Archive | July 2012

Mutant Coneflower

My coneflower has as flower mutation; it looks like a caterpillar is climbing through the bloom.



Compostable “Plastic”: Too Good to be True?

For the past few years, Elgin Community College (my sometimes place of business) has marked their plastic lunch containers “compostable”.  Are they made of soy?  How are they stored so that they don’t decompose before use?  Do I put them in the recycle bin in my classroom or standard trash as they are allegedly “compostable”.  I’ve asked this of more than a few colleagues who return, “Why do you care?”  Not, “I don’t know” or “I never thought of that,” but instead the idea that I had actually thought to question the packaging was somehow wrong.  Ironically, I teach critical thought through writing, so of course, I questioned the information.

Getting no answers from my colleagues, I’ve made a few calls to Hospitality and the food service staff, who again counter, “Why do you care?’  My simple answer is: “If this ‘plastic’ really is compostable, why isn’t every food chain using it?”  Think of it this way, ECC may serve 300 students a day with “compostable” containers (I’m guessing at the number), but McDonald’s could serve millions daily with the same environmentally-friendly product.  That’s amazing!  Revolutionary!  Mind-blowing!  . . . well . . . if it’s true.

So, seeing as no one can give me an appropriate answer, I’m putting a used “compostable” cup in my compost bin later today,  and I’ll see if if decomposes by Spring when I’ll likely use the fresh soil.

EarthChoice has no direct website, but their May 2012 press release at least looks promising (in addition to allegedly being compostable, the cups also made locally in Lake Forest, Illinois).  My compost bin will put this cup to the test far better than a corporate promise.

Zucchini Bread Recipe from Paula Deen

Now is the season for zucchini.  Yeah!  but what to do with the ones left hanging outside too long that quickly became gigantic?  Zucchini Bread is always the answer for me.

I like the Paula Deen recipe (pretty standard), but adjust it by using whole wheat flour instead of standard unbleached white and scoop it into sprayed cupcake tins for easy breakfast in the car on the way to work.  This makes 3 dozen smaller muffins or 1 1/2 dozen large muffins.  Keep the same temperature but bake for 20-25 minutes until clean toothpick.

Square Foot Gardening: All the Rage, but Messy

After doing a significant amount of research about Square Foot Gardening and my husband putting in a 4’x8′ vegetable bed, I was excited about watching my plants grow nice and neat like the pictures in magazines.   This, however, has not been the case with my own beds.  In fact, they look like a mess and are drowning our the poor hot peppers.  My research designated larger tomato plants as 1 per square foot but medium-sized pepper plants as up to 4 per square foot, but left grey area for plants like cucumbers, zucchini, or beans–leaving me guessing at the placement.

Well, I can look at this as a learning experience: next year, more room for some plants and reorganization for others.  Oh, and J— needs to double the size of the garden!

More than “Just a Lily”

For the past, well, lifetime, I have despised lilies in all sizes, shapes, colors, varieties, and floral arrangements.  No, I’m not allergic to them nor do I have any deeply-seeded intrinsically negative memories of them, and the basic yellow-orange daylily variety can make even the most vacant highway stretch look quite lovely.  As a child, I remember the daylily as standard fare to liven up any residential landscape, and now I know that they are sublimely easy to maintain, hence the seeming ubiquity in the Chicago suburbs.

Years ago (I feel odd writing that at age 31), I visited my shut-in, elderly great aunt M—- for my regular Saturday visitation, and April straight through October she would rail (yes, actually “rail”, shaking her fist in the air) about how much she hated those “damn daylilies”.  Seeing as the only other landscaping around her garage was an overgrown yucca and she couldn’t actually view her garage from her house windows, I could never understand why she hated them so very much.

Her last Spring in that home, my brother T—- and I decided to get rid of the daylilies by weed-whacking them to the ground.  This kept Aunt M—- happy for a week, but those pesky daylilies  were sprouting new foliage soon enough.  The next week, we used Round-Up weed killer; again, this was highly effective for maybe two weeks, but then  like the cat who came back . . .  Round-Up again to no avail.  So T—- proposed any idea that, gasp! any gardener would cringe at: “Let’s ‘salt the earth’.”  And, yes, we did actually buy a large container of salt, which combined with the Summer heat at that time, did indeed dampen their little daylily spirits for a while–or at least until the Autumn.  After spending now months trying so desperately to destroy these happy plants, we were done.  No, we were not going to dig out every last bulb as Aunt M—- suggested with a poke.

And, that ended her final Summer in her home of 50+ years, as her body could not handle living alone any longer despite much protest.  I’ve considered planting a daylily in my garden as a remembrance to Aunt M—- as I think of her every time I see them blooming on some cityscape median,  but she would look at this is as the ultimate betrayal: the dalylily won!

Maybe she was slowly poisoning my mind as a child against the daylily, as I myself have this hatred of them.  This year, I planted stargazer lilies, which are far more elegant than their bucolic relations; when I look at them, I still see Aunt M—- with fire in her eyes, “Those damn daylilies!”

Chicago and the Rise of the “Land Hurricane”

For the past week, the not-often-used term “derecho” (most meteorologists pronounce this “de-rachel”), meaning “land hurricane”, has been on everyone’s lips from Chicago straight through to Washington, D.C.  I say the new word hesitantly, as I saw the fast-acting storm pass just to the South and am glad I wasn’t caught somewhere in the middle.  It’s not often that we in the rather sedate Midwest have a storm that leaves such a path of destruction.  Sure, we have the occasional tornado (take cover when the sky turns green and the hail comes down), but it’s usually just bluster: the newscaster forecasts torrential rain and 80+mph winds followed by the dreaded tornado, but then we have a light sprinkling–barely enough to water the grass.

Even in the worst of circumstances, the local power company typically has everything up and running within a matter of hours, but this “derecho” (I now type the word with both fear and derision) left my elderly grandmother without power in 90-100 degree heat for more than four full days.  Luckily, she had family to take her in, but in  this storm and power-outage followed by 3 record-breaking days in a row of 100+ degree temperatures, not everyone was so lucky.  This left the Chicago heat-related death toll at 18 for 2012 thus far, which is unacceptable, at best, and outrageous, at worst, in what I feel is one of the grandest cities on earth.

My local municipality, the City of Elgin, selflessly sent out city employees for wellness checks to make sure everyone survived the heat; the poor city workers, however, practically melted onto the steaming sidewalk as they went up and down each sidewalk.  Bravo, Elgin, for taking the initiative.

So, in a very roundabout manner, I come to back to my original thought process (wow, my students would laugh at my terrible lack of organization): If these past few weeks in Chicago, St. Louis, and well the entire Midwest and now sweeping to the East, is any indication of the global warming yet to come, I should invest in flashlights.

And, I’ll end on a pretty flower from my garden to lighten the somber mood.