Saturday, May 31, 2008

Grapevine lilacs

Here it is the last day of May (and our 28th wedding anniversary today) and we still have lilacs and even some late tulips blooming around here. It's unusual to have lilacs this late in Minneapolis, so this is kind of a treat.

Last year, I transplanted a wild gravevine to the base of our lilac tree and it's already taking off up the tree, of course. So much of the lilac is bare wood that I thought the vine would be nice way to get more green on it, especially in summer when it's done blooming. Of course, I didn't bother to find out if our landlords liked his idea! Oh, well, they're not too fussy when it comes to the landscape, as long as we keep things reasonably tidy and stay out of trouble.

But I thought it looked kinda cool when one little bunch of lilac blossoms formed low on the tree, next to the grapevine, looking like a bunch of grapes!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lovely long-lasting lilacs

We are surrounded by lilac hedges, courtesy of two of our neighbors -- retired single men who don't seem to notice or care about their lovely bushes. So I knew I could gather a bouquet and nobody would mind!

When the kids used to gather lilac bouquets at Grandma's house, they always wilted only an hour or so after being placed in a vase. So when I read somewhere that you're supposed to pound the stems with a hammer to get them to take up water, I tried that and it seemed to help. But later I learned that doing violence to the stems in that way was not good for the cuttings, and indeed it only seemed to extend the life of the cut lilacs by a few more hours.

These lilacs were cut yesterday and I photographed them today. You can see that even the leaves still look fine.

I wish I could remember where I read this, but here is the technique: Bring a pitcher of very warm water with you out to the lilac bush, make clean cuts with a bypass pruning shear (which doesn't crush the stem), strip off the lower leaves and plunge the cutting into the warm water, immersing as much of the stem as possible (right up to the blossoms if you can). Ideally you leave them in the warm water overnight, but since the water doesn't stay warm that long anyway, I don't think it matters if you transfer them to a vase, also filled with warm water, which is what I did. When I transferred them I made sure to strip off any leaves that would be under water so they wouldn't rot and spoil the water.

I know that some bouquets do fine with only enough water in the vase to cover the bottom inch or so of the stems, and maybe after a day or so of curing, these lilacs would be fine that way too, but as long as there are no leaves under water, I am keeping the vase as full as I can so the whole stems remain immersed.

Lilacs last such a short time even on the shrub, so I like to keep them as long as possible indoors!

(Note added on Thursday, 5/22: the lilacs are just starting to wilt this evening, so they lasted about 5 days.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Biking to Mom's

Last week I told my husband that I wanted to go see my mom on Mothers Day, to have lunch or maybe just coffee. Since I've been riding my bike so much lately, he said, "Are you going to bike there?" She lives in the suburb of Roseville, which is a pretty good distance north and east of our South Minneapolis home, so I laughed at the suggestion -- of course I wasn't going to be that ambitious!

But then on Sunday morning when I was walking the dog, I considered what a very lovely day it was -- sunny and mild, although a bit windy -- and I thought why not bike to Mom's? I have all day. And as soon as I had that thought, I remembered that when my mother used to work at the VA hospital, which is only a few blocks from where I live, she often rode her bike to work. Wouldn't it be swell to retrace my mother's bike route to visit her on Mother's Day?

So I checked the distance on Google maps and found that it's 13.5 miles. I figure that I bike at about 7-8 miles per hour, so it could take me close to 2 hours. No problem, I have time today. But just in case I'm too tired to bike home again, I asked my husband if he would come and pick me up to take me home after. Of course he said he would.

I called my mother to let her know my plans, then I asked her how long it used to take her to bike to work at the VA. "Oh, I think about an hour," she said.

An hour! You may think that sons compete with their fathers, but I found myself determined to get as close to my mother's time on that trek as I could. So I pedaled hard and fast east across the Mississippi River, up the River Blvd. (north), turned onto picturesque Summit Ave.(east again), which has a dedicated bike lane, and proceeded to Lexington Ave., which would take me north through Como Park, a large park in St. Paul on the way to Roseville.

As I was peddling along on Summit Ave., a pair of bicyclists in Spandex whisked past me. (I think of bicyclists who wear Spandex, and those funny shoes, as serious cyclists.) I picked up my pace to match theirs and followed them as far as Lexington, where they continued on Summit and I turned left, heading north.

On this day there was a wind from the north at 30 mph. After I left Como Park, Lexington Ave. veered to the west, and since I still needed to go east as well as north, and didn't want to add more distance to my route, I continued north and headed up through a residential neighborhood.

Just before you enter the suburb of Roseville, you cross a major east-west thoroughfare called Larpenteur Ave. For a long way, the north side of Larpenteur is occupied by a large cemetery, so I kept going east until I came to Dale St., which crosses Larpenteur and heads north into Roseville; this would bring me quite close to my destination.

Now I knew that Dale St. had a pretty-good-sized hill right before I planned to turn off of it, about 2 miles from Larpenteur. But I hadn't remembered that it had an even bigger hill right after you cross Larpenteur. In fact, I am certain it was the biggest hill I ever encountered on a bike! And it was followed by a second hill only slightly smaller than the first, and finally that third hill before the turn.

Well, with the cemetery on one side and a large park on the other, there was no detouring around the big hill, so I put my head down and pumped away. I had a nice long downhill run before heading up the monster, but the 30 mph head wind (did I mention that the wind was from the north?) actually prevented me from getting much momentum. So I had to shift down to my lowest gear almost as soon as I began the ascent, and when I was about halfway up, huffing and puffing with every revolution of the pedals, a bicyclist in Spandex passed me easily. By the time I reached the summit and could look down the other side for a long distance (and at the next hill), she was nowhere to be seen.

I coasted on the downhill side and then puffed my way up the next hill, not quite as big as the first, and then a third time (all into the wind) before reaching County Rd. C and turning to the east, where I encountered only a slight climb to get to my mother's street, and then a relaxing descent down Virginia Ave. to her house.

It took me an hour and a half. I asked my mother, did it really only take you an hour to bike that distance? She pondered a bit, then said it was probably more like an hour and 15 minutes. And she never went by way of Dale street, but rather took a route that was mostly level. She also reminded me that I was biking into that north wind most of the way. So I guess I didn't do too bad!

My mother drove us to a pleasant little cafe where we enjoyed lunch and coffee, and then learned that they were giving a free piece of cake to each mother. It was a delicous multilayered torte with strawberries and bananas and cream and a little dark chocolate. We should have shared one! When we got done, we were stuffed. So I decided to bike home as well, but I didn't take Dale St. this time.

I made it home in an hour and 15 minutes -- with the wind at my back.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Eagles in the city

We have a nesting pair of bald eagles in South Minneapolis, right near Hwy 62, and today I spotted this one perched in a tree on the banks of Lake Nokomis, in a residential neighborhood about 6 miles from downtown Minneapolis.

I was riding my bike around the lake when I looked up at this tree because I sometimes see cormorants perched in it, and they are so big and funny looking that I just get a kick out of them. When I first saw the eagle its head was down and its back was to me (as it is here), and so it didn't register at first what I was really seeing, I just thought, wow, that is a really big bird in that tree. Then it lifted its head and I was just awe struck -- an eagle! Right here in my neighborhood!

The crow in this picture was first perched on a nearby tree, and it cawed constantly at the eagle. Then it flew over and took a couple of dives at it, then perched where you see it here, and continued to caw. Finally it flew again, took one last dive at the eagle, then flew away. The eagle was preening itself the whole time, ignoring the crow.

Other people walking around the lake stopped to look at it, including a woman who lives very nearby and who comes to look at it often -- she says it likes to perch in that tree because there are dead branches, thus fewer leaves to block its view of the lake and the fish. All of our city lakes are stocked for fishing, so I'm sure there's plenty there for it to eat -- probably walleye and northern and tasty fish like that.

A couple that came walking by said they had just been over by the nest (about a mile or less away from this site) and that there was another eagle sitting on the nest. That one is larger than this one, they said, so it's probably the female. Sitting on the nest? Sounds like we'll have more eagles soon!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sacrificial tomato plant

Actually, this poor hapless tomato plant survived its ordeal and is thiving in its pot once again, with dirt covering its roots. I had purchased it for the purpose of drawing it for a new gardening column I am writing for the Minneapolis community newspaper the Southside Pride.

So you may be surprised to learn that I did not write about tomatoes for my first column, slated to appear in the May editions (they publish three neighborhood editions each month). Rather, I wrote about dirt. That is, I wanted to address the fundamental "elements" of gardening, wishing to also recall the traditional four elements: earth, air, water, fire. So, for the first column I wrote about earth/dirt in the context of organic gardening -- for example, that you feed the soil, not the plant, by making compost and adding it to the garden.

But I didn't really want to draw an image of dirt or compost to go with the column. So since I started by telling about my first gardening experience, in which I grew a couple of tomato plants, I decided that a drawing of a tomato plant would be just the thing. And I wanted to draw it roots and all not only because I like those sorts of botanical drawings, but also to convey the sense of reaching into the earth.

And the only way, it seemed, to prop up my model so that I could do the sort of drawing I wanted, was to shake out the roots and then suspend the plant from a ceiling light in the dining room. So there it hung, slowly twisting in the air until I found a way to stop it (by placing a clear plastic ruler on a lamp and setting that next to the plant; hard to explain, but it worked).

I didn't think to take a picture of the drawing before I brought it over to the newspaper, so I'll try to fetch it back when they're done with it and upload an image of it then.