26 September 2013

Tomato Leaves Curling (Overwatering)

A few days ago, we noticed some distressing signs in our tomato seedlings:  curling leaves, as if they were overheated or dehydrated, and one plant just about giving up on life and falling over in its box.

Afraid we might lose the dear creatures, we diligently searched online for a solution.  And guess what!  We were actually watering them too much.  Enough!  Enough!  They seemed to scream.

In our gardening eagerness, we had both been watering the little guys when we walked past, admiring their newborn beauty.  It had become like having too many cooks salt the peas.  Fortunately for the plants and for us, however, we chose the right experiment and decided not to water them until we were quite certain they were dried out.  Now, the newer leaves (on most of the plants, the first sets of leaves that truly look like tomato leaves) are coming out looking much healthier than the first sets of baby leaves.

So for our future reference, and maybe your edification as well, here are the things that should have tipped us off we were giving them too much water.
  1. Tiny mushrooms were beginning to sprout along with the tomatoes.
  2. The leaves began curling, without purple on the back (which some gardeners we read said would be indicative of a phosphorus deficiency), and without dry soil.

24 September 2013

Finding Jesus in Your Desert (31 Days Intro)

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."  Romans 8:28
These may be some of the most difficult words in all of Scripture.

Because we experience pain.
We experience loss.
We experience betrayal.
We experience brokenness.
We experience injustice.
We experience loneliness of the deepest kind.
We experience sin--ours and other people's--and its results.

And we hesitate to label any of these with a sticker that says "GOOD".
It takes more guts than we think and more faith than we know we have to believe that anybody--even God--could take these horrors of our experience and work them together for our good.  We get set up to think that whenever something feels bad, or is bad, Jesus doesn't care about us anymore, or that He took a vacation and left us to struggle through alone.

I've recently been through a desert of my own, though, and I found, even in my times of intense pain, that Jesus was closer than ever.  I'm still finding, as I reach the edge of what look like greener pastures and quieter waters, that things that seemed ugly have turned beautiful. Not because everything should have happened the way it did, but because God is still better at keeping His promises and turning evil around for the good of His child than the evil one is at throwing difficulty in my path.
So I want to invite you on a journey with me--a journey through some of the bleakest of deserts where it's amazing how many flowers still bloom, how many streams still flow, how many other pilgrims seem to set up camp along the way just to cheer a weary traveler and offer a sweet place to rest.

We'll share some stories.
Stories of real people who faced some of the hardest things life could throw at them (loss of jobs, betrayal by spouses, religious persecution, death in the family, infertility, to name a few), and see if we can find encouragement and hope in them.  Stories of people from the Bible who were just like us and managed to make God their trust no matter what, and who experienced evil turned to fullness of beauty.

We'll share some self-care essentials.

Self-care essentials straight from the Bible that remind us how to stay healthy in body, mind, and spirit.  Self-care essentials that don't lead down the selfish or self-centered road, but tell us how to maintain our energy so we don't burn out on the cares of life and die in the wilderness, or lose our ability to love the God who gave all heaven because He loves us so much.

We'll learn how to travel through the desert with Jesus, trusting Jesus. We'll start October 1, and keep walking all the way through October 31.

Will you join me?

Grab button for LADDER OF MERCY (Photo by Barbara Frohne
(Click the button for the series index.)

19 September 2013

Starting Vegetable Seeds and Tracking Seed Germination Rates

Isn't it lovely how all of our tomatoes have come up in less than a week?  We're having the best time in the world watching for their second sets of leaves--some are already beginning to show.  I think the temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s (F) give them just the right environment to sprout.  Last spring, when we were sprouting things indoors and barely keeping our house at 70, things progressed much more slowly.

The peppers are likewise enjoying the warmer weather.  We hope that means they'll all produce a crop before Christmastime, or somewhere around that time.   We should have at least two more good growing months, and the weather then might still be beautiful for these crops, plus some more "winter" crops.  Perhaps we'll be ordering some more seeds soon!

Most gardening books recommend keeping a record of what works, what doesn't, how much you spent, and whether those discount plants and seeds ever did anything.  I'm attempting to get better at it, and these charts are my latest breakthrough.  We started different kinds of seeds in the same tray, because, while we would absolutely LOVE to grow a whole tray full of every kind of tomato, and every other kind of herb and vegetable, we simply won't have that much space.  So this time, I decided to track which varieties we planted where (the Popsicle stick labels we used last time were difficult to keep attached to their particular seedling) in our garden notebook.  Our garden notebook is a giant sized sketchbook that is supposed to handle wet and dry art mediums, which means I can glue things in without the pages puckering too badly.  So what you're seeing is the shape of the cardboard seed pot of each thing, the variety and where it is planted, as well as the date each sprout came up.

The peppers were more complicated than the tomatoes and tomatillos, because we had more varieties to fit in the same number of cardboard slots in the re-purposed light bulb tray.  Rather than write out each variety's name, I abbreviated each one, and left a little room to write in the sprout date later.  Which was an afterthought, but there was room nonetheless.

So you see we planted two of everything except the Santa Fe Grande and the Scotch Bonnet.  If my husband has his way (which he probably will--I'm pretty accommodating), we will plant lots more hot peppers and make up for the ones that only got one slot.  I don't eat very many hot peppers, but he eats LOTS of them.  I did advocate for the Cayennes because I like to use them medicinally and I think it would be great to have powder from my very own peppers.

The final tray is even more miscellaneous than the other two, with their different varieties of the same things, not only because we've planted as many things as possible in it, but also because we haven't even started them all at the same time.  Hence the two blank rows still remaining.  But see?  Things are starting to come up even here.

And just for fun, I thought you might like to see our rain water collection system:  a simple plastic garbage can.  We think we could have collected two or three more full if we had just bothered to buy more cans.  It has a lid to seal it, but for now, while it's raining a lot, we've left the lid off, and have found random other containers to store garden water for later.  We have no fancy hose system to get the water to the garden or the pots we plan to buy, but we do have a watering can (see yesterday's post with the green, pink, and yellow).  We bought the same Home Depot watering can at the beginning of the summer for our northwest garden, and left it there with the plants when we moved.  We were thrilled to see another one just like it in the Home Depot here, because it has such a gentle spray.

18 September 2013

Being Content with Life

Maybe it's silly, but this sight outside my sliding glass door, with those three delightfully bright colors, stands out to me as a reminder of being content with life.  Which I am.  Right now.  Today.

I don't know how this being content thing comes about, exactly, yet I find myself experiencing the fresh air it brings to the heart these days.  And the funny thing?  I feel that way not only about today, but about the yesterdays, too.

Which is funny, because that last place we lived was the place of some of our most difficult times.  Ever.  So I hadn't really expected to look back at that yesterday with feelings of content.

Of course I stopped to think why and how that could be.

Maybe that Steps to Christ chapter on Rejoicing in the Lord when I didn't feel like rejoicing made the difference.  Or my decision to walk through the orchard every day, drinking in beauty in spite of what seemed so ugly around me.  Or having friends, family, people who were only slightly more than strangers to me, constantly pray for me and point me to Jesus when it was hard to point myself.  Maybe it's just another one of those gifts only Jesus can give.

I can't look back at any moment of pain without thinking of those treasures, and more.  And when I think of those treasures, those friends, those experiences?  They lead me down the thought paths to other truly joyful experiences in our last home--hiking with strangers become friends, picnics, campouts, home-made roasted strawberry ice cream, cold mornings on the mountain tops, sunrises, walks beside the river (even with friends from another of life's places), piano duets, bunnies in the lawn, to name a few--all the things that make up the happiest of days.

 We're getting settled in a new place, my husband and I.  As I explore my new kitchen cabinets and watch for new seeds to pop up in their soil, I think about how much I like this new place to live and how thankful I am that God led us here.  And simultaneously, I look back at the last house, the last place, and think how much I loved them, too--not longingly or bitterly, but pleasantly.  Simply glad I lived in that house for a while, and glad I can live in this one now.  I like them both, yet they're very different from each other.

There are friends I miss from all the places before, and there are twinges of sadness when I think of them doing things and sharing experiences without me there in person (but totally on that swing with you in heart for my very own seven turns, and in my heart I sit in your living room next to that wonderful harp while maybe you give me lessons? or in so many places where friends are but I am not, at least today).

These friends, though, still reach forward to me so often that it sometimes feels like they're right here.  Thank you, technology of phones and blogs and e-mails and texts, for helping me keep my collection of friends, instead of leaving them behind.  It's an experience of adding more friendships and blessings and wonderful things in life to all the ones I've experienced before.

Thus I find myself looking back, feeling enriched, not robbed, blessed beyond measure.

16 September 2013

School Boys at the Door: A Common Courtesty

I came to the doors of the school, ready to take my husband home for lunch.  About the same time, a few uniformed school boys came bounding around the building.  I tapped the doorbell, letting the doorkeeper inside know we all requested entrance.

We heard the welcoming buzz, and the boy nearest the door held it open for me, and all the boys waited for me to go through before resuming their lively path back to the classroom.

I appreciated the common courtesy, partly because of the respect they showed to me personally as an adult, but mostly because I was glad to see such young ones learning to be gentlemen.

Keep it up, boys!  (And parents, and teachers!)

13 September 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons

I've been thinking a lot about a verse lately.  As a kid, it was one of the ones that always made it onto the memory verse song tapes (Steve Greene's are the ones I'm thinking of).

"Do everything without complaining..."

It was a great tune.  I still love it, and it still goes through my head pretty often.

"...without arguing..."

Then, with the song surprisingly close by in my ears, I often complain anyway.  Out loud.  Inside.  The Bible doesn't say complaining is fine as long as it's internal.  It simply says not to do it.

And it says there's something we can become if we follow its directions.  Something I really want to be.

The KJV puts it like this:  "Do all things without murmurings and disputings:  that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world."  Philippians 4:14, 15

Remember that word murmuring?  It's used a lot when the Bible talks about how unthankful the Israelites were in the wilderness, even in the face of God's amazing miracles.  The Bible says we can't be the light of the world that Jesus wants us to be if we're always murmuring.  And how could we?  When we talk and think about the negative things, how can we be spreading good news about our good God?

The version they used in the song went like this:  "Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure children of God."

So when we are complaining, we're not only missing out on being the light, but we're also missing out on being God's children at all.

Pretty serious stuff.  And just in case you're wondering?  I wrote this post for me.  I'm sure none of you ever get tempted to complain or gripe about anything like I often do.  :)

So just a reminder for myself--when life gives you lemons and plenty of them, make lemon juice and use it to fight a cold.  Or do something else nice with them.  If we're even a little bit patient, it doesn't take long to see that God really is working everything out for good.

12 September 2013

Green Parakeet Sighting

Just had to drop back by and tell you some very exciting news!  The other evening, my husband and I were out walking and saw some Parakeet-looking birds fly over, but we didn't get a very good look at them.  Then this morning, they stopped for breakfast, or their morning social occasion, or whatever, in our palm tree.  This time, I got a good look, but couldn't find my camera to get a good photo.

I'm hoping they come back again tomorrow, since I found the camera after they left, but meanwhile I'll send you over here to see some photos and read more about them.

Coconut Rice Recipe with Fruits and Nuts (Vegan, Gluten Free)

My husband's teaching schedule this fall makes for an early morning breakfast and a lunch break around 2:30 p.m.  We've always kind of liked the idea of having two larger meals a day instead of three, but this is the first time such a meal plan would have remotely worked.

While I like the idea, it takes some re-thinking and new brainstorming to come up with breakfasts that are filling enough to last so many hours!  Most of my kitchen things will be here soon, which will make it easier, but for now, I have to have very simple things to prepare, as well as hearty things.

I don't know about you, but when I think of fruit, I usually think of a light meal.  I LOVE fruit, and so does my husband, so I've wanted to have lots of fruit in the mix even though we need good solid meals.

Thus I was excited to remember something my former social-committee coworker who taught me how to make sweet coconut rice.

Here's how.

Start with whatever amount of brown rice you need for your family, and omit some of the water you would normally add.  When the water is almost cooked out, add a can or two of coconut milk (look for whatever brand that has the fewest ingredients).  You want the end consistency to be rice that will stick together.

When the rice is done, add honey, to taste.

Top the rice with all manner of fruits and nuts.  Today, we did it with apples, bananas, raisins, almonds, peanut butter, and pumpkin seeds.  Other times, I've had it with pineapple and other tropical fruits.  Both ways have been delicious.

The combination of coconut milk and whatever nuts or nut butters we add make this meal one that sticks longer than, say, your average bowl of hot or cold cereal.

11 September 2013

This Week in the Garden: A New Start (Seed Planting and Rain Water Collection)

We've been in our new home for a couple of days now, and we're hearing enough about "winter" gardening in south Texas that we got out our box of seeds to give it a try.  Notice the word "winter" is slipped in there between some quotation marks.

Because the first woman I talked with about gardening in this "valley" (another northerner and I discussed this:  shouldn't there be mountains somewhere for a place to be called a valley?) said she grows tomatoes all "winter".  And IF it looks like there MIGHT be a frost, she covers them until morning.

It hardly seems like there could be a winter if there are no frosts.  Frosts are things that come during autumn--you know, that time of year when there are leaves changing color and fresh local apples everywhere and maybe a pumpkin patch or two thrown in, when cooler weather means you wear a sweater and sip hot herbal tea.  Then snow comes in winter and the frosts at night just make really cool crystals on top of the snow.

But here?

The weather cooling down means we have highs in the lower nineties instead of the upper ones.  Which is perfect weather for starting seeds.

We toured a garden the other day, and I was in delighted shock the whole time for a number of reasons, one of which was that when I glanced at a pepper plant, I noticed it had woody branches.  Turns out, they grow as shrubs here, and as long as they are doing well you don't have to re-plant every year.

And my winter-informed inner garden clock says, How could that even be possible?!

So we decided to test it out for ourselves, this year-round gardening stuff.  And we decided, since the rains lately have been hard ones and we didn't want any seeds washing away, that we would start them much the same way we did all those long months ago back in Virginia.

With two edits:  deeper cardboard "pots", and seed starting mix instead of garden compost.

Tonight's beginners found their homes in a lightbulb holder and cut up paper towel tube.  {We haven't used enough toilet paper in this house yet to have a stock pile of those.}

We planted four kinds of tomatoes and Tomatillos Verdes.

There's also this wonderful part of the roof where rain water comes streaming off, so we bought a garbage can with a lid (to seal it when it's not raining so there won't be bugs and debris in it) to collect the water to use on the garden when it doesn't rain as much).

Three cheers for our fourth gardening state so far this year!  (We're not aiming for a fifth.)

08 September 2013

Things to Love in South Texas

Flowers.  They're nameless wonders in my new world, but I'm loving them already.

Sunrises.  Against a dramatic, open sky as I drive my husband to work, I've loved these God-paintings that come to me each morning.

Friends.  It's amazing how a friend of a friend can become a blog-world contact, and then in the course of one afternoon become a person you feel like you've known for a long time.  What a blessing the way God prepares these things months in advance, way before you've even heard of such a place in south Texas, let alone imagined you'd live there.

The Growing Seasons.  They tell me there are at least two or three.  We won't have space for anything too gigantic, bit we plan to squeeze in as much as we can!

The Fruits.  We toured a neighborhood the other day, and pinched ourselves.  Could that be a banana tree?  Growing outside?  With no climate controlled greenhouse?  We've since also seen mango trees, date palms, and trees bearing guavas, star fruits, pecans, persimmons, oranges, grapefruits, limes, lemons, pomegranates, and papayas.

Birds and Butterflies.  We hear tell this is a major migration area for both.  Anyone have an idea for what the best guidebooks would be?  Maybe one or more for Kindle?

Bilingual-ness.  We can tell.  It will be difficult NOT to improve our Spanish speaking abilities here.  The high school classes are fresher in our minds than we expected, and we may slip in some Portuguese learning with our latest set of Brazilian friends. 

Oh, the friend thing again.  What.  A.  Small.  World.  In graduate school, we had Brazilian friends.  When we moved to Virginia last year, we met Brazilian friends who were friends with the first Brazilian friends.  When we got here, we met more Brazilian friends who know all the Brazilian friends we've ever known.  Way fun.

06 September 2013

This Week in the Garden, and Moment by Moment Living

My mom graciously sent these photos of the garden so I could see it really beginning to produce.  Check out how many tomatillos and green beans there are!  Even the Love Lies Bleeding is beginning to put out its cascading blooms.  It's amazing to me how much noticeable growth there is in the garden every week, and it all just happens a moment at a time, imperceptibly growing and changing.

It's a good reminder for me during this week of change and detail and newness, and it reminds me of a hymn.  Mind if I share?

Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine, Living with Jesus, a new life divine,       Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,    Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.


Moment by moment I'm kept in His love; Moment by moment I've life from above; Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;  Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Never a trial that He is not there, Never a burden that He doth not bear, Never a sorrow that He doth not share, Moment by moment I'm under His care.


Never a heartache, and never a groan, Never a teardrop and never a moan, Never a danger but there on the throne, Moment by moment He thinks of His own.


Never a weakness that He doth not feel, Never a sickness that He cannot heal; Moment by moment, in woe or in weal, Jesus, my Savior, abides with me still.


Source:  The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, number 507.

03 September 2013

Welcome to Your Hotel Room

My husband and I have been blessed over the last two weeks to spend time traveling, especially since the traveling yielded, by God's leading, a new job for him.  We've spent a lot of nights in hotels, and I found it interesting to note a couple of the welcoming touches the staff put into the bathrooms.  Maybe I'll use the ideas for guests in my home sometime.

The toilet paper here was folded in a simple fan rather than the typical triangles end, and tucked in to make a fan-flair.  It probably took only a few seconds longer, but had so much more personality.

The towels in this photo had then wash cloth folded diagonally, with the corner turned up in the back.  Then they were wrapped around the hanging towel and tied in a simple knot to create this sleek look.