMPHONY Milk Chocolate
1 bar 210 13 8 NO 23
1 package 280 14 5 YES 30
Snickers Cruncher
1 package 220 11 6 YES 21
Snickers Almond Bar
1 package 230 11 4 YES 26
Milky Way
1 package 260 10 7 YES 35
TWIX Caramel Cookie Bars
1 package 280 14 11 YES 27
3 Musketeers
1 bar 260 8 5 YES 40
1 bar 190 11 5 NO 21
Baby Ruth
1 bar 280 14 8 YES 33
1 bar 270 11 6 NO 29
100 Grand
1 package 180 8 5 NO 21
Nestle Crunch
1 bar 220 12 7 NO 24


If you want an easy, chocolate lover's snack that is delicious and simple to put into gift bags, here are two no-cook recipes:

This recipe is an adaptation of a peanut butter ball recipe from an old Rodale cookbook.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Coated Sesame Balls

3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Combine these three ingredients in a medium sized bowl.

3/4 cup skim milk powder
1 cup oatmeal
Combine these two ingredients in another bowl.

Gradually add the oatmeal/milk powder mixture to the peanut butter mixture, blend thoroughly, mix will be stiff, may need your hands.

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (toast seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 20 minutes)
2 tbsp. boiling water
Blend the seeds and the hot water into the mixture.

Using your hands, shape into 1-inch balls. (The mix will be sticky so wet your hands periodically with cold water.)
Roll the balls around in a bowl containing finely chopped nuts, almond meal, wheat germ or ground flax seeds.
Place the balls onto wax paper lined baking sheets. 
Place the baking sheets in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Place a pound of chocolate coating wafers or a 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips along with 1 tbsp. shortening into a small microwave safe bowl (or melt using a double boiler).
Microwave for 1 1/2 minutes, stir, another 30 seconds, stir till smooth.
Dip the balls into the melted chocolate using a strong sandwich pick. Place onto the wax paper lined baking sheets to harden.
This batch makes about 3 dozen.

From the Taste of Home cooking magazine, this recipe is a bit easier and uses only four ingredients. You can use your own granola mix or purchase a store brand.
Granola Fudge Clusters
1 cup (6 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 oz) butterscotch chips
1 1/4 cup granola
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips, stir until smooth.
Stir in the granola and walnuts.
Drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper lined baking sheets.
Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until firm.
This batch makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Great Halloween Pumpkin, What does the story really mean?

Charles Schulz' views of American customs and life in general have been teaching and entertaining us for over fifty years. Take the time to ponder what Schulz is saying and you will soon realize there is a lot more to these cartoon strips than entertainment.

I can remember as a child reading the cartoon strips and at times I thought, "I don't get it.", though knowing full well there is a bit of wisdom right in front of me.  The 'something' that is outside of each of the characters would be obvious once I understood. 

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" portrays the struggle between existentialism and religious determinism. The Western fear of Paganism has always reached its height on October 31, originally the closing date on the pre-Christian Celtic calendar and marked be Druid harvest practices.  All Saints' Day was introduced by the pope in the 7th century as a way to counter the effects of the pagan festival.  Brought to the United States in the 1800's by Irish immigrants, Halloween is mainly regarded as a social gathering, a holiday for children, with little thought to its being connected to the restless afterlife.  The Great Pumpkin attempts to find the spiritual in the mundane and to locate the divine in the pagan.

For the Peanuts gang, the world is an inhospitable place.  Narrow-minded and gullible, Charlie Brown sees the world as cruel and unforgiving.  Day in and day out he falls into the same patterns of behavior resulting in the failure once again.  Many of us can relate to Charlie Brown because we often find ourselves going through life repeating patterns of behavior or expectations and then wondering why things don't work out any differently.

Violet's Halloween party with all its temptations of fun and frolic pulls the rest of the gang into the excitement of 'the now', while Linus is mocked for missing out and choosing to separate himself and wait for the unknown rather than enjoy the obvious.  Even Sally loses interest and joins the festivities, portraying the message of how often the chasm of beliefs can put a wedge within a relationship.

Linus seeks religion and philosophy as the key to understanding his universe.  Rather than letting Charlie Brown's self-pity in why things are the way they are, Linus believes there must be something beyond the ordinary everyday happenings, a divine purpose.  He doesn't give an air of superiority over his peers but his perceptions set him apart from the rest of the gang, similar to the way those of us with strong convictions feel so alone among the majority in our society.  Linus clings to his thumb and blanket for security and comfort.  The Great Pumpkin is symbolic as the 'sign' that there may be something greater in which to believe even if we must continue to wait.  We need to keep firm in whatever foundation of faith we have and to understand that some things in life are just a mystery.

Charles Schulz' writings reflect his own personal search for understanding and meaning.  He portrayed very well the message that for those who keep on searching, the world can be an unforgiving and perhaps lonely place.  But life is what it is and though an unpredictable blend of tears of joy as well as grief, we mustn't give up on the fascination of this mysterious journey.

The complete article "The Book of Linus" by Michael Koresky

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Quip and a Quote


Seasonal Reflection

"Our gardens are tired, they've given their all,
The bounty is gathered, we're ready for Fall.
Herbs cut and dried, seeds stored away,
Swallows have flown, mice hide in the hay.
Take time to listen, the message is there,
Blessings abound, our work now to share.
Give what you can, but take a moment to rest
Take care of yourself and you'll give back your best."

We often feel like squirrels bustling around multitasking, trying to get everything done, always feeling as though there is a race against the clock.

The months just seem to blend one into another and it is easy to let these beautiful days slip away as we focus more on the day to day schedule of demands than on taking advantage of the moment.

Our daily work is what it is and does need to get done, but remember Lao Tzu's wisdom and remember to look up from our tasks so we don't miss something we can't get back.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Power of Peppermint For Pest Control

No one likes being cold, and that includes unwelcome guests entering our homes such as spiders and rodents. With the arrival of cold weather, keep this in mind as you prepare your home for the chill of winter.

Take action at the first sign of mouse droppings because if there is one there are more. Mice breed at an incredible rate and with each litter consisting of six to twelve young it only takes a few weeks of ignoring the signs to find yourself with a real problem. The spots we have had the most trouble are under the kitchen sink, the cabinets nearest the vent for the stove and in our unfinished basement. All areas where there are most likely gaps in construction and should be remedied. 

Killing with mouse traps, glue traps or poison works in the short run but in the long run they only open up space for another mouse to move in.
Should you want to avoid dealing with the smell of death but unable to find the source, or disposing of the dead or dying caught in traps, a humane method of pest control is best. 

Peppermint essential oil is the essence of peppermint leaves. These oils are obtained by steam distillation and contain the volatile oils within the plant itself.  It is strong and offensive to the sensitive noses of our little rodent pests and being they find it repulsive they avoid it and the hope is that they move out or don't enter our homes in the first place. Don't buy the type of peppermint oil used for flavoring in the cooking section of your store. Purchase at a reputable health food store where you'll find 100% pure, therapeutic essential oils. Synthetics may smell the same but it is more than the smell that does the trick. You want the real thing. 

Add a few drops to cotton balls and leave them at the points of suspected entry or activity. Add fresh oil to the cotton balls on a weekly basis as a preventative measure. Or use the spray bottle method of 10 - 15 drops peppermint essential oil to 8 - 12 oz. of water. Spray around doorways, counter tops, baseboards, garage doors, basements, etc. 

Spiders are more common in our homes than we think. If we leave them alone, usually they try in earnest to leave us alone. According to David Bodanis in his book, "Secret House", the typical clean and tidy home still houses many, many spiders. These beneficials prefer to stay hidden in dark corners and quietly give us a hand in keeping those insects at bay who can do us harm. While we don't want visible spider webs we also don't want to contribute toxins to our home by spraying with pesticides.

As with rodents, spiders and ants also hate peppermint. Ants can be a problem in any home but those with mortar and brick seem to be more susceptible for entry points. Be sure to keep your kitchen counters and cabinets free from open food and crumbs. Ants follow a trail so take notice of where they are coming in and block the trail with undiluted peppermint oil or spray the peppermint oil/water mixture.
Use the spray bottle method of adding 10 to 15 drops of peppermint essential oil to 8 to 12 ounces of water. Spray wherever you suspect ants and spiders are entering your home.
Planting peppermint outside near your doorways can help deter pests. Just be sure to plant in tubs or pots since mints spread rapidly and can easily take over a flowerbed or garden area.

Aside from spiders and mice, peppermint oil also is a natural insect repellent for fleas and mosquitoes. To use as a bug repellent spray for yourselves or your dogs (not to be used on cats) add a bit of vodka to distilled water at the ratio of 10 - 15 drops peppermint essential oil to 8 - 12 oz of the distilled water/vodka mixture. Rubbing alcohol can be used in place of the distilled water/vodka mixture. Peppermint is strong and though known to be safe test first on a small area of skin to check for any skin sensitivity.

Check out the many uses for using peppermint oil as a body spray

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Choose Food Bearing Trees and Shrubs for your Landscape Planting

Planting for wildlife, Native Plants as a Food Source


Attracting more wildlife to your yard is as simple as providing their basic needs: shelter, food, water, and nesting sites. In the wild you'll find sources for these survival needs from the tallest trees down to the forest floor. It is important to plant diciduous and evergreen trees as well as the many perennial and annual herbaceous plants.

We mustn't forget the importance of what makes up the hedgerows. These areas are much more than unkept wild areas of stickers, vines and weeds.
Shrubs and bushes are what is called the understory trees in a mixed forest. They not only provide additional food and cover for wildlife but they help nourish and cool the forest floor for the health of the larger trees. The larger trees give them the necessary dappled protection they need from the full sun.

Fall is the perfect time to plant since the plants are not in an active growth stage therefore require less water. Getting them in the ground before a hard frost gives them enough time to get established before winter and then in the Spring the roots are ready to uptake water and nutrients for the demands of new growth.
Below are a glimpse of a few ideal berry producing shrubs for feeding birds and many forms of wildlife when other food sources start to dwindle. Here you can get an idea of not only their autumn color display but the general shape of the tree. To see what some of these shrubs look like in the spring check out this post, The Marvels of May.

Eastern Redbud
The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis). This eastern native is a fascinating little tree with its heart shaped leaves, angled growth pattern in its branches and one of the first flowering trees in the spring. Its pink blossoms are such a welcome sight for those needing a bit of color after a long winter.

Washington Hawthorn
The Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum). Growing in zones 4-8 this tree can reach 25-30 feet tall. Beautiful and very beneficial to the birds with its fruit as long as you don't mind the 2-3 inch thorns.

Pyracantha Firethorn
A spikey, evergreen, the Firethorn is a low maintenance shrub that can be pruned and shaped to go up against a wall or around doorways. If left alone they make a good hedgerow shrub that can reach 10 ft. tall. Great food and shelter source for wildlife.

Barberry bushes come in several varieties and serve several functions. They are very decorative throughout the seasons, offering not only a food source to birds and small animals but also safety within its thorny branches. I have yet to see a cat go after anything once it is safely within a barberry bush.

Flowering Dogwood

 The always popular Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)  thrives in zones 5-8
It is a short-trunked tree growing to about 15 - 25 ft. tall. A beautiful display of white flowers in the spring turn to shiny red clusters of berrylike fruits. As seen above the foliage turns a brilliant red in the Fall.

Pagoda Dogwood
A beautifully shaped small tree, the Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) can easily become a favorite front yard specimen tree. It has distinctive layered branches which when given enough space and sun, will spread out like the roof of a pagoda. With its creamy white flowers in the spring, purple-red leaves in the fall followed by blue-purple berries, this tree is very appealing

American cranberrybush Viburnum
 The American cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) zones 2-8
If this shrub likes its location it can grow 12-15 ft tall with an 8-10 ft. spread. The month of May brings clusters of small white flowers with become bright red fruits by late summer. These fruits are edible though very sour and can remain on the bush all winter. Usually around March the cedar waxwings, traveling in groups, visit just long enough to strip the bushes clean. It is so neat to witness their short stay and know there was a food source available when food sources still appear so bleak. The maple like leaves turn a beautiful shade of red before they drop and leave behind the decorative berry display/


Very pretty and easy to fit in a smaller landscape, Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) zones 3-9.
Smaller than the Common Chokecherry, this shrub only gets about 6 feet tall. By fall it is loaded in dark berries. Red in color it is just such an attractive little tree.

Winterberry Holly
Great for holiday decorating, the Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) or sometimes called Black Alder. Zones 4-9
This shrub may reach 15 ft if grown in wetlands though it seems to do just fine in a garden setting. Once the leaves turn yellow and fall the bare, dark gray branches look so pretty with its abundant red berries.

The Nannyberry, another type of Viburnum, grows to a small tree size of about 30 ft. and doesn't seem to spread in width as does the American cranberrybush. Its foliage turns more of a purple red color in the fall and its berries are small bluish-black that hang onto the bush late into the winter. This shrub also like moist soil but as long as is in full sun to partial shade and good soil it does fine.


The flowering crabapple (Malus) is a spring-blooming tree in the Rosaceae family. While crabapple trees are closely related to apple trees, they typically bear smaller fruit and have slightly different blooms, leaves and growth habits.The tree pictured has white, pink tinged flowers in the spring and small red fruit in the autumn.  An attractive little tree, these trees have an average height of about 10 - 15 feet.

Filbert trees (also called Hazelnut trees) are ideal nut trees for either your own harvest or left for the wildlife. If left alone in a naturalized setting, they become large shrubs with many trunks. But with pruning they can be shaped into a single small tree.  Leaves of the filbert or hazelnut tree are a valued food source for wildlife, including several species of butterfly. Once mature, the clusters of nuts will drop to the ground and can either be left for the wildlife or gathered and dried for human consumption.

When it comes to planting trees and shrubs we have to keep in mind that we're planting for the future and we must have patience. It is easy to see these plants in catalogs and visualize that same beautiful addition in your landscaping. It takes a few years for trees to really get established, take form and become a specimen plant.

However, once they are planted, the hardest work is done. You may have to protect them from deer damage while young but being native to North America they should flourish.
The exceptions are: Barberry is a native of Europe and the Firethorn is a native of China.

Should you have trouble finding these natives at your local nurseries check with the Cooperative Extension Office for your county. They are a great source for all types of gardening, landscaping, agricultural and livestock questions but can also tell you where to find the native plant sales in your area. They are usually in the spring and/or the fall season.

Cedar Waxwings

Insect and fruit eating Cedar Waxwings made a brief appearance in March when they passed through searching for those last berries still clinging to our American Cranberry Bushes. (However in this photo they are perched in a Willow tree). Native trees and shrubs are very important food sources for insect eating birds arriving before it is warm enough for the bugs to be out and about.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Webby Weave of the Spider


What Do Spiders Have To Do With Halloween?

Outside in the early morning hours,I noticed the multitude of spider webs seemingly everywhere. The two types of webs most prevalent were that of the grass spider, who weaves the funnel type webs, and the garden spider, who weaves the round web we are most familiar.

A cool site was on the telephone and cable lines. The webs were lined up one after the other connecting the two cable lines which are spaced about a foot apart. It was such a pretty site glistening in the morning sun.

I'm usually ok with spiders as long as they aren't actually crawling on me. In the garden I come across the orb spider fairly frequently. I know they won't hurt me but being the size they are, it always gives me a jolt. Spiders are beneficial arthropods, that survive by feeding on insects. Oftentimes they are the most important biological control of insect pests in gardens, fields, forests, and homes.

In fall and winter, spiders might be found lurking in dark corners of the house or the basement. For a female spider getting ready to lay eggs, she’d need to catch enough food so she would have the energy necessary for laying eggs. Then, she’d need someplace to tie up those eggs. For spiders that make webs, all this extra work would leave quite a few cobwebs around.

So why the connection with Halloween? Mainly it is a matter of association with that which people fear. People often are afraid of the dark, creepy, hidden places and any creatures lurking in such places. Walking into a spider web is rarely a pleasant experience.

The spider web is said to represent the wheel of life and time, the turning of the seasons. In addition the spider has eight legs - and there are eight major festivals in the pagan/Wiccan year. One of them is Samheim, which is a time to reconnect with our ancestors, and honor those who have died. This is the time when the veil between our world and the spirit realm is thin, so it's the perfect time of year to make contact with the dead.

Below are just a few of common spiders who are contentedly living amongst us just trying to survive. If we leave them alone, usually they try in earnest to leave us alone. Spiders are more common in our homes than we think. According to David Bodanis in his book "Secret House" the typical clean and tidy home still houses many, many spiders. These beneficials prefer to stay hidden in the dark corners of our cabinets and basements and quietly give us a hand in keeping those insects at bay who can do us harm. While we don't want visible spider webs on the corners of our walls it may not be the best idea to douse our homes with poisonous insect sprays.

An alternative to using pesticides (in doing so we expose ourselves, children and pets to these poisons). A much safer method is to use the natural repellent nature of Peppermint essential oil. Purchase only from a reputable, health food store where only 100% pure, therapeutic essential oils are sold. You don't want synthetic fragrance oils or those used from the cooking section of the grocery store. Peppermint oil is strong and a good deterrent to not only spiders but ants, fleas and rodents. Add 10 - 15 drops to 8 - 12 oz of water in a spray bottle. Spray weekly around cracks, doorways, windows, any points of entry in your home.

Wolf spiders are common spiders outdoors and are occasionally seen indoors. They are moderate to large-sized spiders (1/4 - 3/4 inch long). Wolf spiders are found on the ground or under stones in a wide variety of habitats, such as forest floors, grassy meadows, swamps, and bogs. Some even like to live underground. They commonly hunt during the day or at night when it is warm. Wolf spiders are dark-colored, usually brownish or grayish, with white markings.
The bite of the Wolf Spider is poisonous but not lethal. Although non-aggressive, they bite freely if provoked and should be considered dangerous to humans. The bite may be very painful. First aid and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible, particularly as to children or the elderly.

Orb spiders are common spiders outdoors near buildings, but are usually not found indoors. They range in size from small to large (1/8 - 1 inch long) and are found in a variety of colors, with some being brightly colored. Orb spiders have large, swollen-looking abdomens, including some that are oddly shaped. They make the classic round, flat, wheel-like web familiar to most people.
The black and yellow argiope (are-JI-o-pee) spider, also known as the garden spider, is familiar to many. It is large (up to 1 inch long) and brightly colored black and yellow.

Another common orb spider is the barn spider (figure 9). It is large (4/5 inch long) and brownish in color.
The bite of Orb-Weaving Spiders is of low risk (not toxic) to humans. They are a non-aggressive group of spiders. Seldom bite. Be careful not to walk into their webs at night - the fright of this spider crawling over one's face can be terrifying.

Grass spiders, a type of funnel weaver, are common outdoors and are occasionally found indoors. They are generally brownish or grayish with light and dark stripes near the head. They have long spinnerets and are moderate-sized (3/4 inch long). Grass spiders construct a large sheet web with a funnel they use as a retreat. These webs are commonly built on the ground, around steps, window wells, foundations, and low shrubs.

These spiders are non-aggressive and the bite of these spiders is of low risk to humans.
 Most spider bites are harmless to humans and animals with the exception of poisonous types such as the black widow and the brown recluse.
If you think you've been bitten by either of those, get medical attention as soon as possible. Otherwise, the use of lavender and/or roman chamomile essential oil can bring quick relief for a spider bite. 
Apply 1-2 drops directly on the bite up to four times per day.
These oils can be safely used on your pets and livestock animals.

Spiders certainly are in the creepy category, but if you really look close at them they are fascinating. Not so ugly they're cute, as the saying goes, but then again there is certainly nothing dull about our natural world.