Saturday, January 25, 2014

Polar Vortex

Today when I checked the weather snapshot that pops up when I log in,  this is what I saw.  Today is going to be the warmest of the past five days but it doesn’t look like we are headed into any significant warming trends either. 


This is not a good time to have the heating system in your home act up but that’s what’s happening here now.  I was told 2 years ago that my boiler had a limited life expectancy and I should start planning for it’s demise replacement but there just hasn’t been a good time to do it, with work and weekends visiting my dad.  It also doesn’t help that I’m prone to procrastination, finger crossing and prayer pleading. 

I did get a few estimates this past summer so I could prepare myself for sticker shock compare costs, but they were confusing and discouragingly expensive.  

My house was built in the early 1970’s when there was basically no town building codes and minimal state codes, so the location of the furnace and the venting doesn’t exactly meet today’s stricter requirements.  Over the years to compensate, we added hard-wired smoke  and CO2 alarms and made other safety and efficiency improvements.

Two recent repairs for minor issues have added up to almost one-third of the cost of a new boiler and the frigid temps have convinced me that I need to act now.  An emergency call on a frigid night for frozen pipes is not something I want to think about.

The replacement is scheduled and I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the boiler holds on just a few days longer!



Thursday, January 23, 2014


Woke up this morning to 6 degrees and this red amaryllis that my sister gave me after Christmas!   What a happy contrast to the frozen white world outside!   Amaryllis-Jan 2014 004
I bring my lunch to work most days—it’s an economic choice but mostly there are not a lot of good places to get lunch nearby.

I eat at my desk, so my lunch usually consists of a tuna salad, roast turkey or chicken sandwich with lettuce, mayo and a piece of fruit for a mid-afternoon snack. 

Lately,  I’ve been getting bored with this limited variety but today, I dug-out a seed sprouter I bought a while ago.   I have several types of seeds to try so I think this will give me some of the variety I’ve been looking for with the bonus of watching something grow.Seeds & sprounter_Jan 2013 002
If you want to try sprouting, You don’t need a seed sprouter like mine.  You can use a wide mouth mason jar or spaghetti sauce jar with a piece of cheese cloth tied to the top, the most important thing is to rinse and drain the seeds twice a day with fresh water.   Seeds & sprounter_Jan 2013 003You can buy sprout seeds in the grocery store. 
Sometimes in the health  food  or the produce section.   There’s lots of varieties and combos of seeds; some are spicy like radish seeds, some are good for stir fry dishes.  Seeds usually take 3 to 7 days to sprout.    

Fresh sprouts are a nice way to add some nutritious greens to your meals in the middle of winter.  

One of my favorite ways to eat sprouts was borrowed from the "Big Easy Deli" menu in Manchester, NH.   Toast a wheat bagel, spread it with low-fat veggie cream cheese, top it with a slice of tomato and a slice of cheddar cheese and broil it till the cheese melts and top with alfalfa and broccoli sprouts.

I hope you stay warm and have something growing and blooming inside today!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Phalaenopsis Orchids

I’m being honest here….You should know that I am not always successful with the houseplants that come into my life.   Like most of my gardening friends,  I do love flowering houseplants and  know that they add psychological and physical comfort to our lives during the short winter days.  However,  I’m picky on the ones that I choose and I don’t spend my “plant allowance” on finicky plants.

I tried orchids a couple of times but quite honestly, I had no luck and swore off buying them until last summer, when I was browsing for a replacement gas grille in Home Depot.  The grills were located next to the houseplant section where a group of “mini” phalaenopsis orchids (moth orchids) had just been put out.  I’d never seen these lovely little orchids before but I liked their petite size and price ($6.99) so I thought I would try one for the summer and give it a review of sorts.

Mini-phalaenopsis orchids are diminutive versions of their flashy big sisters and they max out height-wise at about 8 inches tall with the  flowers being about 1 and 1/2 inches across.  They come in all the same big orchid colors and patterns including stripes, spots and bi-colors.  By comparison, the one that I bought is rather plain.  It has cream and white flowers but they’re perfumed and I liked that because it’s so unusual for orchids to be pleasantly scented.  Very few are.

I knew from past failure, that the best way to pick an orchid is not by the flowers alone.  Though that’s what draws us in when we see them.  Multiple flower spikes and unopened buds insure a long bloom time (if they don’t fall off).  However,  if you aren’t going to toss the plant after it’s finished blooming, look for a plant with  fat green roots sticking out of the pot and fat plump leaves that tell you it’s healthy and has been carefully handled.  Never buy a plant with even ONE (1) yellow leaf—this can signify crown rot which is fatal unless you have a LOT of experience growing orchids and even experienced orchid growers lose 95% of plants that have crown rot.

My little orchid spent the summer months on the porch. When I brought it home it had two  flower spikes with some buds still unopened.  I enjoyed the several months of blooms that followed.

I did some research online and found that it’s possible to get a second bloom by trimming the flower stalk about a third to a half after blooming.   The theory behind this is that the orchid gets fooled into thinking that the first flush of flowers failed and sends out another stalk to replace it--a plants whole purpose in life is to make seeds so it will continue to try until it is successful or dies trying.

After Labor Day, I cut both stalks back by 1/3 and waited.   I let my plant dry out a bit to simulate a “rest” period and when I returned to watering once a week, I  added some diluted orchid food to tepid water.   I also read that you should not feed orchids while they are in flower.   Only feed between blooming.
The way I’ve been watering  is to fill the orchids little clay pot with the food mixture and let it set in the pot for about 30 minutes before draining the pot.  You also don’t need to put orchids on a gravel tray filled with water to provide humidity.  Just misting once a day is enough.  

Around Thanksgiving, I noticed new growth just above where I trimmed the old flower stalk (only one of the two stalks re-bloomed) and there are now 4/5 flower buds that are getting bigger every day.  I’m being cautiously optimistic that the buds will open in the next couple of weeks  and won’t be knocked off by my cat before then. 

So if you decide to bring home a phalaenopsis orchid this winter to brighten up the indoors and I think you should--I’ve listed some tips that I’ve learned below.  They can be found in almost any retail store that sells house plants and the prices I’ve seen range from $6.99 for the mini’s to $42.99 for the big girls with an average price of $19.99.
  • Don’t buy a plant that has been placed in the coldest part of the supermarket (like the freezer section).   I guarantee there will be a problem with that plant later on.  Ask me how I know this?
  • Normal bloom time for tropical orchids is our winter = their southern hemisphere summer. 
  • Orchids can rest up to 18 months between blooming cycles so don’t give up.   The flower stalk is formed when the plant has three green leaves.  It appears between the second and third leaf.  If your plant is healthy and growing new leaves—it will flower eventually. 
  • Whole Foods sells an organic orchid spray that helps to feed and stimulate flowering.  It’s called “OrchidMyst”  Spray only on leaves and roots.  Provides nutrients, pest control, plant tonic and growth enhancer.  I am testing this product out now.
  • Look for fat green roots (sticking out of the pot is good. This doesn’t mean the plant needs to be repotted) and fat green leaves mean the plant has been well-hydrated.  
  • Don’t buy a plant with even ONE (1) yellow leaf—could be a symptom of fatal crown rot.
  • Look for multiple stems with some buds still unopened to insure a long bloom period. 
  • Make sure the planting medium is fresh-looking.  Usually it’s bark chunks for large orchids, sphagnum moss for the mini’s
  • Discard any directions that tell you to put an ice cube in the pot once a week or a measured cup of water—NO! NO! NO!  Orchids grow in trees in the rain forest,  they get drenched by downpours and then the water drains off the branches where they grow.  That is how they should be watered.  Remember—drench and drain!
  • Bet you didn’t know that some tree orchids(like phalaenopsis) grow upside down in the wild!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year dear readers!  I know I’m more than a week late but the year is still very young.  In my way of thinking it’s a new year till March so we still have some time— an “open enrollment” period” of sorts-- to make “modifications” to our new year’s resolutions.

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, well I have been “lurking ” around the internet, visiting a few blogs, sometimes leaving a comment as time allowed.   As you know…laundry doesn’t do itself and it’s nice to have clean underwear and socks!

I’ve been visiting my dad most weekends since my mother passed away.  Like all dementia patients, he has good days and bad days.   It’s amazing to me that he has declined so much in such a short time period but the one bright spot is that our relationship, which was never as strong as the bond my mother and I shared,  has grown and we’re making up for lost time.

This year I entertained the largest group of family that I’ve ever had for Thanksgiving.  Then on impulse I decided to have my kitchen and dining room painted a week before.  It’s not something I recommend you do!

I made Christmas wreaths again this year  but to save time and my energy, I bought pre-made plain wreaths and added my own bows and trims.   They looked lovely but I still prefer the ones I make from my own native trees.

We celebrated Christmas at my sister and brother-in-law’s house as we have every year for the last decade..   january 2014 018My sister makes her home very festive and fun.   This year she greeted us as we arrived with champagne flutes on a silver tray that was a wedding gift she’d spent Christmas eve polishing.

Yes we do wear the silly paper hats that come in the Christmas crackers and then try to knock them off each other.   Last one to keep their hat on wins a prize!

Listening to how my sister spent her Xmas eve trying different methods to clean the tray and  how long it took,  I remembered the anti-tarnish cloth I bought on the internet.  It was pretty pricey at the time and I still had a lot left.  The fabric is a very thick flannel that has been treated to prevent the gasses in the air from reacting with silver to create tarnish.

Last weekend I found the anti-tarnish cloth  and  whipped up a simple fold-over bag for her tray so next Christmas eve she won’t have to stay up to polish it for us!

Its such easy fabric to work with that I’m thinking I might make a few smaller jewelry bags for V-day gifts and use the rest of the anti-tarnish fabric up.     One thing I will caution you to do though is to wash your hands thoroughly after you handle the cloth.   It does have a finish on it and routine caution should be taken.

Silver Bag